Tips and advice for a brand new 3rd Assistant engineer with no experience on ships

Recently, graduated from one of the academies and I was way in over my head while I was working my first and second job. So, I am looking for some advice and even some reading material that will help me out. Anything will be helpful and very much appreciated.

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How to be a third engineer


Osbournes are good books. Also when out to sea look at all the manuals

Are you referring to the Marine Engineer’s Bible?

Modern marine engineers handbook. However I guess they aren’t Osborne anymore but rather now called hunts. Excellent books

Who wouldn’t want to work with a “cool engineer?” But seriously. I’m no engineer but from what I have gleaned from the ones I’ve worked with over the last couple decades there are a few key traits they all seem to be looking for. Solid mechanical skills are the top one. I hear too many complaints of engineers who apparently could pass the exam but can’t turn a wrench or trouble shoot issues with various systems in the plant.

Second would be junior engineers that know when to ask for help when they are indeed over their head. I share this on the deck side and recognize a good officer when they simply ask how I would prefer certain things are done. It varies from ship to ship and those that understand this are almost always successful in my book.

Lastly, retain everything you learn and apply it to every subsequent job you are tasked with. No one should expect a new third to know everything but you have to learn quickly and not need constant retraining on routine tasks. This may not have been your problem but when you’re working with people who have been doing the job for a long time you may not get much on the job training. We simply don’t have time. That’s what you’re cadet time was supposed to have been for.

Good luck

Ok, I got both of them. I will hit those books again. Thanks.

How does a kid graduate from an academy and get a license without having a clue of how to do his first TWO jobs as lowly 3AE? He has Chief and a 1AE to adjust his training wheels and change his diapers.

Why aren’t you asking those professors who failed to teach you anything?

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If the OP went to gulf supply boats, it can happen easily. Pumping and moving mud and dry bulk can be daunting for a green AE. Hell, I’ve had to replace new chiefs that couldn’t figure it out. Not to mention the ones can’t figure out a burnt out fuse.

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How about sailing unlicensed for a hitch or two? Get to know the ropes a little and get some mentoring from the guys without the responsibility?


Get a job and go to work. No one expects a 3AE to know anything but the basics. Pitch in and help the other assistants and engineers. No book can teach you how to spin wrenches. Read the equipment manuals on board and whenever someone is doing anything be there to help. Just work more than anyone else and ask questions, you’ll be OK. There is NO secret, just work your ass off and ask questions.

This. I would also add in to study the piping diagrams for the systems you’re in charge of and then physically trace out the system so it makes sense to you.

Secondly, when you run into a problem, look in the manual first before you seek help. That way you can start your question with “I was looking in the manual and it says _________________, but I’m confused because of ______________.” This shows that you tried to solve your own problem first before seeking help.

Also, as previously stated, you have to retain what you’re taught. Nothing is worse than having someone make the same mistakes over and over and/or have to be told/taught the same thing over and over.

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Many new officers don’t have good listening skills. I sometimes tell new mates to repeat back instructions.

Listening skills are not really needed at school (or home). In most cases details that are missed can be found in the text, notes or just ask a classmate. Or just miss that question.

Not the case when the 1 A/E gives instructions - need to repeat back.


I disagree about them not being needed at home…

The reason they are not needed is because at home almost all the messages are in an understood context. For example " no video games until you’ve done your homework" is understood because it’s been heard many times and the meaning is well understood.

By contrast the message “When you light the incinerator make sure you (blah blah blah) first” requires it be listened to closely to be understood.

Never heard before and no context if the third has never laid eyes on the incinerator.


Ah. Of course. I come from an…experience…where what was heard was typically drastically different from what was said, with a bunch of unintended emotional loading attached. Was wearying to put it gently.

Three-Part Communication

As part of an overall “Effective Communication” effort, this tool is designed to ensure the message sent is the message received, and yes, this should become part of the fabric in your communication culture when the message has undesirable consequences if not transmitted or received adequately.

In three-part (sometimes called “three-way” or “repeatback”) communication, the sender (worker) states the message, the receiver (probably another worker) acknowledges the sender and repeats the message in a paraphrased form, and the sender acknowledges the receiver’s reply. This method can be used to communicate changes to physical facility equipment during work activities via face-to-face, telephone or radio modes of communication. It also is used to ensure that critical steps (e.g., within a safety critical procedure) are being strictly followed. Like the other tools, this one engages workers because they perform it themselves as a communications team.


The goal of effective communication is mutual understanding between two or more people , especially communication involving technical information related to proper operation or personnel safety. Effective communication is likely the most important defense in the prevention of errors and events. Oral communication possesses a greater risk of misunderstanding compared to written forms of communication. Mistakes are most likely to occur when the individuals involved have different understandings, or mental models, of the current work situation or use terms that are potentially confusing. Therefore, confirmation of verbal exchanges of operational information between individuals must occur to promote understanding and reliability of the communication. Many times, these individuals will not be in the same physical location and require a phone or a radio to communicate.

When to use this tool:

  • Task assignments that impact equipment or activities, the safety of personnel, the environment, or the grid.
  • When communicating condition of equipment.
  • When communicating the value of an important parameter.
  • Performance of steps or actions using an approved procedure.
  • Operation or alteration of equipment.

How to use this tool:

  1. Sender states the message.
  2. When practical, the sender and receiver should be face to face.
  3. The sender ensures that he/she has the receiver’s attention—normally calling the receiver by name or position.
  4. Sender states the message clearly and concisely.
  5. Receiver acknowledges the sender
  6. The receiver paraphrases back the message in his or her own words
  7. Equipment designators and nomenclature are repeated word for word
  8. The receiver may ask questions to verify his or her understanding of the message
  9. Sender acknowledges the receiver’s reply
  10. If the receiver understands the message, then the sender responds with “ That is correct .
  11. If the receiver does not understand the message, the sender responds with “That is wrong” (or words to that effect) and restates the original message
  12. If corrected
  13. Receiver acknowledges the corrected message, again paraphrasing the message in his or her own words.

At-Risk Practices:

  • Sender or receiver not stating his or her name and/or work location when using a telephone or radio.
  • Sender attempting to communicate with someone already engaged in another conversation.
  • Sender stating too much information or multiple actions in one message.
  • Sender not giving enough information for the receiver to understand the message.
  • Sender not verifying receiver understood the message.
  • Sender using the word “incorrect” or another variation that includes the word “correct” in it – may confuse Receiver and it may be all that is heard when the repeatback was wrong.
  • Receiver fails to ask for needed clarification of the message, if required.
  • Receiver taking action before the communication is complete.
  • Receiver not writing the message on paper if there are several items (more than two) to remember.
  • Receiver mentally preoccupied with another task.
  • Message not being stated loudly enough to be heard.
  • Enunciating words poorly.
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This is perfectly ordinary servomechanism/feedback theory. Too bad hospitals have never heard of it. Their procedures assume communication success between nurses, residents, and attendings – with a 24-hour latency built into the system since attendings only show up once a day as a rule (and never on weekends).

Indeed…I bet this guy wishes communication had been a little clearer:


I had my own opportunity to study the communications process in detail while experiencing intractable post-op pain on a weekend – in a hospital that had twice won national awards for quality of nursing, and which I in general greatly admire.

In fairness to the surgeons, they have had in effect for some years now a “Universal Protocol” aimed directly at eliminating the sort of error you mentioned. I’ve seen it in operation and it’s a great improvement. You still don’t want to play silly buggers with them by marking your opposite limb, for example; but it’s a big improvement.