Hot and Cold / Decks and Engine Rooms

Ahh come on, take a joke. Why mates always gotta be so uptight?

A question: on these old tankers you speak of, did the engineers have to stand watches in a hot/noisy engine room with no A/C?

Yes, they stood watch indoors in a warm, dry place.


You sure it was warm? On our ships in Alaska our engineers claim it snows down there and they’re all wearing winter jackets! Thankfully I’m not there so I’ll never know…

I think the old steam ship E/Rs were warmer than the diesel ships.

Yea I guess that’s probably true.

No good for watertight integrity and not good for fixed CO2 extinguishing system to have an engine room open to the environment…

What ships did you sail on up there??

Except when that ship is a diesel and needs a lot of air pumped in by blowers to operate…

Most ships are diesel driven today. Usually air is supplied by fans in W/T ventilators or intakes, placed well above freeboard deck…

Right…which is how the snow gets in.

In that case; badly designed ventilation system.


I’ve never seen it but my understanding was snow or something like it would form in the colder parts of the engine room then fall. Didn’t come from the outside. I assume that the stories are true but don’t know for sure.

I recall telling someone the story of how we’d iced up one winter in the Bering. Guy asks me how thick? I tell him about 1/8 of an inch. He tells me that ain’t shit. I tell him yes, but I’m talking about inside the house.

Maybe that’s it. Frost forming on cold steel surfaces than falling off.

The old two house steam tankers I sailed in had engine room skylights. The skylights were heavy steel construction and held open by air pressure activated rams. Shutting off the air caused the skylights to slam shut. The engine room contained the boilers which were a closed stokehold, only the front of the boiler was pressurised.
The engine room was not the best place to be in the tropics but it was quiet compared to diesel ships and definitely better than on deck when it snowed.
The pump room was less so. Descending about 80 feet in the gloom of a few lights in explosive proof fittings in the Persian Gulf with crude oil coming in at120 F and a steam reciprocating stripping pump in the bottom plates adding unwanted heat. The cargo pumps were controlled by telegraphs until the pump was running and speed was controlled by the mate on deck.
All valves were manual with a wheel key standard equipment and the deck side coveralls always looked like they had climbed out of an oil drum. If the engineers had put a shirt and tie under their coveralls they would have looked like a surveyor.
With no walkie talkies a good pair of lungs was a prerequisite for a mate on deck and as second mate on the poop deck almost 700 feet from the bridge wing interpretation of the docking telegraph was necessary. It had its compensations. The Indian crew had three separate galleys, one for us and one each for the engine and deck crew. Because docking seemed to occur at lunch time I could compare curries and after choosing one could eat sitting on a bollard out of sight giving orders between mouthfuls.

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The Caltex Calcutta (12,000 tons, 12 knots, 5000hp Doxford LB) had skylights that were held open by latches on the boat deck. I well remember closing them one winter crossing of the North Atlantic because of the sea coming through in great gouts. Unfortunately the engine then drew a vacuum on the engine room because the ventilation system wasn’t large enough! I opened them again and then met the disapproval of the Second because he came below and found me wearing a sou’wester! He accused me of taking the piss, which I was.

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On the Tjeld Class (Nasty) MTBs the air intake for the Engine room was at the stern and terminated a bit above the bottom of the steering gear flat.

The two 3600 Hp Deltic Diesels required a lot of air, which was sucked from there to the engine room via openings high on the bulkhead between them.

This arrangement was to allow any water to drain out and be pumped over board from the “aft peak”/ steering gear space and relatively dry air being fed to the engines.

One time while we were sailing at a leisurely phase of 36 kts. on a clear cold day in Northern Norway. Ice formed under the air intake, eventually chocking off the air flow.

The 3rd Engineer was sitting in his comfortable chair in the control room with a plexiglass window to the Engine room in front of him. Since it was calm and we were not doing any sudden maneuvers he did not use the safety belt (as required)

When the engines sucked the last bit of air out of the engine room, creating a near vacuum, the plexiglass window was sucked into the engine room,. The 3rd Eng. followed and landed between the two diesels, that stopped from lack of air.

