The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: Being An ETO

As an experienced superyacht ETO (Electro-Technical Officer), I have written this to provide an insight into the role for anyone wanting to get into the industry.

From fixing the Captains’ email account to troubleshooting an engine fault, there is so much variety in the role of an ETO. The job can be very fulfilling – travelling the world and playing with the latest and greatest tech equipment every day is a hobby in itself! Usually, any proven ETO will work their way towards a time for time contract (typically 2 month on / off) but it can take hard work and years of experience to get there.

And now for the Good, Bad and Ugly

The Good

Job Satisfaction 

The job satisfaction of fixing a failed system is fantastic! Picture the following scenario: you are called to a scene where the X-Band Radar has failed, the ship needs this up-and-running asap. You undertake checks, find the fault and react by repairing it quickly yet methodically. You power on the system an LED begins to blink, the scanner begins to spin and the echo is now displayed on the monitor! The equipment is running as it should be – the Captain can resume safe navigation. Situations like this don’t always come stress-free, you may even find yourself being shouted at. The best way to handle any onboard fault is to stay as calm and composed as possible.

A Well-Oiled Team 

The ETO department is part of the engine room team, but we have our unique role within that department that many will not be familiar with. Nearly every vessel I have worked on has had the luxury of a 2nd ETO. With the extra set of hands you can take on a lot more jobs and keep on top of the systems more efficiently including; keeping documentation in order, logging the history of equipment, daily diary, labelling and tidying up every system. There’s always plenty of work to do, it’s best to have a good balance between work and getting adequate rest.

Crew Training

I have always found a well-trained interior team to be extremely helpful to an ETO, as they can operate the AV/IT independently, reducing the chance of any guests waiting unnecessarily. If the team know their way around the AV system I encourage them to use it as much as possible so they can find any potential issues before a guest does. Running a busy charter with an untrained Interior team can be extremely tough. So be fair to the crew and they will, in turn, be good to you.

The Bad

Recording is Essential 

The yacht is an amazing piece of engineering. However, it’s all about making sure systems are well maintained and up to standard, safety procedures are in place, and maintenance tasks are performed regularly and recorded. It’s critical as an ETO to cover your tracks – take videos, photos and details the on board systems. Record as much as possible during shipyard periods and the build phase as equipment may be later covered up beneath ceiling panels or walls; this evidence will be so beneficial when you have a fault or are looking to upgrade in the future.

Location-Location-Location? 

I have been working on ships for over 2 decades and I see the same problems on every vessel – equipment squeezed into inappropriate places.  This can lead to numerous headaches and can be a general hazard. Poor location can result in a lack of maintenance, equipment may overheat and the vents may get clogged with dust. Of course, every square inch is accountable for on a yacht, but common sense should be applied when installing all equipment initially.

The Crews’ Personal IT Guy 

As the technical guy onboard, some crew use ETO’s as the go-to guy for all of their tech needs. They rely on us to fix their personal devices, which can be difficult when ETO’s already have a busy work schedule. This can be a delicate subject and I suggest you trade some tasks with others and start as you mean to go on – if not you will have no free time to yourself, which is invaluable whilst you are on charter.

Passwords and Credentials 

There’s nothing worse than joining a boat to find out there is no password organisation, and you struggle to log in to various accounts. Working off a scratchy notebook that’s been passed around, or an unorganised spreadsheet can turn a simple task into a nightmare. I recommend using a password management system with 2-factor authentication to keep your passwords online and never forgotten again. The system provides an organised, automated way to keep on top of the credentials for all of your AV and IT systems onboard.

Documents

This refers to the drawings and documentation records – usually, it comes hand in hand with the passwords and credentials; if the passwords are hit and miss then the documentation probably is. It is vitally important it is to get these in a logical order. Let’s not worry what the previous occupants should have done; it’s our mission to leave the boat a better place than we found it. The ETO world is tiny and you are only as good as your last job, so it’s best to leave it in tip-top condition to maintain a good reputation.

Knowledge is Power

In contrast to supporting the next crew on board a vessel, some individuals will actually withhold information.  We are a team on board, and it’s our task to make our crew and our rotational partners’ life more comfortable by passing on information as discussed above. Never go down this route – just keep doing a good job, record what you do and be totally transparent.

The Ugly

Inheriting a Can of Worms 

So you nailed the interview, and you have been selected for a new role as an ETO onboard a vessel. Great!  You start your new role full of hope, and then bang! Reality kicks in. You find out the vessel has been poorly looked after and neglected for years. Unfortunately, we see this often. The owner doesn’t want to spend money on the right personnel or maintenance costs.  The ship is only as good as the crew and management maintaining her – scrimping and saving on salaries / equipment will only lead to the yacht getting a lesser standard of ETO.

Excessive Firefighting 

One of the ETO’s worst nightmares is working with a poorly installed AV system and firefighting from room to room fixing fault after fault. Your AV system is at the very frontend of the charter, controlled by your owners and guests. It is paramount for the entire charter that the system is bulletproof and performing as it is intended too. As a rule of thumb to the untrained eye, if the install looks neat, then the contractor generally cares, and you are probably in for a sound system which is highly dependable.

Babysitting

Some systems need babysitting and constant attention because they are not reliable. AV systems generally have this reputation but you will always get a ‘clever guy’ that comes along and says “did you turn it off and on?”. This is the type of advice that is all too familiar, and which gives the AV/IT guys a bad rep because rebooting equipment does work a lot of the time….However, you still need to know what to reboot in the first place. We are employed as ETOs to keep the onboards’ tech systems running and to react whenever there is an issue. Sometimes this means working under pressure in front of the owner/charter guests/captain to get the radar back on asap, which is not ideal. However, from experience if you are shown to be proactive and trying your best then usually the boss will be ok with the odd invasion of space.

Summary

The ETO is in good part responsible for the safety of electrical systems and the maintenance of the navigation systems onboard a vessel. Sometimes we look like superheroes, other times we look like the devil because it’s ‘our’ system that failed. Most of the time, the ETO role has a real feel-good factor about it, and every day is a school day onboard no matter how experienced you are. If you are lucky, you will be able to operate some of the latest generation technology within your job role as an ETO on a superyacht, which is not a bad way to spend your working life.

 

 

Author: Ryan Porter – ETO and owner of Yotstore

Image: Howard @Superyacht_eto