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The Good, The Bad And The Ugly Truths Of Being An ETO

As an experienced superyacht ETO (Electro-Technical Officer), I have written this blog to provide a useful insight into the role for anyone wanting to get into the industry.

From fixing the Captains’ email account to troubleshooting an engine fault, there is so much variety in the role of an ETO. The job can be very fulfilling – travelling the world and playing with the latest and greatest tech equipment every day is a hobby by  itself! Usually, any proven ETO will work their way towards a time for time contract on a rotation period typically of 2 month on 2 months off in which they can enjoy some well-earnt downtime.

The position is expansive and comes with a lot of high expectations. You are responsible for the front end of the charter where you will make sure everything is in optimum condition in regards to AV/IT and electrical systems, depending on the vessel, this usually involves interacting with guests and owners and providing them with any of their tech desires. Providing a personal service which may have you helping the guests with their movie selection or even creating a video to present their latest trip. On the other side, your responsibility also extends to some of the unseen parts of the vessel, such as keeping the engine room and main switchboard ticking, maintained and up-to-standard.

And now for the Good, Bad and Ugly

The Good

Job Satisfaction

The job satisfaction of fixing a failed system is fantastic! Picture the following scenario; you’re called to a scene where a system is broken down, and the ship needs this particular system up-and-running asap. As an example, the X-Band Radar has failed. You start to make some logical checks, and suddenly you find the fault and react by repairing it. You power on the system, and a LED begins to blink, the scanner begins to spin, the echo is now displayed on the monitor! The equipment is running as it should be – now the vessel and the Captain can navigate appropriately and in a safe manner. Situations like this don’t always come stress-free, you may even have a Billionaire shout at you from time to time. The best way to handle any onboard fault is to stay as calm and composed as possible, there is always one thing to consider when fault finding: did someone touch it? if yes then they probably introduced the fault.

Getting The Right Crew

Hiring the right crew members can be vital to achieving success as an ETO. Obtain proven, tried and tested professionals who know how to manage a vessel properly. Getting on with your fellow crew members and having a positive outlook on life can go a long way in making your onboard experience more enjoyable. You need people who can follow the rules, regulations and even curfews – it can be like going back to school, and for some, this is hard to accept but it’s part and partial of being a yachty.

It’s not all work at sea though! Sometimes it can be like living in a floating youth hostel with people from all around the world who want to work hard and play harder. It’s a great place to get involved in water sports, fishing,team sports and there will be plenty of fun times. Providing you perform well in your role and get along with people, you should have a job for life (unless there is an unfortunate situation). You will have a great role working half the year and will get to see different parts of the world.

A Well Oiled Team

The ETO department is part of the engine room team, but we have our unique role within that department that many people will not be familiar with. Nearly every vessel I have worked on has had the luxury of a 2nd ETO. So much more work can be achieved with two as all menial jobs can get wrapped up and not added to the back of a long list. With the extra set of hands to keep on top of the systems, you can take on a lot more jobs and keep on top of the systems more efficiently including; keeping documentation in order, logging the history of equipment, daily diary, labelling and tidying up every system. There’s always plenty of work to do, and when people say they have nothing to do because they are in cruise control! There’s a middle ground to settle on when it comes to working all the time and getting your rest in, the perfect blend is somewhere in the middle of both the extremes.

Crew Training

I have always found a well-trained interior team to be extremely helpful to an ETO, as they can operate the AV/IT rather than seeking us out simple tasks. This reduces the chance of any guests waiting unnecessarily. If the team know their way around the AV system I encourage them to use it as much as possible so they can find any potential issues before a guest gets a chance to. A well-oiled interior team goes down well in making the guests feel comfortable and in good hands – the staff will appear competent and confident in what they are doing. Running a busy charter with an untrained Interior team can be extremely tough, especially without a second ETO. So be fair to the crew and they will, in turn, be good to you.

The Bad

Recording Is Essential

At the end of the day, the yacht is an amazing piece of engineering however, it’s all about getting the right crew for her and her owner. Without the right team, the ship can quickly spiral out of control, and accidents can happen. The honourable crew members will make sure systems are well maintained and up to standard, safety procedures are in place, and maintenance tasks are performed regularly and recorded. It’s critical as an ETO to cover your tracks to and to take videos, photos and details of you onboard systems as possible during day to day events. Record as much as possible during shipyard periods and the build phase as equipment may be later covered up beneath ceiling panels or walls; this evidence will be so beneficial when you have a fault or are looking to upgrade in the future.

Location-Location-Location

I have been working on ships for over 2 decades and typically I see the same problems on every ship one thing in particular which is common to each vessel is you always see equipment squeezed into inappropriate places, all crew members will agree with me here; ever wondered, who the guy was that squeezed the control gear into such a crazy place? It must have been challenging to work on to install the equipment there, and even more of a nightmare to fault find on for guys like us. This can lead to numerous headaches and can be a general hazard. Poo location can result in a lack of maintenance on the part; equipment may overheart and the vents may get clogged with dust. I do appreciate that every square inch is accountable for on a yacht, but common sense should be applied when installing all equipment.

The Crew’s Personal IT Guy

As the technical guy onboard, some crew use ETO’s as the go-to guy for all of their tech needs. They rely on us often to fix their personal devices. Being stuck at sea who else do they ask right? However, this can work to our disadvantage as ETO’s generally have enough on their plate already without the extra workload. This can be a delicate subject. I would recommend you trade some tasks with others and start as you mean to go on – if not you will have no free time to yourself, which is invaluable whilst you are on charter. Everyone’s different, some might not mind and some will depend totally on the individual.

