Hawaii Teacher on Board
Careers at Sea

By Naidah Gamurot

It takes many people, doing many different things, to operate a ship at sea. Since each person starts from the bottom and works their way up, each person is competent in their own field as well as all the positions under them.

Kileaua (L. Dolby)

There are many positive aspects to working at sea. One of them is travel, and there's ample vacation time to do it with. The starting rate for accumulating vacation time starts with 8 hours every month, plus 1 day or shoreleave a month, and the option to convert weekend and overtime hours to vacation time. The ship's crew can take their vacation time in foreign countries. The ship's Oiler, for example, has been on a Safari in Africa, rafted the Zambesi, seeing the hippos and crocodiles, been to Zanzibar and other places in Africa during a 2 month vacation. He's stayed in a Fijian village, been to Tahiti, Bangkok, Thailand, and Malaysia. His next desire is to raft up the Amazon in Brazil.

Another plus to a maritime career is the money. The pay is pretty good on a ship (check out any of the occupations listed on the chart below to find out how much) and since you'd be on the ship for months at a time, without anywhere to spend your money, it's much easier to save.

But, there are some drawbacks to being on a ship for months at to time. The biggest one is being away from family and friends, though e-mail has made that a little easier to deal with. Another problem is when you return for a couple of months and want to got out with friends and family, they all have to get up and go to work Monday through Friday.

This type of job is also tough on relationships. The person at home is left to deal with all the day-to-day problems of raising a family, maintaining the home, and facing and solving problems and emergencies alone.

If you're single, your bills go unpaid until you return. And, if your driver's license expires during a long trip, you have to retake all the tests again.

Sunset (L. Dolby)

Nevertheless, those I spoke with on the ship, love this life. For them the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

Basically, there are 3 strands of jobs on a vessel like the R/V Thompson. There are the seaman, who work toward becoming a captain, the engineers, who may eventually become the chief engineer, and those that work their way up in the galley.

Thompson Sign (L. Dolby)

Listed below are some of the jobs on the Research Vessel Thomas G. Thompson. Each list starts with the entry-level position and continues down to the top position in the strand. Click on the one you'd like to investigate.

Seamen Engineers Ship's Stewards Other Positions
Ordinary Seaman Wiper Mess Attendant Electrical Technician
*Able Bodied Seaman Oiler Second Cook-Baker Ship's Diver
*3rd Mate 3rd Assistant Marine Engineer Ship's Steward
*2nd Mate 2nd Assistant Marine Engineer
*Chief's Mate 1st Assistant Marine Engineer
*Captain Chief Engineer


*Must have their Safety for Life at Sea. It is the basic training for all watch-keepers. As defined by the International Maritime Organization of the United Nations, it includes the following:

  1. Personal survival technology - life rafts, survival suits, life jackets.
  2. Fire prevention and fire fighting
  3. Training in basic first aid
  4. Personal safety and social responsibilities
  • Comply in emergency procedures
  • Take precautions to prevent pollution
  • Observe safe working practices
  • Communicate effectively
  • Contribute to human relationships on board

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