Luckily he had also left the Emergency escape hatch from the control room to deck slightly open (also against instructions) so air entered the E/R fairly quickly. He did not suffocate and was not badly hurt. (Only bruised and emberrest)

We were also running in “Open Alpha” formation, with 200 yards between the boats. We were second boat in the formation, but the two boats following us managed to turn, before climbing up our arse.

Just another day of no excitement in the Royal Norwegian Navy on winter patrol in Northern Norway.

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When I was with Texaco Overseas Tankerships (ex Caltex) all the engineers with steam tickets were trying to get a motor endorsement and we had only 2 motor ships both ex Regent product carriers. I did a brief trip in a T2 with naphtha which was like a holiday cruise and my last trip was the Texaco London 272,700 DWT when she was new. Steam turbine UMS, probably near the pinnacle of steam development in the merchant navy.

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On the Noble Discoverer when we were sitting in Seward over the winter we had some snow in the Gen. room. We had turned off most of the fans and we’d get the occasional flurry coming in from outside on the offline units. Also, the water supply for the Generator head tanks was piped directly below that ventilation trunk, 3" pipe frozen solid for about 2 ft.

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Now this is no shit … when snorkeling on the old diesel subs air for the engines was taken through the snorkel induction mast then fed to the main induction (a plenum of sorts) the through a maze of piping (about 20" diameter if I recall correctly) to the engine rooms. About halfway down the length of the engine room on the centerline overhead was an induction hull valve. That valve delivered air to a sheet metal plenum in the overhead where it split into two arms, one going outboard the port engine and the other outboard the starboard engine. In the center of the plenum was a round plastic viewing port about 18 inches in diameter. We could watch the port and get some idea of how much water might be getting through the piping. In the winter or in rough weather we would keep the port in place and any water would drain down to the bilges outboard the engines.

In warm climates we removed the port so we would get a blast of relatively cool fresh air. It was the submarine equivalent of hanging around under a ventilator.

The snorkel induction mast had three electrodes spaced around the valve, water covering any two would complete a circuit and close the valve. When that happened all engine air was taken from inside the boat and since all watertight doors were open they would subject the entire volume to a rapid climb to a few thousand feet in altitude. When the offending wave passed and the snorkel induction opened again an enormous volume of air would refill the boat in seconds. The blast of air from the engine room overhead was spectacular. When snorkeling, if the wise watchstander felt the gale of wind stop, he would move to a more sheltered area and make sure nothing was loose on the log desk because it would only be moments before a hurricane hit the engine room.

It was a system that worked pretty well for the most part but the geometry of 3 electrodes spaced around the valve meant that a sneaky wave might still be able to pour a considerable amount of water through the undefended 240 degrees of open area. There was a water separator just downstream of the induction mast but it was not all that large and frequently would be flooded enough to allow a solid slug of water to fill the piping and head toward the engine room. What made this phenomenon so interesting is that a slug of water about 20 inches in diameter and maybe 6 feet long weighs around 8 or 900 pounds and when the head valve opens again it is suddenly accelerated to fire monitor velocity. The air blast alone is enough to make a grown man stumble but when the solid water arrives it delivers his bruised and soaking body to the far end of the engine room.

How could anyone not love those boats?


You mentioned only a diesel port and starboard. I naturally assumed that the diesel boat you served in was US. The boat I served in was a T class Brit built in 1944 called Trump (HaHa ) known as “the fighting fart” with all the home comforts of a semi- furnished sewer pipe. It gave new meaning to the old naval expression “suck back” when snorkeling. With no showers we didn’t get a lot of attention from the puzzle palace when we first arrived alongside.

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Not surprised. I saw the Noble Discoverer in Singapore in 2014, when preparing for the Shell job in Alaska:
She looked like “something put together by a committee”
A real patchwork, more suited for the scrap yard then the Arctic.