I am training to be a Marine Engineer Officer through the Merchant Navy Officer Cadet programme at the NAFC Marine Centre UHI in Shetland.
Why did you choose this career?
For years I wanted to go to sea. I also liked making things out of metal and trying to fix things at home so when I heard about the cadet programme from a friend I knew that was what I wanted to do. I decided that when I was about 13 and knew I didn’t want to do anything else. It took two attempts but I finally made it on the course when I was leaving S5.
What kind of ships have you worked on, and where in the world?
After six months studying at NAFC I joined my first ship in Galveston, Texas when I was 17. It was a Suezmax crude oil tanker called Princimar Strength. On that contract I sailed to a mooring bouy off the coast of Columbia, then to Houston (Texas), Bilbao and La Coruna in Spain, an FPSO (Floating Production Storage and Offloading unit) called Bonga off Nigeria, and finally signed off in Fos-sur-Mer in France on my 18th birthday.
My second ship was an LPG vessel called Navigator Umbrio. This was my second attempt to join a vessel after having problems trying to fly out to Panama to join another before Umbrio. I joined Navigator Umbrio in Houston, then, via the Panama Canal sailed to Kaohsiung in Taiwan and Ulsan in South Korea. After that we sailed through the Suez Canal to Flushing in the Netherlands to take on cargo and headed back through the Suez Canal then on to Kaohsiung where I signed off.
I’m now currently on another LPG ship called Navigator Glory operating in the Mediterranean. As I write this we are just passing through the Straits of Gibraltar on our way to a port outside Casablanca in Morocco.
How do you feel you have been treated as a Cadet/Trainee in the working/college environment?
The college phases are great. The lecturers in the engineering department would help you out if you had trouble with anything and are a good lot to have teaching you.
At sea it really depends on the age and nationality of the crew onboard as to how a trip might go. It also depends on your attitude and how you act on the ship. On one of my ships it felt like the engineers thought I was a nuisance to them, which made learning quite hard. They also shared the same language so half the time I did not know what was going on. But bad ones signed off and good ones signed on and the second half of my trip went much better. All the other ships I’ve sailed on have been great places to learn and I have enjoyed my time on board. It just varies from ship to ship.
Any specific problems you have encountered?
One Problem I have definitely encountered is a language barrier. Coming from Shetland with a strong dialect (and only speaking English) can make it hard to be understood as you are working with a multinational crew. This can also mean you have trouble understanding the crew you’re working with. Usually the official language on board is English but it really means communicate in English but be understood. So it could be very basic English and even hand gestures too. Once you understand this you can communicate no problem.
Also I noticed at the start of the cadetship how age is a big factor. I started at 17 and everyone else on board would be at least in their late 20s. You felt very young and at times out of your comfort zone but the crew will keep you safe and you soon didn’t notice the age gap.
What support have you received?
I received a lot of support from friends and family both at college and at sea. I couldn’t have done it without them!
What advice would you give to others considering a career at sea?
Make sure you step on the ship with a good attitude and a respect for crew members' customs. Do that and they will go out of their way to help you. Also act mature and keep yourself safe. There no place for being dangerous on a ship.
Would you make the same career choice again?
Definitely! It has had its bad moments but it has had great moments too! I'm 19 years old and I have already been around the world, been ashore in 5 different countries, some more than once. It’s a great way to see places.
The Merchant Navy Officer Cadet Programme trains Deck and Engineer Officers for the Merchant Navy.