A Day in the Life of a DP Operator

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September 24, 2009

Morning comes early.  




You walk on the bridge, the smell of fresh coffee fills the air.  The DPO on the desk gives a tired smile, as his relief has finally shown up.  He has had a busy night.


Working on a DP vessel shares many similarities with working on a regular vessel.  There are unique aspects about it as well.  The following article is by no means comprehensive, as we cannot hope to cover all the variations here, but the intent is to paint a broad picture of the scope of work & what is expected.


The Watch


In general there will be 4 officers in charge of the DP watch.  All 4 will be fully licenced DPO’s and 2 of them will be the Senior DPO’s.  In many cases this corresponds to the Chief Officer & First Officer positions.  If there are juniors, or DPO’s still in training without the requisite time completed they will be additional. 


Note that on some vessels that the Chief Mate is an additional position to the DP Team.  In this case the C/O will concentrate on running the deck.


Watches are organized in staggered 12 hour shifts.  The DPO’s change out at 0600 & 1800, while the Seniors change at Noon & Midnight.  This serves the purpose of having somebody there that is familiar with the events of the last 6 hours.  If the watch change occurs right in the middle of something it allows the new person on watch a

chance to get up to speed before getting in to the deep end of the pool.


If you are looking for excitement, look somewhere else.  When you take the desk remember that Boring DP is Good DP!


On the Desk


The first order of business after being handed over the watch (& once the coffee is poured!) is to run through a DP checklist.  This ensures that you are aware of all the settings & that all systems are functioning properly.  You can also pick up on something that may have been missed during the handover.  It happens.


Time on the desk is split so that you will do one hour on, one hour off, in the Hot Seat.  While you are on the desk you are responsible for making the vessel movements & for coordinating those moves with the various departments. 


Off the Desk


It is very bad form to step in & start navigating pages or entering moves when you are not on the desk.  Just as you wouldn’t make helm movements while underway & it is not your watch.


When your hour off the desk comes that doesn’t mean its time to lay back!  The off desk DPO needs to assist in all the other tasks that the bridge team is responsible for.  Things such as writing permits, monitoring the fire detection system & handling comms while the other DPO is busy handling the vessel. 


And thats not to mention your regular duties as an officer!  Just because you handle the DP system does not mean your other responsibilities are now null & void.  Charts still need correction, safety gear requires maintenance & inspections, stability needs to be monitored & in some cases ballast needs to be pumped.


The Captain Steps In


Meal times will usually see the Captain come up to offer a relief.  No hour lunch breaks here!  Down to the galley & back up again.  You may find yourself with a Captain that lets you take some extra time, but on a busy working vessel this is not likely.


The Skipper also shows up most days in the morning & afternoon to let one of the guys out for a spell.  This time is used to get caught up on your responsibilities on deck.  The night shift DPO may not be so lucky however & may need to get to those jobs after watch.  And no, you will not get overtime.  You signed up on a Day Rate or Salary & that’s what you’ll get!


Don’t be surprised to see the bridge fill up during the day, especially around coffee time.  Just make sure it’s fresh!  If you can’t come to them they will come to you.


Additional Duties


On some vessels the DPO will also act as the HLO.  In that case the Captain will again come up to let you go once the chopper calls in, hopefully before it is on your deck!  Depending on the layout this may mean that anemometers or Radars need to be de-selected.  Good communication is critical.


The Operators Mindset


Working on the bridge it is the responsibility of everyone on shift to keep a situational overview of the entire operation.  Being aware of the surrounding vessels & obstructions, the subsea structures that can affect your work, reference systems, weather & all the jobs running concurently onboard need to be watched.  the integrity of the vessels systems are monitored continuously so that in the event of a change or system failure the operator is ready to react & has the information in mind of how to do so properly.


Things such as escape routes & proximity of buoys or vessels need to be addressed & plans should be made & revised as required.  Everything may be going well but if a shift in wind catches you snoozing it could result in the vessel going off position in an unplanned direction.  There is always the potential of damage to the ship, the environment or to the life of your crew.  And when it happens it will happen fast.


I hope this sheds some light on what goes on during a typical day for those interested in getting into DP or maybe just curious.


Now its time for me to hit the rack.  Morning comes early

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