New ships mean improvements in quality of life at sea

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Navy News / March 22, 2021

Have you ever wondered what life at sea is like aboard the Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN) newest ship?

Equipped with the latest in cutting edge technology, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Harry DeWolf, the first of six Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS), is not only a state-of-the-art patrol ship, it is also designed to significantly improve the comfort and well-being of its crew members.

Harry DeWolf’s 65 sailors recently completed their first cold water and ice trials off Labrador and Newfoundland. 

This gave them the perfect opportunity to experience first-hand just how advanced the AOPS is in both operational capability and quality of life while at sea.

Harry DeWolf and the rest of the new AOPS offer facilities that create a better environment for their crews. Modern amenities include an all-ranks cafeteria, gender-inclusive washrooms (known as "heads" in Navy terminology), individual crew accommodations, internet, exercise equipment and the flexible use of common spaces such as the briefing room, wardroom and boarding party room to serve as a silent spaces for various religious practices.

Harry DeWolf is on the leading edge of the technology, convenience and comfort that the RCN’s future fleet will provide,” says Lieutenant-Commander (LCdr) Jim Little, Executive Officer. “Whether it’s being able to keep in touch with friends and family, eating in the all-ranks cafeteria or operating any of the modern equipment on board, Harry DeWolf has something for everyone.” 

The all-ranks cafeteria shows LCdr Little just how much morale is affected by being able to eat with other crew members.

“The cox’n (senior non-commissioned officer on board) and I are able to pay close attention to how people are feeling and what they are happy or not happy with,” he says. “The quality of the food on board is very high and the fact we are able to enjoy it together is a huge bonus.”

Sailor 1st Class (S1) Raymond Kwan, Naval Combat Information Operator (NCIOP), agrees.

“It’s the most modern cafeteria I’ve eaten in. The addition of the serving buffet and self-serve salad bar right next to the drink dispensers make the dining experience more convenient and comfortable. The cafeteria overall is well laid out – it feels like you can see most of the space no matter where you sit which greatly improves camaraderie amongst the crew." 

Like most naval ships, there are still three messes aboard for officers, chiefs and petty officers, and junior ranks. One noticeable difference for sailors in Harry DeWolf however, is that the messes all have portholes so they have natural light.

The cabins are also an improvement in the new AOPS. Officers, chiefs and petty officers all have double occupancy cabins, while master sailors and below have six to a cabin. Each cabin has its own private bathroom, and the racks (beds) are slightly wider with a privacy curtain.

For Lieutenant (Navy) (Lt(N)) Joseph Cheng, Naval Warfare Officer, the number one priority for morale and comfort from his perspective is the increased space.

“Space to work, space to live, space to organize kit and supplies, and space to train. This is even more imperative given the diversity of operations and the range of zones the Harry DeWolf class is expected to visit in the future,” he says.

“I have found the cabins to be a great step forward and a real improvement in comfort and rest, so I can ensure I am at my best for watch and duties. Additionally, a high quality, full-function gym rounds out my list of important new features for morale and comfort. I hope this trend continues, as I believe over the long term this contributes to both our health and mental well-being in order for us to be the best sailors possible.”

Sailor 1st Class John MacLeod, NCIOP, agrees that the ability to work out while at sea is important to the crew’s well-being.

“The facilities for our gym are great. The gym is spacious and doesn’t feel like working out in a closet. Its accessibility to water fountains with a head and wash place adjacent to the gym is very handy. The use of the flight deck for running or training will be beneficial in the warmer climates, [and] … there are plans in place to fully equip the gym with everyone’s needs such as more treadmills, a variety of free weights and foam exercise mats.”

Like all sailors at sea, Harry DeWolf crew members want to be able to communicate with family and friends while they are away from home. Although there are still a few kinks to work out in terms of WiFi and bandwidth, the ship has had internet from the beginning.

“While there is a basic expectation of communication challenges when we are at sea, I have been pleasantly pleased with the internet service on the Harry DeWolf class compared to previous ships I have served in,” says Lt(N) Chen. “It allows for basic messenger apps quite effectively, enabling communications, and I have found it to be up quite consistently, even when we are far up North or a good distance from shore.”

Another innovation in the AOPS is an enclosed fo’c’sle and cable deck, which protects machinery on the foredeck and personal workspaces from harsh Arctic environments.

“The enclosed cable deck on board is definitely a first of its kind in the RCN,” says S1 MacLeod. “Best part about working in the cable deck is not being exposed to the elements. It’s a well ventilated area and definitely helps fight work fatigue when handling lines.”

The AOPS, with all their improvements, are contemporary and multifunctional ships that will be at the core of an enhanced Canadian Arctic presence, and will effectively and strategically complement the capabilities of the RCN’s current and future warships through critical reconnaissance and surveillance operations.

However, they are also home to sailors for weeks or months at a time.

For this reason, the RCN is committed to the continued improvement of those shipboard amenities that ensure the physical and mental well-being of crew members.

“Overall, in my opinion, the quality of life on board the AOPS is greatly improved from other platforms,” says Petty Officer 1st Class Oleskiy Zaslavskiy, Senior Weapons Engineering Manager. “The smaller crew and the facilities provided make a big difference. I am proud to be aboard Harry DeWolf, bringing this new capability to the RCN.”