Shifts, Autosub and Nautical Time

Shifts and Subs

My day to day life has changed on the ship as of last night. We have now started out shift work as we have reached our experiment area. It’s important that all the equipment works so we have watch a bank of screens to raise the alarm if the equipment and therefore the data collection stops. (pictures of watch keeping at the bottom of the blog)

I am on the 8- 12 shift. After logging the data this morning I went out to watch the OBS team deploy a raft of instruments.


This one you may note is red, rather than yellow. This is because the team have prototype instruments in this crate. The prototype results will enable the development of new improved equipment for future expeditions. Scientists are learning all the time.

Autosub had another dip today. Its collision avoidance sonar sent out an error message so Autosub returned to the surface early (500m short of the ocean floor). I am amazed at how clever Autosub is. She (I think she is a she and I’m going to refer to her as female gender from now on), has a great self-preservation instinct and if anything goes wrong she returns home – a very sensible piece of equipment indeed!


Last night Professor Tim Reston gave a talk to the crew about purpose of our expedition. He used some great diagrams that I have my eye on for teaching resources…..


Time on board ship

When I was in my early twenties I backpacked around the world. I spent 6 days and 6 nights on the Trans-Siberian railway. I’m sure I remember putting my watch forward by two hours everyday so that when I reached Beijing I’d be on local time. Meals however were served on Moscow time. Neither Moscow time nor the time on my watch had any relevance to the local time should the train have stopped suddenly.

Time on board ship is a similar weird and wonderful phenomenon. All data is recorded in GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) or UCT (Universal Coordinated Time – a less Imperialistic reference by those who are not British). This makes life easier for scientists to compare results and means there is less room for error by not factoring in time differences.

When we were in Cape Verde we were one hour behind the UK. We set sail on Thursday morning. On Friday night at midnight the ship’s time went back an hour so we were two hours behind GMT. On Sunday (17th January) we went back another hour. For the majority of the expedition we will be living three hours behind GMT. This ties in with dawn and dusk at the Ridge 13 degrees North.

We will lose another hours after the science has been collected and the ship travels on to Trinidad and Tobago – again this will take place over the course of a couple of days. This means that we will reach Port au Spain at the correct local time five hours behind GMT.

Our meal times are as follows:

7:20 Breakfast

11.30 Lunch

5:30 Tea

All on local time. I am going to tell you about our meals another day.

Our watch shift patterns are:




We work our shift for 4 hours and then have 8 hours off. I am currently on the 8-12 shift with Matt. Obviously we will sleep in one of our 8 hours off. In the other we have our own work to do. I have to admit it is quite disconcerting using both time zones consecutively. I’m writing down 13:00 hours when it is actually 11:00 O’clock in my reality.

Gael has kindly written ‘how to keep watch’ for dummies a few slides of which I include below:





I’m enjoying life on the ship and learning sooo much.




5 thoughts on “Shifts, Autosub and Nautical Time

  1. Angela, the geek in me really enjoyed this piece on time. At the risk of seeming a Scottish nationalist the difference between GMT and UTC is more than a mater of Britishness: UTC is based on TAI (International Atomic Time, the time kept by atomic clocks) but adjusted by leap seconds to agree with solar time. GMT is based on mean observations of the sun (mean because the earths rotation speeds up and slows down depending on where it is on its orbit – analemma), as the earths rotation gradually slows GMT and TAI drift out of sync (now about 30 seconds). To overcome this UTC follows the rate of TAI but is adjusted to keep it within ±0.9 seconds of GMT. [for the ubernerds technically it is Universal Time (UT1) which is a mean value based on a number of earth based observatories, of wich GMT is only one value).


    1. Lol!! Yes Prof Roger Searle did explain all that to me. I decided to keep it simple. Maybe more detail would’ve been better. My understanding is that most other countries use UTC and we use GMT for recording data. Leap seconds being the major difference between the two.


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