Tag Archives: Cadetship

Cadetships: Officer of the Watch Orals

I’ve finally come to the end of my cadetship with the RFA (successfully). I am aware that I am still missing posts regarding my experiences of doing an RFA Cadetship and they will come, but for now I wanted to share my experience of the final assessment hurdle on the path to gaining the Officer of the Watch (Deck) STCW II/1 (Unlimited) Certificate of Competency. After successful completion of the academic side of the course and gaining a Foundation Degree in Nautical Science from Liverpool John Moores University, all that was left was a one-on-one oral examination at a Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) Office.

Here is what I can remember from my orals, I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few things but this is pretty much my exam – it may be of use to people.

13:15, 22 November 2016 at MCA Offices Crosby.

Examined by Captain A. Hilliard

Result: Pass

I drove to Crosby with plenty of time to spare in the morning, I allowed 2.5 hours to make the drive from Fleetwood so had loads of time to ‘relax’. I went to Wetherspoons for some lunch before heading back to the MCA office to speak to the person who’d just come out of their orals. I parked in the pay and display carpark (£1 for 2 hours) for Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ – well worth paying that a visit if you’ve not been but perhaps the day of your orals isn’t the time. I signed in to the MCA offices and tried to relax by reading the nautical publications on the table in reception, Capt Hilliard came and got me at 1320 and took me into the examination room. He offered me a jug of water and a glass, which I accepted and placed on the table next to me. Capt Hilliard asked for my discharge book before telling me he just had to fill his paperwork in so don’t be concerned by the silence. He muttered “RFA” when he looked at my stamps and then asked what the random ship was – I had a 10-day trip as a deck hand on a tall ship. I told him I did it to gain a wider experience of seafaring and he was happy with that, luckily he asked no further questions about sailing ships.

Capt Hilliard asked to see my TRB and he had a good look at all the ship’s particulars. He then asked to see my workbook, I gave him the two volumes of hand written hard back books and he spent a reasonable amount of time looking through it. He commented that I’d done a lot of work and I responded by saying that I’d made them as a resource for my future career so put everything in it that I was unsure on. He was happy with that so moved on to my operations workbooks and again he went through them pretty thoroughly. This all took 10 minutes and I was more than happy to sit in silence for as long as he wanted!

He placed the Dover Straits chart in front of me and so began the questioning…

How do you know you can plot a GPS position on this chart?

I pointed out the WGS84 mark on the chart.

What if you were somewhere where there wasn’t WGS84?

I honestly didn’t have a clue with this one, he tried rephrasing the question and telling me I was in India. I said that I was unsure and would therefore consult the Navigator or other more experienced officer.

What are the errors of a GPS?

I managed to mention a few but didn’t do a very good job of this question, he asked me where I did my NAESTO so I’m pretty happy that I didn’t answer this question to his satisfaction.

You are at Boulogne-sur-mer and are going to Dover, show me the lines you would draw on the chart when planning the passage.

I clarified that he simply wanted the lines and not the whole process of planning a passage. I said the relevant pieces of Rule 10 before pointing out each stage of the route with my finger.

You’re in the TSS it’s 2345 and you’re about to take over the watch, how would you do the handover?

I rattled off the list of things that you’d do, trying to remember to speak slowly.

What is squat? How do you know you have it? How would you stop it?

Talked about Bernoulli’s principle and how it affects the ship, described how you know you were experiencing squat and that reducing speed has a dramatic effect on squat. I mentioned the value of ¼ or a factor of 4 reduction in squat by reducing speed. It’s actually proportional to the square of the speed of the ship, so reducing speed by half reduces squat effect by a factor of 4….

Turn a ship short round

Good job I’d spent time working on this. Hilliard asked me to repeat it, giving the actual commands I would give – I did this and he then asked me why I would order the engine movement before the rudder. I said it was to get movement of water over the rudder to get steerage, I actually don’t think that was right but he didn’t correct me.

