Life onboard ship same today and yesterday?

Only best people can go to sea.

Many seafarers are asked how they ended up at sea! Just like somebody may ask a teacher or a bricklayer why he or she became one, the answers tend to be varied and often without path to the end result. One common reason for entering a particular career is because "my father did it and so did my grandfather". Some extremely obvious reasons for going to sea might have been to get away from home or to see the world; equally so many rusty seafarers today embarked upon their careers for lack of anything else to do, because some cranky careers advisor suggested they do so or because they had been recently dumped by the school hottie!
Seafarers are molded from any number of reasons with many having no clue as to whether they will become an engineer, mate or cook even after they have decided to sign up! Whilst others have had the sea in their blood since the day they were conceived.

The Industry has changed though. Many a salty seafarer will prop up the local bars in seaside towns the world over. They will regale those who will listen with stories that baffle and defy gravity, they will accept drinks from anybody who offers and in return will tell them "it's not like it used to be". And they are correct! Life at sea has changed dramatically in the last ten years and many (especially the old-timers) will say that it's not for the better.

Yes, the industry has changed and probably faster than when the steamship came along and rang the death knell on the sail ships. Ten years ago everybody decided that seafarers were suffering from stress, that ships should run like shore-based establishments and that people should be accountable for their actions; i.e. a paper trail should be laid. Ten years ago paperwork on ships was nothing more than the daily log; the typing of the monthly stores order onto the telex machine and some night orders hastily scribbled by the captain after has last gin and tonic of the night! And modern communications have brought ships into the civilized world. Ten years ago only cruise ships and research vessel could afford the large golf-ball satellite dishes on the monkey island, now all ships have them and the companies send emails and make telephone calls, not daily but the whole day, to the extent that captains and mates are now short of a secretary or two were once they were short of something to do!

Then, in these days of heightened safety cultures alcohol was suddenly frowned upon and the sustenance that kept many engineers and mates together and in one piece was removed from their grasp, a forbidden item that was to be no more.

It has not stopped there. As a result of 9-11, the terrorist attack on the world Trade Center in New York, the bureaucrats ashore rapidly suggested that ships could be used as potential bomb carriers (a laden gas tanker running up the St. Lawrence Seaway with a bomb onboard could cause untold loss of life and damage) and so ships and the people that sail them suddenly received a whole new host of regulations to follow and associated paperwork to fill in. The Chief Officers, once a figurehead to be frightened of, now has many hats to wear - safety officer, loading master and now the security officer!

Before the last ten years brought paperwork to ships and before masters found themselves in front of a computer more often than looking out of the bridge window, certain idealistic facets of a life-at-sea were conjured up in many minds! A wife in every port maybe? Cruising across the Atlantic sipping sherry on the mezzanine deck after having had a quick dip in the pool? A week in Tripoli, a Caribbean cruise and picking bananas before heading home to Barry (a port in Wales not the boyfriend)? It all sounds very nice, doesn't it?

Not many ships have swimming pools these days! If they do they won't have the sherry to drink! And anyway not many ships stay long enough in port these days to allow anybody to go ashore! Time is precious and port stays cost money!

Is there any reason why anybody should go to sea these days and if so what for?
As the paperwork and the bureaucracy have increased tenfold so has the nature of the job changed! Senior officers are now accountable for their actions, the bosses ashore are equally accountable for theirs, and so responsibility tends to lie where it is born and bred than shifted down to the lowest man in the pile! For those entering the business today this is fantastic, a clear cut and structured path ahead were everything is black and white - for those complaining about the change it is often due to an inability to take the change onboard, to grasp it and to realize that it is for their benefit too and not something forced upon them by a bunch of non-seafaring types ashore with nothing better to do with themselves except make up silly regulations.

Many would say that in their younger years they fell in love the world over, many would also say that they caught every disease imaginable that they were ripped off more times than they could count and that for the most part they couldn't remember anything anyway as they were too pissed! Most shore leaves were spent in alcoholic oblivion; the girl's of the night equally pissed but with a sober eye on the guy's wallet.

Life at sea has changed. Trips are more structured and the seafarers more professional than they ever were - life onboard depends on the individuals and how they accept the life, a life that no longer depends on crates of booze and alcoholic oblivion! Modern communications allow for easy access to phone calls home, no more waiting until land is seen and a painful session of calling up land based radio stations is enacted; the future states that all ships will have twenty-four hour internet access, with vessels looking towards wireless access for all onboard. Trips are getting shorter and the leave longer; the laughable idea of going to sea for ten months and having one month at home has been nearly replaced with equal time on and equal time off!
Work for six months of the year on a tax free salary?

And so why would seafarers go to sea today? They go because it is an honest career that brings the bread and butter onto the table. There might not be a wife in every port, the company may require the same written entries to be made in about six different books and logs and the Chief Engineer might be a grumpy old sod because he can't have drink but …….wow, what a life to be had!

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