I am a dynamic positioning operator aboard a 6th generation ultra-deepwater drillship in the Gulf of Mexico. The vessel is outfitted with the latest and greatest in Kongsberg automation / control systems. I push the buttons.

Verification: http://imgur.com/gFncSm8

The ship: http://imgur.com/yHstiw8

Comments: 125 • Responses: 44  • Date: 

jasonleeobrien18 karma

Do people pee off of the sides all the time?

depressedbuttons27 karma

Most sailors die with their pants around their ankles. But officially, no -- nothing is allowed over the side.

WNW314 karma

nothing is allowed over the side.

Really? That's good to hear. I spent some time on an oil tanker in the early 90s and all the garbage went right over the side. But then we'd spend a month+ out of port.

depressedbuttons13 karma

For normal ships, there are allowable discharges beyond 25NM from shore, but we send everything ashore on a workboat. We do macerate food and discharge it comminuted to smaller than 25mm particles.

bobthebobd13 karma

how's the pay on average for people working on those ships. How long do you have to be out at see at a time? per year?

depressedbuttons27 karma

We have nearly 200 people on board at all times involved in nearly as many different tasks. For any technical position, such as mine, starting pay is right at $100k. Up to ~$180k with experience. We work even time; 21 days on, 21 days off.

Skinningrizz12 karma

So...what does it do?

depressedbuttons12 karma

Alot, but... drill wells. Well intervention. Plug and Abandonment of old wells or failing formations.

Skinningrizz7 karma

I feel as if I war ship would have more technological advancements, I may be ignorant but what about this ship makes it more technologically advanced?

depressedbuttons15 karma

All of our equipment is manufactured by Kongsberg, best known for their defense systems. We use similar technology, but ours is much more dense in terms of system automation, integration, and redundancy.

rockonastring712 karma

Is there a lot of motion on the vessel? As in - easy to get sea sick?

depressedbuttons15 karma

Very little motion during regular operations. This is a very large ship with a deep draft and lots of stability, which makes it a comfortable ride. The GOM is relatively calm, save for summer squalls and hurricanes.

PaulSalopek8 karma

It it getting crowded out there? I hera the Gulf is a parkinglot of rigs.

depressedbuttons9 karma

We're on a big project, so there are about 4 other rigs in my line of sight and each has two workboats serving it. There's lots of subsea construction going on right now, too. Pretty crazy.

Misaiato8 karma

What is the worst mishap you personally made?

What is the worst mishap you've witnessed?

How many wells does a ship like this drill in its lifetime?

depressedbuttons2 karma

I'm not particularly interested in answering the first two, but ships average 10 year service lifespans and most wells average 90 days. We don't only drill, however. Well intervention / plug and abandonment are also part of the service scope of this vessel and just as important.

scutum_guy7 karma

As a new student going to College possibly for Petroleum Engineering, Im curious as to what you did to get there, or if there are any greenhorns from college that got on as interns, (going to be a freshman so not actively looking). Also what sort of things are there to do around there in spare time?

depressedbuttons5 karma

Almost all of the major oil companies that lease drillships/semis have apprenticeships for your field. We currently have two onboard. They usually do 2 weeks on the ship, 2 week in the office, and then have 2 weeks off.

I got here via state maritime academy, USCG unlimited tonnage licensing, and to some degree... luck.

Our ship has a cinema, golf and shooting simulator, and too much food. Every room has internet and satellite television.

yesmaybeyes7 karma

Do you have paper charts?

depressedbuttons7 karma

Yes, we maintain both US and BA charts; we also have two EDCIS units for route planning as wells as Rose Point.

yesmaybeyes9 karma

That is very good and well, I am a sailor and I always have current charts, when the best technology fails, that is all one has. It is comforting to know that modern vessel operators may still be able to read and understand a Nautical Chart and take a bearing from a Compass. I salute you.

depressedbuttons6 karma

I personally update both sets every Sunday, including our publications.

