The Dreaded Final Exam

This post is about the final exam* we have to pass in order to become fully qualified Officers, the dreaded “orals” an oral exam conducted by a Master Mariner. The following is my recollection of my exam taken in 2009, which feels like a millennium ago now! Engineer cadets also have to pass an oral exam but it’s not nearly as hard.

*providing you have passed everything else

OOW Orals Exam
The Mariner Vs Captain X
Thursday 13th August 2009
1 hour 30mins
Maersk- ex P&O Nedlloyd Container Ships

The following is the outline of my experience with Captain X

After starting 20mins late Capt X invited me into the exam room, he shook my hand and led me in; the room wasn’t overly big but was well lit and very untidy. He gave me some water and asked to see my discharge book. I have to give it too him, he was doing his best to put me at ease but when he says ‘are you ready to start?’, you really have no other option but to sheepishly say yes!! I have not provided many answers to the questions in this report as it would make the report rather long and I’m sure some of the answers would be different now due to new equipment and regulations etc.

So you have just joined a general cargo ship 10,000 tonnes, 2nd mate is useless and the captain had given you the responsibility of making a passage plan, What is it? (Passage Plan), how do you use it? How would you go about creating one?
He stopped me half way through explaining about the planning stage, ( being interrupted comes across as rude the first couple of times but it’s just how he is, trying to pick up the pace of the exam I think!)

So after joining your ship you were given a safety tour of the vessel, what would you expect to have been shown?

At the end of the tour the 3rd mate asks if you have any questions to complete the handover? This was all safety based and was just checking to see how switched on you are, he didn’t really have anything specific that he was looking for with this question.

What safety equipment are you responsible for as a 3rd mate on your vessels? I told him that it was ship specific according to the companies SMS (Safety Management System) but would comprise of …..

So what is the ISM (International Safety Management) code?What is the difference between a near miss, non conformity and a dangerous occurrence? He seemed quite impressed and said ‘very good’, then he asked what are the chapters of ISM? I stumbled a bit here, remembered 4 or 5 and he seemed happy with that. So chapter 11 is documentation….. tell me in detail about the documentation.

What other publications do you consider important for work at sea? Code of Safe Working Practices…. He stopped me… so tell me about CSWP … what chapters do you know? He wanted pretty much all of them, what are the 4 sections?

You are now on the bridge of your 10,000grt ship, inspecting the bridge gear prior to sailing what do you check?

Did you say Gyro compass….. ‘yes sir’ why don’t you tell me about that? He wanted to know EVERYTHING what it was, how it works, explain gyroscopic inertia, explain precession, explain tilt, drift and all the errors, what is damping error? How it corrected? What is steaming error? How is it corrected?

And did you say GPS (Global Positioning System)? …… ‘yes sir’ tell me about that then… he wanted EVERYTHING as if I invented the bastard thing! What are it’s errors? All the types of dilution of position, explain in detail multipath error and atomic clock error.

You said about Radar?…. Tell me about them!!….again wanted detail as if I had invented it. How exactly does ARPA (Automatic Radar Plotting Aid) work?? I messed this up according to him.
What is/are the difference, advantages and disadvantages between S and X band Radar?

So how do *RACONs work? I STUPIDLY mentioned displaying a Morse character on the radar screen at some point and yep, you guessed it, do you remember Morse code?
Gave me pen and paper….. I’m pleased to say I hadn’t forgotten it.

*RACON is a portmanteau of RAdar and beaCON.

You said AIS (Automatic Identification System)…. Can it be used for collision avoidance? ‘No sir’ with which he said yes it can…. So I said only to help determine particular ships and to aid situational awareness but it would never have any bearing on my decisions when complying with the collision regulations. He seemed to like this answer and then said tell me a little more about AIS, he asked me how the information was input into it, I said GPS and by the user, and he said yeah but how? I really didn’t understand the question or what he was getting at, so I just made it look like I was thinking and he soon got bored and then said….

What is this? It was a magnetic compass, so told him all about it and then he asked about variation, deviation and c-rod and then he started on about how I would find variation /deviation and asked about how to check for errors.

What is more accurate a transit or and azimuth? How do you take an amplitude?

There was a little more but I can’t remember exactly!

Rules – clear all around, open ocean

Started with a standard crossing from starboard to port. Then he said collisions always exist on this table you don’t need to take compass bearings again. Could you go to port? Yes Why? Reeled off rule 15

What is risk of collision? How do you determine it?? Reeled off rule 7.

