Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Shift Work

Blogging's been light the last few weeks as I've tried to get my not-as-young-as-it-used-to-be body back into the "shift work" routine. I switched over from a standard Monday-Friday daytime job to a Sunday through Wednesday (or Tuesday) 12 hour shift where I work over in Boise. It's actually fewer hours per week, but I'm finding that getting up earlier in the morning is making me want to go to bed earlier, which has been cutting into my blogging time. It got me to thinking how I ever survived the submarine (and specifically nuclear power) versions of shift work.

Most nukes first become familiar with "shiftwork" during their six months at NPTU right after Nuke School. The shiftwork schedule has changed since I first went through it back in '85. There are quite a few ways of making sure your people can cover 24/7 operations with a reasonable quality of life -- the way the Navy did it back then was just about the worst. For staff personnel in Idaho, the shift calendar started on Wednesday at 1600; you did 7 days on "Swing Shift", working from 1600-2400. You got off at 2400 on Tuesday, and then were back to work 48 hours later (0000 Friday) for 7 days of "Mid Shift" (0000-0800). This ended at 0800 Thursday; 48 hours later, you're back at work for seven days of "Day Shift" (0800-1600). Finally, at 1600 Friday, you started the glorious "4 off" (actually 120 hours), and then the cycle started again. (Students had it even worse -- they had 12-hour days until they got qualified; they did the extra 4 hours before Swing and Mid Shift and after Day Shift normal hours.) This method of shiftwork was the most efficient way to have 4 crews of people cover everything with the most "fairness". (In this case, "fairness" means everyone gets equally screwed.)

Idaho had the same schedule when I went through as an officer student in '89-'90, but by the time I showed up in Charleston as a Shift Eng, they'd added a fifth crew, and added an extra week to the cycle -- instead of a "4 off" after Day Shift, you had a normal weekend, and then did a week of Monday-Friday again before the "long" break. During this "T-week", the crew would get all their mandatory training done, and wouldn't (theoretically) have to stand watch in the plant. In practice, there'd always be someone on shift getting sick or going nutso, and since the crews were all minimally staffed, the T-week crew was a good body pool to cover any shortfalls.

Once you got to the boat, you learned what Navy shiftwork was really all about. Since submarines don't have a lot of extra people on the crew, most boats end up only having enough qualified guys to run three shifts. That means your next day off is whenever you're done with shiftwork. For pre-commissioning crews, nuclear shiftwork can last several months -- believe me, it sucks. You get to go home, but you never really get to get away from work. Essentially everyone I served with in the 'yards said they'd much rather be at sea than in shiftwork.

Having had experience with both civilian and Navy shiftwork, I've decided I like the civilian version better. Although I have to work 12 hour days, we get 4 months on Day Shift before rotating to Night Shift, plus I get a "4 off" every two weeks! It's like a little bit of heaven twice a month.

(Related side note: Back when I was at the prototypes, and was younger, it seemed like most people got their bodies acclimated from Swing to Mid Shift by staying up all night partying after the last day of Swings. I don't know if it was only called an "LDS Party" in Idaho, or if it was known by the same name on the east coast.)


Blogger RM1(SS) (ret) said...

2-2-2-and-80 is (or at least used to be) common for comms personnel. Four crews, eight-day cycle. Two eight-hour day shifts (0800-1600), eight hours off, two night shifts (0000-0800), eight hours off, two evening shifts (1600-2400), and then 80 hours off before starting over. The 80 hours were nice, but those eight-hour switchbacks were murder....

8/02/2007 6:26 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


(That's just for old times' sake.)


8/02/2007 6:28 AM

Blogger Pig Boat said...

We never called it an "LDS party" in Charleston - generally it was just referred to as, "I wonder who will get busted and booted out at the party this month?"

8/02/2007 6:48 AM

Blogger Mr. C. said...

Been there, done that.

I'm too old for navy shift work now.

I wreaked havoc with my body back then. I cannot imagine what it would do now to try the Idaho shiftwork cycle again.


8/02/2007 7:57 AM

Blogger LC Scotty said...

I was at NPTU Ballston Spa in the early 90's, attached to the S8G plant. In fact, I was the second to last class to go through S8G, and ended up being an SPU. While I was a student, and early in my staff tour, we had the schedule you described from Idaho in 85.

However, after our last class went through, we started really splitting atoms for Jesus to burn out the core so as to make room for the Seawolf proto core. It was then that I got the best deal ever in the Navy- 12 hour shifts, 4 days on 4 days off, alternating between mids and days.

