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By Aime Lykins, PSNS & IMF Public Affairs
When ships and submarines make their way into or out of one of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility’s six dry docks, riggers and handlers can be seen alongside the vessels tending lines and chains, and operating industrial equipment. However, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that is critical to successful docking and undocking. As activity hums overhead, a crew of highly skilled personnel from Shop 99, Pumpwells, are operating the dry dock’s pumpwells, controlling water flow and level as the docks are flooded and dewatered. It is a big responsibility that requires constant vigilance to make sure that the docks are functional and Naval Sea System Command’s dry dock certification requirements are met.
“The primary function of the pumpwells is to support dry docks and the fleet,” said Michael Ulrigg, pumpwell general foreman, Shop 99, Pumpwells. “To complete a docking or undocking, it takes anywhere from six to nine highly qualified team members to safely and expertly perform operations during an event. A large portion of our maintenance sees us going underneath the dry docks and in tunnel systems to inspect, maintain and repair sluice gates.”
Sluice gates allow the pumpwell crew to isolate docks from each other. Dry docks 3, 4, and 5 are connected via an underground, interconnected drainage tunnel system. Housed inside of each pumpwell are drainage pumps and valves that dewater the area below and beside the dry docks. There is a continuous flow of drainage water around the dry docks and the pumpwell systems automatically pump them out, relieving the dry dock of any built up pressure from naturally occurring, seeping ground water. The shipyard’s pumpwells and dry docks were built between 1894 and 1963. Although the pumpwells built in 1894 are no longer operating, original equipment remains and upgraded equipment has been installed as recently as 2021.
The Shop 99 pumpwell crew is made up of qualified mechanics and electricians with different backgrounds and areas of expertise. Crew members are pipefitters, plumbers, machinists, shipfitters, woodworkers, and electrical specialists. The pumpwell crew works in tandem with Shop 64, Shipwrights, as well as Code 740, Riggers and Operators, and the dock master. Teamwork is instrumental to success.
There are multiple training requirements at each dock. No two qualifications are the same as each pumpwell and caisson differ from one another other. It can take new members of the pumpwell team approximately five years to be fully qualified as an operator and roving watch stander.
“We are working 24/7, 365 days a year behind the scenes, and underground, to provide the shipyard with safe, reliable dry docks,” said John McCumsey, pumpwell supervisor, Shop 99, Pumpwells, and first graduate of the pumpwell apprentice program. “We take great pride in the fact that we safely and efficiently dock naval vessels of all types for the PSNS & IMF workforce, and the Department of the Navy.”
Recently, command and Naval Sustainment System-Shipyards leadership performed a genba walk of the Dry Dock 6 pumpwell. The genba walk had several primary purposes. First, to directly go to the place of work and see the equipment and processes. Second, to hear from the team their successes and achievements. And, lastly, to find out what kind of challenges the pumpwell crew faces, which could be resolved by PSNS & IMF’s leadership. The NSS-SY team is actively working with the pumpwell team to identify solutions to areas of need, such as acquiring lay down space and developing advanced training tools.
The pumpwell crew is vital to PSNS & IMF’s dry dock program and allows the rest of the shipyard to complete availabilities and modernization projects. Each ship, submarine, carrier, barge or recycling availability starts and ends with the pumpwells, giving rise to their motto of “first in, last out.”
Employees interested in learning more can contact the Shop 99 pumpwell supervisors at 360-340-7813.