USS Fitzgerald Editorial - gCaptain has stirred the hornets nest


In my Decades of experience I have found that in open ocean , ships and even Tug boats are almost always on autopilot. But that doesn’t mean that no one is on watch, LOL! Somebody is standing there on the bridge watching the autopilot at all times. Occasionally when an officer has to go to the bathroom or something it could be just the able-bodied Seaman but that would only be for a few minutes.
While I have never actively served in the Navy, I have towed Naval vessels including the USNS Gilliland (T-AKR-298) which is 954 feet long. I have also been first officer on 1090 ft long super tankers that were 300,000 tons. And while our crews are much smaller there was always at least one person on the bridge when underway without exception.


I think the damage to the destroyer has a few factors besides a large difference in speed.

The moderate speed of the container ship combined with its weight packs a lot of momentum.

The bow, bulb included, is a very sturdy portion of the hull.

The angle of impact, primarily regarding the bulb to the underwater portion of the destroyers hull since the loss of life was restricted to crew in the flooded berthing area.


To help illustrate why the damage may have been so severe, this was a ship that I was assisting this morning. Sometimes bulbous bows are not particularly bulbous, they can be quite sharp and could penetrate deeply into the hull of a destroyer below the waterline.


I think someone might get some bogus info taught by a weak OOD but that would usually come out during the board he has with the CO where they grill him with questions for over 2 hours.

Agree, but ships aren’t deploying with those officers as OOD the ones that just got through BDOC are going to spend the first month or more of that deployment as CONN getting their bearings and watching the seasoned OOD’s work. Not saying there aren’t ships with better OODs than others, but its not as if the ship just immediately goes on deployment with BDOC graduates as JOODs or 2nd tours immediately qualified without any sort of requalification.

In what way do you mean you think an OOD gets qualified without knowing how to scroll through AIS info or read the AIS overlay on VMS/ECDIS? Knowledge on ECDIS could be better but on the whole they know more than enough. Here’s my thing, how many of us have sailed with some old salty mates who didn’t want anything to do with that ECDIS let alone really understood all its intricacies and how to know that your electronic chart was 100% up to date. I found it to be a mixed bag back in my container sailing days.

DHs have boards now to become selected. Selection rate is currently 55%. And DH school in Newport have extensive ROTR and Nav (again all taught by merchant mariners) even a couple weeks of one-on-one ship handling with a merchant pilot. This doesn’t make them great mariners but it does mean they’re not coming back in the fleet without significant refresher training.

I’ve never met a CO who requires his OOD to wait for a maneuvering board to give a contact report to the CO. We used the RADAR info to fill out the contact report, and they are constantly keeping an eye on true/relative vectors. If there was time someone might do a maneuvering board and use it for a report but its more for training and learning relative motion, not because its required.

In any case, I agree we can do better in our training but specializing the way some foreign navies do works because their Navies not as big as ours. Specializing would require a massive change in infrastructure that I don’t think is going to happen any time soon and the funding currently does not exist. What I do think is that we may get forced to change as our ships become more advanced and are built to be manned with smaller crews like LCS and Zumwaalt. Theyve already started to increase the level of training with the 6 week LCS OOD class that is required for all bridge watchstanders, DH’s, and CO’s and XO’s. Hopefully all future classes of vessels will continue the trend and move to minimum manning.


See my post #290 in the other Fitz thread for a collision report from RN BOI.


That was a British navy vessel I believe. Their bridge watchstanders specialize and I guarantee everyone of those navigation officers could pass a USCG license. I’ve gotten the chance to work with a few and they’re phenomenal.


… but still a phenomenal cock-up!


Sure, there are re-qualifications for second tours, but I assure you there are first tour qualified OODs at the start of a deployment with maybe a few weeks of experience. It depends on when their PRD date is, and some even get qualified without making a deployment. I know a few! Take a new ENS who joins a ship at the tail end of deployment for example, and never really deploys before their PRD. Or someone who PRDs early in the deployment, and got OOD qualified a few months back with only a few underway! Happens all the time.

