Yetzo de Hoo is an ROV pilot with Boskalis Offshore Subsea Services. During his training as a naval officer the subject of ROVs was covered and this sparked Yetzo’s interest. After graduating from the higher vocational education course he applied for a job with SMIT and was hired as an ROV pilot.
“My training as a naval officer focused on working in the engine room as well as on the bridge. My real passion is for the nuts and bolts and electronics, but I also enjoy working as a captain. The great thing about my work as an ROV pilot is that it allows me to combine both these aspects. Also, I like to have plenty of space around me, and where can you find more space than at sea?! The employment conditions are good, I learn something new every day and there is sufficient scope for career progression.
Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are robots that are able to carry out a wide array of underwater tasks. Often the work is in places that are difficult or impossible for divers to reach, although smaller ROVs are also used for diver support. The ROV is attached to a connection cable (called an umbilical cord or tether), which is also used to carry the power supply to the device from a vessel or platform and to send the signals from all the equipment back up to the surface. On board there is the control cabin, from where the ROV is operated and where the gathered data is processed and interpreted. ROVs are mainly used in the offshore industry, but are also deployed on specific tasks such as detecting munitions on the seabed.
It’s a bit like a computer game.
Boskalis has various categories of ROVs. The smallest model (Seaeye Cougar and Panther) is equipped with cameras, lights and sonar and other sensors, and is used for underwater observation, in some cases for diver support. Medium-range ROVs (Seaeye Tiger) are heavier and have a wider range of functions, such as a simple manipulator for taking hold of chains and removing minor obstacles. Personally I mainly work with the heaviest model of ROV: the Schilling HD, of which Boskalis owns two. These ROVs are used for a wide range of activities, including inspection, installation, repairs and salvage. The launch systems, the ‘workshop’, all peripherals and even the control cabins are housed in containers, which means that the equipment can rapidly be shipped to any desired location.
The Schilling ROV is equipped with a Tether Management System (TMS), which not only operates as a brain but also ensures that the tether is always taut. Once it has reached its working depth the ROV is uncoupled from the base and is then able to ‘fly’ through the water within a range of 450 meters. This movement is possible thanks to four horizontal and three vertical thrusters. The ROV weighs around five tons and can work in depths of up to 3,000 meters. A hydraulic system powers the propulsion and enables the operation of a wide range of equipment, including grinders and waterjets. The ROVs can even be equipped with a dredging pump for removing sand from the seabed. The Schillings are also fitted with two titanium manipulators, the largest of which is composed of seven joints and is therefore incredibly maneuverable. The ROVs also have several cameras, advanced GPS, acoustic beacons, altimeters and depth gauges, and assorted sensors. The equipment can vary depending on the project.
As an ROV pilot you direct an operation from the control cabin. Numerous monitors display a wealth of information gathered by the ROV. Touchscreens are used to operate the manipulators’ various functions. During a ‘flight’ we use joysticks to steer the ROV, just like in an F16 fighter jet. It’s actually a bit like a computer game. My colleagues and I work in 12-hour shifts. For the day shift that means: getting up early, taking a shower, eating breakfast and taking over from the previous shift by around 5.45 am. We work three to a shift: one operates the ROV, with a colleague at their side as co-pilot, and a supervisor is always present during the job. We always make sure that at least two people are in the control cabin at any given time to enable us to respond effectively in the event of an emergency. Meanwhile the third colleague will be busy in the workshop, because there is always a lot of additional work, such as orders, administration and especially lots of maintenance jobs. Almost all the systems are hydraulic, so there are always filters that need replacing and parts in need of cleaning or repair. That technical side of the work is every bit as interesting as the actual ‘flying’.”
Do you want to know more about working for Boskalis? Read other stories of our colleagues.