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Lost at Sea: methods to find one’s way on ship

16 Apr 2004 | Cpl. Jeff M. Nagan

Approximately 20 Marines from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 had their first experience with life on a carrier when the squadron landed on the USS Harry S. Truman, April 5. An aircraft carrier presents many new challenges for those who have never been on ship. One of the first things a newcomer must learn is how to navigate through the intertwining corridors of the ship.“When I found out I was going on the boat, I was excited but a bit nervous,” said Pfc. Patrick M. Behnke, an administration clerk and King George, Va., native, who has been a Silver Eagle for less than a month. “I was nervous because, I didn’t know what to expect on ship.”Most Marines spend the first day aboard ship trying to find their way around, according to Behnke. Often times Marines get frustrated and give up without ever reaching their destination.“There was one instance where I took tile from the hangar bay to the ready room, and it took me nearly 45 minutes,” Behnke said. “There are more passageways in this ship than halls in a labyrinth.”Nearly everyone develops a method to negotiate the difficulties of traveling on ship. One method is for Marines to stick to familiar passageways, and never stray off the beaten path, according to Behnke.“This strategy often requires me to back track, but overall, it’s quicker than trying to take a new route and end up lost,” Behnke said.Some people use a similar method by identifying landmarks, such as fire extinguishers and signs.“When I first got on the ship, the only three places I knew were berthing, galley and my work section,” said Aviation Mechanicsmate 2nd class James “Doc” Doolittle, an augment to VMFA-115 from Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 106 stationed out of Oceana, Va., and a three-cruise veteran. “But by using landmarks I was able to find the gym, both stores and a general idea where other work centers were.”Although identifying place markers is an efficient way to navigate through the bowels of a vessel, a ship is broken down into frame numbers that can be used to locate room numbers and important areas, according to Lance Cpl. Jason A. Moorhouse, an aviation electrician and Bradley, Ill., native, who has only been with VMFA-115 for a month.“The easiest way to read frame numbers is bit by bit,” Moorhouse said. “The first section tells level, second is how far forward or aft, and the third designates port or starboard.”Levels are numbered with the hanger bay as the starting point. As Marines travel up or down within the ship, the level numbers rise. However, if they travel up from the hangar deck, a zero precedes the level number, which is omitted for decks below the hangar. The next number indicates how far the location is from the front of the ship. The larger the number, the farther the location is from the aft end of the ship.The last number determines how far and to which side a location is. Even numbers are on the starboard or right side, while odd numbers are on the port, the left side. The larger the number, the farther the location is to that side.“I didn’t use frame numbers when I first came on ship,” Moorhouse said. “But once I learned how to read them, they became a more effective and efficient reference.”