Careers at sea come in a huge variety of roles and locations – check out what’s going on around New Zealand and how you could get there.
Katherine Walker’s maritime career has spanned more than 30 years, beginning in the Merchant Navy and including experience on a variety of vessels. One of her most recent roles was educating those who wish to have a career at sea as rewarding as her own
Katherine started her career in 1982, spending the next 10 years at sea in the Merchant Navy.
She holds a current Class 1 Unlimited (Master Foreign Going) Certificate of Competency and is an Examiner of maritime licences for Maritime New Zealand. She is also a member of the New Zealand Company of Master Mariners. Katherine has worked on bulk carriers, tankers, research vessels, refrigerated cargo vessels and Ro-Ros (roll on, roll off) vessels, reaching the rank of Chief Officer. She also spent four years working as a Ship Broker.
She is now running her own maritime consultancy, Ōkiwa Limited, developing educational products and working with the maritime industry on safety training and audits. Until recently Katherine was the Manager of the International Maritime Institute of New Zealand, at NMIT in Nelson. “Maritime education is extremely satisfying - helping people get ahead in life is very rewarding,” says Katherine.
“It”s a rewarding career path for anyone who enjoys an active, outdoor, healthy lifestyle. It can also be a very lucrative career option,” she says. “Going to sea at 18 was an excellent career choice for me - it was a great opportunity to learn, travel and gain qualifications that are internationally recognised.”
Tauranga maritime officer Blair Simmons grew up on the water in Bermuda racing sailboats.
He got some good advice as a 15-year-old from a captain who worked on big yachts: “Get over-qualified, get your merchant ticket”. He decided to pursue a career at sea by doing a three-year course in Scotland to get his watchkeeper’s ticket.
Container ships were Blair’s first places of work, as a deck officer in the merchant navy. After a couple of years of international travel on the job, he moved on to a small tug involved in deep sea research in the North Atlantic around the Bermuda islands.
With his sailing background, Blair was understandably interested in working on super yachts. He started in 1998 on a 22-metre private yacht for a Bermuda family.
The owner was keen to enter his performance cruiser in off-shore races, including the prestigious Newport–Bermuda, which is the oldest regularly scheduled yacht race in the world.
Blair worked the foredeck as they competed in many off-shore races. He crewed during family cruises along the east coast of the United States, and during a Trans Pacific trip to New Zealand so the family could be part of the 2000 America’s Cup activities.
“We sailed via the Galapagos, with all those species, and Easter Island, and even Pitcairn – not many people get to Pitcairn Island.”
When Blair came back to New Zealand for the second America’s Cup he stayed on and went to work for an Aucklander to project manage a ship refit into a 50 metre luxury expedition motor yacht. The role was tailor-made for him with his strong engineering background, and he met his wife among the 10-strong crew.
After a couple of years, and the sale of the yacht, the couple moved to Bermuda in 2006 and Blair worked in commercial ship management. They returned to New Zealand in 2014 when they saw Maritime NZ was hiring for maritime officers during the introduction of the country’s new commercial operator safety system, MOSS.
Blair says working for the regulator gives him the opportunity to use his practical experience in a range of industries to assist in the safe operation of the maritime sector.
Ryan Steer, 32, found his new career in aquaculture while browsing through the website of Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT).
Ryan says he has always had a “love of the ocean”, so the Diploma in Aquaculture (Fish Farming and Fishery Management) caught his eye. In the second year of his three-year Bachelor degree, he is completing it while working on a salmon farm in the Marlborough Sounds.
Ryan has studied and worked in a variety of industries and roles – both here and overseas – before concentrating on the maritime path. He had worked at Sealord in Nelson after leaving school, and picked apples, before enrolling in fine arts at university. But he lost interest in his second year and went travelling and working overseas.
Ryan trained as a machine operator in Western Australia and worked as a forestry harvester before spending time in Canada.
It was back home in Nelson that he decided to try a new career path.
His advice to anyone considering a career in aquaculture or marine conservation is: “Do it! It is a fast-growing industry world-wide, giving graduates the chance to travel and work in just about any country”.
With permission from his senior tutor, Ryan is juggling fulltime study with working on the salmon farm on a seven days-on, seven days-off roster.
