Carnival, Dad and Walk the Engine Room – blog post by Camberley Bates

My Dad is a captain – former skipper of a USN destroyer, cruise ship and others. I am not a fan of sailing, in as much as this ‘julie’ gets sea-sick.  However, I have been on enough ships, heard enough stories to understand the uglies of Carnival Triumph.  Fire is the scariest of all disasters on a ship – there is nowhere to go, but over board.

On a ship, everything is backed up, double managed, able to operate with outages, multiple of them.  For a ship to lose all engines means lots and lots failed.  Fires get contained, or at least the systems on board are designed to contain, segregate and protect. Yet in this very, very large sailing hotel, failure happened throughout the engine room.

While I have no clue what caused this, my Dad’s lessons ring loud in my ears – “Walk the engine room.” Dad captained the USS Constitution during the 80-90’s.  She was an older ship, commissioned in 1951, known for sailing Grace Kelly to the Prince of Monaco.  Engines could be testy, and thus his discipline of walking the engine room, talking to those responsible for the day to day operations.  The harbors where he sailed were very small and tight. In these tight quarters, if ALL the engines did not operate, the ship would run aground. His presence in the engine room (the mess hall, walking the floating hotel halls), commanded respect and the diligence of the crew. It gave him weekly and daily real life input what was happening in the guts of the ship. It raised the responsibility of the crew, who knew their day to day work was as important as the any other operation of the ship.  It gave him the engines he needed, when he needed them the most.

For all leaders and managers, we are responsible to know what is happening in the engine room – IT, company operations. Yes, there is the responsibility to set the direction (navigate), command the staff, but ultimately the captain holds the leadership for the guts of the machine.  We would do well to take personal lessons from how we manage day to day, and how we manage when everything fails.

P.S.- Congratulations to the all that worked to bring the ship safely to shore – Carnival, Coast guard, tug boats and Mobile harbor pilots. What an accomplishment!