Bengaluru: The life of a Navy officer on ships is not all pomp and glory as many believe. In fact, it is tough and conditions inside the boiler room are gruelling as temperatures hit 50 degrees Celsius.
Though the technology has advanced, the Brahmaputra Class of ships, which have two Y-160 Babcock & Wilcox main boilers fitted on all their vessels, still use steam for propulsion. “India has developed 95% indigenous capabilities in steam propulsion and hence we have good support. A large number of modern power plants and industries still use the technology. Live training of operations, maintenance, breakdowns and defects is given at the Steam Machinery Wing (SMW) of INS Shivaji, simulating real-life conditions,” a senior naval officer said.
The SMW is the nodal agency to train both officers and sailors in steam propulsion, and is equipped with exactly the same machinery found onboard Indian Naval ships.
It is a matter of great pride for officers and sailors to serve on a steam ship as they consider themselves tough because of the difficult working conditions.
The senior Master Chiefs and officers of the engineering department take rounds once every four hours of all machinery compartments to check the status of personnel and the performance of machinery.
Morale booster for sailors
“The Commanding Officers of steam ships traditionally go to the Boiler Room to have a cup of tea/ coffee and to spend time with the men. It continues to this day, which is a morale booster for the men below deck,” the officer said.
“Any trip to the Boiler Room is eventful as a large number of actions are taken simultaneously to sustain propulsion, and, at the same time, to prevent damage to the boiler. Probably because of the tough working conditions, the camaraderie that officers and sailors develop is lifelong,” the officer said.
Nature of job inside the Boiler Room
Because they work under such conditions, the watchkeepers at Boiler Rooms are made to work for four hours and given a break of 12 hours.
It is not just the Boiler Room, there are many other compartments onboard a ship that have space constraints and associated dangers like fire and flooding. “All compartments, including Boiler Room, have several major and minor fire-fighting and damage control equipment. The manpower is trained to handle emergencies like fire, flooding and medical casualties. The Y-160 main boilers along with the systems and supporting equipment are robust with high level of safety with a standby available in case of a defect. There is also a well-equipped workshop located outside the machinery compartments to take up first-line repairs,” the officer explained.
All machinery compartments below waterline are provided with normal as well as additional escape hatches. In case of blockage of a passageway due to fire or flooding, the other route is cleared to evacuate personnel. Regular drills and exercises are conducted to make personnel fully conversant with escape procedures.
“The ship’s crew is trained to handle any such situations at sea. Steam ship personnel are posted onboard for two to three years and are transferred to a base unit after that,” he said....