The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW


Give The Shiphandlers Experience
CSC 1992
                 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Title:  Give The Shiphandlers Experience
Author: Lieutenant Commander James T. Stewart, United States
Thesis: The experience gained through bridge watchstanding
and shiphandling prior to command for Surface Warfare
Officers is decreasing and must be raised.
Background: The opportunity to gain shiphandling experience
in the Navy is almost exclusively confined to actual
shipboard tours.  Changes in watchstanding practices and
Commanding Officer preferences have sharply reduced the
experience that can be gained at the Department Head and
Executive Officer level.  Those assigned to combatant ships
or as the engineering department head have even less
opportunity for bridge experience.  Major non-shipboard
methods of obtaining shiphandling experience are currently
limited in both location and student output.  A composite
approach to increase training for those in pipeline
schooling, on shore duty, or in major maintenance periods
will both enhance the professionalism of Surface Warfare
Officers and decrease the probability of mishaps due to
personnel error.
Recommendation:  The Navy should build visual simulator
trainers in each major homeport, expand training at Little
Creek's seamanship trainer, develop a micro-computer program
that provides challenging shiphandling situations and
refreshes basic skills, emphasize increased shiphandling at
the department head and executive officer levels, and
include assignment to follow harbor pilots in the PXO
Thesis:   The experience gained through bridge watchstanding
and shiphandling prior to command for Surface Warfare
Officers is decreasing and must be raised.
I.   	Surface Warfare Officer training and sea tours
       	A. 	Division Officer
       	B. 	Department Head
       	C. 	Executive Officer
       	D. 	Commanding Officer
II.  	Surface Warfare trends
       	A. 	Tour lengths
       	B. 	Watchstanding practices
III.   	Ship mishaps
       	A. 	Types of mishaps
       	B. 	Effect of training on mishap rates
IV.  	Alternatives for shiphandling training
       	A. 	Visual simulation trainers
       	B. 	Naval Amphibious School Seamanship Trainer
       	C. 	Micro-computer programs
       	D. 	Surface Warfare schooling enhancements
V.   	Reshaping our education
       	A. 	Proactive leadership
       	B. 	Recommendations
     	Sound the collision alarm!  These words may increase in
frequency with our continuing trend to decrease the bridge
watch-standing experience of our surface warfare, officers in
the Navy.  The career path itself, changes in watch-standing
practices, and decreasing money allocations for fuel will
all contribute to a reduction of the actual bridge watch-
standing experience of a surface warfare officer prior to
his assumption of command.  The Navy should protect itself
from inexperienced shiphandlers assuming command by
instituting changes in the training they receive and in
watchstanding practices.
     	A prudent and competent mariner can almost always
prevent a collision or groundings incident.  However, the
cost in lives and money has been felt on many occasions.  In
the recent past, news-making collisions and grounding have
claimed lives and have caused extensive damage.  A
commanding officer who is sage in the basics of seamanship
can prevent incidents such as these.  It is competence and
wisdom that go hand-in-hand with experience.
     	A professional must continually refresh himself in the
details of his profession.  The surface warfare officer is
interrupted by stints of shore duty during his career that
take him off the bridge.  In addition, as a department head
or executive officer, he finds himself assigned to
watchstations other than the bridge.  The aviation community
has similar problems, but it has solved them through "link"
trainers and compulsory sorties to maintain proficiency.
Bridge-time in itself is not the desired goal, but rather
the experience of shiphandling situations that require
knowledge to be applied and decision-making.  A top-to-
bottom review from initial surface warfare training to
command-at-sea is required to locate the problem and to
initiate or expand the fixes.
     	The path to command for the surface warfare officer
involves progression from division officer to department
head to executive officer.  Although the combined time in
these jobs has remained relatively constant in recent years,
time as a hands-on shiphandler has decreased.  A change in
watchstanding practice has removed the department head from
the bridge, and the hectic requirements on the executive
officer stand as a barrier to his time on the bridge.  The
combined effect is a decrease in bridge watchstanding
experience.  A look at the surface warfare at-sea career
path will aid in our understanding.
