Inadvertent Black Outs

I worked on a ferry built in the early 70s that had that sort of system but very basic. It worked perfectly on sea trials, generators starting and stopping as electrical load was increased and decreased. At least it did until the Senior Electrician went behind the switchboard and found a number of French shipyard men pushing buttons to make it all happen! Mind you, on the same sea trials it was decided that as it was flat calm the stabilizers could be tested by making them cause the ship to roll rather than stopping it roll. A signal was fed to the gyro and the ship blacked out. This was because the emergency switchboard, which hadn’t been bolted down, fell over. An inadvertent blackout!


That’s a nightmare. Funnily enough Im a chief on the Bob and can’t say it’s quite that exciting, even though she is also a former Norwegian coast guard vessel. Although the generators do not synchronize so when changing over you have a window of self induced blackout which is stressful and takes shipwide coordination. The worst blackout was the ultimate human error- grounding in the lagoon in Venice. I had just joined the ship and it was my first sail- we made it about one cable when she heeled over and didn’t right. Then the seal on the SW pump went. Made me wonder those guys above and the pilot were up to.
The Gen and main were running on emergency cooling for a short time when I had to secure them due to rising temp. A QM comes flying down asking what’s going on and he was lucky I was new or he would have had a spanner lodged somewhere on his person.
So we were in the mud, every service pump and HX loaded with silt. Lights and bridge toys off for a bit to let them think about what they had done before we went to emergency generator. It was the most stressful but yet satisfying blackout I’ve had.

The pilot was upset with us for killing propulsion; he had a real can do attitude and wanted to try the main again before we lost too much water but we stayed there for 11 hours until the tide came up and the tugs had us off the bar.

I’ve got nothing quite as exciting a everyone elses but here’s my few,

1st time I experienced a black out was when I was still an Oiler, I was running OMU on a Ro/Ro at the time, and apparently this ship had a faulty Shaft Gen (later on in the voyage the Chief and 1st would find a loose ground wire), we’re about three days into crossing the Atlantic and I remember it vividly, I was finishing my morning readings and walking across the M/E upper deck in front of the Cylinders when I hear the Turbos suddenly start to bark, followed a few seconds later by total darkness, was kind of surreal. Made my way to the control room, 1st and Chief got the plant back up and we continued on our way. That entire trip though, at least once or twice a weak when on that shaft generator we would lose power.

Now to something that happened actually not too long ago, I’m an Assistant on a Z-Drive Tug. We were inline behind the ship and I was sitting in the Galley calculating fuel soundings when I notice the A/C kicks off, followed by the lights going out, We still had the Mains, and Winch Engine but I know I have about 15 minutes worth of batteries before we lose everything, first thing crank up the offline gen bring it up, make sure everything is okay before checking the one that decided to go on Coffee Break. It was throwing a Code, found the code which was a vague “FUEL PUMP: ELECTRICAL” said "ah hell why not " and took the wiring harness off, cleaned the contactors, checked the plugs reconnected it all and she fired right back up and ran great…for 3 days then she quit again (turns out the whole harness had gone bad, oops)


A lifetime ago, on my first voyage as a captain on an Aleutian freighter, we had just finished heading north on the Inside Passage of British Columbia, and had set a foot in the Gulf of Alaska, when the engine room fixed fire-fighting system dumped without being activated.

The chief engineer on watch ran for his life as the gas operated alarm sounded. I was on watch in the wheelhouse. Listening to the gas operated siren, I tried to figure out what the hell was going on. No one had reported a fire. After 30 seconds of siren, a rumble came from the engine room and white CO2 vapor shot from the ventilators in the stack and from around the gaskets of the doors leading to the engine room. Then everything dimmed as the generators and main engines died.

The release lever for the fixed system stood untouched in its glass covered red box. No one had touched it. We were still investigating what happened, the ship rolling dead in the water, the ER sealed off because of the gas, when the AC lights came back on by themselves after 15 minutes after going out. After that, the chief donned an SCBA and restarted the main engines.

The reason for everything: this was the first voyage for this ship. She had recently been converted from a fish processor to a freighter. The CO2 system had been worked on and bottles added. But the vendor had forgotten a key detail. He had forgotten to tighten the CO2 bottles in their brackets. Not a problem on the calm waters of the Salish Sea and Inside Passage. But once we got out into the Gulf of Alaska and started rolling, the CO2 bottles began rocking in their brackets. And because the activation cable was stationary while the trigger bottle rocked away from it, the effect was the same as if someone had pulled the cable.

The main engines died because they couldn’t get enough air. But for whatever reason, the generators didn’t die. They just went into a low idle (I"m sure there’s a more technical term), until such time as the oxygen level reestablished itself and they sped up fast enough to produce enough volts to power the system.


Unless your working for an oil company that insist you keep certain breakers open inhibiting the system from being able to do its thing and let it do what you describe.

I know if two instances where boats blacked out due to human error due to said oil companies insistence to override the computer system which would have otherwise been caught by the computer.

The last thing that I want having control of my CO2 system, or generators, is another damned computer.


I agree with you about the CO2 but I’ve never heard of an automation system that controlled the CO2. Concerning the nearly dummy-proof automated switchboard & generators, they are like all other modern conveniences. The GPS in your car, your smart phone, your energy saving washer-dryer, your led lights, your home security system, your fancy lawnmower & the programmable thermostat & coffee pot etc., once you get used to them you start to rely on them & one day you scratch your head & wonder how you ever lived without them. On those newer class of vessels, I went years without a blackout or any concern about a generator becoming overloaded. I’m happily working on an older style ship again & the load, switchboard & generators are always somewhere in my thoughts until I step foot on the gangplank to go home. Don’t complain about it until you try it is all I’m saying.

The CO2 siren is something I am glad that I never had the opportunity to hear, especially when I was down below. . . .

I heard it a couple of times when customs rummagers felt they were entitled to open the door of the operating cabinet without first talking to ship’s staff. Neither could understand why I became somewhat irate with them.

I only got to hear one once! We were getting a small tanker ready for reefing and the yardbirds set the system off! They had somehow by passed to delay so as soon as it sounded, no more breathing! Not sure how everyone made it out but we all did. This is something that I NEVER what to experience again!

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