By the by, did you know an MM1 ELT type by the name of Jim Lafflam? He was a SR staff at Charleston in the late 90's-we went to Orlando boot together, and we stood up in each others weddings.

8/02/2007 8:35 AM

Blogger jon said...

I'm in the middle of swings right now at NPTU. Your shifts sound a bit better. In a few days we're gonna stay up all night at party. We haven't thought up a name yet, but I'm sure we will...

8/02/2007 8:42 AM

Anonymous rpk580 said...

Idaho in the early 60's....not sure how we survived. On "mids" the only sleep younger staff members got was the bus ride. Stomach was always 3 days behind, and I'm still paying for that.

8/02/2007 11:15 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

We did shiftwork in PSA on the 735 - the entire crew. We were split up into three shifts. There was a 0800-2030 shift, a 1600 - 0430 shift, and a 0000 - 1230 shift. That was so we could "overlap" and have "continuity of work" and "sufficient men to fight any casualties." No days off, either, and PSA was 65 days. It was hell.

Not quite as bad, but almost, was doing refits in Holy Loch. Port and Starboard duty days, port and starboard watches - no matter what watch it was. You didn't get any sleep on duty days. You might be lucky to get 2 or 3 hours in the rack between the night watches if the workload permitted it. You were basically up from 0730 on your duty day until 1600 the next, or until the work was done. No day after duty. It was unheard of, as was three section. By week 3 of refit guys were praying to go to sea so they could get some sleep.

And why does it make you enter the password 5 times to allow you to post a coment?

@#$%& Blogger!

8/02/2007 5:43 PM

Anonymous Old_Poop MTC/SS ret said...

Rotating shift work? forget that stuff. Ive been on 12hour long night shift for the past 13 years. 7:30 pm till 8am. Wednesday thru Friday and every other Saturday. Night shift had its perks.....12% bump in pay, better parking and free coffee....and NO engineers to muck things up (same industry, different employer).

8/03/2007 2:45 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since I was a weapons type I never had to do shift work, although I did do the port and starboard thing during refits in Holy Loch and Rota.

I do remember the nucs having no liberty during the workups to an ORSE. I always felt sorry for them, espically while I was eating fish and chips on the beach while they were consuming massive quantities of Kim-Wipes back aft.

Strange how we looked forward to going to sea in order to catch up on sleep. Once qualified the 6 on-12 off ment 6 on watch and 11 in the rack. Remember the term "slept out"? I was in four section for one of my patrols. Stood the 0600 to 1200 watch in the torpedo room. The skipper ran almost all the drills and every field day during the 6 to 12 so I almost never got yanked from my very warm rack. By far the best patrol I ever made.


8/03/2007 11:30 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had it lucky in the AF. Mostly 1 month of days, 1 of swings, 1 of mids. Sucked for a few months in '90 when PCS's were temporarily halted due to budgets (*after* several guys left, but before all their replacements arrived). That, and having to fill in for the TX site at Camp O'Donnell after they got busted for serious derelictions. Then it was 12-hr shifts, 5-6 days/wk for a while.

I felt sorry for my roomate, an air traffic controller. I don't know why, but they had to work 2 day shifts, two swings, two mids, and then they got two days off -- but their first day off was spent sleeping from the mid the night before. I can hardly think of a better way to discombobulate someone than to work a schedule like that -- just what you want for ATC, right?


8/05/2007 8:40 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting, you say that you went through NPTU Idaho in 1989-90. I went through class 8906 as enlisted (I was there from January to June 1990).

About rotating shift work: talk about doing things as poorly and inefficiently as possible. I would rather be on graveyard shift permanently. Rotating shift work keeps a person's body clock in constant flux so that a person is sleep-deprived all the time. It kills morale and causes accidents.

People getting killed in car accidents after doing a night shift was not enough to deter the Navy from this horrible reckless work schedule. I've had close calls myself.

I can't imagine showing up on the doorstep of some kid's parents and telling them that their son was killed serving a stateside assignment after crashing into a freeway overpass because the Navy way of work scheduling GUARANTEED that he would be sleep-deprived and driving home with a level of fatigue that is equal to being legally drunk. What an epitaph that is.

In the shipyard and NPTU, it would be less punishing put everybody on 14-hour days, 5 days a week (and stagger the days so that some people work Mon-Fri, some work Wed-Sun, etc.), and keep it consistent the whole way through.

Rotating shift work kills efficiency and morale. And much worse, it kills people.

4/16/2011 10:00 AM

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