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
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.