Meet the Sikuliaq Crew: Tristan Conrad

By Lauren Frisch

Tristan Conrad stands by a large cable drum used by the winches that deploy off the ship’s deck. The winch helps scientists lower instruments into the water to collect samples and measurements. Photo by Lauren Frisch.

Tristan Conrad enjoys using his troubleshooting skills to help keep the R/V Sikuliaq in great condition.

Conrad is an oiler, which is a general maintenance position in the engineering group. He always begins his shift with a round of checks. Starting in the Bridge at the top of the ship and working his way down to the machinery spaces at the very bottom, Conrad checks for the three Fs: fire, flooding, or anything funny looking.

“I may notice a leak, or that the main hot water is low, or that it smells like exhaust somewhere,” Conrad said. “This can help dictate what I do during the course of my shift.”

Conrad and the other engineers rely on the system checks to keep track of what is going on onboard, and must be trained to quickly think on their feet in order to stay ahead of problems. Each day brings a different set of challenges and tasks. Some days he focuses on burning garbage or cleaning the engine room. On others, he may be checking or resetting valves, or conducting maintenance on various pieces of equipment in the engine room.

Conrad likes working on a ship that has smart technology to rapidly alert the engineers to any problems that may be forming onboard.

“We have a huge support system for the ship machinery,” Conrad said. “The computer might say hey, this needs an oil change or hey, you need to grease this,” Conrad said. “With this information, we try to knock those issues out right away.”

Tristan Conrad checks the engine's display that shows information including engine speed, fuel pressure and oil temperatures. Photo by Lauren Frisch.

Conrad’s cousin started working as a deckhand while Conrad was still in high school, which first sparked his interests in working on a ship himself.

“Working on a ship really appealed to me, because I knew I would be able to problem-solve quickly in an environment that was constantly changing, and have the stability of knowing that I could move up the ranks as I continued to get more experience and take more training courses,” Conrad said. “The process is straightforward and the work is exciting.”

Conrad went to a 9-month training program at the Seattle Maritime Academy, which gives students the qualifications necessary to begin working on a research vessel like the Sikuliaq, as well as tug boats and oil tankers. Conrad participated in the program to earn his qualified member of the engine department rating, or QMED, which is required to work as an oiler. He took specialized classes on diesel engines, refrigeration, electricity, ship propulsion, and hydraulics, as well as more general classes on seamanship, survival craft, leadership and management, and steam systems.

Following completion of the program, Conrad worked as an oiler on a commercial fishing ship for a year, and then as an assistant engineer for a few months.

He enjoys the work and atmosphere on the Sikuliaq, but especially appreciates working on a ship with a ballasting system that contributes to a steady ride.

“I didn’t know prior to starting at the Seattle Maritime academy that I got sea sick. That was an interesting discovery. Fortunately, the Sikuliaq rides so steady that I have yet to have issues onboard, which hasn’t been the case with other vessels,” Conrad said.

This photo shows a close-up of chilled water piping that runs throughout the engine room. A water tight door in the background can close manually or remotely from a damage control station in case of flooding. Photo by Lauren Frisch.



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