Watch: 10 Reasons Why Maritime SUCKS

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdMYEKwxTyo Here’s a new upload from maritime Youtuber …

He really makes a lot of good points. I have to agree with him on pretty much everything he says. Yes, things are much, much better for sailors than in the days of Richard Henry Dana’s “Two Years Before the Mast“, but they’ve sure as hell been going downhill since the 1960’s!

Yes, the ships are built with all the latest technology, but the crews have been cut in half and more! Our workload has been constantly increasing, with less and less personnel to do it all!

Yes, our pay has gone up- but not nearly as much as it would take to keep up with inflation. Considering all the expenses we now have added on in order to be allowed to work offshore, we’re actually earning much less than we were in the past.

Yes, communications have improved- for the ship. Not necessarily for the crew. There are still so many ship owners/operators who think of their crews as nothing more than another tool to use and abuse, not human beings like themselves. People who also have a life off the ship (if they have people who choose to stick around and wait for the sailor who may not be able to contact them for months at a time- which is not very likely now a days when everyone expects instant gratification).

I said I would never again work for someone who treated me like that, but I never in my life thought things would get this bad out there! Even with the advent of the STCW, which I immediately saw for what it was (an easy way for shipowners to rid themselves of ‘expensive’ first world crews), I still never imagined how small the box I’ve been shoved into has become!

I always figured that when it got slow offshore, I could ship out on a tugboat, or a tanker, or some other kind of vessel. Well, due to the US Coast Guard constantly changing the rules (and not always putting out the notifications they are required to by law), it is no longer possible to switch sectors like we could before.

Now, if you work on a tanker, you must stay on a tanker or you will lose your ability to ever go back to that kind of work without paying enormous fees to be ‘trained’, (ex: $1,100 for course, $500+ for lodging, $300+ for transport, $300+ for food). To do the same thing you’ve been doing for 5, 10, 15 years in the past ! Same goes for almost every type of vessel now. Passenger vessels only want people with that specific type of experience and paperwork. Towing vessels can only take people with towing endorsements. DP vessels will only take people with DP certificates. Etc.

I’m lucky I’m not a sailor from the Philippines, or China, or any of the other ‘third world’ (meaning low wage) countries where the overwhelming majority of seafarers come from now a days. For an American, working for MSC (Military Sealift Command) is probably the longest hitch out there. It’s supposedly 4 months long. I hear from friends it’s more like 6. Those poor crews from the Philippines are working for 2 years at a time before they can go home!

Most American ships are in pretty decent shape. They’re in great condition compared to a lot of the crap I’ve seen sailing around the world from other countries. Ships with ‘flags of convenience‘. Owners flag their ships outside of their own countries for financial reasons. They can get cheaper crews, bother with less rules and regulations, pay less taxes and fees, etc. Some of them are decent, but many of them are not. Check out this report by the ITF, they do a pretty good job of keeping track of this stuff. Or this, which makes the ITF report look tame.

Watch the video for a pretty good run down of what to expect shipping out. He doesn’t really get into the good parts. But then again, there aren’t too many good parts left anymore. 😦

Any of you sailors out there, I’d be very interested to get your take on both the video and my comments on it.

Source: Watch: 10 Reasons Why Maritime SUCKS (Things To Consider Before Joining Merchant Marine) – JeffHK – gCaptain

Good News

I finally got some good news today. The mail came with my new, corrected, USCG license! I sent it in to the Coast Guard on September 29. So, it only (major sarcasm) took them a little less than 3 months to process a simple renewal.

My license expired December 16, so I figured I had plenty of time. Even with the end of the year rush due to new STCW ‘gap-closing’ requirements.

Every time I checked, for over 2 months, my license status was listed as PQEB. Waiting for an evaluator. Strange, cause they sent my medical certificate back within a week. I had no idea why it was taking so long until I got some help from the Coast Guard’s National Mariner Center booth at the Workboat Show in early December. They got things moving immediately and helped a lot.

I did actually apply for one extra endorsement. Maybe that was the reason for the holdup? I asked for the OIM (offshore installation manager). Reading the rules, I figured I was eligible. I had already taken stability for my Chief Mates license. I already had a few rig moves, under supervision and while in charge.

Since I am already a Master Mariner, that should have covered me for the OIM endorsement. The rules are different if you’re not already holding that license.

But, the USCG has decided that the much more intense stability course I took is not applicable for this endorsement. I need to take a much simpler course which is only specific to certain vessels (mostly MODU’s– mobile offshore drilling units). I learned all this after finally being assigned to an evaluator after the Workboat Show.

The rules also say that at least one of the rig moves must be within the last year.

So, since I was laid off by Ocean Rig in September of 2015, I have not worked since then, I’m shit out of luck until I can go back to work again. I can’t afford to take the necessary course until I find work again anyway, so the whole thing is moot.

The whole point of asking for the endorsement was in hopes it would help me find a job so I could go back to work again.

After a couple of emails back and forth about all this (the GC rep was very helpful and fast to respond), I decided to just drop the request for the endorsement and just renew everything I already had.

I got an email the next day that my MMD (merchant mariner document) was in the mail! The process moved along pretty quick once assigned an evaluator.  I was feeling pretty good until I got my document a few days later and looked it over.

For some reason they restricted me to only vessels without ECDIS. I had taken that course as well for my Chief Mate license. I couldn’t have qualified to sit for the test without it. The CG rep told me that the class I took couldn’t have been approved back then.

