Housekeeping is watchkeeping

So they’ve let our motormen go. We never had wipers or oilers. The machinery space is vast: 2 engine rooms, 2 compressor rooms, 2 auxiliary rooms, AHU spaces, 8 thruster rooms, 4 pump rooms… We are doing breakdown maintenance nearly everyday. We’ve been working so hard to get on top of the housekeeping, but there’s just no time left anymore! The rounds still need to be done, the things still need to be fixed, PMs still come due.

How can we be happy, do the work to a high professional standard, feel safe, be confident that we are catching the little things before they become big things if we don’t have the manpower? If everything becomes filthy and disorganised? How can we feel proud and satisfied with our work and workplace? Why does shore-side believe that light, air, water, power, toilets, food storage, and propulsion are not important enough to support? They have the gall to demand that we sanitise ‘frequently touched surfaces’ such as keyboards multiple times each watch, and take away our department members in the same mask-covered breath.


Emrobu, I cannot say I feel your pain without being there, and have no wish for that. When I went from 12 man crew to ten, was a pain in the ass. When I went from ten to eight, was totally pissed. That was it, I told the company we cannot operate safely and expect to pass a yearly audit on operations and “Cleanliness” and “Appearance” Did get an extra man for a bit, but not as a permanent man. Raised hell every crew change, and they sent the extra guy. Loved my job, but the reduced manning was a ballbreaker for my crew. My rig always looked good at the dock, the vetting customer had no idea how we obtained that. My hat will always be off to my most excellent crews engine and deck I sailed with that put up with the bean counters bullshit.


Welcome to the new world offshore. Hence why I left my last company. Over the years we lost over 25% of the engine dept to cuts. And not just entry level but also knowledgable supervisors. Of course we could do more with less, but eventually you reach the breakeven where you can’t. And then, as you say, its just breakdown maintenance every day instead of preventative or predictive.

When it got to the point where we were just putting bandaids on things due to time/budget/contractual/revenue constraints, I finally made the call that I wasn’t willing to put my name on it any more. I couldn’t in good conscience continue allowing the degradation of the vessel knowing that the useful life was declining every day we weren’t able to do proper maintenance. I voiced my opinions/objections, they fell on deaf ears. When I gave my notice those ears suddenly took interest, but it was obvious change was not imminent.


This started in late 80’s early 90’s for me. Can’t imagine or maybe I can what is going on now.

Its not about appearances. Housekeeping isn’t pretty-making. Its heart and soul of safety and reliability.


To the vetting customer, it is. To the crew, it is not. I think we may be on the same page, maybe not… My crew and engine maintainence came first. But at the same time, if the potential customer sees a shitty looking vessel, we don’t get the job. Balance is important. The extra crew member mostly went to the engineers, who for the most part covered our ass quite well. Staying along the line posted “Housekeeping is watchkeeping”.


100% agree. And it goes a long way in successful regulatory inspections.


It’s best not to worry about weird demands from shoreside that are huge over reactions. They’ll stamp and shout and demand you do xyz but they aren’t there. Just roll your eyes and do the best you can to keep the plant going.

I think you should stay focused on your priorities (propulsion/power). Then take pictures of areas that need attention. “We cannot keep this area clean and tidy without violating STCW hours” if they can’t help then run up the STCW violations keeping it clean. Make those hours red, fuck with those shoreside assholes.


Unrealistic expectations. That is what I ran into when my employers did the same cost cutting measures that you describe. At the beginning, both them & I had a higher expectation than what the crew could possiblely do with the reduced manning. Luckily I held it together longer than others to let management see the results of their shoestring budget philosophy. Once I eventually failed like the rest before me, they shrugged their shoulders & unceremoniously told me, “decent job” for carrying on for as long as I did. It’s not rocket surgery, just do the best that you can for the longest that you can. Don’t break any laws, don’t get anybody hurt & use your Safety Management System to the hilt. You’ll be okay. Don’t take it personally. They’re in it for the money, you do the same, as long as the paychecks keep coming, keep dancing.


Nailed it Sand_Pebble.