“When I’m off work I attend classes in Nelson and catch up on the learning I have missed. Work provides Wi-Fi so in the evening I can catch up with study online”.
Ryan was interested in science at school, and says in the future he would like to find work that uses all his skills: “Maybe something in research and development of aquaculture species or diseases”.
He also dreams of heading further south: “I have always had a dream of going to Antarctica and would love to someday work a summer season there as a research assistant or lab tech”.
Maritime Police skipper Sergeant Craig Pickering grew up around people working at sea. As a youngster in Picton the town revolved around the Inter-Island ferries - with neighbours either plying the Cook Strait or working in the fishing and aquaculture sectors. The harbourmaster’s family was just down the road.
Craig was on the water a lot too – out in recreational boats fishing, rowing or sailing.
But it was through the New Zealand Police that he got his Skipper Restricted Limits qualification, and is now on a roster to captain the Lady Elizabeth IV emergency launch, based in Wellington. His navigation qualification is an NZOW (New Zealand Offshore Watchkeeper) with a command endorsement, now called a Skipper Coastal, Offshore; and Craig holds an MEC 6 (Marine Engineering Class 6) certificate of competence.
The job combines police work with maritime activities. The crew on shift may use the 18.5 metre catamaran to investigate crime - such as stolen boats – or to manage protest activity on the water, or in drug recovery operations. Responding to maritime emergencies, such as yachties in trouble, is another big part of the role.
Craig drove trucks before joining the Police in 1999, and then the Maritime unit in 2007. He says being able to carry out police work off a boat is the highlight of his career to date. He is keen to get more visitors on board Lady Elizabeth IV to showcase the water safety work the Maritime Police are involved in.
Taking a global route to a maritime career
The sea is in Tianyu (Timmy) Xu’s blood – almost literally.
He grew up in the Zhoushan City archipelago, in the East China Sea, close to mainland China, which contains 1390 islands, of which 103 are inhabited all year round, and has a history as a major shipbuilding centre.
His two grandfathers both worked in the maritime industry – one a marine engineer and the other a marine biologist – and his father is a ship designer.
But Timmy’s global route to a maritime career hasn’t involved spending large amounts of time at sea.
His first degree from a university in Zhenjiang City was in naval architecture and ocean engineering.
He went on to further study of ocean engineering at Strathclyde University in Glasgow dealing with floating offshore structures, before joining Lloyd’s Register (China) as a trainee surveyor.
After 19 months he came to New Zealand, studying fluid dynamics at Auckland University.
“A lot of people where I grew up have a connection with the sea – it is always very close.
“For me, I think it was good to continue the tradition in my family.”
Now a technical advisor for Maritime New Zealand, he is called on to provide advice on subjects ranging from surveyor oversight to loadlines (how much a ship is loaded) and tonnage.
What to study: “My experience was to study physics, chemistry, and biology – my maths results were not actually very good at high school but I did well in physics because you were allowed to use a calculator.
“Really there is knowledge from a lot of areas required – you may have to read and understand legislation and at the same time know about oceanography.”
When Talley’s mussel boat skipper Hone Abraham left Nelson College he only had one main criteria - whatever work he chose to do had to be outside.
Hone says “growing up on the sea” made the decision a lot easier.
Name: Hone Abraham
Current role: Skipper of a mussel boat
Qualifications: Inshore Launch Master, Marine Engineering (class 6)
Hone took part in the Gateway programme with Nelson College for work experience, and briefly tried building. But he had been working on the oyster boats in the holidays with his uncles since Year 10, so Hone left school to work on mussel boats.
After a short time he went to Australia to work in the fishing industry there. Two years later, he returned to New Zealand to get his skipper’s ticket.
Hone did his Inshore Launch Master qualification through Nelson Marlborough Institute for Technology (NMIT). This is now known as the New Zealand Certificate in Maritime Operations – Skipper Restricted Limits (Level 4). NMIT’s programme also includes engineering components, plus endorsements can be added to the skipper’s ticket to allow skippering of a larger vessel, over more areas, in a commercial environment, with passengers and so forth. After this, Hone then went on to achieve his basic engineers ticket (New Zealand Certificate in Marine Engineering – Class 6).
