Hawaii Teacher on Board

By Naidah Gamurot

Position: Chief Engineer

Person Interviewed: Lew Skelton

Location: Engine Control Room on the R/V Thompson

Date: October 21, 1998

Lew - Chief Engineer (L. Dolby)

Describe some of your responsibilities and daily activities as chief engineer?

The chief engineer supervises the engineering department. The engineering department operates and maintains ALL the equipment on board. This includes everything from the ship's engines, electronics, and winches, to toilets and windshield wipers.

What are some of the skills, physical abilities, and personal characteristics someone should have if considering being a chief engineer?

The chief engineer needs to have acquired the knowledge of everyone under him. This is accomplished as he progresses through the different levels of engineering to attain chief engineer. Along the way, there are numerous licenses and endorsements that needed to be earned while in the lower level positions.

Some of the personal characteristics needed to be successful in this field include tolerance, patience, and good "people" skills - the ability to work well with others.

What kinds of high school courses would you recommend for someone considering this type of work?

Math classes, especially algebra, and classes in mechanics. Since equipment on the ship is becoming increasingly computerized, classes in computers, computer programming, and electronics would also be useful.

What additional training is required or available after high school?

To become the chief engineer, you must progress through the field, starting out as a Wiper,

then an Oiler. Varying amount of time must be completed at sea for each position to qualify to take the exams for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Assistant Engineers. If a person attends a maritime academy, which is a 4-yr school, they would enter the field as a 1st engineer.

What is the job market like this position or field?

Ship engineering is an open field. Many of the old-timers are retiring and need to be replaced with engineers having computer and electronics background

What is the entry-level job for this position?

Wiper is the first position, unless you've attended a 4-year maritime academy. Then the entry-level position would be 3rd Assistant Engineer.

What is the next higher level?

On a ship, the chief engineer is at the highest level. Some chiefs may choose to go ashore as port engineers.

What are your working hours like?

8 hours a day, Monday through Friday, though the chief engineer is always on call.

In what kind of environment do you work?

The engineering control room is in the bottom of the ship and that's where most of the monitoring of equipment is done. But, anywhere on the ship where there is a problem can be the working place of the chief engineer.

What is the average starting salary for your job?

Starting base pay on the Thompson for the chief engineer is $5,383. In addition to base pay, everyone on board also receives a 15% Sea Premium Pay while the ship is away from home port and 8 hours overtime at time-and-a-half for each Saturday, Sunday, and holiday while the ship is away from home.

What are some positive features of your job?

Lots of traveling, working with all types of machinery, and operating big equipment. Since equipment frequently changes there's lots of opportunity for learning new things.

What are some negative features of your job?

Being away from the family for months at a time.

Talking with Lew…

Lew's been an engineer for over 40 years. He works 6 months out of the year. Growing up, he loved machines and loves learning new things. Working on a research vessel with the latest equipment allows him to continually train. He started his career in the Navy. Lew recommends high school students take math classes to help prepare for this type of job. My job would have been "…so much easier if I had taken the math." Lew also noted that the ability to work well with others is very important in his field. He releases 90% of new hires within a few months because they don’t have the ability to work with others.

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