Passwords And Credentials

There’s nothing worse than joining a boat to find out there is no password organisation, and you have to struggle to log in to various accounts. Working off a scratchy notebook that’s been passed around, or an unorganised spreadsheet can turn a simple task into a nightmare. I would recommend using a password management system with 2-factor authentication to keep your passwords online and never forgotten again. The system provides an organised, automated way to keep on top of the credentials for all of your AV and IT systems onboards, populating your usernames and passwords.

Documentation

This applies to the drawings and documentation records – usually, this comes hand in hand with the passwords and credentials; if the passwords are hit and miss then the documentation probably is also. I cannot stress enough how important it is to get these in a logical order. Let’s not worry what the previous occupants should have done; it’s our mission to leave the boat a better place than we found it. The ETO world is tiny and you are only as good as your last job, so it’s best to leave it in tip-top condition to maintain a good reputation. Some may argue; ‘well that’s how I found it’ or ‘why should I make it easier for my replacement when I leave.’ What goes around comes around and bad news travels quickly in this small niche industry, so it’s best to give it your all and be remembered as a good ETO rather than an average one.

Knowledge Is Power

In contrast to supporting the next crew on board a vessel, some individuals will actually withhold information to make themselves look better (including chief engineers, captains and even your back to back ETO partner). This is the mindset of insecure individuals who just look after themselves. We are a team on board, and it’s our task to make our crew and our rotational partners’ life more comfortable by passing on information as discussed above. Never go down to their level, they will get found out one day. Just keep doing a good job, record what you do and be totally transparent then you won’t go far wrong.

The Ugly

Inheriting A Can Of Worms

So you nailed the interview, and you have been selected for a new role as an ETO onboard a vessel. Great!, you start your new role on the superyacht full of hope, and then bang! Reality kicks in. You find out the vessel has been poorly looked after and neglected for years. Unfortunately, we see this time and time again. The owner doesn’t want to spend money on the right personnel or maintenance costs, or contemplate the price of an upgrade. The ship is only as good as the crew and management maintaining her – scrimping and saving on salaries will only lead to the yacht getting a lesser standard of ETO. In summary, the owner will get what they pay for. As previously touched on these points earlier on, when they all come together is an avalanche of bad news.

Pick The Right Battles

Be sure not to get bulked down with low priority tasks for too long; these little tasks can grab your attention and make you lose focus on what really matters and what you are responsible for. I faced this scenario when I once joined a boat and the radio room had issue after issue. I decided enough was enough and I was going to rewire all of the equipment as it was a spaghetti junction behind the panels. I started getting in to rewire, making progress then, out of nowhere, we lost the entire AV system! I couldn’t be in two places at once…It wasn’t an option to leave the AV therefore I had to sacrifice the radio room. This fault took me a day to resolve which meant I left the radio room compromised and not functioning! Fortunately we didn’t sail anywhere, but what if we did? I would have been screwed! That left a big impression on me and from that day I changed my mentality.

Excessive Firefighting

One of the ETO’s worst nightmares is working with a poorly installed AV system and firefighting from room to room fixing fault after fault. Your AV system is at the very frontend of the charter, controlled by your owners and guests. It is paramount for the entire charter that the system is bulletproof and performing as it is intended too. I have seen many new and old installations where lots of cables are underrated, joined un-necessarily, bent over excessively and hundreds of times I have seen cables that look like Stevie Wonder ran in them. It does seem like there is a different set of rules for some of these AV guys who install pieces of equipment versus a good marine electrician. As a rule of thumb to the untrained eye, if the install looks neat, then the contractor generally cares, and you are probably in for a sound system which is highly dependable.

Babysitting

Some systems need babysitting and constant attention because they are not reliable. AV systems generally have this reputation but you will always get a ‘clever guy’ that comes along and says “did you turn it off and on?”. This is the type of advice that is all too familiar, and which gives the AV/IT guys a bad rep because rebooting equipment does work a lot of the time….However, you still need to know what to reboot in the first place. Ideally, nobody wants to reboot a device at all, as they want the system to run flawlessly. But this will never be the case, as anything with a processor onboard will need a little tickle now and again. We are employed as ETOs to keep the onboards tech systems running and to react whenever there is an issue. Sometimes this means working under pressure in front of the owner/charter guests/captain to get the radar back on asap, which is unfortunate. I always say that if you were in a hotel room, you wouldn’t want an AV guy coming in, taking your TV off the wall and troubleshooting why there is an issue. Still, sometimes you may not have a choice, and you have to do what’s necessary to get the job done. I would say from experience if you are showing to be proactive and trying your best then usually the boss will be ok with the odd invasion of space.

Suppose you have been dealt a weak hand with your AVIT setup. In that case, it’s best to prioritise the most critical systems which affect your charter, patch them up where possible and plan ahead to install them properly whenever possible.

Summary

The ETO is in good part responsible for the safety of electrical systems and the maintenance of the navigation systems onboard a vessel. Sometimes we look like superheroes, other times we look like the devil because it’s ‘our’ system that failed. Most of the time, the ETO role has a real feel-good factor about it, and every day is a school day onboard no matter how experienced you are. If you are lucky, you will be able to operate some of the latest generation technology within your job role as an ETO on a superyacht. Overall, getting the right crew will be essential for a successful charter, unfortunately for the management companies they don’t always come cheap, but they will be worth their weight in gold.

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