For the last eight years, Hone has been working on mussel boats, with the last three of those years as skipper in charge of a 27-metre boat with a crew of two or three.
Hone describes his job as “cultivating mussels”.
“We grow mussels, harvest mussels; we do a lot of farm work, and occasionally oysters and scallops – just the whole range of shellfish really.”
The work involves him staying on the boat Monday to Friday. His typical day starts at 5am and winds up around 10pm, so the weeks can be 80-hours plus.
“We do big hours. We’ve done a few 24-hour plus shifts at harvest time or bringing in the spat where the mussels are the size of a grain of sand.
“You’ve got to get them out as soon as it comes in, so you’re constantly working during those times.”
As skipper, Hone does everything from the responsibilities of a deckhand to the added responsibilities of running the deck.
It is physical work and during certain times of the year there isn’t much down time. But the money, being out on the sea, and working outdoors more than compensate for that.
In terms of advice for school leavers contemplating this type of work, Hone says this is a job you can get underway with quickly.
“You don’t need much sea time; it’s just book work really. You have to be on the boat and the skipper has to be willing to sign your book work off.
“It’s part of the course now, showing that you’ve been doing engines and that sort of stuff - being able to run gear and work on the boat pretty much.”
Hone believes a work placement is the best way to get an idea of the type of work done on the boats. Once you’ve got a job on the boat then it’s a case of working towards tickets, like advanced deckhand, engineers, and – ultimately - a skipper’s ticket through NIT or another maritime school.
Hone says those tickets are valuable to have on your CV as they can easily lead to work overseas, being particularly in demand on super yachts.
Other than that, he reckons as long as you “enjoy the outdoors and get along with people you’ll be ‘sweet as’”.
When Baz Murfin left school in Birmingham he went into the British Royal Navy and trained on the job as a mechanical engineer. Baz was keen to get a practical qualification he could use in his travels, and going to sea was another drawcard.
Nowadays Baz puts his mechanical skills to good use helping maintain and crew the New Zealand Maritime Police launch, Lady Elizabeth IV, based in Wellington.
As a member of the New Zealand Police and the launch crew, Baz enjoys using his experience at sea and as a police officer to help the maritime community. The system of career progression in the maritime unit requires Baz to train to get his Skipper’s Restricted Limits ticket, and then go on to the roster to captain the 18-metre catamaran.
Baz had five years in the Navy before moving to the British Police for 12 years. When he and his wife, also a police officer, saw positions advertised in the New Zealand Police they fondly recalled holidaying in Aotearoa. They were lucky to be part of the intake, he says. Baz really enjoyed his seven years community policing in Porirua. But when the Maritime unit advertised positions he realized it was an opportunity to combine his experience at sea with his policing skills.
He describes his current role as the best job he has had.
“It’s more varied and the office is nicer!”
Baz says people in maritime emergencies are always grateful to see you. Even a humpback whale the crew helped extract from a craypot line early in 2016 seemed to realise after three hours that the maritime police were actually trying to save him.
Jazzy is a New Zealander who came from Ethiopia seven years ago. Now, she is likely to be one of the first faces passengers see coming onto a ferry, and she loves to showcase New Zealand – the North and South Islands and the link between them.
Name: Jazzy Yusuf
Current role: Cabin attendant, Interislander ferry Kaitaki
Best maritime role: This if my first maritime job and I have been here five years already.
Qualifications: Travel and tourism qualifications, and then three weeks of initial training in firefighting, water drills, crowd control and first aid, followed up with refreshers and drills.
What have you enjoyed the most? I enjoy engaging with our customers. If it was not for them, I would not have a job. For many people, especially from overseas, this crossing is a once in a lifetime experience. I have the privilege of doing it every day. I have been trained, I am paid well, and I have good career opportunities.
What challenges did you have to overcome? Rough sailings are challenges where a few passengers get uncomfortable with the movement of the vessel while at open sea and some get scared, get anxiety and sea sick. My job is to assist where needed, comfort them, offer them remedies to ease their motion sickness.
Advice for a younger you? Do it! If you like travel, and meeting people, then this is a great career.
Paul Boyce has been running crews for more than 20 years – loading and unloading the ship, steering, deck watch, maintenance, and linking between the officers on the bridge and the crew.