To some extent we were able to get more shore-side assistance.

One issue is class or PSC and others would come aboard and see poor housekeeping but that doesn’t go on the report. Instead without thinking, they look for specific items. This means the office side never understands the root cause is too little man-hours available.

For example “oil leak on #2 generator”. That gets fixed and next time it’s something else. Crew ends up never being able to catch up to fix the real problem. The actual overall issue has to be communicated to shore side.

Either need a cleaning crew after heavy engine room work or shift engine room work to shore-side techs or similar solution.


I sailed for awhile on tugs where there was only one engineer (unless a trainee was aboard). And, this was back in the 80s. Bring a tug back from a three week trip with a spotless engine room, get bitched out about equipment issues. Come back with everything running, get bitched at about cleanliness. . . after a couple of hitches, I got the hang of it. . .oh, and lots of OT.


For lack of a better phrase, that is called “Rolling with the punches”. The fact that you punched back with the OT and a smile is priceless. OT was one of the other things they took away in the late 80’s, glad you got it. They did however keep 2 engineers. You had a tough job and took it in stride.Good for you sir. I always bought the first beer in the airport at crew change for my blessed engineers.

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Well, I left there for a gig on an ATB. For the first couple of years, there were just two in the engine room. Honestly, too much work between both the tug and barge. I was young and stupid and ran myself into the ground keeping up, but I did lobby for and got another engineer, and that made life quite a bit better.

Oh, and thanks for the beer. . . even if it wasn’t me in particular. . .

I may have shared this story on this site,maybe not. We were having major problems while loading/discharging in the river. Engineers and tankerman were up and down on the barge all day and night… I told the company these guys are worn out and I need an extra man or a maintainence/repair crew to take care of the multiple problems. I had a new hire the trip before that was very promising, and had engine room and tankerman experience. Just so happened he was on another one our units as an extra hand downriver a bit from our dock. I told HR if they would let me have him it would be a great help. They said ok. Under cover of darkness,got out of the notch, went downriver and snatched him off the barge (much to the dismay of the Barge captain) and took him back to our crew. He was grateful to get off that rig as they were grooming him for a tankerman. We got the help we needed and all worked out. Best part of the story… he ended up getting his engineer license, was my Asst Engineer for a bit, and ended up as my CE just before I retired. He is still employed at the same company and well respected. He kept an immaculate engine room, and I never broke down on his watch. As a Texan, he bitched with the best, but I knew talent when I saw it. He rolled with the punches. We are friends to this day.


Hehe. . . THAT is one way to do it. . . and we are all bitching when we are happy. I get concerned when it stops. . . .

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I was grinning the whole time.Especially at the Barge Captain that was pontificating so elaborately why I couldn’t take his helper/OS. Threatened me with “I’m gonna call the office!” My response… Please do. With a smile of course. I would like to think I had a hand in changing that young mans career, he may have sought it on his own later on, but my crew and I hurried that process up. One of the best moves I ever made on behalf of a fellow that needed a break and helped us through a difficult situation.


There is an old rule for PSV’s that give a quiet life; two boats and 36 hours steaming from the field to the beach. I had a period when we were an hour and a half from the beach and the only boat. Management thought that having the AB/ cook on the back deck 12 hours a day was OK. After two days of sandwiches we got an extra hand.
Cleaning your own cabin is in your own time, outside the door counts as hours worked, ships have extensive areas that need to be kept clean and the manning should be sufficient to achieve this.
What happened to those “time and motion experts” of the 1970’s?
If we could unearth one and sit them down with the ship’s PMP and company instructions and see what one come up with.
The Gaard Instructions to Masters comes to mind; 450 pages of the master shall, should, must, etc, etc. I covered what I could but until I found the 60 hour day I wasn’t perfect.

The guys that cleaned the rooms then were refered to as fart shakers. I cleaned my own room.

for NOAA the rules say unlicensed eng. clean the officers rooms but i never did see it implemented. it may of been changed by now but i really doubt 10 yrs. is enough time to shake that out. Were some eng. to try implementing that it’d prob be grounds for a sea lawyer!!