Home Power's Out: Navigating Ship Blackouts in the Navy

Power's Out: Navigating Ship Blackouts in the Navy

Waking up with a start and sweating there’s a sense something is wrong, it takes a second to pick up what it is. The ship is quiet, shit, there’s no power or engine noise. I hop out of my rack, jump into my coveralls and boots, grab my flashlight and multi-tool and sprint up 8 decks to my shop. Checking with the watch I see who’s already up and start getting everyone who’s not flipping breakers to do so for their gear.

The last thing we needed was for all the gear to come up at once and crash the generator. I go to the Nav stations and see if the chart computer is up on battery, nope, damn, I thought this circuit woud’ve been switched over by now. It’s pitch black except for a few red lights and the screen of a handheld GPS. The bridge is scrambling on sound power phones to find out what happened to cause the power drop this time. The only drill we didn’t do, or need to do, was a loss of power. These older ships were prone to it.

Just after pulling out of port on my first deployment I remember asking my wcs how you sleep with all the ship’s noise, he said it’s not the noise that wakes you up it’s the sudden silence, he was dead on about that. Now on my second deployment and I can’t even count how many times I’d been through something like this. It’s become an automatic reflex to hop to when things go quiet.

Finally, all the breakers are off, the nav station is plotting our location from the handheld GPS on the paper chart(thank god they hadn’t gotten rid of those yet). We weren’t in unfriendly waters yet, but we were drifting with the current and all 4,000 Marines were still up in Iraq yet.

The warning alarms were quiet in the CIC, and though it was nice to not have them constantly blaring it also meant we had no way to see any inbound threats. Iran, among others, had their targeting radars painting us around the clock. This meant most of the warning alarms were covered to muffle the noise, it also meant that our operators had to be on their toes all the time watching for something we wouldn’t have long to counter. I wouldn’t say you become complacent, but you do learn to tune out the noise and focus on what you can see on the screen, you have to or the stress will get to you.

It’s been half an hour and still no power, I don’t even want to look at where we are on the charts. After checking back in with the nav crew to see how if their handheld GPS is still working I walk out onto the bridge wing to look out over the sea, small dots from boats and platforms out at sea show the horizon, above the stars fill the sky. My mind wanders back to my first deployment pulling security watch on the fantail with an M-60 trying to discern which lights we needed to worry about and which were too far out to be an issue. I shake it off and walk back inside, checking in with my guys in the shop. We’re all grumbling and waiting for the power to come back. This was the first night in almost a week I hadn’t had a watch or equipment to fix, so much for catching up on sleep.

Another 20 minutes and we finally hear the hum of the turbines spinning up, we start to feel the ship regain some control, it won’t be much longer before we start bringing gear back up. I talk with our combat watch officer and the engineering watch officer to figure out how much power we’re making and what systems come up when and in what order. After a minute of back and forth we decide to pull up a low-power radar and our GPS and chart systems, along with our “Coke Machine” for patching comms and one VHF and one HF radio. Finally!

We check each system to make sure it’s configured for shutdown, then one by one we turn on the breakers and start up each piece of gear, we wait till each system is up and stable, it would suck to have the generator crash and lose the systems we do have because someone was impatient. thankfully this time there are no premature power-ups.

Another 45 minutes later and we’re cleared to bring up any back and non-critical systems, that’ll take another hour to get everything back up, so I go to the mess decks and grab a cup of coffee, then jump in one at a time and help bring things up while each guy takes a break to hit the head or grab a coffee or whatever they need to keep going.

Once Things were back up and running(for the most part) I resigned myself that I would get no sleep today and slid down to the galley for breakfast. About the only thing sounding, or looking, good for breakfast was an omelet, I inhaled it and another mug of coffee and headed back to the shop for the daily morning meeting. We’d been fortunate only one breaker popped when we brought the last of the gear up, and none had been hit by a power spike(notorious for happening when bringing power back up).

Thankfully during the morning meeting, there was no mention of the cause of the power outage, no news is good news. This wasn’t the first, and wouldn’t be the last power outage, nor would it be the worst or longest. That came as a late Christmas present, and it would test all our skills.

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