NightMating Question

Hey Fellas, couple quick questions from a recent graduate. I did my cadet shipping with Alaska Marine Highway and I know all jobs are slow. Recently joined MMP and going to start NightMating just to pay off some bills while I wait to ship out. Any advice? Never been on a container ship and really don’t know what to expect. What’s a night mates primary job? How to deal with the longshoremans? And what should I be looking out for when loading and discharging containers and reefers?

If one of the guys at your MMP Hall can give you a run-down on 1) the numbering system for container stowage slots, 2) how to check lashings, and 3) how to check reefers, that would be very helpful. Also, best thing to do is get the nightmate second shift, then get there a couple of hours early. Spend the two hours walking around with the nightmate that you’ll be relieving. Have him show you as much as he (or she) can.

Does anyone know if nightmates jobs are still happening with the current situation?

Night mate jobs are definitely still happening.

You are basically responsible for everything at the same time. Hours and hours of easy and not much going on balanced with times it is not possible to be doing everything your supposed to be doing simultaneously.

The biggees; Don’t let the gangway rip off, don’t part a line, keep the ship trim, make sure refers get plugged in asap and un-plugged before being pulled. make sure refers are loaded with motors facing the correct direction. Ah the favorite sailing watch. There is so much more…

They’ll have you shadow someone a couple of times. If your still not comfortable shadow some more.
Plan on getting yelled at by Chief Mates for awhile and know that’s normal, especially if your new. You’ll be fine.

Who doesn’t love them some nightmating?

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You won’t be allowed to do your first night mate job alone anyway.

You’ll be paired with someone else, probably someone who has done it often. Just stick to them and watch what they do, ask questions and be careful.

Can’t be emphasized enough. Usually whoever is plugging in will be out on deck, but if reefers get loaded unexpectedly when they’re not, CALL THEM. Coming down after being knocked off for 6 hour break in reefer cargo to hear “well, they loaded a box five hours ago, but I didn’t call because it’s only one box and I figured you needed your rest” can really ruin your day.

On a related note, understand that depending on the company/port, the load plan may be more of a vague suggestion.

My first port relief officer gig right out of school was slightly embarrassing if I remember correctly. I went up to the bow to check the lines and came back to find the gang had finished a hatch and moved onto another. Thinking that the times in the cargo log had to be EXACT I proceeded to ask the nice checker with a Gullah accent what time they finished the previous hold. He turns to me and says “you ain’t been doing this long have you?” No sir I had not.

We all start somewhere.

To the OP. Be honest with the Chief Mate that you have never worked a P.R.O. watch before. They will sigh and possibly be a bit of a dick, but they will at least know what to expect. Then do all the things mentioned previously. Especially the reefers. From my own personal preference: Don’t spend an inordinate amount of time shooting the shit with the gangway watch or up on the bridge. Your job is out on deck constantly moving to catch anything happening with the cargo (and things happen). Ask if they have a preferred P.R.O. log book entry and dig back in the log books if you can to see how the mate’s or other P.R.O.s have filled out the log.

Keep the ship tight alongside, relieve the gangway watch for a piss midway through their watch, be at the hatch cover every time they are removing or covering, and be able to answer the Chief Mate if he asks where they are in the cargo ops. A good rule of thumb for container ships is roughly 30 moves per hour per crane. You can get a rough estimate of how much time is left to cargo ops if you keep a count of what is left to load or discharge.

Finally. Bring your own bag of snacks, water, and possibly coffee if you don’t want to mess with the ship’s machine. You are a visitor aboard, but you are also signing the logbook with your license so be professional and act like a mate.

Good luck


Having been a central planner for a liner trade I would be more than irate if someone loading the ship took the plan as a suggestion. The plan is formulated for the loading expected for the following ports and central planning gives guidance to the port planner after discussion with other ports.
The US west coast ports were shocking in the early days of containerisation and we had the IT department write a programme to correct the stowage plan correctly after the ship’s mates had gone through the holds with notebooks. The result was that DG code was not followed and containers had to be expensively restowed in Australia.

Not quite what I meant, Hog.

I wasn’t saying that the guys loading were ignoring the plan, I was saying that (with SOME companies) the plan continuously changed after cargo ops started. So, for example, even if the original printout showed no reefers in row X, there was about a 25% chance that the final printout would have several there.

A better way to phrase it would have been to say that when Eterrible gets paperwork while nightmating, he should understand that while it was accurate when it was printed, it may not be accurate when he’s out looking at it.


I generally prefer mating in the morning when I wake up but sometimes mating right before bed is good too.


I had to get familiar with some terminology as well…

Long crane: The one with the most moves left to complete operations.
Short crane: The one with the least.

Sometimes they’d call and ask how many moves are left, which on large ships can be a bitch and a half. By the time I’d walk the hatches that were being worked and count off based on the load/discharge plan (the way that mate wanted it done) the numbers were always way off. Just ask the hatch bosses and factor in your gear boxes. Which leads me to the last point…

Gear boxes/bins. Make sure they’re all accounted for and final stowage locations noted. The CM may be very specific where they want them, sometimes not so specific.

Learn the BAY, ROW and TIER system too.

Thanks for this. What’s the biggest difference when you have the sailing watch? I assume that’s when all the hatches are closed and all cargo ops are done.

Really appreciate this! Who do you talk to as far as if the lashings are incorrect? I know you’re not suppose to actually talk to the longshoreman themselves. What are you looking for when you looking at the lashings and cones?

This is super helpful thanks! What are the gearboxes? Also do you know specifically which containers are loading or discharging? I’m guessing it’s in the load plan. Is the chief mate usually out there? As far as reefers go what are you looking at to make sure they’re plugged in correctly and working?

Gearboxes are racks with bins on them which contain the stacking cones/twist locks that belong to the ship. You’ll see them on the dock or if you’re early enough they’ll be one of the first things to come off the ship. They’ll usually be the last things put aboard.

Your load/discharge plan should resemble a profile of each hold, with each square a specific color (squares are indicating a box) by port. So the key might show yellow being the boxes due to be offloaded in the port of Newark, and on the load plan all boxes being put on will be, say purple or orange. Maersk has reefer bay plans as well, which the other companies may or may not have (Pasha does not… they still use the old and very annoying Sealand Reefer books.) These are super helpful, and your electrician should also have a copy which means they know what the game plan is as well.

Be sure to write down the times you call the electrician out to plug/unplug and when you knock them off. This is how they calculate their OT, so if you forget or fuck it up no one will be happy. When the electro plugs in, you’ll have to check the boxes 20-30 minutes later to ensure that they are IN RANGE (green light) or at least cooling off. This would mean that the motor is on and you observe the temperature moving towards the box’s “set point.” When boxes are unplugged you should note the time the electro calls this in as well as the time the unplugged boxes are offloaded. Any errors or malfunctions must be reported immediately. Sometimes the electro can fix them, sometimes you must call in a reefer tech from the terminal. Don’t hesitate to report these things! If they need to yank the box, so be it. Best to catch it before it is deep in a stack of other boxes.

Occasionally you’ll get HV (high value) reefers which have extremely sensitive cargo inside. These must be plugged in as soon as they are locked in place and unplugged basically when the spreader is almost ready to grab the box, to minimize time unplugged and preserve the contents. If so, keep an extra sharp eye out for these and have the electro on super speed dial.

What’s the difference between the superintendent and the hatch boss? Is the superintendent in charge of the people lashing? If you don’t like the way they lashed who do you talk to?