I would say on a whole from my direct observations, they do not know enough about this equipment. But we can disagree.

Sure. The CO did not require a moboard for a contact report, but his contact report required information that the OOD thought he only could only get off a moboard… that someone else did for him. This OOD had this information staring him in the face on the ARPA equipped radar. It sounds silly, but it is true. How do you defend the SA on the Porter?

Could be true, but I would think it wouldn’t really be an infrastructure problem, since all the training and schools are set up, but rather just a re-appropriation of pipelines and training. The Brits are amazing at what they do in all the fields, and we could really learn much from them. I remember a certain British LT saying how crazy he thought the bridge was run while underway on a DDG. I also talked with a Belgian Navy ENS on an exchange program. He talked about how they took STCW courses and got their 3rd Mate or 3rd assistant Eng license through there training track. Great mariners.

What you’re saying sounds good on paper, 2 hour plus boards, re-qualifications, DHs going through refresher training, etc… which is all good, but there are some serious problems that exist in the SWO community.


Here is a photo of the Crystal showing the bow. Photo from


You hit on the heart of the issue. Not having a standard process and sea time requirement for the qualification. I’m not sure how we could actually do it with the amount of JOs we have, but we have to find a way to standardize the process.

I didn’t say they know enough, I am just saying that I’ve seen a lot of SWO’s that know more than many mates about ECDIS. ECDIS knowledge is crucial especially as we shift away from paper charts. At least the Navy for most part uses the same version on all their ships. As mates we had to learn the intricacies of a different system on every ship. And if someone isn’t intelligent enough to scroll through data on AIS or view the data that shows up when you click on an AIS contact we shouldn’t have let them in the Navy. AIS is not a complicated system.

Bottom line if the OOD thought he could only get the information for the contact report from a MOBOARD that’s a massive training failure on the part of that ship. When you first teach your CONNs and JOODs how to use the RADAR this is part of the training. Hell, they learn this in BDOC in the simulators. Certainly, no one should ever come near an OOD qualification without intimate knowledge of how to use the RADAR. I have never witnessed this level of incompetence on any ship I was on, and neither has anyone in my wardroom. I certainly would not say this is typical.

As far as the PORTER I wouldn’ put the failure on OODs RADAR knowledge. I think OOD knew how to use his RADAR and had actually noted the vessel previously if I remember right, but I think he lost track of it with all if the yelling and questions coming from the CO who was a KP engineer as it turns out. I sat through the same simulation with the audio overlay in real time. I agree that OOD should have relied more on RADAR to keep his SA, but I think the CO directly caused the breakdown in BRM in that case.

The Brits have an extremely small Navy. We have no way to fund or hold the classes required to school everyone in stability, meteorology, sailings, celestial, etc. There aren’t enough classrooms at Newport and in the case of outside schools that already exist it is highly unlikely they could accommodate the amount of Officers that we would need to push through let alone finding the spare money to pay for it.

Don’t get me wrong I hope it happens, but I think the Navy is going to be dragged kicking and screaming into minimally manned ships and its only going to happen because technologically advanced ships are going to have more and more automated systems that require less and less people to operate.