     Division Officer is the entry level position of
leadership in the surface warfare community.  Prior to an
assignment aboard ship, the junior officer will complete the
six-month Division Officer Course and will be taught the
basics of seamanship.  Included in this instruction is five
days of underway training on yard-patrol craft.  The goal of
the underway training is to develop the basis for
understanding relative motion and to provide a foundation
for seaman's eye. (6: 10-11)  The tour as a division officer
is designed to average 36 months and is currently 40 months.
This is to allow ample time for qualification and experience
as Officer of the Deck (the person on the bridge responsible
for the watchteam, ship-maneuvering, and navigation).
According to Navy Regulations:
     	The Officer of the Deck is the officer on watch in
     	charge of the ship.  He shall be responsible for the
     	safety of the  ship and for the performance and of the
     	duties prescribed in these regulations and by the
     	Commanding Officer, except the Executive Officer, and
     	those other officers specified in  article 1009, shall
     	be subordinate to the Officer of the Deck (NR 1008).
     	(1: 41)
After spending an average of fourteen months to qualify as
an officer of the deck, the junior officer is often returned
to engineering or combat information center watches.
Regular assignment as officer of the deck normally does not
occur until the last 12-18 months of the tour.  Even so, the
division officer tour provides the most experience and the
most opportunity to learn ship-driving skills on the open
seas.  The ample experience gained is fortunate as it may be
the only chance to obtain such experience prior to command.
     	What is often labeled the most difficult tour of a
surface warfare officer's career is his department head
tour.  The six-month Department Head School's preparation
for return to a shiphandling, sea-going position includes
further time on the yard-patol craft, review of the "rules-
of-the-road,"  bridge/combat information center mock-up
trainers, and time in the Marine Safety International
simulator trainer.  The little time devoted to shiphandling
reflects the prevailing attitude that ship-driving skills
are learned mainly at sea and not in the school house.
Although this statement has merit, there appears to be no
"school house" at sea above the division officer level.  The
technological aspect of the threat and today's modern weapon
systems mandate future watchstanding  assignments as
Tactical Action Officer (TAO) aboard ship for the department
head.  Accordingly, one-half of Department Head School is
devoted to TAO instruction.  Department head assignments
normally consist of two consecutive 18-month tours.  A few
will receive single tours of 30-36 months, or will have a
sea-going staff assignment substituted for the second tour.
Current assignments are averaging a total of 36 months.
     	Although there are slight variations in titles, the
major department assignments for surface warfare officers
are operations, engineering, and combat systems (first
lieutenant or weapons on some ships).  The odd man out in
this arrangement is normally the engineering department
head.  With more and more commonality, it is becoming
increasingly rare to have the engineering department head
stand anything other than engineering watches due to the
pressure for flawless performances on engineering and damage
control inspections.  More than another TAO or topside
watchstander is lost through this practice; the important
loss is the engineer's time on the bridge.  The senior watch
officer is sometimes successful in assigning the engineer on
the bridge during special evolutions, but not often.
     	Experience at special evolutions is the forte of the
department head tour.  Evolutions such as entering and
leaving port, landing at a pier, anchoring, towing, or
conducting an underway replenishment become a standard
assignment for the operations or combat systems officer as
officer of the deck.  Even though they usually gain
considerable experience in special evolution seamanship,
during most other steaming conditions department heads are
assigned watch in the Combat Information Center (CIC).  This
has been a result of both TAO requirements and the comfort
factor.  Current doctrine uses a Tactical Action Officer in
the CIC to be responsible for the ship's esensors and
weapons, fighting the ship as the commanding officer
directs.  Although this position is not normally assigned
while cruising in U.S. waters (Condition IV), there has been
an increasing tendency to assign department heads watch as
the CIC watch officer during this lower readiness condition.
This assignment is often the C.O.'s comfort factor to
provide "adult supervision" to the radio circuits and the
watch team.  The bottom line for the department head is that
the thirty-six months in his position will enhance his
special evolution skills if he is an operations or combat-
systems officer, but the time will do little to enhance
other skills much beyond those developed as a division
     	The enigma of the position of the executive officer has
finally received its rightful and clear definition as the
second-in-command of the ship.  On the other hand, the
administrative duties of the position have not decreased.
