If it moves, salute it. If it doesn’t move, pick it up. If you can’t pick it up, paint it. Naval recruits following this time-honored advice may be able to grasp the basic necessities of keeping their ship trim and themselves out of trouble. But the apparent simplicity of these rules, under closer examination, reveals a more demanding truth; naval maintenance is a complicated business with tight deadlines and a low tolerance for failure. In fact, seaman recruits and even apprentices may have difficulty knowing what to do at all without referring to a senior crewmate or an easily remembered maxim.
For some things, that’s fine. A recruit can hardly do wrong by saluting anything moving. But for other things—like the inspection or repair of critical systems such as communications, propulsion, or weapons—“paint it” just isn’t good enough. In order to properly maintain naval equipment, seamen must be equipped with reliable torque tools and trained in their use.
Why Torque Tools Matter for Naval Maintenance
Torque is radial force, force that moves a line around a single fixed point. Applying torque to a screw, nut, bolt, or other threaded fastener drives the threads of the fastener against the materials they’re holding together, compressing them. This compression holds the fastener in place and the materials together. But if too much force is applied, this compression can damage either the fastener or the substrate material, causing it to fail immediately or later under stress. Too little force, and the fastener can fail to hold, working loose.
It isn’t divulging classified information to say that ships and the equipment on them need to hold together. While most hull plating will be riveted together, and therefore attached permanently, any hardware that must be able to move or be taken apart for inspection will likely be attached by threaded fasteners. Properly torquing those fasteners is an essential duty of any sailors responsible for their care.
The particular demands of naval missions only increase the importance of delivering proper torque. Not all improperly torqued fasteners will fail immediately. If left alone, unstressed, they may last until their next inspection. The closer they are to proper torque levels, the more likely they are to hold. However, naval missions, by their nature, place great amounts of stress upon fasteners.
A base load of tension will be present on any ship at sea due to the vibrations the propulsion and other systems create, as well as from the swell itself. The heavier the seas, the heavier the load on the ship’s fasteners. If the ship sees combat, then the greater the conflict, the heavier the load. In other words, fasteners are subjected to the highest levels of stress—sudden, jarring stress—just when the ship’s crews depend on them most.
Ships are built to handle this stress, of course, but their ability to do so is predicated on their adherence to the design specifications of naval engineers. Also, while these designs are based on observed and expected conditions, both the ocean and combat are notoriously unpredictable. Even if ideally maintained, ships can suffer from stress. The farther their fasteners are from specification, the closer the crew is to distress.
Effective Torque Tools and Training for Naval Maintenance
The fasteners seamen have to tighten and loosen vary widely in size and type across a ship. However, the basic procedure of inspection and maintenance is similar regardless of the hardware being attended to. Generally sailors—and therefore their tools—must be mobile.
As such, sailors charged with maintenance duties are best served with hand torque wrenches and hand torque screwdrivers. Unlike pneumatic or electric tools, hand tools don’t require an external power source. While plugs or air hoses may be available in some maintenance areas, they will not be available in all locations. At the same time, hand torque tools, particularly click wrenches, can apply as much torque as pulse tools or air wrenches. It will just take a little more effort.
Click wrenches are the most powerful, yet least precise, hand torque wrench. Sailors using these wrenches must understand that when the wrench clicks, it’s time to stop. The wrench clicks to inform the sailor but will continue to apply pressure.
Break-over wrenches are less error-prone than click wrenches, but they can’t deliver as much torque. These wrenches “break” at a joint on the driver when torque is reached, preventing their operator from applying more torque without resetting the wrench.
Cam-over wrenches are ideal for fasteners that cannot tolerate over-torque conditions. These wrenches have an internal clutch that slips when the desired torque is reached, preventing even the operator from applying too much torque. Torque screwdrivers also have internal slip mechanisms, preventing over-torque conditions. Given the variability of screws used across any given ship, adjustable screwdrivers are preferable.
It’s impossible to apply the right amount of torque to a fastener without knowing the correct amount. As such, the specified torque values for all fasteners should be communicated to maintenance workers before they begin work. For assemblies with multiple fasteners, the proper fastening sequence should be made available as well. Values and sequences can be found in the hardware’s design specifications.
Naval maintenance is tough, exacting work. It takes brains, muscles, and guts to keep a ship working properly, even under calm conditions. It also takes the right tools. By equipping sailors with the proper torque wrenches and training them in their use, ships will be made safer and the mission will be that much closer to being accomplished.