Vans_and_tees7 karma

Is the food as good as the technology?

depressedbuttons12 karma

That's a matter of taste. There is a 20 person accommodation crew that cleans the cabins, does laundry, and keeps the galley stocked 24/7. Most of the people working out here are from the South, so there's lots of comfort food. Quality varies from rig to rig, but not quantity. We're having lobster / king crab tomorrow, if that's any indication.

iia6 karma

How deep can you drill?

depressedbuttons15 karma

I feel like you're setting up a joke, but 12,000 feet.

csl5123 karma

Is that 12,000 feet below seafloor?

depressedbuttons2 karma

12,000 is our maximum operational water depth, but we can drill to 37,500 feet.

Shupegts6 karma

I am currently in the Navy working in a technical rating with automation, networking and radars. How desirable are naval veterans with a technical background in your company?

depressedbuttons5 karma

Very. Our technical department is divided into two divisions: mechanical and electrical. Both are equally well-paying and in need of qualified people. There are something like 50 of these ships on order worldwide right now. Getcha some.

bobthebobd6 karma

How many serious accidents are there on ship annually?

depressedbuttons11 karma

Very few. We take our time and do things as safely as reasonably practicable. Things have changed dramatically since Deepwater Horizon.

Tokugawa3 karma

Do you have to report all accidents?

depressedbuttons4 karma


stydolph5 karma

Ever hired someone new and they turn out crazy? What would you do then? take them back or throw them over?

depressedbuttons6 karma

Someone once told me, "We're all out here because we're not all there". It takes a certain type of person to do this.

To answer your question more literally, we can and often do medivac personnel for a variety of reasons.

bspiez2045 karma

What are the big jobs on the ship? Are there lots of geologists? Engineers? Tech workers? Sailors?

depressedbuttons3 karma

What do you mean by 'big jobs'?

bspiez2045 karma

What do the majority of the people on the boat do? Or are the jobs pretty diverse?

depressedbuttons7 karma

The bulk of the crews are involved in the drilling operation; drillers, roughnecks, roustabouts, pipe/casing companies, specialty tool companies, mudloggers, cementers, ROV operators, companymen.

Geologists prepare bathymetric data before we ever get here.

The technical and marine crews are smaller, but are involved in maintaining the vessel itself.

ClassyCritic5 karma

What do you think is the most interesting automated task on the ship?

depressedbuttons11 karma

It's all remarkable, really -- but probably the thruster azimuthing and thrust allocation. We can operate the thrusters in a few different modes, where they can work together or against each other.

Being that I spend most of my time watching their tiny digital representation whirl around on a screen, going down below and standing next to the drive motors (~20 feet tall) and witnessing the scale of it all is humbling and exciting.

depressedbuttons8 karma

Also, we have two giant ROVs. Even through I am operating a considerably more complex and large vessel, I'm fascinated by their work.

The-Gaming-Alien4 karma

Whats the worst thing that could go wrong while drilling?

depressedbuttons8 karma

The injury or loss of a crew member.

[deleted]1 karma

What kind of medical support staff do you have on board? Do you know what their specific qualifications are? What does your evacuation plan look like?

I'm a land based drilling rig medic, and that ship looks cool as hell.

depressedbuttons1 karma

Judging by the medical staff on this ship, not much is required, maybe just LVN? They're basically glorified first aid providers. Anything serious is medivac'ed. We also have a video conferencing service with a shoreside doctor for illness and physicals. You should come offshore -- you'll probably make at least double what you're making now.

two_off3 karma

What do you do in your downtime?

How's the food on the ship?

What's the red button do?

depressedbuttons12 karma


CarlWeathersRightArm2 karma

Hey, in case you were still wondering, I saw one of his replies elsewhere in the thread about food. Said they were having Lobster and King Crab today. So, probably better than what we're eating!

depressedbuttons2 karma

It's not normally so decadent -- today was the ship's first birthday!