It is the paperwork coming off the ship, not the
shiphandling ability of the executive officer, which
reflects on the commanding officer.  The prospective
executive officer attends a six-week school that includes
training at the Marine Safety International trainer and
hours of administrative minutia.  The average executive
officer tour has been slightly longer than its planned 18
months, but will decrease in length during the current force
draw-down.  At the final step prior to assuming command, one
would expect an emphasis by the executive officer on the
honing of seamanship skills.  On the contrary, he is so
often tied down in his capacity as "second-in-command" down
on the deck-plates and as the super-administrator that he
rarely has the opportunity for it.  Although the executive
officer is present on the bridge or topside for all special
evolutions, many commanding officers have been neglectful in
ensuring their executive officers actually continue in a
"hands-on" fashion to develop their own ship-driving skills.
The Commanding Officer is the person who is ultimately
accountable for the safety and effectiveness of his ship.
The years of sea-going experience previously described are
his preparation for the position.  His final "pipeline"
schooling includes in-depth engineering training, materials
engineering, updates on weapons systems, and training at the
Marine Safety International complex.  After a busy week of
turnover, the ship is in his command.
     	Changes in watch-standing practices and tour-length
trends were obtained from students at Surface Warfare
Officer School (SWOS) courses for prospective department
heads (DH), executive officers (PXO), and commanding
officers (PCO) via a questionnaire.  Numerical results are
shown in Tables 1 and 2.  Time spent on a staff was not
included in totals.  Both the division officer and
department head tour lengths showed no significant trends
between those in the different courses of instruction.
Notable statistics include an average of six and a half
years as part of ship's company prior to becoming an
executive officer and nearly eight and a half years for the
prospective commanding officer.
     	Two important data points obtained from those in the
PXO and PCO classes were the percentage of time they spent
as department heads in a peacetime steaming (Condition IV)
watch condition and the percentage of time during that
condition they were assigned watch as officer of the deck.
Watch assignments on the bridge at other than condition IV
for most respondents was small.  A decreasing trend is
evident in the amount of time ships spend in condition IV
and the amount of time department heads spend as officer of
the deck.  The data was further broken down into categories
of both department head tours on a combatant, both tours on
an amphibious and service force type ships, one tour on a
combatant and one not (mixed).  Differences between these
categories are clear.  Specifically, those assigned to
combatants spend only half the time in Condition IV as
others, and when in Condition IV they will be assigned
officer of the deck at half the rate of those not assigned
to combatants for their department head tours.
     	The question arises, is the ship still the best method
for shiphandling training?  Unquestionably, yes, but review
of the above information shows a need to seek other
alternatives.  No crystal balls will tell us if other
complementary alternatives had been available that the news-
making collisions with merchant ships, the fleet exercises
which included collisions during training, or the groundings
which have occurred in a ship's own homeport would have been
prevented, but perhaps they could have been.  Developing
alternatives requires an understanding of what are our major
types of mishaps.
     	A personal analysis of data on grounding and collision
mishaps from 1982-1991 showed some clear trends.  Data was
reviewed for those ships assigned to the Surface Forces
Pacific and Atlantic and had or shared responsibility for a
mishap.  During the ten-year period, a variety of mishaps
occurred: groundings; collisions with navy ships, merchants,
fishing vessels, and anchored ships; impacts against buoys,
tugs, piers, submerged objects, and bridges; and collisions
during alongside maneuvering or approaches.  Of these, those
mishaps related to pulling in or out of a berth at a pier
are now the most common type, normally involving some degree
of impact against another ship or a pier.  These mishaps are
not normally the news-makers, or those with a high cost in
lives or money, but they do show an area for possible
enhancements in training.  Overall, since visual simulator
training was introduced for prospective commanding officers
in 1986, there has been a decrease in mishaps due to error
of bridge personnel (pilot errors excluded).  It is
recognized that this cannot be the sole factor for the
decrease; other items such as the availability of refresher
training to a ship and the number of ship-steaming days
allotted probably played a factor.
     	With ship-driving being the best teacher, we are seeing
a decrease in bridge time for the surface warfare officer.
In addition, most mishaps occur during mooring evolutions or
underway replenishment.  The resulting "Catch-22":
experience is needed to reduce mishaps but the everyday
watch-standing that provides both experience and training is
diminishing.  Possible substitutes for experience on the
bridge include visual simulation trainers, miniature ship
trainers, micro-computer training programs, and enhanced
pipeline training.
     	The age of technology and simulation has allowed
development of visual simulation trainers in many areas.
