Daily Life at Sea

By A Oro

This is a difficult topic, every rank, company and ship type will make this different so I will describe in detail a snapshot in my career on 3 different types of vessels in 3 different ranks.  

Daily life as a Deck Cadet on a Taiwanese Container Vessel:

Working hours: 8 – 12 watch with an extra 2 hours of work required between 1300 – 1700 (this was cancelled when we sailed through pirate areas).

0700 – Get up, wash dress.

0730 – Breakfast which was served buffet style with 4 options & soup/hot soya milk (omelette, spring onion pancake/flatbread with some hot sweet soya milk on cold days was my favourite).

0745 – Handover, make a coffee and when on watch I was learning about all of the equipment and navigation techniques as well as steadily working through my MNTB.

1200 – Lunch (there were 2 rice cookers full of fresh rice every lunch and dinner to which you helped yourself, if there was too much left over in a day, then breakfast the following morning would be egg fried rice).  There is always 4 options plus soup, I don’t eat meat but there was always enough choice.

1230 – Chill out and change into work clothes.

1300 – Find the bosun to see what work he wanted me to do (painting, sorting through twist locks, the dreaded sweeping, etc) or meet the third mate and assist with his duties (checking fire safety equipment, checking hoses, checking temperatures of Reefers, etc).  On the days where I am not allowed outside I write my WBL project.

1500/1600 – Wash & nap/chill out watching something from my hard drive (no TV in my massive cabin).

1700/1730 – Dinner which is the same set up as lunch just different combinations.

1800/1900 – Sleep before watch.

1930 – Get changed and wake up before watch.

1945 – Handover, make a coffee and watch begins.  As it is dark for most if not all of the watch the majority of the time is taken up with sharpening navigation skills and talking about a lot & nothing with the third mate.

0015 – Zzzzzz… or watch something on my hard drive until I am tired.

On this vessel the cadets were given a half day on Saturday and off all day Sunday which included not going on watch!  This meant that we were well rested to prevent accidents and we had plenty of time to complete out WBL project/MNTB tasks.  Unfortunately we were never alongside on these days.

Daily life as a Third Officer on an Australian based Cruise Ship:

You are always navigating in pairs; I was the junior ranking officer for navigation officer.

Working hours: 4 – 8 watch with a minimum extra of 2 hours required 0900 – 1100 (for some reason most of my sea career has ended up being on my favourite 4-8 watch in all ranks).

0320 – Get up, wash, dress.

0345 – Handover and ease into the watch with coffee.

0430 – Start preparations for arrival in port (most of the ports we visited we were to be tied up between 0730 & 0800).  The cruise ship industry has an amazing never forget checklist which is really good; you get used to when to call ports, engine room, wake up calls, start extra engine, engage thrusters, etc and can work out a routine with you and your co navigator very well.  Starting off it seems daunting but soon you will be doing things without the need of a checklist or asking questions.

0745 – Handover to next watch.

0800 – You are the last in for breakfast so it is nice and quiet and allows you to chill out.

0830 – Shower and refresh.

0900 – Start work; extra duties can be checking lifeboats, checking LSA, any job supplied to you by a superior.  One job I was asked to do was to walk around the vessel and check the cracks were not increasing!

1130/1200 – Lunch or sleep depending on how much you had for breakfast.

1230 – Sleeping or go ashore or relax.

1545 – Handover watch; prep for departure using checklist or take over tendering supervision.

1800 – Usually fully underway and learning navigation skills from the experienced officer sitting next to you.  Maintaining/monitoring alarms and answering calls to the bridge.

1945 – Handover; junior rank will usually do the handover and the senior watch officer will add in anything extra they believe I have missed.  It does depend who you are on watch with though.

2000 – Relax; get something to eat, visit crew bar, visit with ship friends, go on the internet, watch something I have downloaded, shower, bed.

2200 – Now if not before Zzzzzz….I need sleep so dancing till after midnight is just not possible for me but it is for others.  As long as you are fit, able, not tired and not under the influence of alcohol dance as long as you wish.

Daily life as a First Officer on a Government Vessel:

Working hours: 4 – 8 watch with a minimum extra of 2 hours required 0900 – 1100 (As long as you do not exceed the Hours of Rest requirements you will probably work a little more than stated).

0345 – Handover, coffee, ease into watch.

0400 – Start/Continue the tasking left on the night orders (find a potential vessel/s to do an inspection on).  I would usually find a fishing vessel that would be good to board at first light. I would then plot out a course to the vessel and plan an interception time in daylight.  If there were several in the area I would produce a spread sheet and allow the captain to choose the best one.

0600 – Inform the captain of the situation; position, spreadsheet of vessel info, etc.

0700 to 0800 – Handover to the captain.  If in the vicinity launch the RIB for the first inspection of the day with a boarding colleague and 2 RIB men.

A boarding can take between 40mins and 6hours depending on the type of inspection and several other factors.  I have done 2 back to back inspections before coming back to my vessel for breakfast.

0900 to 1200 – Boarding fishing vessels or completing safety officer duties.  Or drill/training exercises which are planned by the First Officer Safety.

1200 – Lunch, there is a set menu with a salad bar.  Plenty of choices to eat with good food available for all.

1230 – Relax; sleep, TV, read, exercise, etc.

1545 – Handover, coffee, watch duties.  Occasionally there has been a boarding done in this watch or there is one continuing from the afternoon.  Hours of Rest become an issue on days of fine weather for the boatmen if the boarding’s run later.

1700 – I am relieved for 20-30mins to have my dinner (this is the only ship this has happened on and is a real luxury).

1945 – Handover.

2000 to 2100– Wash, relax, sleep.

I make the meal times sound very important in comparison to the rest of my day but when you are at sea they are a key structure to your existence.  

  • As a cadet my captain made it mandatory that we were to be seen each meal time as because a cadet on another ship died and no one noticed for over a day.
  • As a third officer on a cruise ship you could eat where the passengers do or the crew mess, the options are endless and the quality of the food very good.
  • As first officer I was able to eat at normal times which was a real treat, it is the only company I have worked for that has split my evening watch for dinner.

I have missed out when I was second officer and that of chief officer.  As second officer my duties were similar to third just on a different type of vessel and as chief officer I was doing more paperwork and taking a step back from the hands on role that I had before.  My last role as Chief Officer I think was my favourite as I was able to help others and challenge myself in my rank the way that I have only felt when I went from cadet to OOW.

My experiences will be very different to others but is a look at how I experienced life, yours will be similar but different.

If you would like to submit an article about a particular day, rank you sailed in or a learning experience that you would like to share with others it would be great to hear it and we will post so all cadets can learn from you.