Hawaii Teacher on Board
Visiting the Engineering Room

By Naidah Gamurot

Oct. 21, 1998. It was a gorgeous day today. The Puna coast of the Big Island was clearing visible as well as the tops of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. The seas have been relatively calm now for 2 days.

This morning I had an opportunity to go down to the engineering room in the bottom of the ship. I spent some time talking with the chief engineer, Lew Skelton. We discussed all different aspects of his job. As chief engineer, it is Lew's responsibility to supervise the engineering department. They operate and maintain ALL the equipment on board. This includes everything from the ship's 6 engines, the electronics, winches, and fire alarms to windshield wipers, toilets, and appliances in the galley.

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To become a the chief engineer, you first start out as a "wiper." The wiper is the person who wipes all the machinery down. The position needs to be held for at least 6 months at sea before advancing to "oiler." The oiler oils all the machinery. During this time, the oiler must also get his Oiler's Endorsement and spend at least a year at sea. There are also other endorsements the oiler should be working toward during this time, like an Unlimited Endorsement. This particular license you allow you to transfer to any other type of boat or ship. Without it, you would only be able to work on ships similar to the one you trained on.

The next advancement is to 3rd assistant engineer, then to 2nd, to 1st, and finally, to Lew's position - chief engineer. Each of those positions has increasingly larger responsibilities and a person needs to spend a couple of years at each position before advancing. Anyone wanting to work around the world would also need an International Certificate. Drug and physical exams are required for all positions.

I asked Lew what kinds of classes should someone in high school take to help them as an engineer. He said the most important was math, especially algebra. Also, since the engineering room is computerized, classes in computers, computer programming and electronics would be very useful.

Lew works a regular 8-hour day, Monday through Friday, though if anything happens, he's always on call.

The pay is pretty good. 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.

Lew said he loves his job. He's always enjoyed working with machines and operating equipment. Because equipment is constantly changing, especially on a research vessel like the Thompson, there are always new things to learn. It never gets boring. Another plus is travelling all over the world. Earlier in the year Lew was sailing off the coast of South Africa and Antarctica.

The only negative side about his job is that he's away from his family for months at a time. But, with e-mail it's not as bad being away from home as it used to be.

Well, it's off to the bow of the ship. Tonight's the Orionid Meteor Shower. I have a special place I lay when I want to watch the stars. It's a raised square platform that fits my pillow, blanket, and me just perfectly.

See ya tomorrow…