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Utility Navigation

Marine Operations

General Shipboard Policy

The following is general policy information for all ships in the NOAA fleet.  It has been edited for brevity and not intended to fully cover all policies and procedures that apply to NOAA vessels.  For full details on any topic please contact a ship's Executive Officer (XO) or Marine Operations Center staff.

Ship’s Complement and Scientific Party

NOAA ships are commanded by a Commissioned Officer of the NOAA Corps or a U.S. Coast Guard licensed Master. The complement is further composed of other NOAA Corps Commissioned Officers, Public Health Commissioned Officers, civilian licensed wage marine ship’s officers, non-licensed wage marine employees, and government civilian employees. All NOAA Corps Officers, wage marine, government civilian, and non-government scientific employees are subject to Office of Marine and Aviation Operations regulations. All personnel are subject to the authority of the Commanding Officer (CO) or a designated representative.

Chief Scientist and Embarked Scientific Complement - The Chief Scientist is jointly responsible for accomplishing the ship’s mission with the CO. The CO on hydrographic survey ship also fills the role of chief scientist. The Chief Scientist is responsible for the technical and scientific goals of the mission and for the integrity of the data collected. The Chief Scientist supervises the scientific complement and is responsible for their performance and conduct both aboard ship and away from the ship during the course of their association with the ship. The Chief Scientist determines data collection priorities consistent with the Project Instructions and any safety concerns of the command. The Command will advise the Chief Scientist with regard to rate of progress, operational efficiencies, navigation requirements or equipment failures that may affect the mission, and adverse weather forecasts.

Notification of Informed Consent

As a U.S. Government commissioned vessels, all persons boarding give an implied consent to conform with all safety, security, conduct policies, and regulations administered by the CO. All spaces, items, and equipment on a vessel are subject to inspection or search at any time. Additionally, the following are prohibited aboard any U.S. Government vessels: possession and/or use of intoxicating alcoholic beverages, weapons, illegal drugs, controlled drugs without a prescription, sexual harassment, or use of shipboard spaces for purpose of sexual liaison. Violators may be removed from the vessel at the earliest opportunity.

General Procedures for Emergencies and Drills


Fire at sea, no matter how small, can become a life-threatening situation. At sea, everyone aboard ship, be they crew, scientist, or passenger, is a member of the fire department. When the general alarm sounds, everyone has a specific emergency billet assignment and each person is relied upon by all others aboard to carry out that assignment. Learn all you can about how to perform your emergency duties so that carrying them out becomes second nature. Firefighting at sea is a team effort.

Emergency billet assignments are posted on an "emergency station bill." These are posted at convenient places throughout the ship. Additionally, each person may be provided with a "bunk card" which lists his/her individual emergency billet assignments.

The signal for fire or emergency is a 10 second continuous ringing of the general alarm bell and ship's whistle. This alarm will be followed by an appropriate announcement on the general announcing system. When you hear the signal, immediately proceed to your fire and emergency billet station. Firefighting and emergency equipment is distributed throughout the ship. All hands should familiarize themselves with the locations of this equipment, as well as the damage control lockers and their contents.

Abandon Ship

Abandoning ship in the open sea is an action of last resort. All reasonable efforts required of mariners for the saving of their ship must clearly have failed before any decision to abandon the vessel will be taken. Only when there is no reasonable chance of saving the ship will the order ever be given to abandon it. The decision to abandon ship is made only by the CO, or in the CO's incapacity, the senior member of the chain of command.

The signal to abandon ship is more than six (6) short blasts, followed by one (1) long blast on the ship's whistle and general alarm.

When the order is given to abandon ship, all hands will proceed to their assigned life raft muster stations. Each shall bring his/her protective survival clothing, survival suit, personal floatation device (e.g. life jacket), and other equipment assigned in his/her abandon ship billet. Once the order to abandon ship has been given, the life raft officers in charge will muster their respective parties and dispatch the assigned crew members to the life raft locations to launch their respective life rafts. Once launched, the remaining personnel will have to act in concert to haul the deployed rafts alongside the main deck embarkation stations. Orderly seamanlike actions at the embarkation stations will assure the rapid and efficient abandoning of the ship.

Man Overboard

There are two basic man overboard scenarios: witnessed and unwitnessed.

Witnessed man overboard - actions of the witness

Upon observing a person going overboard, the witness shall take the following actions:

  • Call out for assistance and throw a life ring buoy into the water, preferably one equipped with a strobe light. Pass the word to the Bridge by any means possible.
  • Wait about one minute and throw a second life ring buoy (at night - one equipped with a strobe light) into the water. This will create a visual range for the OOD and the lookouts, aiding the search effort.
  • Keep the victim under surveillance if at all possible, but do not delay passing the word to the Bridge.

Unwitnessed man overboard

Until proven otherwise, when a crew member is unaccounted for, it will be presumed that the individual has been lost overboard. This situation then becomes a search and rescue (SAR) operation. The time of the casualty will be unknown, or at best, only grossly estimated. The ship's navigation record, as contained on the ship's deck log, scientific computer system, and weather log will be crucial for search planning. Initial actions will be to notify the Marine Operations Center of the situation and to notify the nearest US Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Center for assistance. Search operations will be conducted with the advice and guidance of SAR professionals.

Drills at Sea

Emergency drills at sea will be held in accordance with federal law and agency requirements. Reporting for drills, in accordance with the billets assigned in the emergency station bill, is mandatory for all hands, including the embarked science party, unless the absence is specifically authorized by the CO, XO or safety officer. Signals to call all hands to emergency stations shall be identical to those that are used for actual emergencies. When a drill is held, the OOD will always state "This is a drill. This is a drill." followed by an appropriate announcement on the general announcing system.