The aviation community has long recognized the value of
these trainers in obtaining increased experience at reduced
costs.  The surface warfare community eventually realized
the practical advantages of such a program and commenced
sending prospective commanding officers through maritime
visual simulation trainers in 1986.  Since the introduction
of this program, training has been obtained at Marine Safety
International (MSI) in Newport, Rhode Island, and at
Maritime Training and Research Center in Toledo, Ohio.
     	As described in the pipeline training provided to
surface warfare officers, students in the department head,
PXO, and PCO course receive training at MSI.  Twenty hours
of training are usually provided in each course, with forty
hours being provided to aviators going to a surface command.
The high cost (approximately $1700 per person for those in
the PXO course) is a bargain when compared to actual
underway steaming costs.  The twenty hours of instruction
includes a four hour orientation and four four-hour sessions
in the trainers.  These sessions are normally conducted with
three or four persons to a group and are rotated between the
different trainers.  The retired navy commanding officers
that work as instructors and operators are savvy to the
training needs of the fleet.  The prospective commanding
officers are presented more difficult scenarios and are
provided much more challenging situations involving wind and
current.  The success of the trainer is leading the Navy to
build a second trainer in San Diego, with opening scheduled
in 1993.
     	The special background in simulation provided by being
a subsidiary of Flight Safety International has allowed MSI
to develop a superb complex of four trainers capable of
being interactive with each other.  Two Visual Simulation
Trainers (VST) provide 180-degree horizontal visibility and
30-degree vertical visibility.  Although a good trainer,
neither the bow or stern are visible with the bridge-wing
presentation.  The other trainers available include a
bridge-wing trainer which provides 220-degree horizontal
visibility and a full-mission bridge trainer.  The bridge-
wing trainer is especially suited for pier work and close-in
shiphandling as it does allow bow and stern visibility from
the bridge-wing. (3: 8-9)  In all of the mock-ups, state-of-
the-art computer imagery is projected on large wraparound
screens outside the "bridge" windows.  Difficulty factors
such as wind, current, fog, night, rain, high traffic, and
tugs can be included to add to the realism of the training.
Trainer capabilities include formation steaming; crossing,
meeting, and overtaking situations; underway replenishment;
and several restricted waters and mooring situations.  A
special capability is to project some of the ports currently
in use by the Navy.  Presently, training at MSI is not
generally available to those outside the SWOS courses.
     	To provide shiphandling experience to those already in
the fleet, the Naval Amphibious School at Little Creek,
Virginia, established a seamanship trainer in 1972 that has
since expanded into a small armada of miniature ships.  The
trainer includes a tank with tiny radio-controlled scale
models of ships, and a lake with scale models of ships large
enough to ride in.  The larger scale models allow the
instructor and two or three students to sit within them and
obtain experience while maneuvering about the lake and
against miniature piers.  Models presently in the inventory
include a twin-screw LPD and two single-screwed AFS's at
1:16 scale, a single-screw FF-1052 class and twin-screw DD-
963 class at 1:14 scale, and a CV at 1:25 scale.  All are
battery operated and use the staff instructor as the
helmsman and leehelmsman.  The ships are built to provide
the maneuvering and shiphandling characteristics of their
full-size counterparts.
     	There are currently three Navy oriented courses at the
trainer.  A two-day team trainer is available to individual
ship wardrooms.  CO or XO attendance at the course ensures
continuity for the ship.  The course includes both time with
the tank ships and in the lake.  Unfortunately, this class
is normally offered only once per month.  The second course
is a junior officer shiphandling course.  It is a five-day
course and includes four mornings teaching details of
forces, anchoring, and mooring.  The course shifts in the
afternoon to the tank for demonstration, and then to the
lake for practical experience in the large-scale models.
This course is offered twice per month with a class
enrollment of twenty students.  The final session is a two-
day course available on request to prospective commanding
officers and provides them with one-on-one training.
Despite the obvious ability to provide meaningful training,
the seamanship trainer is limited in its student output,
its' sole location, and in its limited ability to present
different shiphandling situations.
