During all the years I have worked on cruise ships, one question which has come up again and again from friends and family members, is how it is possible to work on a cruise ship, and at the same time have time off to see the world. How is it that one can work full days, and still have the time and energy to be a tourist as well?
Actually, most comments I have received about being a Deck Officer (my job) on a cruise ship is that it is quite an easy thing to do, and the days are normally spent to sit out on the Deck and drink cocktails with umbrellas in, together with some sweet old ladies. Or Hosting Dinner parties with several senior couples (and singles) in the fancy Formal uniform with all the gold stripes on. The majority of the “fancy pancy” stories come from other seafarers, who of course have never worked on a Cruise ship before.
As many hopefully will understand, these stories are a rather modified truth when it comes to how the Cruise Industry works, and what the crew actually do during the days onboard. Sure, it can be a “blast” with some spectacular places to visit and some nice socializing among the crewmembers. Many memories one cherish for the rest of our lives. I know I have thousands of some amazing memories I would not be without. Not to forget all the wonderful people I had the opportunity to meet and become friends with. Not surprisingly, many crewmembers find their future spouses among their colleagues onboard.
However, there are periods where it is extra much work to do, and one feel one just work and work without any rest. Extra hard work? How can this be? After all, it is on a fancy Cruise Ship. The truth is that in average, a regular crewmember on ships in general normally work between 10 and 12 hour per day, 7 days a week, for many months. How many months varies based upon the job and rank. It can be from 3 months and up to 12 months sometimes.
Unfair higher ranks have less months onboard? Well, nobody started with high rank. Everybody onboard, no matter who they are, normally starts on the bottom of the hierarchy, so the Senior Officers did their long trips as well.
In one Company I worked for, which operated fairly small luxury cruise ships, the crew members onboard normally pulled 13 hours in average, day in and day out, week after week. And if one wants to have some leisure time as well, careful planning is in order to prevent fatigue.
As with all other jobs, there are some days and weeks where one would consider just resign on the spot and fly home, from wherever the ship might be at that time. And that can easily be on the other side of the globe, and the crewmember will pay his/her own ticket if the resignation is on the spot. The heavy periods come very often during the holiday seasons, with Christmas as the worst for a crewmember. This is a period when many crewmembers feel lonely, despite the fact they work with hundreds, and sometimes thousands of other crew members. But they miss their families back home.
Many of the Deck & Engine crew and Officers are doing shifts when they are onboard. The watchkeepers on the Bridge (Navigators) and the Engine (control room) are doing their shifts, with some hours in the middle of the day with regular maintenance of equipment as Safety (Fire fighting and Life saving) equipment, Security equipment, Engine equipment, Electrical equipment, and of course repair work of all kinds. After all, it is not possible to just call someone from outside to do it. The Crew must do it.
The Staff in the Hotel Department will provide the service you can find in all Hotels and Resorts around the world. And they too will work in shifts, and longer periods when the passengers are receiving the services. Just as you will find in any Bar, Night Club (Entertainment), Spa, or Restaurant in the cities around the world.
Let’s talk about my last job. The title was called Staff Captain. It is like a Chief Officer on some smaller ships, or kind of a Vice Captain. The navy call him/her XO. Normally, the Staffie (the nick name) is in charge of all the maintenance outside the technical spaces, as well as all the ship’s tanks and spaces of any sort. Staffie is also in charge of the Navigators, the Security Officer, regular maintenance staff, all the Sailors (Deckhands), the Safety Officer and safety staff, and sometimes even the Hospital with Doctor and Nurses (yes it is a regular Hospital onboard). In addition the Staffie will also be in charge of a Budget for the Department, and making sure spare parts, consumable maintenance stuff, services from outside companies are ordered, writing maintenance reports and service reports, etc.
Captain and Staffie will always be on the Bridge early in the mornings, sometimes 4 AM, sometimes 10 AM, depending on the length of the Pilotage in to next port.
And of course Staffie also liaise with the Offices shoreside in regards to the Crew in the department. Plenty maintenance inspections on a ship. Especially tank inspections of all sorts (fuel tanks, fresh water tanks, sewage tanks, etc).
So the days for every crewmember are normally very long. But most will have the days split up in periods, with the possibilities for some rest in between the shifts. Then there will be a few hours late in the evening as well, for some socializing among the crew, in the Crew bar, or maybe just hang out in a crew cabin with friends to watch tv or chat.
Normally, if we have had a port day, which cruise ships most often have, the crew will probably go ashore for a couple of hours, to be a little tourist, and then return to the ship for the afternoon and evening shift. When the crew do it this way, normally it is straight to bed in the evening after last shift, since it has then been a long day without any rest.
So there you have it. If the crew wants to see the world when working on cruise ships, they MUST carefully plan their days, in order to avoid fatigue. It is NOT possible to work full days, then spend their time off ashore in every port, and then socializing with the colleagues in the evenings for a longer period. You will be exhausted pretty soon.
Is it worth it? To be so many months away for you dear ones back home? I guess that depends upon how you can take it. This job is NOT for everyone. But for young energetic single people, I will most definitely recommend it. It is a fantastic period in the life that nobody would ever forget.
So there you go, One can work hard and play hard when working on cruise ships.
But first of all, it is a job.
I think the cruise industry will be up an running again very soon, because travelling has been done since beginning of time.