Captain John, you brought up some very good points in your article. When I first read your article, I figured that you would be getting some negative comments from people sympathetic to the USN. However, I can understand your point of view from my experience of having worked onboard various OSV’s as an AB Special, and Licensed Captain because Merchant Mariners don’t have to go through so many layers of command when an order is given like the US Navy does. When two vessels are in a situation where you don’t know the other Captain’s intentions, extra seconds can mean the difference between having a tragic maritime accident, or totally avoiding it. I have worked in restricted maneuverability conditions onboard a seismograph vessel where VHF radio and radar operations were vital to the safety of our operation to run smoothly without a hitch. We couldn’t just turn on a dime while pulling long seismograph cables to so we had to try to notify other vessels of all types, and give them at least a minimum 2 mile CPA from our location. While working on OSV’s on many occasions, at night, I would notice Satellite Oil Platforms that had navigation lights which were not working at all which is not uncommon. This usually happened when I was working out of the Exxon Mobile dock at Grand Isle while navigating through the Rabbit Field just south of Port Fourcheon. Navigating out there can be very nerve-racking especially at night, especially when there are numerous Satelite platforms, heavy fog, and or, heavy vessel traffic to deal with too. Our work in the oil patch separated the men from the boys, and I would bet that any Captain of any tonage not used to that type of work would be overwhelmed at first by it. I still remember the very first time I unloaded oil field personnel from my vessel to the platform by swing ropes in heavy seas which is an extremely dangerous maneuver. You have to time the wave action, just right, while backing up, otherwise you can damage the platform, damage your vessel, or get oil field personnel hurt or killed if they fall. I can not stress the fact that working out in the oil patch is one of the most dangerous maritime jobs because one has to deal with so many variables at once, so radio communications with everyone, and radar observer operations are so vital for safe operations. Sometimes it can be very hard to communicate with US Navy Ships, other Merchant Ships, or Fishing Vessels because of different protocols, or language barriers. I have witnessed this first hand, many times, and it can be very stressful. There have also been times where the other Captain got mixed up on whether we should meet or pass on the one whistle side, or two whistle side, but that rarely happened. Working out at sea is dangerous enough. However, with the modern technology that we currently have, I do believe that this maritime accident could have been prevented. Yet, there will always be the chance of mechanical failure, and operator error. That can’t be taken out of the equation because equipment will always fail and human beings will always make mistakes. However, it can be lessened as much as humanly possible. Many people may not know it, but most maritime court proceedings would find both vessels at fault. That is just the way things are. It saddens me whenever I hear any news when sailors or mariners are injured, or killed at sea because I have known of, or personally witnessed such tragedies. OSV crews have to deal with dangerous situations everyday, and we are a lot like close family members. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families, co-workers, and friends of the sailors who were killed. Whenever a maritime accident occurs, new guidelines are usually implemented to help prevent this from happening again, so these US Navy sailors didn’t die in vain! However, this accident concerns me since it is the 2nd accident that has happened, this year, involving a US Navy Ship and another vessel while the fleet has been on naval operations near Japan and South Korea. The other accident involved a South Korean fishing vessel. Usually, one maritime accident is one too many!

On another note, I always enjoy reading your articles from gcaptain. Even though, your article might have stirred up a hornet’s nest, it opened up much needed dialog between the USN and USMM in order for us to better understand our similarities, and our differences! That itself is a plus, and thank you John.


That is happening now! The new US Navy Littoral Combat Ships, or LCS’s already have a much smaller crew than comparable older, corvette type, war ships of that size had a just few years ago.


That’s kind of what I was getting at. LCS and Zumwaalt are forcing the Navy into minimal manning and to increase the education because there are less people on the bridge and the engine room. So far they are realizing its much harder than they thought, and they are having trouble adapting navy procedures to unmanned engine rooms where they don’t have enough people to keep on watch or rove through every space throughout the night. The Navy’s engineering assessment organizations have had a lot of trouble wrapping their head around this new way of doing business. They are making headway though slowly but surely and hopefully these ships will pave the way for future classes.


The USN is now realizing what we have had to do for a very long time by working with a limited number of crewman on watch at any given time. When I worked on mini supply boats as 2nd captain, our standard crew size was 5 which included 2 captains, 2 AB’s and one unlicensed engineer, or Q-MED. We all worked 12 hour shifts and we usually worked for 28+ days straight during a hitch which would be very tiring and there was no such thing as a 4 hour watch like Most deep water ship crews have. Most of us didn’t want to do much while on shore leave, except relax, which was understandable. As far as I know, the GOM is still he only region in the US where merchant Mariners don’t have to be unionized. They tried doing that when I was working out in the Gulf and most of the OSV companies and OSV crews didn’t want anything to do with any Union, even though the Oil Companies still pushed us and wanted for us to work in dangerous and unsafe conditions whenever they felt like we should. Years ago, Admiral Zumwalt was pushing these ideas around about high mix, and low mix ships, and smaller crews when he was CNO.