NavAirComputerSlave3 karma

Thats not the DDG1000 or CVN 78?

depressedbuttons4 karma


KurtPlisskin2 karma


depressedbuttons2 karma

The DDG1000 and CVN78 are both relatively new super stealth Naval vessels that cost US tax payers billions and billions of dollars. This dude is asserting those Navy vessels with classified technology are more advanced than my ship. But who can know, really?

estemirova3 karma

have you ever experienced a freak wave incident? or something of that nature

depressedbuttons3 karma

Nope, but seeing a gnarly squall coming from miles away is pretty cool. Lots of water spouts in the summer time.

k4rst3n2 karma

How's the quarters you live in?

depressedbuttons3 karma

The best around, as far as I know. I share a room with my relief, but we're never in the room at the same time and have separate twin beds and storage. The rooms have their own shower, head, sink, and television. The catering crew cleans the rooms every 12 hours and makes the beds / does our laundry.

depressedbuttons2 karma

Photos of a cabin: http://imgur.com/a/vUZFd

Dance_in_my_Pants2 karma

I'm working towards my unlimited and was wondering if its gets boring sitting on DP all the time. I know the money is good, but do you miss driving boats?

What are some of the pros and cons of a drillship vs a supply vessel?

depressedbuttons2 karma

It's not boring, it's just different. I came here because it's a more professional environment and the training opportunities are better. I'm also personally interested in the technology, so that's my reasoning. You certainly can't just be here for the money -- it's never enough. People get bored running boats too, trust me.

Krol_z_Canton2 karma

While drilling what's the process, or mechanics of keeping the ship anchored in one place? I work onshore in the Oilfield, and for some reason this thought has several times crossed my brain lol.

depressedbuttons7 karma

Well, that's precisely what I do. Dynamic positioning. We aren't anchored in the traditional sense -- it's not possible due to the water depths we operate in (up to 12,000 feet).

In layman's terms, we hover. The ship is equipped with (6) 4500KW/~6000HP Rolls Royce Aquamaster thrusters (http://imgur.com/1yT5QjE / http://imgur.com/9oUbYFp).

The amount and direction of thrust is allocated by a Kongsberg computer system that uses a mathematical model of the ship to compensate for environmental forces.

SomewhatProSpy3 karma

How 'good' is the system at keeping the ship still?

depressedbuttons7 karma

Generally, in normal conditions, we stay within 0.5ft of our set-point. In less than optimal conditions, still within 3-5ft. Not bad for an 800+ft ship, eh?

notquiteright22 karma

When you're drilling, I would imagine the ship has to maintain a VERY stationary position.

How does the ship compensate for things like wave action, subsurface currents, et. al? Is there some super-accurate GPS tied into the thrusters, is it inertially based, etc?

depressedbuttons6 karma

We have a variety of position reference systems that all tie into the logic of the dynamic positioning computers. We use two Differential GPS units that utilize a subscription based correction signal to boost accuracy. Additionally, we have a subsea array of 10 transponders that we deploy when we arrive at a new well. We ping them every few seconds for additional position data. We've recently installed an inertial navigation system that piggybacks off of our acoustics -- it's basically a gyroscope that accounts for the ship's movement.

All of this data is fed into an Extended Kalman Filter and voted on for accuracy before it is used in the ship's mathematical model.

Manley2302 karma

Hi, thanks for doing this ama!! I'm from England and previously worked a pre apprenticeship course with Rolls Royce and am currently half way through an electrical apprenticeship with siemens.. But its factory based, and not what im looking for.. after this i want to steer my life into something exactly like what you're doing, any information on where i could get training in England or Scotland? Would be greatly appreciated!! Also what is the job security like with these types of roles? For example do you expect to stay with your company for the next 20 years? Thanks again

depressedbuttons2 karma

Look up Kongsberg and ask those guys. They're based in Norway, but have a big training facility in Aberdeen. They're responsible for the best equipment in the game and might be able to offer you some guidance.