Name: Paul Boyce
Current role: Bosun, Bluebridge ferry Strait Feronia
Best maritime job: Bosun, Independent 1, deep sea fishing. Endless challenges and phenomenal fitness and strength developed from intense physical job.
Qualifications: Mate Fishing Vessel Unlimited, Able Seafarer Deck, Watchkeeper Deck, and first aid, rescue and firefighting qualifications.
What have you enjoyed the most? The lifestyle of two weeks on and two weeks off. I enjoy being at sea for two weeks and then I get two weeks of dedicated time with my family when I am off.
What challenges did you have to overcome? Managing crews is challenging. Everyone has different personalities, ages and ethnicities and we all live on board for two weeks at a time. When you are on for those two weeks you can’t just leave work, go home and get away from people. You have to get the job done no matter what the conditions and you have to work together. You never know what will crop up. Sometimes it is exciting and sometimes it is just the routine of keeping the ship going. Also, you have to be willing to get dirty. There is a lot of oil and grease and cleaning.
Advice for a younger you? Do your fulltime study to get your qualifications more quickly and think about your career steps. I left deep sea fishing and went to merchant shipping too soon after getting my Mate’s qualification and I had too little time working on the bridge.
Captain Kees Buckens, was promoted at age 37 to Captain on the fifth largest cruise ship of the world. He is now the Stimulator Training Manager for the NZ Maritime School.
I hadn’t considered a career at sea when heading to an open day at a maritime school with a mate.
That day offered a catalyst to change...I have never looked back!
I started with Shell Tankers for seven years before I decided that I wanted to experience the exciting life on a cruise ship.
After learning this trade, I was promoted at age 37 to Captain - on what was then the fifth largest cruise ship in the world!
After viewing the most beautiful spots in the world from my office (the bridge) window, and having experienced the best and the worst weather that nature has to give...I came ashore and have been teaching at the NZ Maritime School ever since.
Even though he drives a desk these days, Martin Burley, General Manager of Coastal Oil Logistics will always consider himself to be a seafarer.
Before coming ashore (or as Martin says, “swallowing the anchor”), Martin spent most of his life traversing the globe aboard tankers - crude, petroleum, chemical and gas.
Says Martin, “I’ve seen some of the finest refineries on the planet! After working my way through the ranks; Cadet to Master, I got involved in training for a major ship management company based in Scotland and eventually became a director and head of seafarer training looking after the professional development of over 20,000 seafarers.
I enjoyed my training role so much that when I was offered chance to head to New Zealand (the best place on the planet) and try my hand at being a tutor at the Maritime School in Auckland, it was impossible to resist”.
A few years later, another door opened and Martin now finds himself in Wellington chartering product tankers and plying his part in ensuring all the cars in New Zealand have petrol, trucks have diesel and planes have jet fuel.
Says Martin “If I had anything to say to my younger self it would be, You’re in for a fabulous ride; enjoy every minute; look forward with enthusiasm and look back occasionally so you can remind yourself how lucky you are”.
Soren Crabb, a Kiwi from Kerikeri and currently 3rd Officer with Holland America, grew a taste for the sea when out sailing. He couldn’t stand the idea of having to work in an office so decided to follow his teacher’s advice and look for a job where he could stare out the window!
Since then he has been fortunate enough to navigate cruise ships from Alaska to Antarctica and travel all around the world.
When it comes to qualifications, Soren has a OOW Unlimited and is currently studying Chief Masters to help grow his career. He recommends to those seeking a career at sea that having a solid understanding of maths is an advantage (as it is incorporated daily into the job) and though not a must, experience out on the water will help.
Career highlights include nights in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and stopovers including New York, Port Canaveral, Barcelona, Malta, Vancouver, San Fran, Bahamas, Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador and the famous Cape Horn, to name a few.
Says Soren, “A carrier in shipping may offer challenges but will provide amazing experiences”.
Being able to travel for work and make friends all around the world has also been a highlight of Soren’s career. And the challenges? “Every day brings a new challenge be it picking a beach to relax on or rescuing a yacht’s crew in the Antarctic”.
A university graduate did not know what he really wanted to do for a career. He had had fun in boats as a teenager and one of his friends was full of tales of fun and adventure as a cadet at P&O Cruises. So, Richard Hill went to sea and is now Master of the Kaitaki.
