Able Seaman qualifies as Officer of the Watch

This article has photo gallery Published on SBLT Tom Matthews (author), LEUT Anthea Baczkowski (author)

Able Seaman Boatswains Mate Gemma Hawken (left) of HMAS Success cons HMNZS Te Kaha under the watchful eye of Navigating Officer, Lieutenant Sarah Thomas during ship handling manoeuvres in company with HMA Ships Success and Anzac in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea en-route to centenary of ANZAC commemorations in Turkey and Greece. (photo: Able Seaman Jake Badior)
Able Seaman Boatswains Mate Gemma Hawken (left) of HMAS Success cons HMNZS Te Kaha under the watchful eye of Navigating Officer, Lieutenant Sarah Thomas during ship handling manoeuvres in company with HMA Ships Success and Anzac in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea en-route to centenary of ANZAC commemorations in Turkey and Greece.

After almost five months of training, Able Seaman Boatswains Mate Gemma Hawken joined an elite group and now routinely drives an Royal Australian Navy major fleet unit on a day-to-day basis.

Able Seaman Hawken is one the first sailors on HMAS Success to be awarded a Limited Navigation Watch-keeping Certificate. The Certificate allows Able Seaman Hawken to perform the duties of the Officer of the Watch when conducting single ship operations in open ocean by day or night.

The Limited Navigation Watch-keeping Certificate programme on Success is the brain-child of Lieutenant Commander Jared Webb, the Navigation Officer, who after hearing many Sailors ask ‘how hard can it be to drive a ship?’ put his mind to giving them the opportunity to find out.  

Lieutenant Commander Webb created an extensive training programme onboard, assisted by the Operations Room Officer Lieutenant Ian Manson, a Surface Combatant qualified navigator and his team of bridge watch-keepers. Additionally, Success’ Commanding Officer, Captain Justin Jones, a ‘retired’ Advanced Navigator by profession, performed a role as on-the-job assessor and guest instructor. 

After constructing a course outline that could be delivered around Success’ busy operational programme, Lieutenant Commander Webb offered the opportunity learn navigation and ship-handling principles from the bottom up to all those onboard for the duration of the deployment.

“We spread the word amongst the crew and at the first session we had over thirty candidates,” he said.

“That number thinned significantly as time passed as many people found it was not for them, or that it was more challenging than they thought.

‘What we had was one qualified watch-keeper, several more Sailors who are progressing well and a large portion of Ship’s Company who now readily admit it really is not that easy driving a ship.”

Able Seaman Boatswains Mate Gemma Hawken is seen on the bridge of HMAS Success after handing over as the Officer of the Watch while deployed in the Middle East Region for Operation MANITOU.

Able Seaman Boatswains Mate Gemma Hawken is seen on the bridge of HMAS Success after handing over as the Officer of the Watch while deployed in the Middle East Region for Operation MANITOU.

Although Limited Navigation Watch-keeping Certificate holders and candidates are bound by the limitations of the qualification when watch-keeping alone, the program does allow them to perform a wide range of functions when under the supervision of one of the ship’s watch-keeping Officers. 

For Able Seaman Hawken, this has included countless flying serials, several boardings and a set of Officer of the Watch manoeuvres as part of Task Group 627.2 - the Centenary of Anzac Task Group - in which she was given the opportunity to drive New Zealand ship HMNZS Te Kaha in station-keeping exercises around Success and HMAS Anzac.

“I did not know I would be doing it; I was onboard for a cross-deck experience but when the New Zealand bridge team found out that I was a qualified Limited Watch-keeper they were very interested in giving me an opportunity to have the con and drive Te Kaha around a bit,” Able Seaman Hawken said.

“Then before I knew it, the Navigator and Captain told me I would be driving some manoeuvres.

“It was an amazing opportunity and the whole team on Te Kaha were really helpful.”

Captain Jones said the certificate programme was definitely a hit with the crew and that the significance of these Sailors’ achievements should not be understated. 

‘When I award an Limited Navigation Certificate it means that I am satisfied that the recipient can take charge of this ship, under certain conditions, when the navigator and I are asleep along with the majority of the crew,” Captain Jones said.

“That is a huge responsibility and a laudable achievement for a junior sailor.

“Some of these Sailors may have come into this programme just wanting to see what it is like to drive a ship.

“We now have Sailors who, even if their work or other commitments prevented them from completing the certificate, wish to proceed to watch-keeping positions on minor war vessels or commission as Officers. 

“In my opinion the programme is a resounding success.”