Well, why would I have taken it then? The USCG gives us a listing of all the approved courses and all the approved schools where we can take them. Of course I checked the list and would never have gone anywhere to take any class that wasn’t on the list. It would have been a total waste of time and money since the certificate earned would not be valid!

After a few days of arguing and sending documents to the USCG, all the while freaking out about having to re-take another expensive week long course and not being allowed to work after December 31, 2016, the CG allowed that the course I took was actually OK.

Whew!

So, today I finally got my MMD, one that has everything I need to show in order to go back to work. Now I just need a job!

Another Roadblock

I haven’t been posting much about work on here lately. Mostly because I haven’t had any for the last year now. 😦

It’s been so frustrating and depressing. I’ve never been out of work for anywhere near this long in my entire life! I’ve always been able to find something to do. Not this time. This time there’s nothing. Nothing at all. 😦

It doesn’t help that the people in charge of jobs in this industry- the US Coast Guard- keep changing the rules to make it harder and harder to get and/or keep a job! It used to be that you could take a job in a different sector of the maritime industry when things got slow. For example, when things got bad in the 80’s, I went to work on tankers. I could even take a job ashore. I worked as bartender lots of times between offshore jobs back then.

Now, due to new USCG rules, if you change sectors you’re very likely to be pigeonholed into just being able to work in that sector. You’ll have no other options! Not without making major efforts to make the move. For example- my license used to say “freight & towing’. Now it says ‘steam & motor”. That means I can’t work on any tugboats any more unless and until I get a ‘towing endorsement’ on my license. That is not at all easy to do!

Same goes for tankers. I worked on tankers for over 13 years, but since I haven’t worked on a tanker in the last 5 years, I can’t work on tankers ever again until I go spend a bunch of time and money to get back that endorsement.

There goes 2 large sectors of maritime employment totally out of my reach now!

And if I have to take a job on land? Forget it! If I don’t keep up my sea time (and training), I will have to start all over from the bottom if I ever want to go back to sea! We need to have at least 360 days sea time in the last 5 years, plus a bunch of newly required ‘training’ (plus the training that was already required) in order to renew our documents. Documents we absolutely can not work without. No, not anywhere in the world!

So. In order to have 360 days sea time in the last 5 years, that basically means you need to have at least 2 years of STEADY employment offshore. If you take a land job, you need to quit as soon as you find something you think (hope) will last a while at sea. Then, you need to hope like hell your company will help pay for all the necessary training. Cause sure as hell, no land job will give you either the pay rate or the time off in order for you to keep up with it!

Seafaring used to be a really good way to earn a living. After all this, I’m not sure I can say that anymore, but I still prefer it over anything else I can imagine.

had high hopes for finding some sort of relief job over the holidays. That’s always the best time of year to find work offshore. People understandably want to take time off to spend it with their families and all sorts of deals get made.

Not last year.

No one took any (earned) vacation time. I didn’t get a single call all winter. Neither did anyone else I know who’d been laid off. Everyone still lucky enough to be employed was just scared to death that they might not be able to come back to work. The oilfield was still in shock and everyone was living in fear.

Things seem to be improving. Slightly.

The price of oil has gone up from around $26/barrel to around $50/barrel. Almost doubled. That’s great! Only problem is, that for the offshore oil fields to go back to work the price of oil needs to be somewhere above $75/barrel (IMHO).

I was dearly hoping to get a call to sub in for someone over the holidays. I’ve been keeping my fingers crossed for months.

But…

The USCG now requires us to renew our documents every 5 years. If we don’t beg permission from the government and jump through all kinds of ridiculous hoops, we’re locked out of a job. 😦

I sent in my paperwork back in the first part of September. My license expires December 16 this year, so I figured I had plenty of time. Even considering there are all kinds of new hoops to jump through coming into effect at the end of the year and so a mad scramble by all mariners to renew their documents before that.

My license was still sitting in limbo when I got back from overseas. Luckily, I was able to speak to a USCG rep at the Workboat Show and they made a phone call and got my papers moved over to the fast track. I thank them for helping, they were great!

I was happy to see my status changed the next day and only a few days later I received my new MMD in the mail.

Only one problem. They restricted me to only vessels without ECDIS. That means pretty much only small or inland vessels. That means I’m pretty much shit outta luck for finding any work until I get that restriction removed!

That totally knocked me for a loop! No way was I expecting them to come back with that! They’ve renewed my license at least twice since I originally turned in that course certificate and not once did they mention that it might not be acceptable.

What really gets my goat (besides the fact that I should have to beg permission from the government to go to work in the first place), is that I DID already take the required training in order NOT to have that restriction on my license.

I took that class back in 2008 since it was required for me to sit for my chief mates license. Of course, the USCG removed the requirement to take most of the courses that I was forced to take (at a cost of almost $50,000), but I did take that class and it is still required.

The problem is that the USCG is now saying that the course I took (so long ago) could not have been ‘approved’. Well hell! WTF would I have taken ANY course if it was NOT USCG approved?

Simple. I wouldn’t have!

The USCG maintains a listing of ALL approved courses and ALL approved course providers right there on their website. Of COURSE I checked to make sure the course I was considering was USCG approved.

At this point I have to assume that the course I took was approved at the time and somewhere between then and now, they changed the rules again to where it’s no longer acceptable. It would’ve been nice to get some notification.

None of these required classes is cheap. They’re completely worthless if they’re NOT USCG approved. Mostly worthless even so. Why would I (or anybody) spend thousands of dollars and a week (or more), plus transportation costs, plus room and board expenses, to waste all that time sitting in a classroom somewhere when they could be doing something (anything) else?

Again, simple! They wouldn’t!

So. I am in limbo again. Waiting for the person I’m dealing with at the Coast Guard to hear back from their superiors in the course approval department. Meantime, I’m investigating who has a class open asap.

The cheapest I can find is San Jacinto Maritime ($1000), but that’s only because I live close enough to where I can (barely) manage to drive back and forth daily. They don’t have an opening until mid- January. Same with most of the others. Remember, I can’t even think about going back to work until I get signed off on this class!

Delgado and Falck offer the course for $900, but they’re both located in Louisiana. I would have to spend hundreds more for transportation, room and board. Falck has a class I might be able to get in to -starting 12/27.

MPT in Ft Lauderdale costs $1299 (plus transport/room & board), but they actually have a class starting next week. If the USCG tells me this week I have to re-take the class, that will be my only option if I really still hope to get any work this year. 😦

If it looks like I’m screwed for work, then my best option will be the Sea School in Bayou La Batre AL. They cost $1100, but I can drive there (10 hours) and they include room and board in that price.

A few other schools have classes starting in January, but they’re all more expensive. MITAGS ($1390 + $850 room/board), Bluewater ($1295), Quality ($1095), Marine Training Institute ($1095), STAR ($$). Those are just the ones in the Southeastern US. I only checked those since I’m trying to keep transport costs down.

If you’re stuck in the same boat I am, you can find all the USCG approved courses and facilities here. DON’T go anywhere that isn’t on this list!

USCG

I’ll be busy today. I’m heading up to Houston this morning to renew my RADAR certification, then to turn in my application at the US Coast Guard (USCG). I heard about a job lead from a friend yesterday, so I plan to stop by their office and try again (I’ve already sent them an email about the job).

I’m getting more than a little frustrated about the work situation. Having to deal with the USCG so often is getting extremely aggravating. I do not believe that anyone should be forced to beg permission from their government in order to earn a living. No, no one, ever, for ANY job, for ANY reason. Period!

Especially in America which is supposed to be a free country. Which was specifically formed in order to limit the government. Which was not supposed to have any power to do anything like that!

It was never so insane as it has become lately. The USCG has bowed down to the ‘international community’ and has forced US mariners to submit to the regulations of the STCW (standards of training, certification and watch keeping) put out by the IMO (international maritime organization).

Most of the STCW regulations are just plain stupid (IMHO). They are there for absolutely no purpose but to make the regulators feel like they have done something useful, and of course to make money for the ‘training’ operations at the expense of the mariners who basically have no opportunity to say anything about it.

They sell this all by insisting it has something to do with ‘safety’. I don’t believe it does, but even if it did, it certainly does not make up for all the extra BS they put us through for it. SO much time, money and aggravation to each and every mariner!

How can anyone look at our licensing scheme in the past and what we have to deal with now and say it makes any sense? It does not. In any way.

When I started going to sea (seriously) in 1978, I got a mariners document that was good for life. Yes, the officers had to renew every 5 years, but they only had to apply and renew RADAR. That’s it!

Now, all documents must be renewed every 5 years and there is an absolutely ridiculous amount of ‘training’ that needs to be renewed every 5 years as well. That all needs to be done at USCG approved ‘training’ centers. That is all very time consuming and expensive.

Are we any better sailors for it? I can guarantee you the answer to that is NO! Try to compare an AB from 100 years ago, the ones on the windjammers, to an AB today. There is just no comparison. The same goes for the officers.

Those guys had NO formal training and NO licensing either (until they, themselves insisted on it- as usual, in order to keep out the competition).

The improvements in safety since then had to do with improvements in the technology, NOT in the training or licensing of the crew. Any loss of safety has more to do with economics than anything else. Meaning companies cutting down on crew size, maintenance and tight scheduling.

Of course, as usual, the companies will blame anything and everything on the crew. It is always ‘human error’ that is at fault. Never their fault for pushing the ships and crews beyond what would be prudent (or safe).

They talk safety til it’s coming out your ears, but when it starts costing them a few bucks, that all goes right out the window! I’ve seen very few companies (in over 40 years at sea) that actually follow through. I can’t count the times I’ve been told “if you won’t do it we’ll just find someone who will”. It’s certainly not just happening to me!

How many mariners are able to walk off the job when that situation comes up? Not many.

Until that changes, all the ‘training’ in the world is not going to help anything much.

Just put more and more of us out of work, unable to pay for the ‘training’ we need in order to even try to find a job.

More and more companies are insisting on more and more ‘training’, more certificates- before they’ll even consider talking to you. For instance, I’ve been trying to work worldwide. The European companies want you to have something called BOSIET, which is exactly the same thing as what employers here insist on called BST + HUET.

The only difference is about an hours worth of ‘training’ on something called a ‘re-breather’. There is no ‘gap-closing’ course. So, I can not apply for any of those jobs unless I waste another entire week and spend a few thousand dollars to take the BOSIET course!

I’ve been out of work since last September. I can’t afford to take any more classes. Luckily, I’ve already taken the latest newly required classes (Leadership and Management and ECDIS). I only have to renew my RADAR certification, which I plan to do today.

Why do we have to renew this stuff (or even take a course ashore in the first place)? There really is no reason other than to ensure a fine flow of mariners to the training centers. These classes are all about things we either do every day (RADAR, BST), or won’t make any difference to anything anyway (leadership).

No one ever seems to take into account the mariners. The people who are the actual experts on the subject at hand. The people who’ve actually been forced into complying with these new requirements. It’s all done in our name, but we’re never asked our opinions, we never have anything to say about any of it!

We have all taken these jobs for certain reasons. One of the biggest reasons is for the time off. We spend weeks, months, more (some spend years), at sea. Working 24/7 without a break. We hardly even get shore leave any more. We are supposed to be able to come home and take a well deserved break!

Not any more. That time off has been whittled away, more and more, by so called ‘training’. Training that is supposed to be so all-fired important that it’s worth taking up weeks or months of our well earned and deserved time off (without any compensation for the loss). But that training is the exact same thing we do onboard!

If it’s so damned important, why can’t the companies spend the money to ensure their people are trained? Especially when so many of them absolutely refuse to accept anyone else’s ‘training’ even when it’s exactly the same (except for the name)! Most of it is stuff anyone who’s spent even a week working offshore will know by heart!

I keep wondering what’s going to happen when shipping picks up again? There are so many of us out of work. Hundred of thousands around the world, and that’s just for the oilfield, not even counting deep sea shipping! How many can afford to take the necessary training to be ABLE to go back to work when the jobs start opening up again?

We need to have 150 days on a vessel in the last 5 years. We ALSO now need to re-take quite a few courses in a certain time frame before our papers need to be renewed (mostly a year). How many jobs ashore will give you the time off or pay you enough so that you can renew those classes? I can tell you right now the answer to that question- NONE!

IMHO, the STCW is about nothing more than helping the shipowners replace “expensive” American/European/Australian mariners with cheaper sailors from places like the Philippines. They’re now able to say, “they all have the exact same training” (according to the STCW), so why not hire an entire crew of Philippinos for the price of 1 American? That is exactly what they have been doing since the STCW came into force. 😦

I hate to think I’m going to be forced to retire. I still love working at sea. But I can see the end coming and it’s not pretty for American mariners. 😦

Lost Out…

…on work today (again). I was scheduled to work, but since we finished the training early yesterday, they called it off. So, I’ll have a grand total of 2 days of work for June. 😦

I counted it up last night. I’ll have a total of 16 days of paid work since the 1st of January this year. 😦

I’ve put off applying to local jobs since I’ve been spending so much time trying to find something in my field. A ‘real’ job. Job-hunting IS a full time job! Also been trying to find ways to earn money from my writing and photography (and this blog). Check out my photography for sale at Society6- or if you see any you like here on my blog, just send me a message. All my photos are for sale. Here are a few examples…

Yesterday I started filling out applications for local convenience stores (they do pay more than minimum wage).

It’s sucks, that someone with 2 college degrees (AAS in Ocean Marine Technology and BA in Mathematics) and over 20 years of experience can’t find  anything but entry level employment. 😦

Sucks even worse that the only jobs I’ve seen for offshore are offering $60/day for CHIEF MATES! Now that, that is disgusting! Even worse, some are offering ‘jobs‘ for ‘trainee DPOs’ where the prospective DPO has to pay a few thousand dollars per month for the ‘privilege’ of spending time offshore!

This is for people who have college degrees and enough experience to earn a license! This is NOT any kind of entry level position. But these yahoos, these despicable people who run these predatory companies can get away with treating people like shit because of the situation offshore right now- the low price of oil and all the layoffs because of it. They take advantage of our desperation and fear of losing our ability to EVER return to the work we love (because of new licensing regulations) and they laugh all the way to the bank!

I have a pre employment test scheduled for Friday afternoon for a local tutoring job. At this point, I have to hope I get it. I don’t know if I can survive on only 2 days of paid work/month. I have to find something else to do. 😦

Maybe something like that will help pay the bills and if I only get part time I can still work in Houston and have enough time to keep hunting a ‘real’ job.

Oil prices are going up, but still a LONG way from getting back to work offshore again. This is really hurting a lot of people all over the country (and the world). All I can do is hope, I’m doing all I can.

Looking Forward to Monday Morning!

Who’s looking forward to Monday morning?

I am!

Thank god I’m going to work tomorrow morning! I’m scheduled for a grand total of 3 days of work this month and hope to hell I get all 3!

I’m not eligible for any unemployment assistance, even tho I’ve paid into it for over 40 years. Now, when I really need it, I can’t get it, simply because my last job was with a foreign company (for a year and a half). A job I took mostly in order to get ‘insurance’ which is now mandatory according to ‘Obamacare’.

So, now that I’m laid off, I can’t qualify for any of the programs I’ve been supporting for over 40 years. And people wonder why so many Americans are pissed off?!

So, I’m very thankful I can get ANY work at this point. It’s not much, but it’ll pay the gas to get to and fro, it might even take care of the electric bill (tho it’s summertime now and I seriously doubt that- AC running 24/7!).

I know most people are happy to see the gas prices so low (not nearly as low as they should be), but since my job is tied to the price of oil, I’ve been wishing it higher for months now. It’s been creeping up slowly, and I’ve heard that some land rigs have been starting up again.

Offshore drilling needs a stable price and it needs to be higher than where it is now. I’d guess around $80/bbl would start work up again. I’ve been working in the offshore oilfields for the last few years. Simply because that’s where all the work was.

I’ve been trying to find work on ANY kind of vessel since I’ve been laid off, but all the available openings have already been taken by people laid off before I was. It doesn’t help at all that the US Coast Guard keeps restricting our licenses so that we can only work on very specific types of vessels.

Basically, the rules we have to work by now state that if you don’t have so much time on 1 type within the last 5 years, you can’t work on that type of vessel any more, ever. At least not until you go through a time consuming, expensive, ‘training’ rigamarole. They treat you like you’ve never been on a boat a day in your life before! It doesn’t matter at all if you’ve previously spent 20+ years on one type of boat, say a towboat, and then you went fishing for 5 years. Doesn’t matter, you start from scratch to go back on a towboat!

Companies just refuse to hire you if you don’t have the exact, specific, ‘training’ and certificates they insist on. Even tho it would take less than a week of time onboard to re-qualify. Nope, they won’t let you on til you have it already. Catch-22 in action.

My original license said “Freight & Towing”. Since I haven’t worked on a towboat in the last 5 years, my license now says “Steam & Motor” and I’m not qualified to work on a towboat. Not until I get a TOAR. That takes a minimum of 30 days onboard a towing vessel. There is VERY little in that assessment that a licensed mariner isn’t already completely proficient in. The only items are those specific to a tug and tow (about 10 things on the list).

All the towing companies I’ve talked to since I’ve been laid off want me to spend at least 2-3 YEARS on deck before even considering upgrading me to tankerman (I job which I previously worked for over 13 yrs). I need 2 transfers to get back that license (tankerman PIC), but without it, I can’t get onboard a vessel to get those 2 transfers. See what I mean?

Smaller and smaller boxes we’re shoved into. Is it any wonder they’re having a hard time finding qualified mariners? (They say this, yet hundreds of thousands of us looking for work around the world).

What a paradox!

All I know at this point is that I’m very happy to be going to work in the morning for a change.

Anybody else been out of work for a long time? How did you survive it?

A to Z: DPO

I’ve been posting in the A to Z Challenge the last few days. I missed out yesterday on the post for D. I was just too busy. I’m trying to catch up today. I actually wrote one earlier today (Dreamstime). I can’t believe I didn’t immediately think to post on this instead.

I’ve been working as a Dynamic Positioning Officer (DPO) since 2002. Or, I was, until I got laid off along with so many others who work(ed) in the oilfield. My last job was as DPO on a drillship like the one in the picture below. I haven’t heard of any work since last October. I heard over a half million oilfield workers laid off world-wide a couple of months ago and still seeing more lay-offs in the news daily. 😦

Ocean Rig Apollo drillship

I’m guessing that unless you or someone you know works in the oilfield, you’re probably pretty happy with the low price of oil. I would be too, if my job and so many others weren’t so dependent on it.

I’ve been working at sea since 1977, when I went off to school. I sailed as a cadet on a couple of large traditional sailing ships. I was hooked and wanted to continue that lifestyle forever.

But the American Merchant Marine has been shrinking for decades. We have been globalized and most ships are no longer operated by Americans. Pretty much the only place to work has been related to the oil industry. Either tankers, ATBs, or some type of support vessel working directly in the oilfield.

DSV Global Orion

DSV Global Orion

I worked as an AB on tankers for about 10 years in the 90’s. I moved up to third officer and then my company sold out, scrapped all their ships and laid us all off. I was very lucky to find a job on a DP vessel at that point (before the requirements got so strict that they kept almost everyone from becoming certified).

I’ve been fairly happy sailing as DPO since then. I worked my way up from third officer to master. I sailed mostly as second officer/senior DPO. I really enjoyed the job most of the time.

A DPO’s job is to operate the DP system onboard a vessel. Sounds simple, right? Most companies would agree. Plenty of them seriously think any monkey could do it. Sorry, but it’s not.

No, it’s not ‘rocket science’, but it’s not all that simple either.

First of all, most clients ask for a licensed officer to run the desk (they would always be required on the bridge anyway). Requirements changing to reflect that now too. It is not easy at all to become a licensed ships officer. There are a few different ways to go about it. You can either take the easy way and go to school (if you can afford it), or you can work your way “up the hawsepipe” (the hole in the ships bow where the anchor chain comes aboard).

It takes at least 4 years at a maritime academy to earn your third officers license. There is also a requirement for sea time. Then there is the US Coast Guard exam. You have to pass the Rules of the Road section with a 90% score. No, it’s not at all like the one for driving on land! The other sections are a tiny little bit easier, but you still have to get over 80% on most.

Then there are all the new ‘assessments’ added since the STCW came into effect. They are required for both academy grads and hawsepipers.

To work your way up the hawsepipe, you will probably spend much more time to get that license. You will spend quite a bit of cash to get those assessments signed off. But at least you’re able to work and earn some money along the way. You can still study on your own to pass the US Coast Guard exams.

So, after you get your US Coast Guard license as Third Officer, then you can start the process of getting your DP certificate. First you have to take an ‘induction’ class. That only takes a week and a couple thousand dollars.

The hard part is: you have to get onboard a DP vessel to get your log book signed off before you’re allowed into the ‘simulator’ class. Since most companies have cut crew levels to the bone (even before the latest crisis), they do not want to take anyone onboard who’s not fully capable and qualified (licensed) to do the job. This makes it almost impossible for any prospective DPO to get certified.

Those that do get lucky (and that is what it takes- LUCK), go on to take their simulator course. After that, they’ll need at least a couple more months onboard as a ‘trainee’ DPO (so still facing major hurdles in getting that position onboard any vessel).

If they finally manage to make it through the training stage (before the allotted time runs out), then they were in high demand (up until last year).

They would be in charge of keeping the vessel safe and steady in position for it to do the work it was hired to do. They controlled the computers that controlled the vessel. Keeping a drillship positioned over the well, or a dive boat over the top of the divers, or a pipe layer on the right track while they laid down the pipe.

These jobs might sound easy to some, but they are actually working in some pretty exact tolerances. For instance, a drillship in shallow water (<500 ft) might only have a watch circle of 9 meters. That means that the DPOs must keep that 6-800 ft ship’s moon pool inside a circle with a diameter of less than 30 ft. In ALL conditions. All the while contending with helicopter traffic, supply boats wanting to come alongside, stability issues, permits, phone calls, pages, etc.

It’s very important for DPOs to know the weather, and how their vessel will react to differing conditions. Storm fronts can change the wind direction 180 degrees and increase from 5 knots to 50+ in less than 10 minutes. A DPO had better be on his toes and know exactly what to do and when to do it!

And the weather is only a small part of the things they need to know. There is so much more, but too much to get into for this post.

If you’re interested and want to know more, let me know. Comment and ask questions if you want.

Leadership

Today’s prompt for Just Jot It January is: leadership.

I’ve actually written about it before here. I haven’t really thought much about it since I had to take that ‘training’. I still think leadership is more a natural trait than something you can be taught.

I think you need to be passionate about something to be inspiring. I think real leaders inspire others to that same passion.

I think real leaders are pretty hard to find, especially now. I think our culture here has been working against them. Here’s a little chart I found on google that explains my thoughts a little bit.

That part about welcoming risks is a biggie IMHO. Our society now is all about eliminating any even slightly possible risk. “Thinks ideas”, that’s another problem in our society. We spend the years from 3-16+ training our kids how NOT to be creative. NOT to have ideas of their own. How to do nothing but sit down, shut up and follow orders. That is NOT the way to encourage leadership (or anything other than blind obedience)!

Here’s another quote I found on google today. It goes right along with the first one’s “wants to create the future”, “needs to make change”, “high emotional intelligence”.

How many of the people we call “our leaders” are really leaders when you consider those things? I can’t say I see anyone in any level of government that fits. They do everything possible to dis-empower everyone except themselves! Those people are most definitely NOT my leaders!

I’m sure there are still some real leaders in other fields of endeavor (not politics). Teachers, scientists, businessmen, artists, innovators of all kinds. Why don’t those kinds of people get more influence in our society?

I try in my own way to be a leader, rather than a follower. I want to influence the world for good in some way. I try to share information to empower people and especially to encourage more freedom in the world. I hope I’m a leader like this…

Remembering the Importance of Seafarers

 

Remembering the Importance of Seafarers.

June 25th has been declared by the IMO (International Maritime Organization) as the International Day of the Seafarer. Yes, I’m a little late with this post, but I hope you’ll read it and think about it anyway. I’m at sea at the moment. All of the people who work as seafarers spend most of their lives at sea and aren’t always able to keep up with the rest of the world.

I’m very fortunate that I’ve worked my way up to a position where I have some options. I refuse to work on any vessel any more that doesn’t allow me internet access (it works here at least sometimes). You’d be surprised how many companies don’t think that’s important!

I’m one of the few lucky ones. I work in a very competitive area and my wages are much higher than most. I remember my deck crew on the tuna boat asking my why they didn’t earn American wages since they were working on an American boat. The only (true) answer I could give them was Continue reading

Another Course: Leadership- Management Level

I’m at the airport again. I’m heading to Baltimore this time. I’m due to arrive there after midnight tonight and then will start the Leadership course at MITAGS first thing in the morning.

This is another one of those classes I am required to take in order to keep my job. This particular course is a new requirement. It came with the STCW 2010 Manilla amendments.

Yep, I thought I was FINALLY finished taking these (stupid, totally un-necessary) courses when I finally got my Masters license. But nooooooooo,

Not even 6 months later, the officials of the IMO (International Maritime Organization) came up with a half dozen MORE courses to saddle us all with. This is all in order to improve SAFETY out there on the ocean.

I’m still waiting to see the proof that all this shore based training has done diddly squat to improve safety offshore. So far, I have not seen anything to say that it has.

For example: Leadership. Who thinks leadership is something that can be TAUGHT? If you think it CAN be taught, do you think it can be taught in a week long class?

I’ve heard the military is good at producing leaders. I know they spend a lot more than a week doing it tho.

I’m not sure leadership CAN be taught. At this point, I think its more innate to a person. A part of their personality. I suppose it can be learned. I would think it would be more easily learned by observation and practice. I think that would be much better effected on the job, on your boat, with your crew than in any week long class.

Well, I’m stuck here all week regardless, so will have to wait and see what they teach us and what we learn.

Brrrrr!

Today is the last day of FRC class.

A cold front came through Galveston yesterday and dropped the temperature at least 20 degrees.

That’s not too bad when you’re sitting in a nice warm room, cuddled up in a blanket. But when you’re out on the water, running around in a tiny little speedboat, it’s a different story.

I had a pretty good time on Monday playing around with the boats. Today we have to go out again and practice search patterns. I’m not looking forward to getting cold and wet today!

I hope it all goes quickly. I’ll try to get some decent pictures to post here later. 🙂

Drills Today

Wondering if we’ll have fire and boat drills today?
Is it worth trying to go to sleep? Or would it be better to try to stay awake so that you can get some good rest after it’s all over?

Weekly (at minimum) drills are a necessity on most vessels, but boy do they get old fast.

It’s already so hard to get enough sleep out here and then we have to do these drills every week (as well as safety meetings). It’s really amazing but almost every time, we’ll have at least 1 person who doesn’t know where their muster station is, how to get there, or what they’re supposed to do when they do get there.

It’s not like that on ships that have a crew full of professional mariners. They are trained and will almost always do the right thing, even go and check out their gear when they come aboard.

On vessels that have ‘crew’ other than mariners (construction, cruise, fishing, drilling, etc), most of these people are NOT mariners and don’t come from a seafaring background. Even though the STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) mandates that every mariner has to take a basic safety course before going offshore, I’ve noticed that all these other people do NOT have to take that course (or others).

THEY are the people who actually NEED that course (at a bare minimum), but of course the IMO and others who make the rules really have NO idea what they are doing when they come up with this stuff.

I’m falling asleep whether I want to or not. Here’s hoping the drills go fast today.

Capt Jills Kvetching

OK, fair warning here, I’m going to be bitching (a bit) in this post…

This week I’m in Houston re-taking the Basic Safety Training (BST) course. This is a class that the USCG (Coast Guard) started requiring all mariners to take back when they were trying to get the US in compliance with STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) around the turn of the century (STCW 95 went into full effect in the US Feb 2, 2002).

BST is a very basic course that is supposed to teach you what you should know before you can go offshore. Things you would know if you’d ever spent more than a couple of days (working) out there. Things like ‘what is a station bill? what is a muster station? what are the alarm signals? what do you do if someone falls overboard?, where can you find a lifejacket? how do you use a fire extinguisher? etc.

STCW is an international standard and the USCG is in charge of making sure all US mariners comply.

For once, the USCG actually made a rule that sort of made sense. They decided that if you were still sailing during the 5 years before you had to renew your credentials, (still working offshore where you were required to do safety training and drills every week), then you wouldn’t be required to spend another week of your supposed time off and a few hundred dollars (minimum) to ‘learn’ how to do such things as put on a life jacket or about the different types of fires.

It’s really pretty sad to have to require someone who’s been going to sea for 20 years (or even ONE year) to spend a week of their time off in this kind of class.

At this point, the USCG still does not require us to take the BST class more than once. They have caved in to the IMO and WILL be forcing us all to re-take the BST refresher course starting in 2017 (but they’re not yet). So far as I know, there are no approved ‘refresher’ courses since this is a fairly new ruling. Hopefully, the refresher course will only cover what we don’t do every week on board the ships. Things we CAN’T do (supposedly) out there like jump in the pool and/or put out real fires.

Maybe they’ll be sensible and just let us do a one day course on only those couple of things (I can hope, can’t I). 😉

In the meantime, certain companies don’t really care what the rules say. They insist that no one could possibly be ‘safe’ unless and until  they finish going to training for THEM.

I see it more and more often in the Gulf of Mexico. The drilling companies (clients) are especially bad about it. Instead of accepting Safegulf or Rigpass, (both of which cover the same very basic materials and are pretty much the same as the BST but more for the rigs vs the boats), each company wants you to go to THEIR training before you go offshore (even tho it’s all pretty much the same material).

Some of the trainers won’t even give you any proof that you attended the class! They don’t want you to be able to go to another company and avoid having to take it again (so they will get paid again for teaching you the same stuff they just taught you 2 months ago)!!

I have no idea why. Well, yes I do, but nobody likes to admit it. All the STCW courses cover the same material. They HAVE to. The USCG requires certain things to be taught. They require that we spend so much time on each subject. There is very little leeway in how these courses are taught.

The purpose of the STCW was to ensure that everybody in the entire world has the EXACT SAME TRAINING. Every country that is approved (on the white list) has basically the same courses teaching the same things. That is so that we can all be certain that every seafarer from every country will have at least the same basic minimum knowledge base.

Now, it seems the intent of the STCW is being subverted. I am hearing that some countries will not accept training from other countries. The sailors have to go and spend all that time and money taking the classes again for the country they want to work in! In fact, the US is one of those countries! (I am simplifying it a little here).

The USCG will not accept a course if I go to another country to take it. For example, if I went to take Basic Safety Training in Greece, they would not accept it. If someone from the UK were to come here and try to get a mariners document, they would have to re-take the BST course here. The USCG is supposedly in the process of changing the rules (again) but in the meantime, its a real pain in the ass for a lot of sailors around the world!

I’m actually lucky this time. I am starting a new job and the company is sending me to the ‘training’ this time. I have pretty much always had to spend the time and money out of my own pocket for all the other times I’ve had to do this.

I spent over $50,000 (!!!!!) re-taking classes I already took in order to get my chief mates license between 2002-2008!

Basically, I am just sick and tired of having to take the same classes over and over again. There’s very rarely even anything new covered in them. The very few things that have changed are things we could have got out of a safety alert or an email. But nooooooo, we have to go spend a week and a few hundred bucks (minimum) to sit through all the rest of the stuff that has NOT changed.

I think if I have to do it again at this point, that will be the last straw. I would just have to say the hell with it and give up sailing altogether. 😦

And they wonder why it’s so hard to recruit mariners?

It’s very sad that this is what it’s coming to. People say to me, “how can you be against “safety””? OK, let’s get this straight! I am NOT against safety!! I AM against these people (companies and governments) making up rules and checklists and “training” to COVER THEIR ASSES instead of doing the RIGHT thing!

IMHO, the real purpose of all these things is so they can send us to a class for a few days and then send us offshore and if we ever get hurt they can say “it’s not OUR fault, we sent them to TRAINING, they should have known better”. In other words, it’s all about CYA.

Of course, no one will actually ADMIT that.

Instead of actually giving a new person the time to learn the job PROPERLY on the job, with the people they will be working with who know the specifics, they send a new person off for a few days in a classroom.

