Operational Machinery on Static Ships

Scott Sprague, Operations Manager USS Pampanito

Historic vessels are machines. Static or not, the best way to preserve a piece of machinery is to maintain it in working condition and to periodically operate it under carefully controlled conditions. Machines and systems that have not been operated or properly maintained will eventually deteriorate even if they appear to be in good condition externally. Periodic operation of systems as part of a well coordinated and organized program of preservation and preventative maintenance will greatly extend the lifetime of a historic vessel.

Preservation maintenance is a vital aspect of the overall preservation plan that is applied to all responsibly kept vessels. This is the methodically planned and applied procedural process that consists of the routine and continual work performed to mitigate the deterioration of the preserved vessel.

Preservation maintenance is an unending process. After a vessel's condition has been stabilized and her basic integrity has been assured, a systematic program of preventative maintenance must be instituted in order to protect and preserve the material condition of the vessel. Whenever possible, this preventative maintenance program should attempt to sustain the vessel's systems in operating condition.

Within this context it can be seen that the preservation maintenance of a vessel must be a proactive procedure. Operation of a vessel's systems is an indispensable part of this proactive procedure. It is insufficient to merely see to the needs of visible exterior surfaces and easily accessed systems. Repainting the exterior of an engine does not appropriately preserve the engine itself. The internal arrangements of the engine must be kept properly lubricated. They must be cycled periodically in order to insure that the engine's lubricating oil does not become contaminated by moisture or other byproducts of a marine environment. Electrical equipment must be operated in order to "warm it up" so as to prevent moisture from accumulating on sensitive areas. Careful and consistent operation is the best way to ensure that these system's needs are met.

If the vessel's systems have already deteriorated to the point where operation is no longer possible, the systems should be restored and rehabilitated to the condition where they can be operated. However, the historic integrity of the system in question shall never be jeopardized in the attempt to restore it to operating condition. The historical significance of a vessel is of primary importance; in this case, operational considerations will be of secondary importance. Also, the safety of the vessel itself must never be threatened by operating the vessel's systems. For example, we have no plans of ever submerging Pampanito, despite the fact that she is a submarine. Although she could probably be made to submerge quite handily, re-surfacing her could prove problematic.

Operating the machinery of a historic vessel can be a vital element of a systematic and responsible preservation project. Machinery benefits greatly from a periodic and controlled run-up. Also, the intention of keeping machinery in operating condition helps ensure that the required preventative maintenance is contentiously performed. For example, if an engine is to be run, the operators will probably pay much greater attention to the actual physical condition of the engine's material components than they would to a "dead" system. Operating a system also allows problems within the system to be diagnosed and located much earlier than they would be if the system was kept non-operational. For example, a leaky gasket that would otherwise allow moisture- leading to rust damage- to enter an engine will be found immediately if it leaks oil while operating. Deteriorated electrical wiring can be located with great speed if the equipment is actually being used.

Electrical equipment responds particularly well to periodic operation. Many electrical components are designed to be kept "hot," or charged with current, at all times. Heat-strips or lighting circuits are installed to keep the internal temperature of the device warmer than the "dew point." By staying charged, these elements prevent potentially damaging moisture from accumulating within the device.

The primary consideration in the determination of feasibility of operation of machinery is the assessment of the relevant expertise of the potential operators. These operators are the people who will determine the overall quality and safety of the operation. Many of the systems that are available on historic vessels are potentially dangerous if improperly utilized. They could very quickly damage themselves and their operators if run by an unskilled operator. If the expertise is not available, do not attempt to improvise. The results could be extremely unfavorable. If the vessel's engines are being considered as candidates for operation and none of the potential operators has any previously established proficiency in the care and usage of the appropriate type of engine, do not run the engines. Historic ships are not the place to gain entry-level knowledge of systems engineering.

There is no substitute for relevant expertise. Although it is possible to learn much from technical manuals, they are not enough. Appropriate training and experience are vital to the safe operation of any ship-board system. Unqualified operators do not have the required decision-making skills required to safely manage the functioning of the complicated machines with which they may be presented. Great caution must be taken to ensure that a potential operator knows how to properly handle the machinery they will be asked to operate and maintain.

Care must be taken to ensure that all operators of ship-board machinery understand the limitations of the environment in which they will operate the equipment. Safety will of necessity be the overriding concern of all operators. At no time will any operator ever endanger themselves or any other person in the process of equipment operation. Also, any operators must understand that any ship-board machinery must never be operated in a manner that endangers the machinery or the ship itself. For example, engines must be properly lubricated and checked by a trained operator before they are started in order to be certain that they are not run in a potentially damaging condition.

Visitor safety must also be addressed. Many of the machines aboard historic vessels were designed to be used only by trained crewmen. The fact that a trained crewman would always be present was assumed. Safety features were therefore minimal. If a visitor were to accidentally operate the equipment they could potentially both damage the equipment and injure themselves. Even the simplest of systems could prove dangerous. The stove in a ship's galley could be inadvertently turned on, for example, and a fire or burns could result.

With this in mind, all systems that could be unintentionally operated by a visitor or untrained operator must be made safe; or as it is known on the Pampanito, "Tourist-proofed." Measures are taken that do not damage the historic fabric of the ship, and can be removed at any time. These alterations are installed in order for a piece of equipment to be kept in a safe but operable condition.

Although there are no definitive techniques of tourist-proofing, the rule to be followed is that it must be impossible for visitors to unintentionally injure themselves. Visitors should not be given the opportunity to operate working systems unless they are in a rigidly controlled environment; a shore-side display for example. Systems should therefore be isolated or "locked-off" so that visitors do not have an opportunity to operate the workable system. Control systems especially should be made inaccessible.

