Chief Electronics Technician – Richard Conway

You can hear more from Richard and his journey to become an electronics technician here.

Richard Conway

About the Job

What is your title?

Chief Electronics Technician (CET) – NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

Where do you work?

My base of operations is the Electronics Technician (ET) shop on the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, but I work throughout the ship. I even have equipment in engineering areas that I need to work on.

Do you travel often? To where?

Yes, to wherever the ship goes.

What are the educational requirements for your job?

Technical school and/or military school/training.

What is the salary range for someone with your type of job? 

The starting salary is around $40,000 a year and it goes up from there depending on responsibility, equipment type, area (consumers electronics, medical electronics, etc.), and experience.

How many hours do you work per week?

Normally I work 40 hours per week in home port, 48 or more hours when in other ports, and 56 or more hours when at sea. The extra hours are because when the ship is in port things can be shut down for maintenance, especially on weekends, while at sea, the equipment doesn’t keep set hours.

Job Duties

Tell us about the types of things you do.

It is the Electronics Technician’s responsibility to make sure all the electronics equipment that is non-propulsion or engineering department-related is in working order. The electronics equipment on board that ETs are responsible for can be broken down into five groups:

  1. Navigation, which includes the radar, GPS, electronic charts, and such
  2. Communications, which is the radioes, internal phone systems, external satellite phones, etc.
  3. Network, which includes the servers, computers, routers, switches, etc., as well as the miles of connections and the VSAT because the VSAT is essentially a wireless network connection to shore
  4. Scientific systems, which are the many sonar, CTD, and environmental sensors as well as some specialized computers
  5. Entertainment systems, which are the movie players and TVs in staterooms and common areas

What is the most fascinating thing you have ever seen or done? 

There are a bunch, but the most unique and the one that a minute percentage of the human population has ever experienced is being hit by the shock wave of an earthquake while in a submarine. We are talking about a 19-ton moving object, 600 feet long, being brought to a dead stop. Dishes crashed, things fell over. Some people were falling out of chairs. The person next to me came out of his seat, but he was okay. The crew started automatically moving to general quarters, making the sub internally water tight, before the alarm was given. We thought we had collided with another submarine. The sonar supervisor was yelling at us to find the contact we collided with. The Executive Officer came into the sonar shack wanting to know “who we hit.”

It took a few seconds for the submarine to start moving again. We could not find or detect anything. There was nothing around or near us.

It was a week later that we found out what hit us. There was a big earthquake about 45 minutes before we got hit. When we reanalyzed the recording tape from the sensors, we saw the band appear and disappear at the time we got hit. That was the signature of the earthquake shock wave.

What are the personal rewards of your work? 

Knowing that what I do helps the ship accomplish its mission, which is the exploration of the world ocean.

How does your work benefit the public? 

In this particular case, the devices I work with and maintain are the vehicles which gather, analyze, and provide the information used to gain knowledge of the ocean.

What else could someone with your background do? 

Wow, there is so much you can do! You can work in space exploration, medicine, public services, consumer electronics (I used to work with cell phone research and development), and the military, just to name a few. The problem will be which field to choose.