Some will argue life at sea was easier back before regulations were established by the IMO, US Coast Guard and ABS. Many of the ships were Foreign Flags. Today you’ll find seafarers prefer American flagships; the pay is better, and they are unionized. “There’s a lot more paperwork today,” says Third Mate Mike Loesch. “Instead of doing just the noon report, you’re now doing three reports every day.”
Each Refuge House was commissioned by the United States Life-Saving Service. They had a keeper whose only job was to keep the home, keep it provided of food, clothing, Rat Removal and walk the beaches after the storms. When they came across a shipwrecked sailor they gave him”refuge” in their home. The guys got to stay for a week or two. Some got back on boats heading north. Over the years they have been operated by the US Coast Guard and the Navy. Today just one house remains in Martin County on Gilbert’s Bar. In 1976 it was recorded in the National Register of Historic Places.
This year the IMO’s theme for International Seafarer Day is well-being. Since this is a massive topic I thought I’d stay the program. And, enlist the help of a few seafarers. Third Mate Mike attends to his safety inspections or maintenance if the chief mate needs it done. After lunch he relieves another third mate and stands watch till dinner. The conclusion of the 12-hour day and another sunset. If the boat is docked, instead of standing watch on the bridge he would be in the cargo control room monitoring the cargo operations. Also making rounds on deck and assessing the lines. One thing you do not need is the ship to slip away from the dock.
Hot and cold meals are provided three times a day. Breakfast is your standard fare. Lunch and dinner offers a variety of fish, meat and a salad bar. If anybody has a food allergy, like I do, you will need to let the Captain know when you board the boat. In accordance with Civilian Mariner Wendy, I’d starve on the navy’s ship. Their food is mostly noodle foods using a salad bar and overcooked veggies. I find this ironic since she is on a logistics ship.
Must be inspection day today. Tensions are high. Everyone’s stressed. Not certain why. To me an inspection is a good thing. If they find something wrong on the boat it has reported, then mended. Right? Well, not necessarily correct. Usually from first-hand experience years earlier when they crewed. Surely not how things are done today or what you had been told to do. Regulations are changing all of the time, and everyone is expected to adapt. However, resources are not always made available.
Woohoo! After countless sunsets of reds, pink and gray, land is finally in sight. The ship is going into port where its team members get to go onshore for a mental health break. The only question – is it full of safety checkpoints or can you walk right off the ship and be in the center of everything? Some guys like to get away or take a break. Those that come in on a Foreign flagship usually visit Walmart before heading out again. Poor Wendy, that’s when she gets the busiest. She arranges travel for some of her crew members that are leaving the ship for vacation. They don’t get to leave the vessel until their replacement gets onboard. Mike and Captain Tod do not always go ashore either. They have this philosophy work is work. I don’t always agree. Sometimes it’s a good idea to get off the ship for a change of scenery. Even if only for a few hours. Maybe today, a few more crew members will join the ship. That would be a great help. Just like in corporate, the crew is asked to do more with less people. According to Mike, the difference is that the office building isn’t likely to run into something.
If you have read any of my things, you will know safety is a mega concern. Crowley Maritime sets it high on their list as well. Every meeting starts with a safety and cultural moment including wellness and behavior. They realize to be a high performing company they must support their workers work life balance and health. Their trainings vary depending upon the boat. Its operations. The seafarers and shore-
side personnel. Each oil ship has magnetic signs throughout the ship. “We don’t want to be responsive,” says David DeCamp, Sr Communicator, Strategist for Crowley Maritime. “We’re thinking prevention and avoiding incidents as far as possible.” Just remember, when you’re on the ship, it’s one hand for the ship and one hand for you. Keep your balance and keep safe.
Back riding the waves, the team appears happy. Many sunrises and sunsets later end of tour duty is fast approaching. I start to wonder what signs to watch for that people are ready to get off the boat. Oye! How can they handle the stress? After all, my stints on recreational boats are a lot briefer and less crew. So, I asked about.
“When the guys get silent,” says Mike. “If you are standing watch with them and for four hours they do not say 1 word when normally you would be having a fantastic conversation. You then’ll see them begin fouling things up a lot. Some guys will just explode, or else they’ll do something – either conscientiously or subconscientiously – where it’s jeopardizing their job.”
Wendy says you’ll hear of somebody who starts giving away things. Saying goodbye to others on the ship or simply seems despondent. These are usually signs of suicide, ” she says. Notably, amongst the younger crew members.
When it comes time to destress, hit the gym onboard the ship or do some kind of exercise. Talk to your peers and find some alone time. Frequent contact with your family is also important. Particularly if you’re married. It helps ease their anxiety also. If email isn’t easily available, write those emails , then once in port send them out all at once. Guaranteed the receiver will be looking forward to them. “Remember it’s important to look after yourself,” says Captain Tod. “Not only mentally but physically. Sometimes you have-to consume that pastry at 3:00am or beverage that thick coffee. Working long hours adds additional stress to your body both physically and mentally.”
Ultimately, it is important to enjoy your time off. Isn’t that one of the beauties of going to sea? Someone else is doing your job on the boat for the next 75 days or however long your tour of duty is. Recharge. Then get ready to get back out there for all those long hitches.