This should be done in as unobtrusive a manner as is practical. For example, rather than deny a whole control compartment to visitor access, plexiglass screening and locking bars can be installed to keep visitors from actually moving vital and relevant controls. For example, aboard Pampanito the main propulsion control stand levers have been secured by means of a steel bar. This bar is installed below the stand so that visitors can neither see the bar, nor can they actuate the levers in a potentially hazardous manner. This bar was placed in such a manner that there was no damage to the historic fabric of the levers themselves.

Before any system is to be operated, it must be restored to as close to its original physical condition as possible. Before historic vessels are turned over to museums or other administrative authorities, they are often operated in a less-than-optimal condition by their owners. Throughout the service life of a vessel, it is constantly being changed, refitted, and repaired. Not all of the changes imposed by a ship's crew are necessarily beneficial to the prospects of long-term operation of a vessel or its associated equipment. Short-cuts and short-term innovations are often utilized by a ship's crew to meet the circumstances of the ship's missions. Such "jerry-rigged" systems are often quite damaging to a vessel. Although these temporary systems are historically important in and of themselves, if they are potentially destructive, they should be documented and removed before they can cause damage. Electrical wiring seems to be particularly prone to such "field modifications" as are used by a ship's crew. If these modifications are made in a way that could be hazardous or could lead to potential hazards, they should be dealt with appropriately.

Another consideration that must be dealt with is the fact that before a vessel is turned over to a museum it is often subjected to damage by its original owners in the process of "disposal." In the case of Pampanito, in 1970 she was made available for industrial stripping and salvage to meet the needs of the rest of the fleet. Many vital pieces of equipment were lost in the process.

Although this "cannibalization" is dealt with in the process of rehabilitating and restoring a vessel, it becomes especially critical if the vessel's machinery is to be operated. Parts that seem insignificant suddenly become indispensable when the vessel is subjected to operating stresses. This reinforces the need for a trained operator to run a thorough diagnostic survey before any equipment is operated. A missing gauge or indicator may seem unimportant when a system is only to be displayed, but will prove essential if the machinery it monitors is ever to be operated. A missing oil pressure gauge could give the split-seconds of warning that an operator needs to shut down an engine before it irreparably damages itself.

Another subject that must be approached before equipment operation is considered is that of spare parts. Although operation is ultimately healthy for equipment, the fact is that even with the most careful of operators and comprehensive of maintenance programs many components of the machinery itself will be subject to wear and will require eventual replacement.

Before any worn piece of equipment can be replaced the replacement must be acquired. Obviously a historically appropriate replacement is ideal. If a similar ship is available and not under consideration for historic preservation, it is obviously better to acquire important spare parts, rather than allow them to go to the cutter's torch. Pampanito herself gained nearly ten tons of salvaged equipment from the USS Turbot before she was scrapped. Many of these items have enabled Pampanito to restore several systems to operating condition.

Other parts sources may also be available. In the case of Pampanito, many spare parts have been gathered from the "mothball" fleets held nearby. These ships have proved to be an excellent source of such needed items as gauges, vacuum tubes, valves, and electrical equipment. Vintage parts are hard to come by, and the need for a pertinent item may not be realized. Therefore, it is desirable to accumulate spare parts well in advance of the demand. Many parts wear out or need replaced frequently, especially filters, gaskets, fuses, and so forth. These parts should be stockpiled if possible.

If a part is simply not available, a replacement may be fabricated. The replacement part must, however be clearly designated as a replacement, and must match the item it is to replace as closely as possible. All fabricated items aboard Pampanito are now stamped "REPLACEMENT," along with the date of their instillation.

Documentation of all replacements, whether they are from a sister-ship or fabricated, is vital. Nothing should be installed without clear documentation. This must be done to prevent a loss of historic integrity of the vessel in question.

Before any equipment is to be operated, it must be thoroughly inspected by a qualified operator. This is absolutely critical. The potential for damage is far too great for any system to be "trusted" to be complete or in operable condition. This inspection must be meticulous and detail-oriented. Any system that could be potentially unfit for operation should not be operated.

Many mishaps can be avoided by a simple examination of the system that is to be operated. A planned routine of checks can be established in order to ensure that the system will operate properly and that any corrections of discrepancies may be made before damage results. Technical manuals are good sources of inspection checklists that can be followed before, during, and after operating any machinery; however, no checklist is a substitute for a trained operator.

After any operation of any piece of machinery an equally thorough inspection should be made. This will ensure that any damage that might have been sustained by the equipment will be detected and corrected immediately, before and progressive damage can occur. This will also make certain that all shut-down procedures are followed and all "tourist-proofing" safety devices are reinstalled. Any problems that have occurred should be corrected immediately.

In addition to a proper shut-down procedure, whenever a piece of machinery has been operated, its usage should be documented. This will not only keep track of any wear imposed on an operating system, it will allow a long term prognosis of any problems that may "creep up" on a system. For example, increasing oil consumption of an engine could indicate any number of problems that could become perilous if allowed to continue unchecked.

Documentation will also allow for a more thorough assessment of trends that can occur when operating machinery. Through an exacting documentation process the overall condition of a vessel as a single unit, rather than a collection of discrete subsystems, can be evaluated. A greater trend towards fuel consumption in all engines could indicate badly maintained fuel pumps or filters, and will allow corrective action to be taken.

Taken as a whole, a well-designed program dedicated to the operation of a historic vessel's systems, machinery, and equipment will greatly enhance the condition and prolong the life span of the vessel. A properly administered operational program can prove an invaluable aspect of a regular maintenance schedule. Although many concerns must be dealt with, the overall positive impact of such a program will greatly outweigh the investment required to start such a program.

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Version 1.01, 7 July 1997