2008 Week Six in Review

In Defense of Shipyard Workers

This week OTM checked on the Maris Pearl several times to be sure that the shipyard work is being completed to the owner’s expectations. She’s in Lake Union Dry Dock, which is typically a little more expensive than other local shipyards, but better at maintaining a schedule and getting the work done quickly. The work on Maris Pearl was done just fine — the tug was cleaned and painted, the zincs changed, and the bearings checked – but the owner was concerned by the pace the workers appeared to be moving at. Since the conventional equation is that time equals money, he started getting a little annoyed. Seeing this, I decided that I should try to explain why shipyard workers may appear slow.

First, a shipyard workers usually starts work early and often with a mild hangover. They work outside all day every day, and many are a little overweight. They frequently work through the weekend for that sweet overtime money, since most also have families whose expenses increase faster than the raises. On top of that, they spend at least eight hours every day being told what to do and what not to do by the manager, the foreman, the safety guy, the union guy, the owner, the owner representative, and the guy who started a week before them. This all wears on a shipyard worker – not to mention that almost every task involves dragging heavy things around. To keep from being utterly worn out or promoted, most workers will move at a slower pace than a “normal” walk.

There is also an optical illusion created by the worker seen in front of big machinery and equipment, plus boats out of the water appear three times as large as they are in the water. An owner is often used to seeing only the top third of the boat and while in dry-dock it looks huge and a worker walking around the boat looks very slow from a distance. This optical illusion exaggerates the slower pace enough to make owners angry at the seemingly lazy shipyard worker.

In defense of the shipyard worker, doing the same tasks over and over leads to learning how to do them most efficiently. Fewer wasted movements can add to the illusion of slowness, but they add up to get the job done much faster. They know how to work together and under a boss, who in turn knows how to direct them efficiently. They are all familiar with the facility – its layout, where the tools are, where the hose bibs and outlets are – and don’t waste time trying to figure out how to catch the crane operator’s attention to deliver a man-lift. This all leads to a very productive use of time, even if from the owner’s perspective the workers may seem to be moving very slowly.

However, some owners don’t see this and may try to do it themselves the next year to save that money they feel was wasted by the time it took. A do-it-your-selfer at the Northlake Shipyard (a local yard that allows owners to rent the facility and provide their own labor) might be able to learn some of the efficiencies that make the job faster, but usually only after a few very expensive haul-outs. I have seen do-it-your-selfers pay for extra lay days to keep from keeling over with a paint roller in their hand, which can add up to far more money than they saved doing it themselves.

Upcoming Engineer for a Day Program

OTM Inc also spend some time this week preparing for the Engineer for a Day Program for the Ballard Maritime Academy (we previously discussed the program here). We hired Grant MacDonald, the captain of the Thea Foss to teach the Diesel-Electric portion of the program on the fireboat Duwamish. In addition to being an experienced skipper and licensed as a 4,000 horsepower Designated Duty Engineer, Grant just completed a stint as an instructor for the Sea Education Association. He spent September to January teaching college students about boating and science on the Corwith Cramer, a purpose-built steel brigantine in the Caribbean. We think he’s well-suited as an instructor for the Engineer for a Day program.

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