So yesterday I got to have a watch off, and it was glorious. Gave me the opportunity to do 90% of the end-of-tour paperwork that needs to get done, plus I got to go out and do some elementary maintenance- greasing fittings.
Doing routine maintenance and daily walkarounds is one of the most potent ways to proactively care for a vessel under your command. Strictly speaking, I make a point to do maintenance that routinely gets palmed off on the second man elsewhere, but my point in doing that is that it's MY eyes on scene, and I get to see a million little details overall, on wear and tear.
With a whole lot of valves on board and many many moving parts, mostly made of metal, we go through a lot of lubricating grease on board. Every two weeks, I head out on deck with a grease gun and lube up the cranes, pump PTO's, valves, cargo crane, anchor windless, capstans, electric motor drive units, hydraulic fendering, stuff like that. It doesn't take long, maybe 30 minutes, and I could do it in half the time, but it gives me a chance to kick the tires and look more carefully at odd spots on board, little things like our emergency pump stops, a long series of cables that enable us to shut down our cargo pumps from anywhere on deck simply by tugging on a wire, like calling for a stop on a busy bus.That comes to mind because last time I lubed up, I spotted a damaged section of wire and got it replaced. This is important because we pass a rope tied to the emergency stop to other ships when we transfer fuel, so they can kill our pumps too, if something goes tits up on their end.
Well, anyhow, taking the time to take time is one of my best habits to try to keep ahead of problems. Every large vessel has problems and upcoming soon-to-be-problems. That's just the nature of the beast- things that Need To Be Watched, which generally means that they're coming to the end of their life or slated for replacment or service... but not yet. Doing routine inspections and getting dirt under one's nails provides a focus, a driver, to supplement motivation as the tool that keeps your ear to the ground when you're feeling bummy or lazy.
A good PM program provides multiple layers and opportunities for this. One other example is that every two weeks I have to physically inspect every coil of mooring line on board. I think we have 16 in service at any one time. I also have to do an anti-pollution walkaround, look for potential sources of oil that could get in the water, and document that. Plus my daily walkaround, pre-cargo transfer inspection, things like that. It keeps you out there and on top of things, but even when you're on your game, there are still surprises. A scupper plug left open, a line chafed part way through during the overnight... There's a chicken-and-egg question when it comes to getting and maintaining a gestalt for the deck, to get to the point where situational awareness includes semi-consciously being aware of the thousand little things that you want to be just so under your purview... and things can still get by you, which is where having a second set of trained eyes and good rapport with watch partners and subordinates becomes critical. It just takes that ONE time, you know? We've all been there at some point, where a confluence of unlikely events gathers together and just ruins your day. I'm certainly not immune to it, and giving enough of a shit to stay on top of things becomes increasingly difficult when, say, morale is low or distractions are prevalent. For me, this is part of why I like to keep lubing up the deck fittings as something I do towards the end of a tour. It keeps me engaged, and helps get me over the motivational hump that comes when you've been too long away from nice things.
EDIT: Thanks to the anon commenter who pointed out my inaccurate phrasing. It's since been corrected. You're sweet.
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