What is interaction effect? He placed two ships on the table, one was a warship and I appreciated his attempt at humour, and asked me to explain what would happen when one overtook the over. He wanted me to go through all the stages of attraction and repulsion that occurs with the pressure changes.

You’ve gone aground, what do you do?

I went through the immediate actions and then continued down the list of things to do, he interrupted me when I mentioned considering a GMDSS alert and said that this was an OOW orals exam and I didn’t need to talk about Masters things.

How do you know where the ship is aground?

I went with check the charts and then remembered to sound the area around the ship to determine the point at which she’d gone aground.

You’ve answered very detailed about the bridge, but what happens on deck?

I went through checking for damage, marine pollution and cargo securing.

What are the daily checks on GMDSS? What do you write in the radio log book? What information goes in it.

Batteries on/off load, internal DSC check, printer. I missed off one thing in the list for the log book, I went for position but he didn’t tell me if I was right.

How do you transfer control of the equipment to the Bridge wing?

Explained how we did it on ship and for what reasons, putting the wheel midships before control is taken at the bridge wing.

What’s in the SOLAS Training Manual?

Information on emergency drills, first aid information.

How would you inspect a nylon rope for damage?

Visual inspection, check for flat spots and wear and tear.

Tell me about how you would set the bridge up for departure?

Started with steering gear checks in the hope he would stop me after that, I moved on to testing the ship’s whistle from all positions after radioing the shore to ask for permission and then he asked me another question.

Tell me about the rocket flare and pyrotechnics, how long do they burn for?

Told him the key facts for all the pyro.

How many do you have?

6,4 & 2 in lifeboats and SOLAS pack A liferafts, pack B have half the amount.

What’s the difference between SOLAS pack A and B?

Fair question, I asked for that one…. Pack B has no water, food or fishing equipment.

Tug and tow on port bow, smartie board.

Ran through identifying the lights out loud, the recited rule 16 at him. He said she wasn’t taking appropriate action, I checked for risk of collision before reciting the relevant part of Rule 17 at him. I didn’t actually get to say my course of action he asked ‘and what would you sound?’ as he removed the boat – I said at least 5 short blasts on the ships whistle and I’d also call the master.

Vessel one point abaft the starboard beam

Again, I broke down my interpretation of the situation out loud which meant I corrected myself when I initially said overtaking. I recited rule 15 at him and again, didn’t actually get to the point of doing my action – I tailed off with ‘and avoid crossing ahead’ as he removed the boats and produced a piece of paper with a radar plot on it.

Radar plot – 4 vessels, True vectors, relative trails.

I took my time with this and correctly identified that only one of them had a risk of collision. He was very patient with me on this when I struggled to answer his question as to why I knew this. Billy basic stuff but I just couldn’t get there quickly. Relative vectors pointing straight at you tells you this! Once he established that I did indeed know this, I recited rule 19d to him and then told him I’d alter course to port.


He then abruptly stopped and said ‘you’ve passed the exam’. It was 14:05 and we’d been talking for 35 minutes. While he was completing the paperwork he asked me if I was going home for Christmas, the odd small talk threw me a tad really but I politely answered him. He then got up, left the room with my NOE before returning and handing it to me. I asked him where I send it off to and he replied ‘it’s all written on the back’. A man of very few words, I shook his hand and wished him a pleasant Christmas and then left. At several points during the exam I tried to talk about my ships and what I’d done but he really wasn’t interested, he just says nothing in return. He gives nothing away and he didn’t correct me when I was wrong or tell me the answer when I clearly had no clue (WGS84!). Best of luck to you if you are using this report as part of your revision, I’m sure you’ll be absolutely fine! My biggest tip would be to know your rules inside and out, if you can recite them verbatim then that’s even better.







RFA Cadetships: Nautical College (Phase One)

This post has been a long time coming and many apologies for that but sometimes life gets in the way. Particularly when you’re undertaking a cadetship!

