FITZGERALD Officer of the Deck Pleads Guilty At Court-Martial

I uh, I don’t know what to say.

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I was wondering about the requirement to call the CO for CPAs, I’m not surprised to to see the requirement is 6000 yards and it seems like the watch officer believed there was an implicit understanding not to call.

Coppock described an unspoken culture on the ship not to follow the standing orders to contact the commanding officer when the ship is within 6,000 yards of another ship “especially in that specific area.”

“We would have called him every five minutes,” she said.

So, when I was in that part of the world, I just called the Captain and gave him an overall idea of what the contact picture looked like and, then, updated him if it changed appreciably. IMO, there’s no reason to CPA contacts within 600 yards at 20 knots in those waters to begin with, much less without letting the Captain know what’s going on.

I recall most ships I was on that CO would get a call if vis went to 3000 yds, 6000 in a crowded channel, especially at 20kts seems ridiculous. They were out of control LONG before they started navigating that channel if culture aboard that ship is what she infers.

“We would have called him every five minutes,” she said.
Then call him every THREE to be sure!

CO’s preference. I’ve seen anywhere from 3-5NM. I’d have to go back and look at his bio, but the CO had any time at all in the waters off Japan he should have been asking himself why he wasn’t getting called enough. I’ve seen it written explicitly in the standing orders that JOs do not manage the CO’s sleep, and to make all required reports, when they are required.

If the OOD had been making required reports the CO would have had a much better idea of the surface picture; maybe he’d have done nothing, or maybe he would have gone to the bridge to see what was going on (or even just sent the XO up there to camp out and take reports so the CO could get sleep if he was dead to the world). She didn’t let him make that choice, instead the first time the CO knew the ACX Crystal existed is when its bow came through the bulkhead in his stateroom. But he still owns the culture that allowed that flagrant disregard of standing orders to persist.

It’s seems like “common sense” that requiring a call at greater CPAs is safer. If 3 miles is good, 5 miles must be better. But there are second order effects to such over-simplifed precautions. The bridge watch officers are not going to want to comply with requirements they feel are unnessary.

I’d expect a response along the lines is the officers have no choice etc. But people do not operate iike computers following lines of code. There is in fact a risk to making requirements too stringent but often mariners do not recognze that.

I use 2 mile CPAs at sea and 1 mile CPA in that area. I realize allowing officers to pass that close on their own is a risk, but I also recognize not allowing them to do their jobs is a risk as well.

In that particuar area, I’d either be on the bridge or keeping an eye on things from my office till we crossed that shipping lane.

For the life of me I simply can’t understand someone standing on the bridge and watching a ship come along and hit you.

Perhaps she was looking the wrong way or had her head buried in a radar. Perhaps she relied entirely on the radar and didn’t correlate that picture with ships in sight.

I don’t get it.

My many years of naval bridge watch keeping and the level of discipline involved in OOW duties especially collision avoidance have stood me in good stead for the different attitudes in a trading ship with smaller numbers on watch. Naval ships have lots of people and use them. This instance shows there were lots of people and nobody talked to all the others. It’s just unforgivable.

In similar high traffic situations we would often have an additional more senior officer eg one of the warfare officers or the XO on the bridge as a mentor for a junior or inexperienced OOW. They would simply provide calm counsel and keep an eye on things but not take over. A swift rebuke might be needed every now and then or a measured chat to calm down a flustered OOW to get him to concentrate on what’s top of the priority list.

I would also involve the lookouts who may be totally inexperienced, wandering out to chat and point out ships that I wanted watched closely and which to accord less attention. This encourages them to report more often and with more interest. I’m not sure of USN procedures but it seems the OOD was rooted to the spot somehow or perhaps restricted by habit or order to a particular small area or allotted position that didn’t include the entirety of her bridge team. Was she just looking ahead and not walking from side to side?

I would always be demanding of the CIC to maintain a full surface picture with details of every contact calculated and updated often. We did it by hand (plotting tables with sticky pencil) then and duplicated it on the bridge reflector plotter and always took and monitored visual bearings. If you just let them do their own thing they lost interest and were probably relaxing in the captain’s chair. With auto plotting these days it should be so much easier to pick out the contacts to watch.

