January 16 Interview
Kevin Fisk, Chief Engineer of the R/V Atlantis
Conducted by Scientists Susan Humphris and Dan Fornari
from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Kevin Fisk is 36 years old. He has been working for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) since 1986.
During the last 14 years, he has worked on all of WHOI's research vessels, and became Chief Engineer of the R/V
Atlantis just 18 months ago. Kevin lives on Cape Cod, and recently got married to his wife, Patty.
The chief engineer on a ship is traditionally referred to as "Chief," but we will call him Kevin here.
What are your main responsibilities as Chief Engineer?
I am responsible for the safe and efficient operation of the ship's power plant. This includes the engines,
the freshwater system, sanitation, electricity, air conditioning, and deck machinery. The easiest way to think
of it is that a ship is like a small city that needs all the services a city of people requires. I have to make
all that happen. I have 7 people who work for me: 3 engineers, 3 oilers, and 1 electrician.
Kevin checks the control panels for the ship's engines to make sure all is operating well..
So what did you want to be when you grew up, and how did you end up being a ship's engineer?
When I was young, I wanted to be just like my father, who is an electrician. In fact, my brother was the
one who ended up working with my Dad. I spent some time at a vocational school, which I enjoyed more than
grade school because I really liked hands-on learning and tinkering with things. I then went to Massachusetts Maritime
Academy (MMA) with the goal of becoming an electrical engineer. I started going to sea, and fell in love
with it, and graduated from MMA with a Marine Engineering degree in 1986.
My first job was in the Merchant Marine as an engineer on a tramp steamer taking U.S. government supplies as
relief aid to Pakistan. After six months, I decided to leave the Merchant Marine,and made a trip to Hawaii
on the R/V Atlantis II from WHOI - that was the beginning of my career on oceanographic research ships.
What do you enjoy most about your job as Chief Engineer on the R/V Atlantis?
As Chief Engineer, I like the challenge of keeping all the equipment functioning and the plant operating efficiently
and safely. Managing my staff is an interesting, as well as time- consuming, aspect of being Chief; it is
not something that they teach you in school. I don't get as many opportunities now to repair things and get
my hands dirty because my staff does most of that work. I get left with the paperwork!
Working on R/V Atlantis, I find the research that the scientists do very interesting and I really enjoy
seeing them get so excited over their work. I also enjoy the travel. I have been around the world once and
met many interesting people. I believe that the R/V Atlantis is an ambassador for the whole U.S. oceanographic
fleet, so I am proud to be on board.
Kevin beside one of the drive shafts checking that it is not getting overheated.
What is a typical day like for you?
I get up early, about 5 a.m., so that I have an hour of time for myself. My day begins at 6 a.m. with an early
visit to the Engine Room and chats with the Captain and Steward to make sure I am up to date with everything that
is going on. After breakfast, I do office work, some of which relates to making sure we have sufficient equipment
and supplies on board, but a lot of it has to do with longer-term planning for maintenance and replacement of the
equipment. I like to spend some time in the Engine Room tinkering with equipment, and then in the late afternoon,
I meet with the First Engineer to discuss the status of everything and to plan new projects. I usually delegate
most new projects to my staff as that is the fun part of being an engineer.
What do you do in your spare time?
I like to read history books and suspense novels when I am on board. When I am at home, I like to spend time
with my family, and I have a 30-foot motor boat that we can take on family outings. I also like to golf and
bike, and if I am somewhere warm, I like to scuba dive.
If you could start all over again, would you have chosen the same career path?
Absolutely! This job has opened up doors for me. I have seen places and met people that would never have happened
had I taken a different path. The one thing I do not like is being so far from family for 8 months of the
year, but that was a lifestyle choice I made when I became a Chief Engineer.