Name: Richard Hill
Current role: Master, Interislander ferry Kaitaki
Best maritime job: For responsibility, working here as the ship’s Master. For enjoyment, working on cruise ships and sailing the world.
Qualifications: Learning to sail as a 14 or 15 year old in Dover, university degree in Shipping Operations, Master (unlimited).
What have you enjoyed the most? Within three months of starting my cadetship at P&O Cruises in the U.K. I had sailed to Auckland and Sydney, and soon after I had been to the Arctic Circle and sailed around the world. Nothing is the same from day to day, even on a ferry. You see dolphins, seals, albatross – you don’t get that in an office!
What challenges did you have to overcome? Legally, I am responsible for the ship – the buck stops with me. When I worked in the Dover Straits there was so much shipping to be aware of. In Cook Strait the elements are our concern. The decisions I make affect the safety of the ship, our passengers and our cargo. There is a stress that comes with that.
Advice to a younger you? Get good school qualifications. Take up a cadetship, ideally with a company that will guarantee a job after your training. Look at shipping companies to see which offer the career path you want and have ships that you want to work on. Do not worry about being “too old”. There is a worldwide shortage of cadets and the days of companies only taking 18 year olds as cadets are gone. It is an aging workforce and keep in mind, almost 90 per cent of world trade is still carried by sea. There are lots of job opportunities.
Great work/life balance, varied work, making use of hard-earned skills and qualifications, responsibility, and a fantastic view! Ollie Muller is a Second Engineer and does a whole lot more than sit in a control room.
Name: Ollie Muller
Current role: Second Engineer and relief Chief Engineer, Bluebridge ferry Strait Feronia
Qualifications: Marine Engineer Class 1 - Motor, and Diploma in Mechanical Engineering,
Best maritime role: Your first real job at sea is a special one. For me it was on the Monte Stello as Third Engineer. It was an older ship with great people and was a fantastic learning experience.
What have you enjoyed the most? Overall the job is very satisfying – we keep the ship going and hence the freight and passengers moving. We work in the engine room, the passenger areas, and all around the ship. Problem solving as part of the team is a big part of my job that I really enjoy. The sea is also my hobby and passion as I am a yachtie and I take my holidays on the sea. It is in my blood. Working on a ferry gives me the best of both home and sea life. I live on board for two weeks, then I am at home for two weeks. I do an engineering job I really enjoy. What could be better than that!
What challenges did you have to overcome? The higher certificates are academically challenging. I worked really hard and did well on all of them. You have to put in the effort and when you are unsure about something, you have to ask for help. As a senior engineer working on the ship, it is high responsibility and that can be stressful. We are responsible for everything from keeping the propellers turning, the lights burning and the toilets flushing with everything in between! We need to make sure all this happens in a safe and efficient manner without interruption to maintain our customer service.
Advice for a younger you? I went to sea aged 30. I wish I had started earlier but I did not know what I wanted to do. However, to be fair, maybe most people have to try different things before they find what is best for them. For me, Marine Engineering is definitely a great career.
Name: Wayne Rhodes
Current role: Maritime Security and Incident Response Advisor
Best maritime role: Clearance Diver, Royal New Zealand Navy - 23 years (this included all elements underwater, including mine clearance, underwater demolitions, salvage, and underwater construction/ship maintenance). As pictured, this included the salvage (re-float) of the Rainbow Warrior after its sinking.
Qualification(s): UK HSE Part II Diver (Saturation Diver), Australian Diver Accreditation Scheme (ADAS) Diving Supervisor (Commercial), Australian Diver Accreditation Scheme (ADAS) Offshore Medic (DMT), Australian and New Zealand Diploma’s in Commercial Diving, New Zealand Offshore Watch keeper (NZOW, Command Endorsed), Inshore Launch master (ILM).
What have you enjoyed the most? I have always been in the maritime sector/environment, navy, customs, fisheries, Maritime New Zealand. Travelled the world with work.
What challenges did you have to overcome? transferring navy nautical qualifications to the civilian world. (Required going back to Maritime School or redoing assessments)
Advice for a younger you? Travel the world and experience life at someone else’s expense!