As for calling the captain, all of our captains assured their officers that they would rather be called unnecessarily often than too little so there was never any doubt that calling the old man would make him grumpy.

I recall one dark night in mid Pacific with nothing seen for days when a junior OOW (trusted as he was with such an easy steady steaming) saw something impossibly close ahead, ordered full astern and hard rudder and screamed for the captain who arrived in seconds flat to see a shamefaced OOW admit it was just a very bright moon rising. The captain’s night orders the next night simply reminded that he wished to be called “As usual” and if the moon didn’t rise.


What you have written is in line with my own experience but in my day the OOW did not sit down. This practice was also followed in the Merchant vessels with the pilots chair being secured in the aft corner of the bridge so it was unusable.
On one Frigate (Whitby class) my watch relief, who was new to the ship, tested the man overboard buzzer to the aft lookout/lifebuoy sentry with Emergency call button to the CO. He literally exploded on to the bridge and I narrowly missed being run down.

What you have written is in line with my own experience but in my day the OOW did not sit down

Also true on every CG / DDG I’ve ever been on. The watch standers all stand on the bridge.

I’m not sure of USN procedures but it seems the OOD was rooted to the spot somehow or perhaps restricted by habit or order to a particular small area or allotted position that didn’t include the entirety of her bridge team.

OODs aren’t restricted by position(unless you count ‘stay on the bridge’), they get the run of it + bridge wings.

The only officer position that IS restricted is the Conn, which must stay near the centerline pelorus(also where one of the sets of repeaters for all the ship’s heading/course/rudder/pitch/roll/etc is), or they can transition to a bridge wing if the situation calls for it or they need a look at something.

The lookouts were inexperienced and untrained? The OOD chats with the lookout? And points out ships? The enlisted crew has to be “encouraged” to do their job?

Which Navy are you talking about?

From the wheelhouse the horizon (depending on height of eye) is going to be about 8 miles or so, not “impossibly close ahead”, there’s going to be a good stretch of water between the moon and the ship. Full astern?? and hard right??

None of this makes sense. Doesn’t add up.

I was talking about the captain’s chair in the CIC.

And all warships I have served in have a a captain’s chair on the bridge with good position. The OOW would often sneak a sit down in the quiet times at night but not want to get caught.

I once ate a sandwich during the night in the captain’s chair and he found the crumbs next morning. He knew as well as any that we did it, but wanted to capitalise on his “seaman’s eye” for detail as a lesson to us lesser mortals that we were in the presence of greatness.

That’s what I was talking about. In the RAN the OOW has the con but is unrestrained to any place. In this circumstance if the OOW was only on the centreline she would have had a restricted view of the closing ship.

The RAN. In the navy lookouts and helmsmen were the most junior of sailors and could be on their first watch in that role. They rotate through these tricks for an hour each. They have to learn somehow. In such situations they need guidance and encouragement and to remove their automatic fear of disturbing their seniors doing important stuff on the bridge. If they don’t feel the confidence to interrupt by reporting a sighting they’ll just shut up.

I once had such a lookout. He was very nervous and unsure of himself. As OOW I talked to him and briefed him to expect a light soon on a particular bearing. Some time later he excitedly screamed “There it is! Over there! I saw it!” completely stuffing up the reporting procedure but nevertheless getting an encouragement. It was the first thing he’d ever seen as lookout and he felt valued.

Yes, talk to your lookouts. Encourage and coach. Test them on what they see. They are junior but want to feel part of the team.

No it doesn’t add up to any experienced officer,but to this particular one at that particular time it was his instant reaction which he took (too instantly) which was so funny for the whole ship.

The important lesson though was that the captain didn’t mind being called and made that clear by joking about it in future orders. The lesson is clear; call him without worrying.

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In that case the BMOW would be sent out to get the lookout squared away, sounds like you’ve never been in any Navy.

