Some of your best moments can combine with some of your worst when it comes to Officer of the Watch training on board HMNZS Taupo.

The Inshore Patrol Vessel is one of the busiest ships in the fleet, travelling from port to port as junior officers work to pass their three-week sea phase of the 15-week Officer of the Watch (Basic) course, commonly known as ‘Bravos’. The course follows on from the 22-week Junior Officer Common Training (JOCT) and is essentially the foundation course for warfare officers, teaching the fundamentals of navigation and bridge routines.

Midshipmen Samuel King, Jaamin Fuller, Leighton Turner and Sub Lieutenant Lian van Etten are ‘Bravo’ officers near the end of their sea time. While all agree that ship’s watches and pilotage can be intense and stressful, nothing beats the feeling when your hard work pays off.

“Pilotage is a different sort of navigation,” says Sub Lieutenant Liam van Etten.

“You’re in confined waters, and you’re not just looking at the radar or the GPS map. You are running off fixed points of land with the pilotage book in front of you. You’re counting down the timings, you’re working out bearings. The whole point is conducting navigation without looking at instruments. I know people say it’s the toughest, but it feels fantastic when it all goes to plan.”

Pilotage can be long stints, like coming into Auckland, or shorter ones, like coming into Nelson. “Maybe half as long, and twice as intense.”

Midshipman Jaamin Fuller, from Tauranga, says he’s enjoyed the challenge. “You’re put under pressure, and driving a warship is not the easiest thing in the world.

“If I was back at Tauranga Boys’ High School, I would tell them, you don’t get opportunities to do this at any other time in your life. Training is tough, but once you get through it you realise how much fun the Navy is. You make a lot of friends, from all different walks of life.”

Midshipman Samuel King, originally from the United Kingdom, is a former Sports Prefect from Christ College, Christchurch.

“I did a gap year and then went to university, but didn’t enjoy it. What I like about the Navy is being surrounded by mates every day. You’re doing loads of courses and you want to tick them off. You have long days, you’re either busy or you’re asleep, and there’s so many learning opportunities.”

He can see himself finishing his degree.

Midshipman Leighton Turner, also from the United Kingdom, says the four of them will be flying back to Auckland that weekend. They’re in a class of 14, and another batch will join Taupo for their ‘Bravos’ sea phase.

“The course takes from pretty much knowing nothing about navigation, to driving a ship around the Hauraki Gulf. Coming down the east coast, the navigator will plan a route for the ship, and the Officer of the Watch will follow that plan. Then coming to the Marlborough Sounds and Nelson, another steep curve. It’s a lot of work and pretty stressful navigation. But you come out the other side thinking: man, I did that.”

If he was back at his school, Howick College, he would tell students the Navy is an awesome opportunity. “You walk out of JOCT with a whole lot of friends.”

Navigation Training Officer Commander Vicki Stevens says the course is eight weeks’ theory in the classroom, three weeks on the Bridge Simulator, three weeks sea time and one week of final assessments.

“It is heavy on theory before providing practical opportunities in the bridge simulator and at sea. I’d describe it as akin to earning your learner’s license, after which officers post to ships to gain experience and exposure prior to attending the Bridge Warfare Officer Course – their ‘full license’, as a warfare-qualified Bridge Watchkeeping Officer.”