Touring the Engine Room

We had a very long transit in the first part of Expedition 372 from Fremantle, Australia to the east coast of New Zealand. As I’m sure you’ve noticed throughout these blog posts, I’m a very curious person. In addition to being curious about nautical flags, navigation and drilling, I also got curious about how the JR actually is propelled through the water. I wanted to know what makes it go!

I sought out the Chief Engineer, Dan, to look for answers to my questions and Dan took me on a tour of the JR’s engine room! His responses are paraphrased below:


How has technology changed ship propulsion?

The JOIDES Resolution is an old (~40 years old) ship and although many improvements have been made over the years, the propulsion concept and equipment have remained as they were originally designed and built. The main propulsion shafts (one on each of the port and starboard sides) are turned by 6 DC electric motors on each shaft.

Typical “THYRIG” electrical power conversion device. Converts high voltage AC power to DC for running the DC motors. These DC motors can power the propulsion shafts and thrusters and allow them to run at variable speeds.


Besides propulsion, what other systems are controlled or monitored in the engine control room?

The Engine Department keeps watch in the engine control room (ECR) or aft machinery spaces 24 hour a day/7 days a week. Personnel keeping watch include a duty engineer and an unlicensed member of the engine department called an oiler or motorman. They are responsible for transferring or processing the fuel burned in the diesel generator sets. They start and stop various pieces of machinery such as the water makers, lube oil pumps, and ventilation systems in order to ensure all systems are working properly.

Additionally, they are assigned PM (preventative or planned maintenance) tasks on machinery and systems throughout the ship. These include oil changes, filter changes, cleaning, inspections, and other specific adjustments

At all times, a centralized monitoring, alarm, and control system is used to keep an eye on the operational status of machinery systems and alarm conditions.

Typical “MCC” Motor Control Center. Each panel controls an electric motor that drives a fan, a pump, or other machine

Some of the systems monitored in the ECR are:

  • sea water cooling
  • compressed air
  • potable water (transfer and service)
  • drill water (transfer and service)
  • fuel oil (transfer and service)
  • water makers
  • ventilation
  • AC chillers and air handlers
  • provision refrigeration and container system
  • sewage collection and treatment system
  • grey water collection and discharge systems
  • bilge and ballast systems
  • fire fighting systems
  • steering gear system
Main switchboard located in ECR. Allows distribution of 4160 Volt AC power from generators to various legs
Sewage vacuum system controls
Token valve picture
Erin Todd
Kia ora koutou! My name is Erin Todd and I'm a researcher at the University of Otago studying earthquakes in New Zealand with a passion for science communication, education, and outreach. I got my bachelor's degree in geosciences at Penn State University and my PhD in seismology at the University of California Santa Cruz. When I'm not studying earthquakes, I love teaching about Earth science at local schools and in the community. I also design and develop Earth science curriculum for online courses. I love making science fun and accessible to everyone! Ngā mihi!
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