The last thing the navy needs to do is learn from the oil patch.

By the way, there was a master and a mate on your mini supply. Not two captains. The GOM needs to stop handing out titles to make people feel good.


Thanks for posting that … it is embarrassing to read that “2nd captain” thing in this discussion.

But as regards the feel good policy … I wrote off the Navy completely after they adapted the “you are all special” thing and handed out what look like wings or dolphins to any and every skimmer. Jeez, now there are junior messcooks with silver pins and more medals than a WW2 admiral.


I had to verify the details, but there is actually an exercise that NCAGS does where shipping companies can practice integrating with American warships as well as warships from other countries. The exercise is called EXERCISE LUCKY MARINER and occurs annually. During this weeklong exercise they focus on the threat of waterborne attack to shipping, and includes a variety of conferences to discuss how to best ensure safety and stability of the seas for international commercial traffic. There is also an at-sea phase (convoy training) followed by a lessons learned conference in order to improve Best Management Practices (BMP). They also spend significant time discussing mine and submarine threats and how we might avoid, manage, and deter such threats for sea commerce.

Here’s a nice article on one that occurred a few years back:

I am not sure how ships can sign up to participate in this exercise, but I could put you in contact with one of the NCAGS units who could certainly provide the information.


Are you talking about the Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist (ESWS) pins? While anyone on the ship can earn it, it takes most close to a year to earn them. The program is run by the Chiefs Mess and they make the enlisted memorize a large amount of facts about every single area of operations on the ship, and then have a board with the entire Chiefs Mess. Their entire ESWS pin process culminates in a 2-3 hour board where all the Chiefs on the ship grill the candidates and on any and every process that occurs on the ship. Watching the process in action with my own Sailors it is definitely not a walk in the park, and the Chiefs Mess really makes them earn it.

I do certainly agree with regards to the ribbons. The American military in general hands out ribbons like they’re candy.


I didn’t say that the Navy was supposed to learn from us out in the oil patch but they should be familiar with ROTR. We ran safe and efficient operations out there with very few accidents. I would say that good training was responsible for that. As far as titles go, all of the captains on the mini supply were licensed masters, period. My sea time letters all prove that fact. Licensed mates were not required because we always had to do docking maneuvers and mates aren’t supposed to do that at all. You are trying to tell me how we operated out in the GOM when I worked out there for many years and that we are insignificant. When I left inland rivers and started working in the GOM, I actually worked a short time for Ensco Marine on the Ensco Navagator where we had a first Mate on the crew. He would always turn over the docking and tieing up to the Captain. In those days we ran Loran C, and had the old style radar that you looked down into. When we tied up at the Platform, we dropped anchor first before backing down to tie up both stern lines. I worked with some of the crew who were on the Kodiak II when it went down in 4,000 feet of water. At that time, the Kodiak II was the largest AHST operating in the world. Trying to sleep on the Navagator was useless because the bow thruster sounded like a jack hammer going off. Getting back to the main article, the ROTR still apply to all Mariners on the water whether Navy or not. That is SOP.


O boy, I love Gcaptain forums. Never fails to entertain.

Back on track now, and after reading many other forums, the SWO community is out swinging and having much difficulty swallowing any amount of pride. No matter what history tells us that time and time again they have always had most of the fault in the numerous collisions and have demonstrated several allisions and groundings over the past decade. Even still, without any evidence, the most believed narrative now is that the Crystal had no one on the bridge… until 30mins after the collision. That is the go to story.

I’m afraid it will be a couple of years later before we really know what happened, like the USS Porter.