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Meet the Crew: Sean Battles, Chief Engineer

NOAA mariner on the deck of a ship

NOAA's professional mariners play a key role in improving our understanding of the ocean and atmosphere. They also bring a mariner's know-how to NOAA's scientific research by directly participating in the operation and handling of scientific gear in the tumultuous ocean environment.  Meet Sean Battles, chief engineer on NOAA Ship Fairweather

What is your role at NOAA and what do you do?

For the past seven years, I've been fortunate to call NOAA Ship Fairweather my home at sea, and it has been nothing short of an adventure. The blend of diverse experiences, ingenious engineering, and remarkable minds within NOAA continues to inspire me every day. It's a place where individuals from all walks of life come together in pursuit of a common goal.

I'm the ship’s Chief Engineer and responsible for the maintenance and repair onboard the vessel. The Fairweather has the largest engine department in the fleet with seven different engine manufacturers onboard and a total of 16 engines to maintain. Maintaining a ship is already a challenge, but maintaining a ship on the edge of civilization is a whole different mindset - one this crew thrives in.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. 

What training and experience did you have before joining NOAA? 

My journey aboard Fairweather began straight out of college, stepping on board while she was passing Washington state heading towards her mission in the waters surrounding southeast Alaska. Starting as a third engineer, I quickly found myself immersed in life at sea, accruing invaluable experience and eagerly participating in training sessions. 

I was born into a boating family, enjoying my early years fishing Cape Cod Bay and Nantucket Sound. I spent my teenage years working at boatyards servicing boats all over the Cape. I also worked at a marine construction company building docks, bulkheads, and doing beach renourishment projects.

I attended Maine Maritime Academy and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Engineering Operations. Over the years, NOAA has provided for me the opportunity to advance my license and skill set by sending me to many different classes and trainings. 

What drew you to NOAA and what makes you stay?

A group of people on the deck of a ship
Sean Battles (center) with the engine department on NOAA Ship Fairweather. Credit: Sara Ober/NOAA

Growing up I always saw the different environmental programs and organizations making a difference on Cape Cod and the waters that surround it. NOAA was one of the entities that kept popping up. Later in life, I was thrilled that I had the opportunity to work for NOAA. Not as an onboard oceanographer/scientist or a land-based support position, but as an engineer onboard one of their ships. NOAA’s dynamic and multi-platform missions encourage and stimulate my engineering mindset. One day I will be servicing a diesel engine or troubleshooting a hydrographic survey launch, and the next I could be welding a mount for some kind of scientific sensor or sampling device all while gazing at the snow capped peaks of Alaska. 

The pursuit of excellence is a constant on board; engineers continually engage in training sessions to expand their expertise and stay on top of the latest developments in maritime technology. It's a testament to our commitment to ensuring the Fairweather remains at the forefront of oceanic research and exploration.

Every link in the NOAA chain helps maintain the care we put into our vessels and our crews. We could not maintain this ship without the critical on-the-spot knowledge of the crew throughout the years. I have found the friends, the family and the adventure I was seeking, here on the Fairweather.

What was one of your favorite missions or experiences?

Throughout my tenure, the Fairweather has charted its course from the shores of San Diego, California, to the icy waters of the Beaufort Sea. Witnessing firsthand the impact of receding glaciers, I've come to appreciate the vital importance of our oceanographic mission.

One of my favorite experiences, though, was surveying Glacier Bay National Park. Hydrographic survey technicians worked in freezing conditions at the foot of the glacier and Mount Fairweather, the vessel’s namesake. It was a stunning sight to look out my porthole or sip on my morning coffee during the pre survey-launch deployment meetings and witness such a sight.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work for NOAA?

Adventure awaits, you need only apply. 

What do you like to do outside of work?

When I’m not hiking the mountains in Alaska on shore leave, I am home in Massachusetts tinkering with my Land Rovers, fishing the sandy shores of the Cape, or walking my dog.