By the time he was 19, Lucky was already sailing with the Merchant Navy as a trainee deck hand. His first year travelling to different countries, meeting different people and cultures changed his whole perception on life - increasing his confidence, independence and decision making.
Currently a 2nd Officer for the Merchant Navy, Lucky ranks a previous role as Navigating Officer as his best job so far.
Keen to progress his career, Lucky is currently studying towards a Mate’s/Master at the New Zealand Maritime School.
And while he has had to overcome challenges such as deadlines, paper work and rough weather while at sea, such challenges have been trumped by the types of opportunities you wouldn’t get in an office job such as a fresh breeze, calm seas, beautiful sceneries, dolphins and whales.
Weekend work on a crayfish boat as a 15-year-old was the start of 30 years involvement with the sea.
Name: Domonic Venz
Current role: Assistant Regional Compliance Manager (Southern Region) Maritime New Zealand
Qualification(s): Qualified Fishing Deckhand, Commercial Launchmaster, MEC 6, NZ Coastal Master, Mate of a Deep Sea Fishing Vessel, and NZ Offshore Master STCW 95.
At 15, Domonic Venz spent his weekends and school holidays crewing on a crayfish boat operating out of Kaikoura. A year later he was completing a cadet course at the Maritime School in Nelson – a course he ended up tutoring himself 12 years later.
In between times, he worked for big fishing companies Talleys, Sanford and Sealord – on deep sea trawlers and squid boats – and skippered whale watching vessels back home in Kaikoura, before going back to fishing on a range of vessels. Domonic’s experiences include bringing a 30m long line boat back from Japan and operating it off the coast of Canterbury.
All the while he was gaining qualifications, starting with a Qualified Fishing Deckhand (for which sea time as a secondary school student counted) and moving through Commercial Launchmaster, MEC 6, NZ Coastal Master, Mate of a Deep Sea Fishing Vessel, and NZ Offshore Master STCW 95.
After time spent as tutor at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, he then joined the Maritime Safety Authority (MSA), now Maritime NZ, as a maritime safety inspector, before also taking on investigation duties.
Back at sea with Seaworks NZ Ltd, Domonic skippered high-tech vessels carrying out cable-laying operations in Cook Strait and beyond, before returning to the MSA as an investigator, then a maritime officer, senior specialist MO, and then MNZ Assistant Regional Compliance Manager for the southern region.
Best maritime job: “I really enjoyed fishing and the challenge of the hunt... I remember long-lining for groper in winter off Kaikoura with the sea flat calm and snow on the mountains - just great.
“But I also really enjoyed working for Seaworks with a ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicle) laying cable on the sea floor. We had a crew of five, and 15 technicians. As Master, I found it really fulfilling to manage the crew and manage the ship.”
And now with Maritime NZ, Domonic says there are further opportunities. “What I like now is the ability to influence things in the maritime sector on a national level.”
Advice to your younger self: “When you’ve done your sea time – do your ticket. And when it comes to exams, draw on your experience to answer questions, don’t try to make things up! You will be found out very quickly.
“I have spent 30 years in the maritime game and loved the wide variety of vessels I was able to crew and skipper on, also meeting some real characters particularly when you had to spend 7 weeks deepsea living with them.”
“It’s often really hard work, both mentally and physically, but a life at or around the sea can really take you places if you want it to.”
Captain Matt Conyers left school not really knowing what he wanted to do with his life and ended up following in the footsteps of his father and uncles who were all seafarers.
Says Matt, “I took the advice of my father - who suggested a career at sea, beginning a cadet-ship with Cunard-Ellerman...and never looking back.”
Matt has been in the industry for 27 years - having spent time on product tankers, container ships, bulk carriers, car carriers, roll on roll off vessels and passenger ferries. He spent his last four years at sea as Captain and is now a Harbour Pilot in Port Nelson.
Says Matt, I’ve met some great people along the way and seen some amazing places and things...and it’s provided a good standard of living for me and my family.
And for advice to those starting a maritime career...“ask questions of everyone and listen closely to their replies - that’s how you gain experience. Study hard and set yourself a career goal early on so you have something to work towards...and enjoy.”
Phillip Sweetman’s role as an Officer of the Watch aka 3rd Officer, whether at sea or in port, helps to ensure that all of New Zealand’s vehicles, planes and vessels have the petrol, diesel and jet fuel that they require to keep on going.
His career at sea started when he was told by a Senior Master of the Spirit of Adventure Trust to head to the Maritime School and complete his Second Mate’s Foreign Going Certificate Of Competency.
Says Phil “As I hated office jobs, this seemed like a cool idea...and I’ve never looked back.”
Phil began his cadetship with Tanker Pacific and has visited a number of oil terminals on every continent (save Antarctica), with some nicer than others.
Phil’s been with Silver Fern Shipping five years since he graduated and is currently studying towards his Masters Foreign Going to help progress through the ranks.
Says Phil “Being at sea isn’t easy and it isn’t for everyone. You must be able to deal with substantial responsibility. As an Officer of the Watch, you are jointly responsible for the continued safety of the vessel, your colleagues, the cargo and the environment”.
“However, having a different view out my ‘office window’ every day and having the opportunity to meet and work with amazing people from all around the world is pretty rewarding. Some of my career highlights so far include transiting both the Suez and Panama Canals, experiencing major dry-docking operations, stopovers in many wonderful tropical ports and surviving pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden!”
If I could say anything to my younger self it would be, “Have a great time, enjoy yourself, and take the opportunities whenever they arise”
Cadet route to a maritime career
Cate Heil was always going to sea – there was never any other plan.
“It never occurred to me that I would do anything else, and it didn’t occur to me that being a woman would have any bearing on those plans.”
Born in England, a trip to Southampton as a child for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 and seeing the cruise ship QE ll piqued her interest in big ships - but it was at 16 that she saw what was possible when she had the chance to spend two weeks on the training ship Malcolm Miller.
The three-masted schooner was sailed by young trainees, but its permanent crew were made up of merchant seamen, who were a source of valuable information about a career at sea.
“I had been thinking of going to sea believing that something like catering was the only route open to me, but talking to the crew of the Malcolm Miller showed me there were other options such as a navigating or deck officer,” she said.
At the time, Cate had just started an engineering course at a technical college (the equivalent of a polytechnic), intending to go on to university. But after completing the two-year course she successfully applied for a place as a cadet with the Small Ship Training Group (now the Ship Safe Training Group) and was soon working as a deck trainee on board supply vessels in the North Sea.
She gained her third mate’s qualification and a started a new job with Blue Star Line, well known for its refrigerated and container routes to New Zealand, Australia, and South America, and then went on to spend four years in the Royal Navy.
Back on merchant ships, she spent time with P&O Nedlloyd on container ships trading from Europe to the Far East, Australia and New Zealand and then transferred to the company’s conventional and fast ferries running from Portsmouth across the English Channel to France and Spain.
Having completed her Foreign Going Masters qualification, she then considered her options for shore side employment which led to working at Glasgow Nautical College as a nautical lecturer for several years and the opportunity to complete an Education Degree, before moving to Maritime New Zealand, first as a senior technical officer and then a maritime officer.
Cate “absolutely loved being at sea” but found her skills and experience were well suited to transfer to shore-based work.
“Although maritime qualifications require academic study and often result in an academic qualification they are also competency based – and in addition to your college study you need to have practical seagoing experience to achieve them – it means that as a Maritime Officer I can draw on my seagoing experience and knowledge to really help people... and I think my experience as an educator also helps me when I am interacting with seafarers and operators.”
Academic tip: “Maths and physics are fundamental. Trying to teach navigation to people without maths and physics skills would be like trying to teaching literature to people who don’t have the ability to read. A lot of people learn algebra – in navigation you actually use it.”
Transferrable skills: “The skills you need in seafaring are very transferrable. You need good communications skills and the ability to manage a team on the bridge of a ship, additionally the skills learnt from tasks such as planning and carrying out a passage, or managing cargo work or maintenance are the same as required for project management – knowing your goal, identifying risks and road blocks to the project, monitoring the progress and ensuring you meet deadlines.
Cadet opportunities in New Zealand
The New Zealand Maritime School runs two 3-year cadet courses which involve classroom study as well as experience at sea:
- Diploma in Nautical Science – which leads to a qualification as Officer of a Navigational Watch
- Diploma in Maritime Engineering – which leads to a qualification as Marine Engineer Class 3
There is a lot of competition for entry into these courses, designed for school-leavers, with a maximum 24 students in each per year.
