Friday, February 28, 2014

Half Way There

Well, it's been about a year since I started the Workboat Academy Program at PMI, and I'm safely beyond the halfway point as far as schooling goes. We have 7 academic sessions and I just finished number 4. It's a good feeling to look back upon what I've learned within the past year and how things have progressed. I'm now a fairly regular employee with my company, working a legitimate amount of trips and getting good sea time, and the best part is that I'm no longer "the new guy"! It's a good feeling.

I just returned home from a long stint of work and school. I'll be home for about 3 weeks and then I have two back-to-back trips where we will be moving a few retired nuclear reactors for the Navy. Being an ex-Navy guy, I'm a little more jazzed about trips like this, especially since we get to go up the Columbia River. The eastern Alaska run and the inside passage is beautiful, but once you've seen it in it's various seasons, it starts to become less intriguing. Going someplace new is always more preferred... It stimulates and satisfies my need to explore.

Session 4 at PMI was pretty cool. We studied the Rules of Navigation, Bridge Resource Management, and ECDIS. After all the formal classes were done, we spent 2 days running scenarios in the simulator. It was a blast and we all learned a great deal about ship handling, radio comms, teamwork and various other duties. All in all, it was just a great learning experience that we all benefited from greatly. I've posted some random photos from session 4 below.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Maritime Reality

So, I get people who tell me "that's sounds so cool what you're doing!", or "What a cool job"... And it is, but most people don't really understand, that working in the maritime world has a price. Before diving into the industry, you might want to step back and assess your life with regards to family, goals, etc.

I have been happily married for almost 18 years, we have a 15 year old daughter and a 10 year old son. We truly enjoy doing things together and we are the epitome of a happy family. When I took on this path of becoming a mariner, I knew from experience in the Navy, that I'd have to be gone a lot, especially during the first 2 years while I get through my schooling. Last year, with school and all, I was home for about 180 days total, which is pretty on par for what most guys in the this industry average out at. Now, when we are home, we are home and are essentially on paid time off, still getting paid. During this home time, you can become super-parent, attending more functions, hanging out with your kids after school, do fun things during the day, get projects done in their entirety and so on. It has it's perks.

Today's technology obviously allows us to be more connected via Facetime, text, email, etc. while I'm away but when 8-9 weeks have passed without seeing your family, it can be hard on all parties. We manage it quite well, and my wife and kids seem to have a pretty good system that keeps them busy and focused. I think things get more lonely on my end because, well, I'm mostly on my own, meeting new people, crew, classmates, etc. while working and attending classes in the Pacific Northwest.

Mariners make pretty good money, which helps ease the burden and give you a feeling of "worth-it-ness", but it still hits hard at times and makes you stop and really appreciate what you have back home.

Tomorrow, I will see my wife for the first time in over 7 weeks. We talk almost daily, but there's still something special about being face to face with someone you love that has been gone or absent from your daily life. I get to spend the weekend with her, then finish out 2 days of school before heading home for 3 weeks. This spring and summer is going to be busy, and I probably won't have much home-time, but it will go by quick.

My schooling is over in less than a year, and my schedule will flush out and be more regular after that. I'll most likely work 3-4 weeks and then have 3-4 off, or work a bunch with shorter breaks through the summer and then take a bunch of winter time off. Each company is different, but ours is definitely busier in the summer months. Some of our guys will work back to back trips, with short little breaks through the summer and then take 3 months off straight in the winter. Many maritime employers work you on a regular schedule of 30 days on, then 30 days off, or something similar.

Having said all that, maritime work is rewarding, adventurous, fun at times and it allows you to fullfill that desire to explore and adventure out, while earning a good wage. It can definitely be hard at times, unhealthy at times, hard on the body, hard on the mind, but all that can turned around depending on how you wrap your mind around it. I look at hard work as an opportunity to get in shape, and I look at an underway trip as a challenge to try and eat healthy and stay fit, see cool things and meet cool people.

I enjoy being in the water, being on and around boats and I really enjoy being a part of an industry that has magnificently rich history dating back to the super early days. I enjoy the people, the traditions, the folklore and the places that we visit. Boats, ships and sailors have been around for a long time and unless the earth dries out, they will continue to exist and provide jobs for hundreds more years to come.


"The sea is the same as it has been since before men ever went on it in boats."

- Ernest Hemingway


Saturday, February 15, 2014

PMI Session 4, Week 2: BRM

This week at PMI, we studied BRM (Bridge Resource Management), which encompasses various teamwork and delegation principles of running a ship. We took these principles and applied them in real world scenarios within the simulator throughout the week, which proved to extremely beneficial AND fun.

All of our scenarios took place aboard larger ships navigating to and from San Francisco Bay, which was especially gratifying to me as it's where I've done the majority of my sailing and Navy sea time.
Below are a few photos from the Sim.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

PMI Session 4, Week one: Rules

I arrived back in port last Saturday after a month on the boat, stayed the night at some friend's house in Portland, watched the game and headed back to Seattle for a Monday start of Session 4.

The first week of school was Rules of the Road, lights, shapes and sounds. It's an important week because we have to score a 90% on the Rules test and there's much to learn. I've always understood the basics of the rules, so it wasn't too difficult, but the lights, shapes and sounds were a bit more to swallow. There are numerous configurations for lights and colors, that indicate what a vessel is doing, intending to do, or what direction they are heading. To make things even more challenging, they differ slightly between inland and international rules, so we have to memorize each. Fishing boats, tugboats, tankers, mine clearing vessels, sailing vessels, seaplanes, pilot boats, vessels at anchor, vessels dredging, and even police boats, etc. all display different light configurations and we have to be able to recognize the lights, determine if they are underway and if so, which direction they are heading. Lights also indicate the type of work a vessel is doing and tell us which side we should pass upon. A hasty mis-interpretation of the lights or the rules could cost you your life, your vessel, and/or the lives of others. At the very least, it could cost you your license and your career, so the Coast Guard is strict on the exam requirements of the course.

After that settled in, we picked apart the sound signals, distress signals (17 of them), the pecking order in which "right of way" is determined with each of these vessels, and what day shapes they would fly depending on their status. It's more interesting than memorizing formulas for determining the azimuth or amplitude of the sun on the horizon, but still challenging at the same time.

Yesterday, we took our Coast Guard assessments for lights, shapes, and sounds, then our 50 question exam on the rules. I did pretty well, only missing 2 on the exam, passing all assessments (pass or fail), but it was stressful.

Glad to have it done and moving in to our next subject, Bridge Resource Managment on Monday. The last week of this session is on ECDIS, which stands for Electronic Chart Display and Information System. Most commercial vessels these days, utilize an "electronic chart plotter". ECDIS is similar, but with many more bells and whistles, typically found on larger commercial vessels. Our program tends to train us above and beyond what we would typically see in the tug industry, but should we decide to seek work on larger ships, we'll be ready.

So, I'm currently enjoying a nice relaxing morning that doesn't involve an early class or studying. It's cold here in a Seattle, but the sun is out and it appears to be a nice day.

Much to study this week