What Do You DO Out There?

I sometimes mention in my posts that I’ve been busy. I was thinking, maybe people might be interested to know what we’re so busy doing out here in the middle of nowhere. Well, at the moment I’m back to working as DPO. Dynamic Positioning Operator. On here they call my job ADPO (assistant). They have a DPO and ADPO. Other places the same jobs are labeled SDPO (senior DPO) and DPO. What we do is drive the ship. 

Or not. 

Seems like most of the time our job is to keep the ship in exactly the same spot. Especially on a drilling rig, which is where I’m at now. We’re working about 100 miles E of Guyana, a smallish country in the Northeast coast of South America. 

I’ve never been to Guyana before and don’t really consider that I’ve been there yet. All I’ve seen of the country is the airport and what I could spot through the rain on an hour long van ride from there to the heliport. I doubt I will be able to see anything else on the way home either. 

Here’s what a day on board here looks like for me…

My alarm rings at 0420. I wake up, stumble to the bathroom, brush my teeth and hair. Get dressed and then head to the bridge to collect the data I must report at the morning pre-tour meeting (work technically starts at 0600). 

After I get the information I need, I head down to breakfast. I’m usually there from 0510-0525 and then have to hurry to get to the meeting at 0530. I can’t be late. I’m not the first person to report, but I am second. I report on the weather during the night, at the moment, and expected during the day ahead. I report on the vessel heading, the wind and current, the ‘drift off times’ for the drillers so they have an idea how quickly they’d have to disconnect if we had some kind of issue. 

When the meeting breaks up, I catch the elevator to the bridge (around 0555) with a few others who work on the Nav deck (this is where most of the offices are on this ship). I meet my relief and go over what’s been happening overnight and then he’s free to leave and I take over the DP desk. 


I go through the checklists, making sure all the reference systems are giving good data, the engines and thrusters aren’t working too hard, the ship is staying well within her heading and position limits. I’ll call the engine room and the drill floor to check our DP status alert lights (green, blue, yellow and red). If anything happens, we can flip a switch on the bridge and everyone will immediately be aware of an issue and take steps accordingly. 

Once I’ve completed the checklists, I continue to monitor everything. I have cameras to see a lot of places on the ship. I usually watch the drill floor, the helideck if there are choppers expected, the boats working alongside, and the cranes to help me see if I need to ballast.

Sometimes, it’s really slow. Other times, the weather is changing or there’s a lot going on and it gets stressful. I’m always busy with answering the phone, making pages, standing lookout, communicating with other vessels, keeping up the log books, etc.  We usually work an hour on the desk and then an hour off for our 12 hour long days. 

The hour off the desk we take care of people with work permits, answer emails, keep our charts and publications up to date, work on any projects the captain gives us, etc. We get relieved for meals, a half hour. The food is pretty good. I wish I had more than a half hour to eat it. I can only really enjoy it at dinner time after I get off watch at 1800. 

This is our routine every day for 28 days. Only Sunday is a little different because we almost always have drills. It’s a US Coast Guard requirement that we have fire and abandon ship drills at least every week. There are a bunch of others we have to have too: man overboard, rescue at heights, confined space rescue, oil spill response, ballast control, helicopter crash, dynamic positioning, H2S, security, search and rescue, etc. 

Sundays at sea used to be a day of leisure. We only had to do the absolutely necessary work for the ship. It was also the day we could take it easy, do our laundry, relax and take it easy. Now, it’s the busiest day on board. We all have so many ‘safety’ items to take care of: lifeboats & FRC (fast rescue craft) for the mates, on the bridge we are doing our housekeeping checklist, cleaning the bridge, exercising the ballast valves, a more detailed GMDSS (radio) check, weekly chart/publication updates, check the beacon batteries, update reports, etc.

People see the DPOs on a rig sitting in a nice chair on the bridge and think we’ve got it easy. That that is all we do.

Not quite.

Catching Up

So, to catch up a little bit since I took that long break from writing anything on here, I’ll tell a little bit about what’s been going on in my world. 

My last post before the break, I was just leaving for the Seven Pacific. I flew out to Moble, AL to join the ship, everything was still pretty normal. As the days passed by, the panic grew around the coronavirus spreading worldwide. 

Seven Pacific

The TV in the mess hall was continually reporting every death and the resulting fear-induced over reactions. Lockdowns and government tyranny spreading almost everywhere. I remember hearing of Chinese government agents welding shut the doors of their people (tho who knows how much to believe of any news out of China). 

I have always been skeptical of anything coming out of the TV and almost never take the news at face value. The constant terrorism set off alarm bells for me almost from day one. Nothing made sense. If this virus has been floating around the world since October (when it was first reported in China), then it should have already spread around the world by April. 

I had been traveling a lot since October. I was in Chile, traveling by bus, taxi and plane, before and after my cruise to Antarctica (with quite a few Chinese tourists onboard). I had spent a few days wandering around Santiago, mingling with the huge crowds of protestors (notice how all those protests- Chile- Hong Kong- Paris- etc- ALL just suddenly stopped without even a whimper out of all those millions of rightly angry protesters). I had spent a couple of days at the casinos in Lake Charles. I had spent over a month on board two different vessels, each with over 100 crew from all over the world. Yet, neither I, nor anyone on board had any kind of symptoms. 

Many of the crew were listening to the constant listing of deaths around the world and were becoming very concerned about their friends and families at home. Then came the lockdowns and travel restrictions. I was lucky to be able to get off the ship and go home. That was only because I was onboard as an extra hand and didn’t require a relief. I actually had a relief try to meet me on the ship. He flew to the states from Cyprus (which still allowed travel). He spent days flying half way across the world, only to be turned away at the heliport in Houma, LA and had to fly all the way back home! Then, to top it off, he had to go into quarantine when he got back over there!

None of the Filipinos were allowed to travel. Most of them on ships around the world still aren’t allowed to go home or return to work if they’re at home. Most of them have already been working 6 months and now are over by 6 months or more. How in the world can anyone justify keeping seafarers locked up onboard for so long? 

Whatever, right? We all just need to get over it. Amazing, but that’s what so many people keep on telling us. Like it’s no big deal to be kept from seeing your friends and family for many months more than you had agreed to. Or that you must sacrifice everything you’ve worked for your entire life to help other people deal with their fears.

Anyway, I was very lucky to be able to get home, only a little over a week late. I can always use the money and all the things I wanted to do had already been shut down/canceled anyway. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if those poor Filipinos in the crew were still stuck onboard. The company didn’t seem very concerned about making crew change. Why would they be? It had to be saving them a fortune in air fares.

I had a good hitch on that ship. It was a beautiful vessel, with a good crew and an interesting job. We did a lot of underwater installation work that hitch. Laying down pipelines and jumpers. That sort of thing. I was home by the end of March. It was so weird, flying home with only 5 people on the plane- 3 of them from my ship. The airports at both ends were totally deserted. I felt like I was somewhere in the Twilight Zone.

I still feel like that. Or really, more like George Orwell’s 1984.