ENGINEERING AT SEA: An ocean of opportunity

8 March, 2018 RRS Ernest Shackleton

On International Women’s Day, Carrie-Anne Harris, Second Engineer on the RRS Ernest Shackleton shares her journey so far and how she found her passion for engineering.

How did you come to BAS?

I came to British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in summer 2013. It was a bit of an accident actually.

I was working on the ferries on the English Channel and the monotony was boring me. I searched the internet for a job that would be more interesting and fun. Having read an advert asking for engineers down South I immediately sent in my CV. Luckily for me BAS recognised that I actually wanted a job on a ship and instead of dismissing my application gave me the opportunity to go for 4th Engineer at the time. I have been so grateful for that chance ever since!

What made you want to become a mechanical engineer?

My father worked on the submarines, often spending months away from home. In a house with 5 children mum would often have a huge list of repairs and jobs that needed doing when he would eventually returned. From a very young age I would watch my dad working on the car or the washing machine, I would pass the tools and dad would explain what he was doing. Eventually, it would be dad watching me doing the job.

When I left school I went to college to do Mechanical Engineering. The subject fascinated me but the course wasn’t very practical and so I started to look into how I could become a practical engineer and get to work at sea.

That’s where I found the Merchant Navy and I studied at South Tyneside Marine College under a sponsorship from a shipping company. That allowed me to gain an academic qualification as well as gaining the hands-on practical skills I was keen to learn by splitting my year between the classroom and working on ships in the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Why is engineering essential for BAS?

On the RRS Ernest Shackleton we are primarily involved in logistical operations in Antarctica. We supply much needed equipment, fuel, food and personnel to all of BAS bases which is essential to living and working in extreme environments.

On a few occasions, the ship has supported various scientific research opportunities. Most recently we had scientists on board who were talking seawater and ice samples that are stored in refrigerated containers to be brought back to the UK. The refrigerated containers are looked after by the engineers and electricians on board so that these samples make it home in the best condition to gain valuable information about the environment and predictions for the future impact of CO2 levels.

Carrie-Anne Harris is the Second Engineer on the RRS Ernest Shackleton.

What does a typical day look like as Second Engineer on the RRS Ernest Shackleton?

There isn’t really a typical day on the ship! Every day is varied and it depends on where you are in the world.

The best thing about my day, there is no commute! I can roll out of bed and in just a few flights of stairs I am in my “office”!

The Engineering department like to start the day off with a cup of coffee and we sit together having a discussion about what the plans are for the day. This allows everyone to know what’s happening and ensures that people won’t get in each other’s way. The Chief Officer may visit us at this point with some requests or information about arrival into Port or planned emergency drills.

Once everyone has their tasks the duty engineer will then go about having a good walk around of the machinery spaces. This will be to visually inspect each piece of machinery ensuring all oil and cooling water levels are sufficient and that the various pressures and temperatures are normal. If something isn’t right then it will be rectified as soon as possible to reduce the down time.

For engineers, our busiest times are normally when we are in Port and have the opportunity to shut down the engines and carry out essential maintenance to ensure smooth sailing. In Port we would also be looking at taking on oil and fuel to top up the ship.

When we are at sea we will work on maintaining and repairing things such as the cranes and the workboat so they are ready for the next time the Deck department have cargo operations.

What is your advice for those wishing to become a ships engineer?

A career in engineering at sea is very rewarding and varied. There is so much of the World to see and getting paid to travel is great!

My best advice is to come through the sponsored cadetship route. Having a sponsoring company to pay the tuition fees and course bills as well as accommodation and a monthly wage was very beneficial and meant I completed my qualifications without a student debt that many people are now burdened with.

Another piece of advice is that the on board training book is your own responsibility. Your training will be far better if you show initiative and enthusiasm towards your studies and practical skills.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Use that doubt and prove people wrong!

Find out more about Engineering at Technology at BAS here or click the banner above to find out about our involvement in the Year of Engineering.