As regular readers will know, a Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) cadetship starts out with an 8 week course at Brittania Royal Naval College, Dartmouth (BRNC), where your leadership skills are developed and tested. This is something very specific to the RFA and after this point the training comes into line with the Merchant Navy, undertaking a cadetship along with other cadets from across the maritime industry. Things have changed slightly over the last 18 months, for us we were all sent to Fleetwood Nautical Campus near Blackpool whether it was convenient or not. Whereas now, an RFA cadet is given the choice of a few different nautical colleges. I can only write my posts from my point of view and so this is geared towards a deck cadetship at Fleetwood Nautical Campus.

I had enough UCAS points and was enrolled on the Foundation Degree course meaning that upon completion of my training I would get a Foundation Degree in Nautical Science from Liverpool John Moore University. The other route for a cadetship is the HNC/HND route, the main difference between that the learning and assessments are more vocational in nature. Regardless of route taken and academic qualification awarded at the end, all cadets are ultimately working towards their Certificate of Competency to be an Officer of the Watch (OOW). The specifics of what being an OOW entail will be covered in an additional post.

The first indication that college was going to be nothing at all like BNRC was realising that there was no requirement to wear head gear around campus, in fact only the RFA cadets were in possession of caps and berets. It’s not the norm for a cadet to have  these items or to have been issued with as much uniform as we had been. You find it interesting to know that the ages of the 26 cadets who started the course ranged from 18 to 34. Some had degrees, some had masters degrees, some came straight from school while others came from employment – it’s interesting to see that the Merchant Navy (and the RFA) is open to people of all ages, the stereotypical image of a cadet being 16 years old is no longer true and hasn’t been for some time. There is a 52 year old cadet undergoing training at the moment!

A cadetship is split into five phases spread over three years, is designed to give you the knowledge needed to be an OOW and also the time at sea to put it into practice and consolidate/expand your knowledge. It’s set out like this:

  • Phase One – Nautical College (19 weeks)
  • Phase Two – Sea (34 weeks)
  • Phase Three – Nautical College (34 weeks)
  • Phase Four – Sea (40 weeks)
  • Phase Five – Nautical College & final oral exam. (12 weeks)

Phase one is just over four months in length and in that time you cover academic topics such as: Navigation & Meterology (weather); Study skills (CVs etc) and Shipboard Operations. Fleetwood Nautical Campus sends its phase one cadets away to North Wales for a week on a ‘Cadet Development Course’, which is basically a week of outdoorsy stuff for team building and developing leadership and communication skills. After BRNC this week was a relative breeze,  it was a great opportunity to spend some time in the outdoors and bond with our classmates. We climbed Moel Siabod one day and got some dramatic photographs on the snow capped peak.


A typical day in college will have two lectures, 0900-1200 and 1300-1600 and is a lot like school. There’s a 20 minute break, affectionately known as ‘smoko’ in the morning and afternoon, and you’re with the same group of cadets for each lecture. In our intake there was 26 of us on the Foundation Degree Deck route, made up of cadets sponsored by a wide range of shipping companies.

Deck girls

 For me, who only ever considered joining the RFA, it’s been extremely beneficial to meet cadets from the wider maritime industry. I’ve learnt so much about shipping, how big a part it plays in UK industry and just how important the sea trade is. I’ve also made some good friends and I’m sure we’ll bump into each other at sea at some point during our careers.

I should mention that cadets are expected to live in halls of residence for phase one and this is non-negotiable. The halls were nice enough, much nice than the halls I had when I went to University back in the day: Fleetwood halls have a sink, a small amount of storage and a pin board.

My Cabin

 Included in the price of halls was two meals a day, the food was what you’d expect from a canteen but the staff were brilliant and would make you a salad if you asked to them. In fact, the staff at Fleetwood have been brilliant throughout my time – whether you’re speaking to catering staff or the head of school, everyone will speak to you with a smile and do their best to help.

