Life at sea


CAPT Jeff Klassen
Public Affairs officer

I’m no sailor. If I were a pirate in a children’s cartoon you’d call me a “land lubber”. In fact, most of what I’ve done in my military career (sure, it’s just a short three years) has been in a chair staring at a computer screen. Actually, it’s worse than that – sitting in a chair, staring at a computer screen… in Ottawa! (I jest.)  I was recently given the opportunity to go on a task group exercise with one of our Halifax-class warships, HMCS Regina. I couldn’t have been more thrilled. Doing exciting things like this is exactly why I joined the military!

So, what’s life like on a warship Jeff? I’m glad you asked. I am going to tell you, but it’s going to be over a series of blog posts made throughout my time in Regina.

Blog Post One: An overview of the ship (an organism that never sleeps)

I’m writing this about six days into my voyage with HMCS Regina, and what I’m saying is really about this ship, but I feel that I could probably generalize a bit.

Warships are really cool. They are cool in the sense that they are giant, floating, autonomous, powerful, multi-purpose, self-sustaining systems that never sleep. This system operates something like an organism; it is not just made up of hardware and equipment but also hundreds of differently trained people, all necessary for the overall functionality and effectiveness of the ship. There’s almost no spare room for the non-essential.

The cool thing about living on the ship is you are in the middle of all this. All these integrated yet separate people and parts of the system move around and interact in a dance whose continual performance is needed for the good functioning of the whole.

Let’s look at the ship from the perspective of the Operations Room (or “Ops”). This is where Naval Warfare Officers and their operators work the sensors and weapons of the ship – stuff like the sonar, radar, torpedoes, the big gun (that’s, errr… a technical term), missiles, etc. Well, like anything else, these systems may need changes, maintenance, or upgrades so the ship requires engineers and technicians.

Weapons and radars are fine and all, but to be effective, the ship needs to float and move around the globe. So there is a whole navigation and boating section of the ship to support that. Along with this comes more engineers, operators, technical staff, and boatswains (the jack-of-all trades on a ship).

So, we’ve already described over half the crew (total population of the crew is usually well over 200) with these two aspects but these people can’t just exist. All these people need to have their basic human needs met and humans are, let’s say, resource intensive. We need food, shelter, a livable climate, laundry, exercise facilities, relaxation space, workspaces, bathrooms, and so on. There is a whole people-sustaining aspect of the ship dedicated to making sure the crew can live and thrive for long periods at sea without replenishment. And don’t forget the people who manage this also need to be taken care of themselves. It gets more complex when you also consider communications people, supply, air crews, training staff, special operators, staff officers, etc.

One thing that did strike me as different about ship life is the ship never sleeps. At sunset they switch all lights to red, so you get a feel for what time of day it is. Sure more people work during the day then at night, but you always need people around the clock steering the ship, looking at sensors, manning coms stations, etc. I’ve
gotten out of bed in the wee hours and seen people driving the ship, working in offices, eating, chatting, and exercising – just as if it was the middle of the day but its dark and red lights are everywhere.

In fact, you often have to make effort to see daylight or get fresh air. There are no outside-facing windows in 90 per cent of the places the crew work and live. It’s why an engineering officer was joking when he recently asked me, “It’s a beautiful morning, isn’t it?”

So, in honour of that, for my first post, here’s a picture of me and my work colleague Sailor First Class Lisa Wallace outside on the bridge deck taking in the fresh ocean air.


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