If It Doesn't Make Sense – Check It Out
© 2006 P. Arthur Stuart
Updated June 24, 2018

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As a First Class Electrician (it was not related to my ability -- it was my rank and rating), I was the ship's senior electrician, which made me responsible for the ship's electrical plant. I was serving aboard a destroyer escort, Dealey class for you navy folks, when I first learned (observed) this important axiom: "If It Doesn't Make Sense – Check It Out." Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying that everything that doesn't make sense is wrong, cannot be understood, or needs correcting. Often things that don't make sense can be explained with additional information or data, or examination from another's perspective. Then there are just some things that will never make sense to some of us, but, perhaps to others they do. I believe that when you research things that don't make sense, you will in the vast majority of cases, find that it's not correct or discover reasons why it's that way; and the way it is maybe the way it needs to be.

The ship I was stationed aboard was undergoing refresher training at Naval Base, Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo), Cuba. A lovely place under the sun. Although I didn't know it at the time, it would be my home for several years. In truth, it was a great place to raise a family -- we really enjoyed it.

One of the many things that annoyed and frustrated me was the ship's propulsion and electrical plants had to be put in operation two days before needed. In this case we did it because we had a sonar system that was super sensitive. If we had a power failure, it would take a day to stabilize the sophisticated system, so they said. Our normal procedure, at the time, for shifting power was to turn off shore-power and then turn on ship's power; we did the opposite when we hooked up to shore-power. Hence the reason we started our plant early. We were operating under the rule that you "Never parallel the ship's electrical system with shore-power." It never made much sense to me, but I blindly accepted it. It had been like that for ages-and-ages; passed along from one generation to the next, any salty electrician knew it.

During one of our daily training sessions, I was bitching to one of the instructors. I've been told that a bitching sailor is a happy sailor, so I was trying to be happy. I told him how stupid it was not to parallel with shore-power when shifting from one power source to the other and how costly it was. I complained that the crew's liberty was cut short. On and on, I went. With an air of superiority and a smirk that indicated he had me where he wanted, he asked, "Why don't you parallel when you shift, that way you can light off (start boilers) a couple of hours before getting underway and avoid all that crap you're griping about."

I shot back, "The Bureau of Ships (the name has changed) rules forbid it." The Bureau of Ships is the Navy's high command that oversees shipboard engineering practices and ships construction.

In a triumphant manner he stated, "Wrong!" He paused for effect, then said, "The rule states you should parallel ship's power with shore-power during transfer." Being the smart ass that I was, I challenged him to prove it, knowing down deep that he'd fail, and I would have the last laugh.

Fortunately, for me, the next time I met with him, he brought the Bureau of Ships manual. When I read the statement, it went something like this. "Never parallel with shore-power," ah ha, I told you so.

Once again, knowing he had me right where he wanted me, he replied, "Keep reading."

I did read further, Oops, "except for short intervals while transferring power." To reiterate, it stated, "Never parallel with shore-power, except for short intervals while transferring power." I accepted my defeat with elation. It was a loss that turned into a great win for me. It was one of the great moments in my naval career – it was enlightenment. I learned a few things that day, most of which should be obvious, nevertheless, I'll include them at the end.

Although I believe I've made my point, there were a few more things I got out of this issue that are worthy of sharing.

I took this information to my division officer, an ensign, he sent me to the department head. I told the department head and showed him the manual, he still wanted to do it the same old way—old ways die hard, they appear safer. It was change, few really want change, even when a situation is bad, and change means risk. I persisted and told him about all the benefits we could get by doing power transfer the allowed and proper way. We would be able to light-off (startup) a couple of hours before getting underway, instead of days. It would reduce wear and tear on equipment, not to mention reducing the negative impact on running machines and circuit breakers when the power is turned off and on quickly. Morale would benefit because we could continue with a smaller cold plant crew, instead of a substantial increase in department personnel staffing that are required when the boilers and electrical plant are in operation. We would also save on fuel. He relented after I told him I would personally do the shifting and accept responsibility for anything that went wrong.

Still, he went and got the CO's permission to do it. I was a bit scared the first time we actually did it, but everything went well. After a while it became quite routine and any of the qualified electricians was permitted to do the transfer. I became a crusader and every chance I got; I would pass this information on to my peers. I kept a copy of the manual at the ready.

Several years later I advanced to Warrant Officer and was assigned to Fleet Training Group, Gitmo. As a Warrant Officer, I was a team training leader for assigned ships. My role was to meet and guide the ship's Chief Engineer through the training. Although not a specific part of my job, I was still on my crusade. During my meetings with the ship's engineer, I would ask how they switched from shore to ships power. With rare exception, they said they would turn one off and then the other on. I asked, "Why not parallel?" You know what they told me, "It's against the rules: never parallel with shore-power, it's in the Bureau of Ships manual." I would whip out my always-ready-to-show copy of said manual and show them what the rule really said.

I would explain the benefits and most, readily accepted the allowed procedure. Some sent their lead electrician to me, so I could show them the rule and convince them. Overwhelmingly, they accepted my guidance in this issue, after all I was a Warrant Officer, a technical expert, that has performed the power transfer numerous times.

I know that besides me there were others, like the electrician I learned it from, that spread the word, because, by the time I retired it had become a routine practice on ships, I was able to observe and in discussions with ship's electricians. I guess in the end, most probably figured if they can do it, so can I. After all it's a lot easier to follow than to lead.

These are the lessons learned: