Every sailor has thought at least once during his career to quit sailing but many have been discouraged by the grim prospects of hiring ashore, especially in their home countries, in my case Romania. For seafarers, a professional conversion is a a much greater challenge than for others. It implies not just a change of job but also your changing your entire lifestyle.
It’s easy to think through out your contract on the ship about all those harbor workers you meet when the ship is in port and can’t help not to feel a little envy towards them. They finish their shift at regular times (more or less) and than go home to be welcomed by their families and sleep in their own bed with their wives. In the mean time, you just go 2 decks up to a small cabin where you have to rest quickly because you have to be back on deck for work after just 6 hours. On that deck you have to spend at least 4 to 5 months more before you will ever see your home and family again. For some, the decision not to pursue this kind of life, was taken as early as during their first voyage at sea. I remember clearly a cadet on the ship who decided after 5 months on board that this is not the life he wants to pursue and that he will never come back on a ship again. I kept in touch with him, and the boy kept his word. For others it took more than that, I was more persistent and after trying different companies and different types of ships, I took the decision explained in my article “After six years at sea” to quit. I really felt fed up with it and decided to make a change. Pursuing a career at sea was not giving me any satisfaction so there was no point in doing this…
The prospects of employment ashore for a seafarer are dependent on the rank you have on board and how many years experience you have at sea. It also depends very much on your department of work (deck or engine) and it especially depends on the type of ship you worked on. It also depends on which foreign languages you speak, the majority of well-paid jobs require a good level of English, but also German, French, Dutch, etc. may be required depending on the job location.
The winning ticket seems to have been picked out by the mechanical engineers and by the electrical engineers. To my great disappointment, I found out that most of the well paying jobs ashore (related to the maritime industry) are requiring on board experience as Chief Engineer or Second Engineer. The ship to shore professional conversion options for those with a Deck Officer license are way more limited. This is especially true for those without experience as Master or Chief Officer. For the latter, things are a little bit better, but not by much ….
I will state from the start that any good paying job with a decent salary ashore will probably not be available in your home country, only abroad. For example in my home country Romania, even in the big multi national companies the wages are much lower than what you would get for the same position in a developed West European country. And this brings us back to to what I was saying earlier at the beginning of this article: is not just a job change, this professional conversion usually involves a relocation of you and probably your family to a new country in order to secure a decent paying job and life. So it’s either this or you stick to sailing for 10 months per year and see your home and family only during your limited shore leave vacation.
For electricians, there is no point in listing what jobs I have found, it is enough to say that any shipyard or marine equipment factory is looking for skilled electricians with experience at sea.
Let’s see what opportunities are for those with experience on board ships who wish to transfer to shore career (these are the positions discovered during my own transfer search):
- Vessel Superintendent, Ship Manager, Vessel Manager, Technical Assistant, all are office jobs with occasional ship visits, involving the operation and supervision of the ships that assigned to you, especially on the technical side of the operation. You have to be careful to fit into the allocated budget for each ship, budget that must include major expenses such as ordering and replacing spare parts or arranging Dry Dock maintenance visits. For these well-paid jobs, it is mandatory to have experience on board ships as Chief Engineer or the extensive experience as Second Engineer on the type of vessel required. Gross salaries are similar to what a Second Engineer earns, but you get payed all 12 months of the year;
- Crewing officer, crew assistant, crew coordinator, Every shipping company has a crew department that involves document processing, certification, arranging crew changes, payroll and handling any other crew issues on board ships. It is generally a recommended position for low rank ship officers who want to transfer ashore, but is not dedicated to them. Generally on such positions take priority at employment those who already have experience in a crewing agency or in human resources ashore. Experience on board is not listed as essential but rather “ideal”. The gross starting salary for such a position is similar to that of a Bosun, but it is a launch pad in a company’s Human Resource Department, where the salary grows relatively fast to that of the Third Mate, payed all 12 months of the year;
- Ship Agent / Port Agent; Everyone who has worked on a ship knows him, he is the ship’s main contact man on a port visit, processes documents, statements, ensures that the ship obtains all the necessary clearances from the local authorities and, depending on the situation, deals with crew changes, crew transfers, other ship’s special requests. This is not an extremely well paid job (salary is similar to that of the Bosun’s on board), but it is a position available especially for those with the Third Mate or Second Mate experience on board, as they are usually the ones who are preparing all the ship’s papers required for each port and deal with the administrative part of the ship. The working hours are not great either. The ship’s agent is usually present both on arrival and on departure of the ship add unsocial hours. The good part however, is that the salary grows progressively with experience and it can rise up relatively fast to a salary similar to what Third Mate earns on board.
- Broker, Insurance Broker, Cargo Broker, Insurance Claims, Commercial Director, Sales Department. There are generally jobs open to those with experience as Master on board, but they can be obtained with a little persistence if you have only lower rank experience on board, provided that you start in the company on a lower position in the commercial department. It is more suitable for those with “hustler” talent in sales and negotiations, so it requires a very good level of conversational English. It is generally difficult to get into this line of business because companies prefer those with sales experience rather than sea experience. The base salary is not very high (somewhere between Bosun and Third Mate), but since you’re usually working on commissions, you can easily get a Master’s salary in a good month.
