CD 157: Investigating the submarine canyons off Portugal


How the ship works

Ever wondered how the ship's engine works? Or how the ship manages to supply enough fresh water for all those on board? Ian and Elena took a tour of the engine rooms to find out...

Control Room

When I entered to Control Room I was expecting a rush of noise to greet me. All was surprisingly quiet and almost tranquil. The boxes on the walls, a subtle shade of Eau de Nil hinted at the complexity of the operational parts which were hidden from view.

We were greeted by Martin Holt [Chief Engineer] and Ian  Slater [Second Engineer] who, in their white overalls, guided and informed us on our tour.

What if something goes wrong?
The Control Room has banks of electrical boxes which contain circuit breakers. These allow the engineers to switch off individual components ready for servicing or repairing. One console had allsorts of dials indicating things such as rudder pitch and revolutions of the engine. One interesting feature was the PATROL alarm panel which allows the Duty Engineer 20 minutes worktime on a particular problem when the engine is running unmanned or it is outside normal working hours. If this was not re-set within 20 minutes, a general alarm would sound automatically. Another feature was the ear plug machine. This looked like a sweet dispenser, but after a couple of twists and two pear drop like ear plugs dropped out. We needed them!

Engine Room

I followed Martin through a narrow passage, down some steps, through a water tight door into a blast of sound  and a maze of pipes and machinery. This was the heart of the ship. It was evidently well cared for and is kept spotless by the engine room Petty Officer, Les Hillier.

Petty Officer Les Hillier

Earplugs are essential in the engine room

What makes the ship move?
Throbbing away in the centre was an eight cylinder four stroke diesel engine fuelled with marine diesel. This generates an A.C. [alternating current] supply which is changed to D.C. [direct current]. The D.C. powers the propulsion motor, lovingly tended by Dean Hurren the ship’s E.T.O., which turns the propeller shaft which finally turns the single propeller.

How is the speed controlled?
The speed of the ship is controlled by changing the amount of power to the propulsion motor or by altering the propeller pitch angle. The engine and propeller were designed to give precise speed control and quiet, vibration free operation; essential features for a research vessel.

What if the engine breaks?
The engine room houses a lot more; two smaller, auxiliary engines which can be used to support the main engine and to generate electricity for the workshop and the rest of the ship. The ship also has a bow-thruster which enables precise manoeuvring. The bow thruster could drive the ship at 4 knots if a major problem occurred with the main system of propulsion.

How do you get fuel?
Fuel oil is taken on board at the dockside. The fuel tanks hold 365 tonnes at 90% capacity. This is enough for 55 days' steaming. The fuel passes through a purifier before going to the engine. The engine is lubricated with engine oil which is re-used after passing through a cooler, filters and oil purifier. The engine is cooled using fresh water which gets very hot, the fresh water has to be cooled using sea water.

How is fresh water supplied?
Some freshwater is taken on board in port but this is not enough for normal needs over a fortnight. The hot water from the engine coolant is used to heat up sea water which is in a low pressure vessel. This allows water vapour to separate, this is condensed and then it is suitable for drinking.

How is the ship balanced?
The weight distribution of the ship is important in order to stop it tilting over. The distribution changes as fuel is used up and as different loads are stored or taken off while in port. To keep it level, water is pumped by ballast pumps between ballast tanks deep in the ships hull. The tanks have metal plates in them called baffles, these stop the water from sloshing about.

Is human waste deposited at sea?
All of the waste from the bathroom is crunched up and poured into a portable cess pit. Here, bacteria feed on the waste and break it down. By the time it leaves the sewage plant it is said to be fit for drinking. Someone else can test that idea.

How are the core tubes lifted out of the water?
A quick visit to the winch room at the aft of the ship allowed us to view the two winches. These are a lot more complex than a motor and a coil of wire. The cable has to be under the correct tension, its load must be monitored and rate of veer and haul known

The winch had a fault earlier and now it is fixed. How was this done?
The ship has at least two engineering workshops, one for the engineers and one for the technicians. We observed a wall full of trays of bolts and tools, workbenches, lathes, vices, drills – the whole works. Dave Adern and Gary Slater, the Third Engineers were fixing the part from the winch as we toured.

How is the ship steered?
We wound our way through narrow metal corridors to the rear of the ship, the walls were pinching in. e found ourselves in a narrow room and here was the steering gear. Set above the prop shaft we had seen earlier, it consisted of two hydraulic rams either side of the rudder post.

This marked the end of the official tour. We were given a lot of attention and information and I apologise to the engineers if I’ve omitted some details – or made errors. Thank you very much!

Above: the enginnering team
Top row left to right    Gary Slater – Third Engineer, Dean Hurren -Electrical Officer
Front row  left to right  Ian Slater – Second Engineer, Martin Holt – Chief Engineer and Dave Arden – Third Engineer

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April 2004
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