yegit2 karma

Have you had any run-ins with pirates?

depressedbuttons3 karma

It's not an issue where I currently operate, but I have friends working off of Angola and Tanzania that have barbed wire around the entire vessel and a security team onboard.

dr_revenge_md2 karma

Have you ever had to contend with the the citizens of Atlantis?

depressedbuttons3 karma

Not yet, but I had to kiss King Neptune's bellybutton once.

throwaway71451 karma

In square feet, how much personal space do you have to sleep in and store your stuff?

depressedbuttons1 karma

Here's some photos of a cabin: http://imgur.com/a/vUZFd

BiggerJ1 karma

Technically advanced ship, username is 'depressedbuttons'... is this you?

depressedbuttons2 karma


McDom1 karma

If you could give one quotable line of (general, perhaps inspirational) advice - the kind one could put on a tea towel - what would it be?

depressedbuttons2 karma

Bring me a man that doesn't kiss ass or eat pussy -- I'll take his job and his wife.

NoContext681 karma

What kind of conditions would cause the ship to cease operations? Or can it keep drilling through the average storm?

What would happen if you were to fall asleep while on shift, during drilling operations? How soon after the ship started drifting would the drilling crews experience problems?

What would happen if a whale went onto one of the directional props? Would it damage it? Would the ship experience downtime until it got replaced?

What are you considering for your next career move?

depressedbuttons1 karma

There's a variety of different well specific operating guidelines that depend on water depth, subsea equipment / capabilities, etc. The general environmental limitations of the ship are surprisingly extreme, but we'd shut down well before we ever met them. Max Wind: 26m/sec; 58mph. Max Sea: 5.6M; 18ft.

Nothing would necessarily happen if we fell asleep (other than getting fired), but it'd be pretty difficult. We monitor all functions on the vessel, so alarms are going off constantly and have to be acknowledged / investigated.

We can maintain position fairly well with one or two thrusters out of the system; we often isolate one at a time for regular preventive maintenance -- the DP system adapts accordingly. As far as replacing an entire thruster, it is possible to do so while 'underway'; they bring out a huge heavy lift ship, divers, ROVs... it's a big operation, but it's possible.

As far as my next career move... I'm not sure. I'm enjoying this and there's still a lot to learn. My next license upgrade will be to Second Mate and 1600 Master, so that opens up some different possibilities.

SomberOwl1 karma

How does someone get a job on one of these ships? What was your career path?

depressedbuttons2 karma

I went to one of the six state maritime academies in the US, received a B.S. in Maritime Transportation with an accompanying USCG Unlimited Tonnage Third Mate license.

During my time at the academy, I took a lot of interest in our full mission bridge simulator and became the primary operator. My instructors/captains recognized my aptitude for technology and when it came time for my commercial shipping term, I was selected by a drilling company to start training for this equipment. There is a separate training scheme for dynamic positioning operators administered by the Nautical Institute that certifies licensed mates as DPOs.

LeRoienJaune1 karma

How did the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster affect policies and protocols? What are you doing differently now as a result of that event?

With the mounting evidence about fracking causing subsidence and low level seismic events in previously dormant faults in Oklahoma and Texas, how much seismological analysis is done before starting the drill? What efforts are made to detect local faults and subfaults?

How much concern is there about triggering a methane hydrate eruption? What do you do to check to make sure you don't sinks the ship with a large clathrate release?

depressedbuttons2 karma

I didn't work in offshore drilling pre-Macondo, so it's sort of like showing up to a party after something really super shitty happened. I can only gauge things based on other people's reactions, and it seems like it's changed a lot. The company/client is very clear about how important safety and following risk mitigation procedures are. We can work as slow as we need to and everyone has the right/obligation to stop work for any reason -- that is constantly reinforced and often exercised.

As far as drilling, I am not involved enough with the process to answer your questions, but can assure you there are extensive measures in place to ensure safety and environmental protection.