- Surveyor – A job generally applicable to those who navigated as deck officer (regardless of rank) on tanker ships. It is preferred to have experience in the deck department, as that part of the crew is more familiarized with the ship’s construction, drafts, and knows the undersides of the loading / unloading cargo operations on such ships. It involves both office work and many ship visits. It requires a good physical condition as you are expected to do inspections in cargo holds or tanks. The salary is not very high, generally a gross salary similar to that of the third or second mate (paid 12 months a year), but it grows with experience and generous allowances are usually given when performing ship visits overseas.
- Ship Planner – a job that I successfully applied for twice. In order to apply it is mandatory required experience as deck officer (regardless of rank) on container ships. This position involves the preparation of ship’s container stow plan, and generally requires a good analytical thinking, the ability to work under stress, under tight dead lines, and a good work load prioritization. There are two types of Planners: the central office planners based at company’s headquarters. He manages simultaneously several ships, prepares plans and sends them to Ports terminals and agents. And the second type of Planner: the Port Planner or Yard Planner, which receives the plans from the central office and redoes them to match the port’s containers arrangements, taking in to account available cargo, staff, equipment and cranes . The Port Planner is generally also in charge of terminal management, supervising container movements inside the terminal. The salary for this job depends greatly on the experience, the country where you work and especially the location and size of the company and port you are working in. In general, the Central Office Vessel Planner is paid better than the one in the port, but this is not a rule. The planners in the large container terminals such as DP World London Gateway can get a better salary than the central planner. I would say that the average monthly salary for the planner is similar to that of the Second Mate working on board the container ship, but the wage differences between ports in different locations can be very substantial. For those working in the port, it can be a gate opener to advance further to Operations Manager or Port Operations Supervisor and even further to Harbor Master or Terminal Manager. I worked as both types of Planner. I can tell you the central office planner is more of an office suit job type. It comes with a nice office environment, higher salary, an unbalanced work/personal life routine and more stress, while the port planner position involves more field work, visiting ships, lot’s of night and weekend shifts, generally less stress and less working hours per week but also generally lower salaries.
- Naval Shipyard Engineer, Ship Architect. These are jobs in available in shipyards, generally require Chief Engineer or Second Engineer ship experience. Wages vary greatly depending on the size of the shipyard and the country where it’s located, but is generally similar to what a Third or Second Engineer would earn on the ship per month.
- Vessel Operator – shipping companies that manage Tankers or Bulk Carrier ships, generally have a man in charge of commercially managing the ship, tracking one or more ships. He ensures that the ship’s command comply with the established ETA, ETD, and the inspections and unloading / loading operations are going well. He is also the first contact point of the ship for any unexpected problems such as port state controls. It is suitable for those with experience as Third Mate / Second Mate / Chief Mate, (type specific ship mandatory). In some companies, this operator also handles the passage plan or checks the route to the next port sent from the ship to verify it’s feasibility. The salary is similar to what a Third Mate or Second Mate in that company earns. Al tough it’s quite low in the beginning, this position can also be a great launching pad to a career ashore.
- Fleet Manager, this position is usually a step up from the previous listed position of Vessel Operator and the candidates are usually promoted from among the vessel operators in the case of tanker and bulk carrier companies, or from the ranks of ship planners in the case of a large container shipping companies. It involves taking responsibility for a group of ships or a region and is preferred by a man with extensive experience of Vessel Operator or Ship Planner, not a Master or Chief Officer, as some believe, as a good understanding of the commercial operation of the ship is essential.
- Ship Pilot (Maritime Pilot), a known figure in the maritime world for which is mandatory to posses a Deck Mate’s License, and preferably proven experience as Chief Mate or Master. I have pointed out preferably because you can become a pilot even if have only experience on board as Second Mate. In progressive and developed countries, the traditional mandatory criteria of being first Master of the ship has been dropped. You will notice that in countries like Singapore, USA and many more, pilots are generally young and obtain their pilot’s license during intensive 6 to 18 months training courses. They specialize only on the port or river where they will operate. It’s a job with a lot of responsibility. The interviews are harsh and aggressive, as I have learned first hand, but the salary and benefits are well matched for the challenge. I have applied unsuccessfully to a Trainee or Apprentice Pilot position and I intend to keep trying as long as my deck mate’s license is still valid.
- VTS Radio Operator (Vessel Traffic Service) – a rare position that requires a minimum and mandatory experience as Third Mate or Second Mate and a GMDSS GOC radio operator certificate. Any deck officer knows what a VTS is and during his ship contracts has come in touch with shore Radio Operators who oversee maritime traffic in VTS areas, so they are in a better position to apply for this job. The salary depends a lot on the supervised area, but I would say that a realistic monthly gross salary would be similar to what a Third Mate or Second Mate earns on board.
- University Lecturer – University Professor in Nautical Sciences or Naval Engineering Studies – a rare but very well paid position. It comes with mandatory required extensive experience as Master or Chief Engineer. Very rarely are also accepted candidates with extensive experience of Chief Officer or Second Engineer. I think no further explanation is required for this position.
- Customer service representative – it’s a job that appeals more to those with experience on passenger cruise ships, and it is very similar to any other customer service jobs from shore-based industries.
I think I covered most of the branches, but if I missed out anything please feel free to let me know in the comment section or on my Fb page and I will add it. I am available for advice in the limits of free personal time to those who consider such a transfer from ship to shore and I will do my best to asnwer your questions.
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