     	An alternative to actual at-sea training that could
help bridge the gap during shore duty for retaining a sea-
going focus is a micro-computer program.  Although not
complementary toward a restricted water or maneuvering style
of training, it could capably provide training in open-ocean
situations that require ship maneuvering.  Bridge-view and
radar-repeater type presentations could produce thought-
provoking situations that also maintain maneuvering-board
skills.  Inputting commands to simulate those given on the
bridge would change the aspects of the situation as they
would in real life.  A structured approach of completing
situation problems on a periodic basis could provide
continuity of training.  A review with peers or seniors
could provide a good exchange of alternative approaches and
     	Enhancing surface warfare pipeline training is not
synonymous with returning upper level schools to the basics
taught at the entry level Division Officer Course.  Rather,
what needs to be done is to instill an attitude of
importance for continued bridge watch-standing experience.
The subtlety of this notion at PCO/PXO school will revive
what we cannot let become a secondary skill in the surface
warfare community.  An addition to the pipeline worthy of
consideration is assignment of PXO'S to one week with a Navy
harbor pilot.  The number of evolutions that could be
observed in this short time would be invaluable as they
prepare for their position of second in command, and
ultimately that of command.  An additional possibility is to
assign reserve training frigates (FFT's) a period in
Guantanamo Bay for the sole purpose of providing mooring and
anchoring training to PCO and PXO classes.  A week refresher
at an outstanding facility for unassisted landings could be
a key polishing step.
     	The safety rules of the Navy are said to be written in
sailors' blood.  As errors occur, the Navy introduces
comprehensive training and education programs to help
prevent similar mishaps.  Unfortunately, this is usually a
reactive measure to a bad situation.  If the Navy
proactively attacks the dilemma of shiphandling experience
now, it may prevent an accident streak from starting.
     	The experience of our shiphandlers is being aided by
some programs already in effect.  These programs include the
use of the Marine Safety International trainer and the
seamanship trainer at Little Creek, Virginia.  However,
neither of these provides both a large student output and is
also readily available to those in the fleet.  The skills
that normally rust on shore duty and during extended
maintenance periods could be kept current through visual
simulators and micro-computer programs.  A consummate
methodology to enhance our shiphandling training should
include the following:
     	1. 	Provide a visual simulator trainer in each of the
     	Fleet's major home ports.
     	2. 	Increase student output for the Seamanship Trainer
     	at Little Creek through innovative class scheduling and
     	3. 	Create a micro-computer program that will refresh
     	shiphandling knowledge by providing challenging
     	situations and use of basic skills.
     	4. 	Reinforce at PCO and PXO school the importance of
     	shiphandling experience for those above division
     	officer positions.  Encourage the development of skills
     	for the engineer officer.
     	5. 	Include in the PXO pipeline training assignments
     	to shadow pilots for a week and specialized
     	shiphandling training aboard reserve ships at
     	Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
     	The Commanding Officer is the person with the ultimate
accountability who must ensure that there is never a need
for the collision alarm to be sounded.  His own seamanship
experience is the key to the proper performance of his job.
"From the day he steps aboard his first ship until the day
he assumes his highest command, an officer is continuously
in training." (1: 378)  The surface warfare community can
provide its future commanding officers shiphandling
experience by assigning them proper watches while they
progress through the ranks, and by providing sufficient
means to enhance their skills when unable to be underway and
on the bridge.
Click here to view image	
1. 	Ageton, RADM A.A. and VADM W.P. Mack. The Naval Officer's
Guide, Eighth Edition. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1970.
2. 	Crooks, CAPT H.J., Executive at Maritime Training and Research
Center. Telephone interview about MTRC visual simulator. Toledo, Ohio, 
March, 1992.
3. 	Hess, LCDR M.A. and LT T. Parham. "Simulated,Shiphandling the MSI
Way." Fathom, (July/August 1991), 8-9.
4. 	Mucklow, LT S., Coordinator for MSI courses at Surface Warfare Officer
School Command. Telephone interview about SWOS use of MSI and SWOS courses.
Newport, Rhode Island, January, 1992.
5. 	Stewart, CAPT J., Marine Safety International instructor. Telephone
interview about the MSI trainer. Newport, Rhode Island, January, 1992.
6. 	"SWOS Interview." Fathom- (July/August),1O-11.
7. 	Ullman, LCDR K., Former Little Creek Amphibious School Seamanship
Instructor. Telephone interview about seamanship trainer. Newport, Rhode
Island, February, 1992.

Join the mailing list