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.)