Lighthouse careers

View from the Control Room – By Phil Richards – Lighthouse Careers

A few weeks ago, I spoke with a captain who, during our conversation about an engineer I had put forward asked me “What do you think makes a good engineer?” I said a few things off the top of my head – safety-conscious, neat, clean, organized, personable, things like that but then later, after our call when I was reflecting on what we discussed, I started thinking more about what I thought went into the making of a good engineer and the more I turned it over in the mind, the more I came to realise that my view was biased from the point of view of an engineer. Whatever I said would just be my own personal view, formed with my own experiences and with my own biases and judgments.

I decided to go on a little journey, speaking not only to engineers out there in the wild, whose views I look at in this first article, but in subsequent articles I will be speaking also to Captains, Stewardesses, Chefs, Chief Officers and even Greenies to gather their thoughts on what makes a good engineer– is it even possible that there is a definitive, all-encompassing world view that everyone agrees on? I am not sure I’ll come to any answers or even close to a definitive conclusion. But it will be an interesting journey nevertheless…

So, beginning with those who dwell at the very heart of the vessels they sail on, down in the ECR drinking strong coffee from chipped cups with oily hands, those indispensable legends, and titans of the maritime world (see, there are my biases!) the Chief Engineers.

“I always say to people when new guys come onboard – get a pen and notebook and ask lots of questions. I want them to look around, and if they don’t know something, come, and ask and I will show them how to work it out.

An inquisitive mind, and you must be open-minded, look at all options. That’s what a good engineer is, someone who can adjust to a problem and work it through methodically.

The worst kind are the ones that just go for it, they don’t look at manuals and just go for it. You have to be organized and methodical.”

Chief Engineer, 150m MY

“A good yacht engineer must be collegial, friendly, possess good social skills and behave like it’s only one team for the owner, and remember that you are either someone serving a guest, or you are serving someone who is serving a guest.

Engineering-wise knowledge can be acquired and attained if you only are interested and a team player. You must also be curious, inquisitive, and not rush; take time to protect the boat and so on.

A good junior engineer is humble, listens, follows the program set out by the senior team members.

When it comes to those senior guys coming in from the commercial world, it can be a difficult adjustment to the hierarchy of a yacht. If you are very ingrained in the commercial, it can be difficult to adjust, particularly because we prioritize guest service – AC, toilets, and so on. It takes maybe 6 months to adjust. Another thing is interdepartmental relations. You must realize that other departments just need their equipment working, so don’t get involved in the drama or power struggles.”

Chief Engineer, 140m MY

“In my opinion, I’m biased from the technical point of view, you must have a basic understanding of tool handling, materials – these are things you do on a daily basis – it says a lot about an engineer if he or she knows how to remove a broken an M16 bolt for instance, or understands the properties of different materials, galvanic corrosion, stuff like that because the work on a daily basis involves all these kind of things. If I know the guy working on a piece of equipment knows how to remove a broken bolt, then I don’t have to worry about that job. But if I have to come in and show a junior how to do that, then it essentially makes a one-person job a two-person job, so a good engineer needs to be self-sufficient in that way.

A good yacht engineer needs to have these basic skills. Anything can be taught, like the theory of air conditioning or the dynamic of a yacht. But they need to have these basic hands-on skills.

But if you are clean and organized with the right spares in stock, you will be a good engineer for the interior team. If you understand deck equipment, and the principles of deck equipment for the deck department you will be a good engineer. And for the engine room you need strong system knowledge and understand the principles of troubleshooting. With all of these, you will go far.”

Chief Engineer 80m MY

“It’s a personal thing – not everyone will know everything – if someone can admit that they don’t know what to do next, I think it’s a good trait if someone stops and asks for help. If they are embarrassed to do that, you can get into trouble trying to do things outside of their own ability. For me, it’s accepting that you can’t do everything, and it’s OK to have knowledge gaps. Being brave enough to admit that you may not know, instead of blindly experimenting and making the situation worse.

When you are in an emergency, you have to take your time, 5, 6, 7 seconds to absorb the information around you, come up with the solution. Part of being a good engineer is taking your time, never rush into anything, otherwise, you will miss out on key points. Allow time to analyse the situation rather the jump into something haphazardly.

Listen to other crew. Even as engineers, who are generally highly trained. If we take time to listen to others, we can learn something, at least find out more information that can lead to success.

Also, preparation is essential. Right tools, right spares, surveyors informed in timely fashion.

Chief Engineer 120m MY

Thus, they have spoken. Basic engineering hand skills, not rushing, inquisitiveness, social skills. These are just a few of the ingredients that make up a good yacht engineer soup. Next up, I’ll speak to some captains for their point of view.

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