The signals are as follows:

  • Fire and Emergency - continuous ringing of the general alarm bell and ship's whistle for 10 seconds
  • Abandon Ship - 7 or more short blasts on the ship's whistle and general alarm bell, followed by one prolonged blast
  • Man Overboard - 3 prolonged blasts on the ship's whistle and general alarm bell
  • Dismissal from Drill - 3 short blasts on the ship's whistle and general alarm bell

For abandon ship drills, unless otherwise advised, all hands are required to bring their life jackets and carry their survival suits when reporting to their life raft muster stations. All personnel shall be attired in, or bring to the muster, clothing that fully covers legs and arms, a hat, socks and shoes.

Working on Deck

The following safety regulations will be observed when working on deck:

  • Personal flotation devices (PFDs) will be properly worn when handling equipment over the side, deploying equipment over the side, and on all launches (whether alongside the ship, launching, or recovering).
  • Safety belts and lines will be worn by those handling equipment over the side.
  • Hardhats will be worn by all those involved in recovery or deployment of overhead equipment and boats. Proper footwear shall be worn at all times (open toed shoes are NOT proper work footwear). Ship's equipment is to be operated only by qualified members of the ship's complement.

Drugs and Alcohol

The possession or use of alcohol and/or the possession or use of drugs are two areas that deserve additional discussion due to their inherently serious nature and the potential for damage that may occur as a result of violation.


It is policy that personal possession or use of intoxicating liquors aboard OMAO ships is not be permitted.

Employees who choose to consume alcohol on shore on their personal time should ensure that such consumption will not interfere with the performance of their duties. The use of intoxicants while in an off-duty status that results in behavior that creates a disturbance or has a disreputable effect on NOAA or its mission may result in discipline. Individuals who report for duty while under the influence, intoxicated or incapacitated as the result of alcohol consumption, will be disciplined. Discipline for these kinds of misconduct can range from reprimand to removal.


Use or possession of illegal drugs (including marijuana, narcotics, un-prescribed medicines and other controlled substances) will not be tolerated. Violators will be subject to the following actions:

  • Drugs or controlled substances will be confiscated and placed in safekeeping until the vessel reaches port, at which time the drugs will be provided to the appropriate law enforcement authorities for action.
  • Disciplinary action will be taken.
  • In some cases possible criminal action by federal authorities against an offender may be warranted, especially in cases of sale or distribution.
  • It should be noted that drug use or possession may also result in loss of seaman’s documents or licenses as a result of further action by the USCG.

For more information see the NOAA Drug-Free Workplace Program.

OMAO Director's Policy Statement on Non-Discrimination and Equal Employment Opportunity

NOAA's Office of Marine and Aviation Operations is committed to the principles of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), Diversity, and Inclusion for all persons regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age, mental or physical disability, genetic information, and sexual orientation.

Harassment of any employee, in any form, is unacceptable in our organization. It is the responsibility of each individual to understand EEO policies and report known or even suspected violations. Managers and supervisors are specifically reminded of their responsibility to act upon any such reports. Prevention of harassment is one of OMAO's highest priorities because it undermines the integrity of the employment relationship, interferes with work productivity, and is illegal.

OMAO has a zero tolerance policy against any unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is employee misconduct and a form of sex discrimination, which violates EEO law.

See the Director's full statement here: OMAO Bulletin 2016-01: 2016 Director's Policy Statement on Non-Discrimination and Equal Employment Opportunity (OMAO Form 2016-01 , pdf, 384.46 KB)

Sexual Acts and/or Physical Contact

Space constraints in the shipboard environment may result in inadvertent physical contact from time to time. However, purposeful physical contact directed at another person because of his or her sex is prohibited in the workplace. Likewise, any intimate physical contact is prohibited in the workplace, even where such contact is consensual in nature.

Inappropriate Use of the Ship’s Computer Network

A ship’s computer network (LAN), wireless devices, and VSAT antenna (which provides internet at sea) are all US government owned products and services and are monitored for inappropriate content and usage. All NOAA IT security and conduct rules apply while accessing the internet aboard – even if you are using a personally owned device. In addition to the conduct rules for government IT systems, all hands are reminded that due to the limited bandwidth aboard additional limitations include: No streaming of music, video, or movies, no RSS feeds, no IP based voice or video calls with personal devices.


Personally owned firearms, ammunition, or other dangerous weapons are not permitted aboard NOAA vessels. Should firearms be brought aboard for a specific project, it will be in accordance with MOC Weapons and Firearms Procedure (OMAO Procedure 1102-21 – MOC Weapons and Firearms).


Only folding type pocketknives are authorized aboard the ship. Switch blade knives are expressly prohibited. Deck knives, etc. may be used as needed for operations.


In accordance with 41 CFR 102-74, Smoking Regulations, all interior spaces are designated “No Smoking” areas. Smoking, including the use of e-cigarettes is prohibited in these areas at all times. Smoking is restricted to areas designated by the Command. Smokers must avoid subjecting other persons to secondhand smoke in any location aboard. To minimize second-hand smoke disputes, non-smokers are requested to avoid smokers on deck when feasible, but only if it does not interfere with their work. No cigarette butts or cigarette, cigar, or pipe ashes from tobacco products, lit or unlit, will be discarded over the side of the ship or from any of its boats or launches. A container for ashes and cigarette butts is provided. Non-compliance with this policy may result in a warning from the command. Further violations may result in initiation of disciplinary action ranging from reprimand to removal.

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Reviewed: October 4, 2016. Contact us with page issues.

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