To diagnose this Ship’s pesky problems? Improvise (and hold your breath!)

In the ‘bow thruster’ area, the father/son duo intentionally tripped ‘a mystery breaker’
In the ‘bow thruster’ area, the father/son duo intentionally tripped ‘a mystery breaker’

By Jeff Fleming | 12V Marine LLC

There are many complex features and equipment on ‘Icon of the Seas’ cruise ship. It is difficult, if not impossible, to know how they all function. When working on electrical components, sometimes you can’t find documentation or staff that can help — so what do you do? Pray you don’t cause an emergency or shut down a critical part of the ship as you work on the issue. We had several close calls and intentional events that did have interesting results! Some things occurred not from our ignorance, but from the actions of others or systems failing during the test cruises.

The fire suppression system on board is not the typical sprinkler system spraying a shower, but a High Fog System that sprays a mist. The system helps cool down the area, displaces oxygen (fuel for fires), suppresses some of the smoke, and can float into a lateral opening. We learned this is not unique but common on ships. The system is under extremely high pressure, up to 1500 psi. For comparison, a tire is around 30 psi and an air compressor is about 110 psi.

Well, this system went off while we were watching a water show practice. I had no idea — I thought it was the show’s fog system that went a little awry. We never found out what caused it to be activated. It was isolated to only the theater and was shut off within a few minutes. Amazingly the sound and other systems were not damaged and the next day the show went on!

Sometimes we had to use unconventional means to trace a circuit. I came across a ground leak in the lighting for the bow thruster room. The problem was that the documentation was wrong and we had no idea where the panel was or what else was on the same circuit. So what do you do? Trip the mystery breaker by shorting the hot wire to the ground! The spark was much larger than I expected not to mention we forgot the turn on our phone flashlights! I almost fell off the ladder.

The ship’s ‘High Fog’ fire suppression system was mysteriously triggered.
The ship’s ‘High Fog’ fire suppression system was mysteriously triggered.

Going up the stairs to the crew area trying to find what we had just done, we encountered a lot of angry management as we had shut down the lights in an administrative area. In our panicked efforts to locate the breaker, it was quite crowded with angry and confused managers stopping us to ask what happened. Unfortunately, the breaker ended up being 2 decks up and NOT LABELED. It took about an hour, along with 15 technicians to locate.

Learning that as a lesson, we were more cautious of similar opportunities – like finding another leak on a very complex control system that started in the bridge’s navigational equipment room. We later found out it was a known issue and shutting off this circuit breaker would have triggered the bright emergency lighting and alarms in the spa therapy rooms. Unknown to us, news media and leadership were taking advantage of free massages! Imagine if we had caused a bunch of very important people to run to the evacuation areas naked trying to keep their towels from falling off.

If you are following this series of articles, you know that we were under strict orders to be very careful not to be recognized (as fixers of the ship’s electrical problems). So, we dressed like tourists! Later in the trip, we knew we were working on a circuit controlling some of the lights in the main promenade and decided to shut them down. The next day the manager who was responsible for contractors called us to a meeting. He informed us that while watching the ship news and event promotions in his room, they played a video of the promenade. In the middle of the screen, there was my 25-year-old son, Colyn, wearing the ugliest Hawaiian shirt that the manager had ever seen! Colyn was walking around in circles, staring at the ceiling, looking at the lights. The manager said he was laughing so hard at Colyn staggering around like a drunk passenger that he couldn’t be mad at us. However, he did suggest that we be more discrete!

Next week, in our final installment, we look back fondly on this opportunity of a lifetime!