USCGC “Smackinaw”, ultra electronics gone awry

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

6 Responses

  1. Ron Rogers says:

    Yes, but what is the real story? Was it poor training or an equipment malfunction? Doing a 90 degree right, slowly, *soundsd* like equipment.
    There was time (see video) for someone on the bridge to alter course – if they knew how to do it. A conventional twin screw vessel could have reversed the port engine and gone slow ahead with the starboard engine.
    I wonder how many twin Z-drive vessels there are. Pictures of new “bow tugs” show one Z-drive. The photo you posted suggests that it might have to be automated for safety sake – perhaps some type of interlock like twin rudders.
    If it wasn’t a hardware/software problem, the captain’s career is essentially over. The good news is that she struck with her armor plated ice-belt and barely has a dent. The Corps of Engineers, however, is upset.

  2. Ron Rogers says:

    To answer my own question, the newspaper article quotes the captain as stating that he failed to takeover the con from a junior officer until it was too late. Therefore, the headline “Ultra Electronics Gone Awry” does not square with the capatin’s admission of human failure.
    It appears that all personnel were not adequately trained on the complex manuever controls. Since the vessel was going dead slow, I don’t understand why a blast from the 500HP bowthruster wasn’t employed.

  3. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Ron, what I meant was that it seems like the electronic controls were too complicated for the guy driving to manage. Ultimately, though, mistakes are always about judgement, not technology. By the way, I don’t think the expression “dead slow” applies to electric drives like these; I think they can go down to 1 rpm if they want.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Dozens of river cruise boats on the Danube, Main and Rhine rivers use essentially the same control system without incident. The ships are expertly guided by junior officers into canal locks with only a few inches of clearance on each side. The accident smacks of improper training and supervision rather than mnechanical failure.

  5. Ed says:

    Having had a lot of experience with handling large azipod equipped ships (as a state licensed harbor pilot), I believe it is probably a case of lack of training and experience, as opposed to mechanical or technical problem.
    That is not to say it never happens (it does believe me). But this video shows me that it was a case of “operator error” which is indicated by the fact that the vessel never slowed down, until it hit the wall of course. I suspect they were all so involved with the sudden “unplanned” event of hitting the wall, that stopping the ship’s headway didn’t occur to them. In fact, it is relatively easy (and quick) to stop an azipod ship in a short distance, especially if she is moving relatively slow.
    I would further guess that any training with azipods and the ship’s officers (prior to actually handling the ship) probably took place in a computer simulator. Real hands on experience was more than likely limited to handling the vessel for the first time during sea trials and in the course of the yard delivery to the USCG.
    There is a lot to be said for “observing” others more experienced than you in real life, aboard real ships, under real conditions. There are plenty of opportunities to do this today, given the numerous azipod ships in operation all over the world (and USA).
    State pilots in the US are typically trained under these conditions for years, before being cut loose on there own. We’ll never know, but I would be curious to find out how much training these guys actually had before being asked to drive the “SMACK” down a long confined channel like that for the first time?

  6. Sandy Daugherty says:

    Is the Coast Guard investigating their own accident?

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