OK, that’s better than nothing, I admit it, but it’s  NOT better than the way they used to learn things BEFORE these rules were put into effect!

We used to take a new person offshore and train them on the job. We would make sure to watch over them and ‘mentor’ them until we were all sure that they knew how to handle themselves. There were enough people out there for that system to work very well. Now that the companies have cut the crew size down to the bare minimum (or less, in many cases), no one really has the time or energy to watch over a new person like that.

So, now we have to trust that they know everything they need to know when they show up on board. After all, they’ve been “trained” and there is no way anybody can just ‘watch and learn’ anymore. Everybody out there now is going to be expected to pull their weight.

Personally, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that there were MORE accidents and injuries since the start of all this STCW and company “training”. (Don’t even get me started on the paperwork component of all this: JSAs, tool box talks, etc, etc, etc). So far, I have not seen any kind of apples to apples comparison. I’m not sure anybody wants to see that done. It might show the companies that all their talk about safety is just that- TALK!

They might just have to come up with something a little more effective at making things safer out there, like maybe putting a few more people back on board the vessels? Or maybe cutting down on all the extra workload each person has had to shoulder since they cut out over half the crew years ago? Or maybe actually letting a person get some rest before they go to work on crew change day instead of putting them straight to work after they’ve just been up for 24+ hours traveling! OMG, they would have to spend a few bucks on a hotel room!!!

Nawwww, that would never happen, they might just have to spend a few more dollars on those crew members then they do on all their ‘safety’ programs. Not ever gonna happen. 😦

How to Launch a FRC- NOT!!!

One of the things we’re required to do as members of the deck department is to be “proficient in the use of fast rescue craft’. I remember when I first moved to Texas and was taking classes in order to get my AB (able bodied seaman) ticket.

We had to learn about all the lifesaving equipment on board our vessels. We had to learn all the parts of the life boats. What they were called and what they did. We had to learn about what kind of things were required to be kept in the survival craft and how to use them if we had to.

We had to practice launching and recovering the lifeboats. We had to know all the oar commands and practice rowing around the river. We had to practice recovering a man overboard and tending to their injuries. We had to learn about survival techniques and how to deal with any shipboard emergency resulting in leaving the ship.

Our AB tickets used to be good for life. Since the STCW (standards of training, certification and watchkeeping) Convention was passed, we have had to renew our certificates every 5 years (maximum) or we are not allowed to work.

I have to admit, I HATE having to spend my time and money (when I am supposed to be on my vacation) taking these classes over and over and over again! It just infuriates me! Not one of these organizations in charge of making the rules that WE have to live by, that our livelihoods and thus our lives depend on, EVER asks US for any input.

I don’t mind taking a class to actually learn something new. In fact, I enjoy that. Too bad most of these required classes do not do that. They cover things that we all learned (or should have) the first couple of months we ever spent at sea.

Watching this video, I can see why the IMO (International Maritime Organization) thinks more and more and more training is needed. I do have to say, it is embarrassing to watch. It’s sad, really, really sad. 😦

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=_QEsTnAIYlA#t=0

New Bridge Simulators for Houston Pilots

Houston Pilots, San Jacinto College Provide.

This is great news for the Houston Pilots and San Jacinto College. I’m sure those simulators will benefit not only the pilots but the entire maritime community. I think SanJac has a good program and a good network around the area with the various companies that need to train maritime workers. I went up there (Pasadena) to look into doing some part time teaching on my time off. I actually got to help teach a class 🙂

My class was off a jack-up rig. They had probably never seen a real lifeboat before. For sure they didn’t have them on their rig! But for whatever reason, their company decided they all needed to get certified as lifeboatmen. So, we started from scratch in the classroom. We went over all the things they could find in a lifeboat and life raft, we went out in the parking lot to practice with the signaling mirror. We even took a ride over to Texas A & M in Galveston to practice launching and rowing a REAL lifeboat! Everybody got a chance to be in charge of lowering the boat. Everybody got to be coxswain (in charge of the boat) once it was in the water. Everybody got some time on the oars. It was a fun day 😉

I hope to get another chance to help out up there again. Capt Mitch Schacter is in charge over there and he’s really been working hard to make it a success. This simulator will be a big help!

Falado of Rhodes Sunk Yesterday in the Vicinity of Iceland

Iceland Review Online: Daily News from Iceland, Current Affairs, Business, Politics, Sports, Culture.

I found this on a discussion in the traditional sail professionals group on http://www.linkedin.com.  I am sad to see yet another tall ship go down. I love these old ships and I’m sorry to see the level of seamanship is nowhere near the traditional skill levels.

I was lucky enough to start out under sail-training with Captain Jespersen of Denmark who was a real traditional sailor. He was sail-training master of the Danish ship Danmark. He was a fantastic teacher. I’ll never forget the time I was sailing on the Ariadne (3- masted schooner- German flag) and the Phoenix (brigantine- Irish flag) as a student with the Oceanics School. I spent a total of about 8 months on those ships and those lessons have sunk into my bones. The lessons I learned then have come in handy many times over the years. Traditional sail takes a long time under “mentors” (or a good bosun!) to learn it properly. I don’t see people getting trained in any useful way today.

Yeah, the companies I work for send you to USCG/IMO (STCW) required BST (Basic Safety Training) now. You MUST go to this class now before you can go to sea on anything other than inland or under 100 GT. IMHO, that class is a total joke. They send you there and then you’re on your own. After all, you’ve been “trained” now. You already know everything you need to know. Yeah, riiiighht.