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Seafarer's Invention: the Hammer Hook

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Boatswain's Mate Kevin Spratt displays his invention, April 12, 2018.

By U.S. Coast Guard News 2018-06-25 12:21:00

Petty Officer First Class Kevin Spratt, a boatswain’s mate aboard the buoy tender Spar out of Kodiak, Alaska, has worked buoys for most of his Coast Guard career. His understanding of the workflow on deck and the real needs of ATON workers ultimately won him the service's top innovation award.

“Working in [Aids to Navigation], you have multiple tools that you have to use,” said Spratt. “You have to use a sledgehammer and chain hook. The sledgehammer is used to seat and set the chain in the pelican hook and chain-stopper. Then you also need the chain hook to pick the chain up and put it in the pelican hook before setting it. Both tools are crucial and you have to use them. So, I decided to put them together. It seemed simple.” “I wanted a functional tool, and I want to be able to do my job,” he said. “I did it because there was a flaw in the system, so I fixed the flaw.”

Spratt went to Petty Officer First Class Taylor Konlin, a damage controlman also stationed aboard the Spar, and told him of his idea of welding a chain hook on the back of a sledge hammer. Konlin and Petty Officer Third Class Kyle Lake, another damage controlman aboard the Spar, cut and formed the metal and welded the sledgehammer and chain hook together within about an hour, creating the world’s first hammer hook. Konlin and Lake created two hammer hooks and the crew began using them to work buoys the next day. “We started using it, and we haven’t stopped since,” said Spratt. “It just makes sense, and it works.”

Although it may seem simple, the hammer hook not only reduces the amount of clutter on the deck for ATON workers, but it also increases workplace safety and efficiency. It can save as much as 10 to 15 minutes per evolution. Spratt said this equates to being able to squeeze in that ninth buoy for the day when you have jobs that take anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes to complete.

Since its creation, this innovative tool has seen little use in the rest of the Coast Guard, but that may be about to change.

Under the category of operations and readiness, Spratt received the 2016 Capt. Niels P. Thomsen Innovation Award for the hammer hook. Spratt was floored. He said he had no idea it would get this big.

According to Spratt, during his trip to Washington, D.C., in 2017, then-Vice Adm. Charles W. Ray and a boatswain’s mate master chief said they didn’t know how the Coast Guard has been working ATON for almost 200 years without anyone ever thinking to make this tool before.

Spratt said he told Ray he was tired of watching people struggle. “For anybody that plays on the buoy deck, it’s going to be a useful tool,” said Spratt. “I don’t think it’s going to be a standard item, but crazier things have happened.”

Spratt is not the only Coast Guardsman who can attest to the practical application of his tool. The buoy deck training team stationed in Yorktown, Virginia, traveled to Kodiak as part of a biannual inspection. The team was impressed with the hammer hook and they intend to push it out to the fleet, said Chief Warrant Officer Eric Dieckmann, a boatswain on the Spar. In the near future, the hammer hook could see warmer weather, as both Spratt and Dieckmann are transferring to another buoy tender in Florida this summer.

“If it wasn’t a good tool, we would not be using it,” said Dieckmann, with a chuckle. “It would probably be thrown overboard.” 

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.