Tell me about lookout… reeled off rule 5

And safe speed… stopped me half way through the radar part.

Put a ship crossing from port to starboard. The usual, it’s getting closer etc

Why would you parallel his course? Regain situational awareness and reassess the situation, then what would you do? I would either slow down or if necessary make a large round turn passing well clear of his stern.

He then put his pen lid on it and said he’s constrained by his draught…

So I said are we in daylight? He said yes! So I said I’d stop and allow him sufficient sea room to pass and not impede his safe passage.

How do you determine what is sufficient sea room?

Who is the give way vessel? ‘He is sir’ I then explained rule 8f! What else does rule 8 say? Reeled that off,

So why are you stopping? Do the rules state a preference as to whether you reduce speed or make an alteration? He stopped me from justifying myself, threw the rule book at me and said read me rule 8 c so I did.

So…you are in the middle of the ocean and you are going to stop and let this vessel pass ahead? Have you ever in your experience seen this done? Are you sure you are going to do this! At this point I thought he was going to fail me!!!!

Yes sir I am! I am going to stop and allow him to pass ahead leaving sufficient sea room so as not to impede his safe passage.

Are you sure? YES!!

And he said it again so you are going to stop your vessel in the middle of the ocean even after you read me rule 8c? Could you not go to port?

“If we are in the middle of the ocean why is he constrained by his draught sir??”

He didn’t like this….”Mr Wyles …. Are you going to stop then?”


Good! Next question!! I couldn’t believe how much he tried to get me change my mind.

He took the cylinder off, spun the ship round, still on the port side, I said I am unsure if I am overtaking sir and as such I’m going to assume I am and act accordingly, he then asked what rule 13 said.

Put the model nearly ahead. Rule 14

What can you tell me about rule 10? Gave him the lot!
What can you tell me about rule 19? Gave him the lot!

Rule 19…..

Put one echo down, what is it? put 3 more down… said I’d complete the plot, so I did, he then spent what seemed like 20 mins asking me about radar plots, seemed impressed and said so what are your actions? Please excuse the poor diagrams

He then put them abaft my starboard beam, said that I’d make a bold alteration to port. He said what else would you do, I’d complete the plot! Don’t you think you should? What does this tell you then? That he is overtaking sir. So what would you do? I’d go to port. Well what’s he going to do? I said he could do either or nothing at all so I’m going to get well clear.

Sound signal ahead what do you do? He wanted rule 19 start to finish word for word pretty much.

Do you sound a manoeuvring signal in fog?? No!
What other rules apply in restricted vis?


He then went over to his side table and picked up a buoy.

North cardinal… what’s its top mark light etc. you are heading north what do you do?

Stupidly said, stop… call the master etc etc AND navigate with extreme caution.

‘Mr Wyles please explain to me how you would navigate with extreme caution when you are stopped?’

I said sheepishly well sir if I had gone from full ahead to crash stop astern I would being trying to re-establish my situational awareness as quickly as possible and would be carrying out many tasks at once and by navigate with extreme caution I mean that I would be carrying out those actions with caution so as to gain a full appraisal of the situation. He said ok, good answer.


He then gave a trawler, not making way, vessel engaged in fishing not making way, and a pilot boat. And asked their fog signals.

That’s the end of the exam…How do you think you did?

‘Well…the 13th is a very unlucky day I’m afraid (my heart was in my mouth at this) but apparently not yours! You have passed!!

He then gave me my NOE and saw me out.

I hope this helps anyone who reads it, but be warned Capt. X likes you to KNOW YOUR RULES! He really wanted you to reel it off and have the courage of your convictions and don’t let him change your mind if you’re sure of something.

Use these reports to look for anything that might catch you out.

Hard work and preparation leads to good luck. Please do not think that because some of the exams look reasonably easy that they are! Your nerves may get the better of you!

That’s it, just reading over that brought back a deep nervous feeling, as a cadet you are paid a pittance and by the time you come this far in your training you are scrapping the barrel for money! So the oral exam is for most.. The difference between a cadet wage and an officer one and they are often very different!

This entry was posted on Saturday, January 26th, 2013 at 12:50 pm by The Mariner. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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Comments (1)
  1. Wow – you have got an impressive memory to keep all that straight under pressure. I would have lost my marbles at the morse code part…one of those things I learned, but seem to find myself “unlearning” when my skills aren’t tested as often as they should be.

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