In addition to the academic content and CDC, we also had to attend and pass short courses. Some of these short courses are legal requirements before you can go to sea. During the three weeks of short courses I took in so much information and felt much better equipped to actually go to sea. We covered so much during the short courses that it’s too much to detail here but by far and away the toughest part of the courses was the firefighting. Obviously there are no fire stations at sea, so if there is a problem then it comes down to the crew to deal with it. We spent two and a half days learning about the fires, the kit, how to conduct searches in low visibility and then practiced everything. Those blue containers in the background of the photo are used for training: a fire is started at one end (under control) and you and your team go in with full breathing apparatus, locate and retrieve casualties then fight the fire. It’s quite arduous and something I hope to never have to do for real.

 As part of the Basic Training for Seafarers, we spent a week learning how to cosxwain (drive) lifeboats, both old fashioned ones and the newer completely enclosed ones that most people would be familiar with. By old fashioned, I mean that the lifeboat was powered by oars, the main discovery with this is that most of us are terrible at rowing! In fact, by boat managed to beach ourselves – no mean feat!

 We also did the Efficient Deck Hand course which was all about working on deck and being a sailor: ropes; knots; wire splicing; anchoring; MacGregor hatches; flag identification and much more. This was also a really tough course, mostly because I’d never been to sea before and had to absorb in so much new information. I was rather proud to be able to make a working stage after many, many attempts…

The 19 weeks (4 months) of college flew by, we had exams to sit and pass and then we’d be off to sea to put into practice everything we’d been taught. We had a quick brief on something called Work Based Learning, which was a reflective project we’d have to complete whilst on ship, were issued with our Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB) Training Record Books, briefed by our Company Training Officer and then were sent on leave until our next phase began and we joined our first ship.

For more information on a career at sea, have a look at the Careers at Sea website. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary is the company for me but it’s not for everyone. I’ve had my eyes opened to the wider maritime industry since starting at college,and that can only be a good thing.


RFA Cadetships: Training

As many of you know I’ve recently fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition by joining the military, except that I haven’t really because I’ve joined the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) which is a civilian manned MOD owned fleet. It’s pretty warry for a civilian job, we go to war zones, wear uniform and have big guns but we’re still civvies at the end of the day. The RFA is a unique organisation that lies somewhere between the Merchant fleet and the Royal Navy, because of this my training will consist of both civilian and military courses. Most people I’ve spoken too are pretty confused as to what I’ll be doing over the next few years so I thought a blog post would be useful.

I’ve joined the RFA as a Deck Officer Cadet and I’ll be training to become an ‘Officer of the Watch’ meaning I’ll be responsible for the safety of the crew and the ship for each of the four hour periods I’m in charge on the bridge. I’ll be trained to use advanced satellite navigation systems, how to assess weather conditions, to conduct Replenishments at Sea (RAS), moor the ship and how to load cargo.

The first stage of my cadetship was a two month course at Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) Dartmouth, developing leadership, communication and teamwork skills – these two months warrants a whole blog post all of its own! The next stage for me will be to join cadets from other parts of the Merchant Navy (MN) at one of the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) accredited training establishments to begin a three-year course. I’ll be studying for a Foundation Degree (FdSc) in Nautical Science because I’ve got a few UCAS points in addition to the required GCSE results (I’ll write another post on entry/selection to the RFA). Those without the required UCAS points work towards a Higher National Diploma (HND). Both routes also lead to the Certificate of Competency: Officer of the Watch qualification allowing you to work on a MN ship. The three year course is split into five phases interspersing time at college with time at sea, ensuring plenty of time onboard ship shadowing qualified officers to build skill and knowledge. The course culminates in a gruelling MCA Oral examination and after successfully sitting that, I’ll be qualified and wearing the rank of Third Officer.

My Royal Navy training will also be fitted in as and when is appropriate, as a Deck Cadet (and hopefully a qualified Officer) I will have to do quite a few RN courses as we work so closely with the Navy. It’s certainly going to be an interesting few years and I’m looking forward to it: I’m being paid a decent salary to get a degree, an MCA qualification and to see the world. I’m pretty happy with that.

I should also add that the RFA (and other Merchant Navy companies) offer cadetships in Marine Engineering and Systems Engineering, but why would you want to study them? Everyone knows that Deck is the best department…