Many of the ships were Australian Flags. That meant long tours of duty and no marriage. Today you’ll find seafarers prefer American flagships; the cover 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 a day.”
In 1875, nine Houses of Refuge were constructed along the Florida coast; between Miami and Jacksonville; every 25 miles. Every Refuge House was commissioned by the United States Life-Saving Service. They had a keeper whose sole job was to keep the home, keep it provided of food, clothing, 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 couple weeks. Some got back on ships heading north. A lookout tower was constructed and used to watch for enemy submarines in World War II. Over the years they have been operated by the US Coast Guard and the Navy. Today only one house remains in Martin County on Gilbert’s Bar. In 1976 it was recorded in the National Register of Historic Places.
Since this is a huge topic I thought I’d stay the program. And, enlist the help of a couple seafarers. Tour duties last anywhere from 75 days to six months on board a boat. Before the sun even warms their faces, Third Mate Mike is on the bridge for his morning watch. After breakfast, Captain Tod continues his day responding to emails, handling personnel issues, payroll, orders, etc.. Third Mate Mike attends to his security inspections or maintenance if the chief spouse wants it done. After lunch he relieves another third partner and stands watch till dinner. The conclusion of the 12-hour day and another sunset. If the boat is docked, rather than standing lookout on the bridge he’d be in the cargo control room monitoring the freight operations. Also making rounds on deck and assessing the lines. 1 thing you don’t need is the ship to slip away from the pier.
Hot and cold meals are provided three times per day. Breakfast is your standard fare. Lunch and dinner offers a variety of fish, meat and a salad bar. If anyone has a food allergy, like I do, you will need to let the Captain know when you board the ship. According to Civilian Mariner Wendy, I’d starve on the navy’s ship. Their food is chiefly noodle foods using a salad bar and overcooked veggies. Not exactly nutritious. I find this ironic because she’s on a logistics ship.
Must be inspection day now. Tensions are high. Not sure why. To me an inspection is a fantastic thing. If they find something wrong on the ship it gets reported, then fixed. Right? Well, not necessarily correct. Usually from first-hand experience years before when they crewed. Certainly not how things are done now or what you were told to do. Regulations are changing all the time, and everyone is expected to adapt. However, resources aren’t always made available.
Woohoo! After countless sunsets of reds, gray and pink, land is finally in sight. The boat is going into port where its crew members get to go onshore for a mental health break. The only question – is it filled with security checkpoints or can you walk right off the ship and be in the middle of everything? Some men like to get away or take a rest. Those that come in on a Foreign flagship usually head to Walmart before heading out again. Poor Wendy, that’s when she gets the busiest. She arranges travel for any of her team 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 don’t always go ashore . 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. That would be an excellent help. Exactly like in corporate, the team is asked to do more with less people. According to Mike, the distinction is that the office building is not going to run into something.
If you have read any of my stuff, you will know security is a mega concern. Crowley Maritime sets it high on their list as well. Every meeting starts with a security and cultural moment which includes wellness and behavior. They realize to be a high performing company they have to support their employees work life balance and wellness. Their trainings vary depending on the ship. Its operations. The seafarers and shore-
side personnel. Each oil ship has magnetic signs throughout the boat. “We don’t need to be reactive,” says David DeCamp, Sr Communicator, Strategist for Crowley Maritime. “We are thinking prevention and preventing incidents as much as possible.” Just remember, once you’re on the ship, it’s 1 hand for the ship and one hand for you. Keep your balance and keep safe.
Back riding the waves, the crew appears happy. Many sunrises and sunsets later end of tour obligation is fast approaching. I start to wonder what signs to watch for that folks are ready to get off the ship. Oye! How can they handle the stress? After all, my stints on recreational boats are a lot shorter and less crew. So, I asked around.
“When the guys get silent,” says Mike. “If you’re standing watch together and for four hours they don’t say 1 word when normally you’d be having a fantastic conversation. After that you’ll see them start fouling things up a lot. Some guys will just explode, or else they’ll do something – either conscientiously or subconscientiously – where it is endangering their job.”
Wendy says you are going to hear of someone who starts giving away things. Saying goodbye to others on the boat or simply seems despondent. These are usually signs of suicide, she says. Especially, amongst the younger team 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. Especially if you’re married. It helps ease their stress as well. 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 take care of yourself,” states Captain Tod. “Not just mentally but physically. Sometimes you have-to consume that pastry at 3:00am or beverage that thick coffee. Working long hours adds extra stress to your body both physically and emotionally.”
Finally, it’s important to enjoy your time off. Someone else is doing your job on the boat for another 75 days or however long your tour of duty is. Get rested up. Recharge. Then get ready to get back out there for all those long hitches.