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In the RAN * (remember, I’m talking about a different navy with different routines and different traditions and different standards) the lookouts work direct to the OOW - nobody else. They therefore are the responsibility of the OOW to brief and keep on top of. Sounds like you deem it beneath the exalted OOW to talk to junior sailors. That’s a perfect way to alienate them and make them reluctant to report sightings.

Furthermore, in the RAN the BM works for the quartermaster (the senior helmsman who supervises the helmsmen if needed) and is again a very junior sailor who is in no authority over lookouts as I’ve stated. The BM runs the ship’s routine, broadcasting announcements, running errands, etc.

It has also been my experience that the OOW, navigator and captain are the best lookouts spotting things before most lookouts do. I would make it a sort of competition for the lookout to try to beat me in first sighting. It kept them on the ball as the captain would do to his officers. It would be a matter of considerable pride for a lookout to beat his captain seeing something. In this case the lookouts (I haven’t heard them mentioned) just stood there and watched a great big ship hit them. Were they struck mute as was the OOD? Did they just assume everybody else could see what they were seeing and leave it at that? We’ll see.

How condescending. Why would you even react to someone so far beneath your exalted status?

  • = Royal Australian Navy for the wilfully ignorant.

Do I need to start an ‘enough with the Australian s*#@‘ thread? I think we have a new champion deserving the D.B. Cooper award for thread highjacking in our midst.

Quote from the article. “After the collision, a test taken by a control group of officers on board showed that the average score on “rules of the road” at sea was 59 percent, with just three officers scoring over 80 percent, Mooney said.”

When was the last time any of you did a rule of the road test as in an actual written exam?

It’s been some time for me as captain but we tend to grill our cadets vigorously.

My naval years were different. All watchkeeping officers (bridge and Ops room/CIC) had to sit and pass the exam yearly with 100% score in the steering and sailing rules. Failure was unheard of and the consequences would be dire. Sacked as OOW and destined to understudy someone possibly junior to you for a period of penance until trusted again was the expected penalty.

Perhaps the RAN was still smarting from two devastating collisions between our aircraft carrier HMAS MELBOURNE and first the destroyer HMAS VOYAGER, then years later with destroyer USS FRANK E EVANS, both with considerable loss of life. Both ships were escorting the carrier and changing station (a nominated position relative to the guide, normally the carrier). Both turned across her bows and somehow lost visual perspective and were sliced clean in two despite drastic last minute manoeuvring by MELBOURNE.

After those lessons, just as I was under training, there was no excuse for any laxness in rule of the road.

Naval operations are different from a pure reading of the rules. Ships in formation are manoeuvred as a unit with the OTC (officer in tactical command) taking responsibility for avoidance of other shipping. If individual ships are in doubt they would request approval to manoeuvre and resume station on completion. Furthermore, junior ships act with deference to senior ships, avoiding passing ahead without approval etc.

All of this has little to do with these collisions but it should point to a greater awareness of officers in destroyers for collision avoidance in addition to simple rules of the road. My experience has been that naval ships prefer to manoeuvre even if the stand on ship because they simply have fewer time constraints and more power/speed and turning ability and like giving junior OOWs the experience of making bold alterations in good time to stay outside any CPA restrictions set by the captain. The OOW would call the captain and state his intentions to do so and the captain would generally be happy to pass well clear.

I cannot recall any case at sea where I was the stand on vessel and just stood on towards a collision and watched and hoped the burdened vessel would do something. It’s simply better to avoid close quarters situations if possible by acting much earlier. That would have been difficult in a high traffic area with separation schemes admittedly.

Incidentally, as master of a sailing ship (pre AIS) I have been called up more times than is comfortable at night and asked by a passing merchantman what those funny green and red lights on the mast mean.

Could you direct my attention to ANY “Australian s*#@‘” please?

Am I “highjacking” by being on topic? Or simply saying things you don’t like?

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Not only the lookouts but also the helmsmen are the most junior, thus unexperienced sailors, even possibly on their first watch or turn on the helm! This is an undervaluation of both jobs which require thorough training. Funny way to run a ship, good luck with that.