Cruising – The Behind The Scenes Tour – Part 1 – Engineering and Navigation

9 March 2015

One of the things I try to do any place we go is get a behind the scenes tour. I’m fascinated with the logistics on how things happen.

Cruise boats are huge floating hotels. So on top of all of the guest needs of food and lodging, the boat needs to move everyone around. I think the most interesting aspect is the need to be self contained. 2,200 guests and 900 crew on the Nieuw Amsterdam go through a lot of food and drink, create tons of waste and use Megawatts of electricity.

I was able to get into the behind the scenes tour, there were only four of us in our group. The tour was across two days. The bridge and engineering operations is restricted to crew only while underway. So we did those two parts on Day 5, while we were in port on St. Thomas.

The Nieuw Amsterdam is a Class S boat, it’s pretty much all electric. There are 7 diesel powered generators that can be brought on and off-line as needed. With almost everything being electric from the main drive engines to all of the room HVAC it’s a sensible way to try to do power management. The generators are different sizes so they do a mix and match so they are generating what they need.

I found it interesting that they use commercial voltages (11K, 7.2K, 600, 220, 115) volts in their systems. This allows them to use COTS systems vs more expensive marine specific systems.

The first day was an in-port day. They don’t allow non-bridge or non-engineering people in restricted spaces while the ship is moving. Our first stop was the primary engineering control room.

There is a center C shaped console that has about 8 computer screens. It faces a schematic of all the boat systems with standard gauges and indicator lights. Systems are controlled via the computer systems. The displays and applications run on WindowsXP systems (boat was designed in 2005) and communicate on a closed, redundant ethernet network.

There are video cameras all over the mechanical spaces so they can check on what is going on. So we got a tour of the mechanical systems without leaving the control room. They were working on one of the Diesel engines, we were able to see the workmen removing one of the broken studs.

Since the ship is in constant use, they take systems off line on a regular basis to do maintenance. For example pretty much there is one motor / generator system down at any one time. The ship goes into drydock for a month every two years, that is when the underwater equipment is overhauled.

Next stop was the bridge. The Captain was out at a dental appointment, so the Staff Captain (second Captain) gave our tour. The bridge is on the 8th deck above water (ship is 11 decks total) so it has a pretty good view of what is going on. There are some blind spots, there are cameras to give a view and while docking they are manned by crew on radios.

On each side of the bridge are wings that stick out about 20′. In the wing floor is a glass section that lets the pilot look down at the dock. With the 360 degree propellers and the bow thrusters the ship can actually move sideways into position. To dock they line up with marks on the pier. They then move into the dock until the mark is directly below the wing floor window. This lets them know that the ship is in the exact position (+/- 1 meter).

The propeller controls are fancy joysticks that let them position each one independently of the other. There is a GPS system that is attached so they can “hover” in position. They use this system at places like Half Moon Cay rather than trying to anchor. When the boat is underway and the drive pods are synchronized together, there is a small wheel at the center of the bridge that the helmsman uses to steer the boat.

Both wings have the same set of controls so docking from either side is possible. They both also have full radio systems to talk to the teams that are taking care of the lines. As do smaller boats they use a set of fore and aft lines (3-4 each) and fore and aft spring lines (2) to keep them on the dock.

Moving across the bridge the next station is a full communications station with HF, VHF and satphone coverage. There is also a telex machine that isn’t used (it’s there as a backup) since written communications come in via email.

Next is the GPS position setup. There are receivers on both ends of the boat so they know exactly where the boat is. The positioning systems are fully redundant. This area also does the AIS tracking and has the ability to overlay the ships radar information.

A little farther on is the ships wheel and the primary course plotter. They have a number of different modes they can use. The helmsman can drive the boat of course, but they mostly use the autopilot. One autopilot mode is similar to what I have on the Quo Vadimus, it will steer a set heading. They have one that will follow either a plotted course (making all the turns) or their favorite just follow the course we actually did last time.

Past the ships wheel is what would have been the paper chart station. The surface has been replaced by a 51″ touch screen monitor. From this location they can pull up the course, any engineering info, weather, etc.

Along the wall at this location is a series of high stools, one of them is marked with the Captain stripes. This is where the bridge officers sit when they are on the bridge. Next to the stools is a old style engine control (big brass stand with two levers that move in a circle) as an homage to “the way it used to be done”.

The last station is an engineering station that is used to monitor for leaks, but to also move water around to adjust the trim of the ship. For example if there is wind pushing on the port side causing the ship to list to starboard, they can move water to the port side tanks to stand the boat back up.

We are now at the starboard side wing having walked the width of the ship.

Aft of the helm is a room that has all of the fire control / water tight door system management. This is a combination of indicator lights in a schematic diagram of the ship and computer monitors.

Behind the fire control is the Captains office and quarters, so he is just steps away from the bridge if something happens.

Stay tuned for parts two and three!