You will need: Secondary school qualifications in English, Maths or Physics (i.e. 14 credits at NCEA level 2)
Start planning early: Contact the NZ Maritime School early to ensure your secondary school study is appropriate for entry to the courses.
Imagine a modern ship with no electricity. Communications, navigation, steering, lighting, heating – none of them would work. Barrie Eyles is an Electrical Officer, and it is his job to make sure his ship has power, always.
Name: Barrie Eyles
Current role: Electrical Officer, Interislander ferry Kaitaki
Best maritime job: For nostalgic reasons, working on the just retired ferry, Arahura.
Qualifications: Advanced Trade Certificate, industrial electrical knowledge and background, marine Electro-Technical Officer, Class 3 Engineering Watchkeeping Certificate.
What have you enjoyed the most? I have gained a lot more all-round knowledge of the trade at sea than I could have in any job I know of on shore. We work with generation, transmission and all the end uses. That includes all the systems the ship relies on to function, lighting and heating, hospitality services, control systems and on many ships the propulsion system is electrical too. The ship simply cannot operate without electricity. The lifestyle suits me well. I live on board seven days, then I am at home in the Marlborough Sounds for seven days. There is camaraderie from being at sea together. It becomes like a second family. We have the odd trip away. I have recently been to Sydney where the ship was dry-docked and to Singapore and Hobart when the Arahura was refitted.
What challenges did you have to overcome? You have to keep learning and keep up to date with technical advances. Change does not stop. New technology will continue to be introduced and we have to keep pace.
Advice for a younger you? Anyone wanting an electrical career at sea, go for it! I have found it really interesting. If you are happy to go offshore and do not mind the longer times away from home, then the world is your oyster. For work like mine on the ferries, you get the best of being at sea and at home, and I am not locked in to an eight to five routine.
Lorna Roddick loves working in travel and tourism and dealing with people. However, that could not be for an airline because she does not like flying and says planes “fall out of the sky”! A two year contract on a ferry was something different and “looked like me”. Twelve years later...
Name: Lorna Roddick
Current role: Hospitality supervisor, Bluebridge ferry Strait Feronia
Qualifications: Hospitality industry training, supervisory courses, seafarers qualifications including first aid, basic firefighting, crowd control, survival craft, and seafarers’ medical tests.
Best maritime role: This job. I have been here for 12 years. I love the hours. I do 12 hours on board and then walk off the ship for 12 hours, and I work seven days on and seven days off.
What have you enjoyed the most? I get a lot of variety in my work. As well as crossing the Strait, I have been on a five day trip to Brisbane, where the ship was dry-docked for a week-and-a-half, and then a five day trip home. I work with the passengers in different parts of the ship and I do administration and management of the hospitality staff. I was responsible for introducing the new till system we are using in cafes and shops, and for the hospitality staff work procedures.
What challenges did you have to overcome? Seasickness! We work with food and the smell of food combined with the motion of the ship made it hard. However, it is something you overcome and now part of my job that I am happy to do is to help passengers who are seasick. Another challenge was the old view that a ship is not a place for women to work, let alone be supervisors. That view has changed a lot and there are many more women, and in different jobs, than when I first came aboard.
Advice for a younger you? For a young girl today I would say be genuinely confident in who you are and your ability, and go for it! I see a lot of young girls starting who behave in what I would call a cocky way because they are hiding that they are actually not confident in themselves. They do not need to do that. Instead, be confident and learn. This is a good, viable career with many opportunities. I love my lifestyle but if being long time away from home suits you, you can work on cruise ships and super yachts and literally travel the world.
From making coffee on Auckland ferries to chasing the sun in superyachts
It may seem a long way from cafe duty on Auckland’s Fullers Ferries to life aboard a $76m super yacht cruising the Caribbean, but that’s the route Maritime NZ maritime officer Ceilhe Halpin has taken in his career.
Name: Ceilhe Halpin
Current role: Maritime NZ investigator
Best maritime job: Driving passenger ferries
Qualification(s): New Zealand Offshore Master (now Master 500NC), Chief Mate Yacht, Marine Engineer Class 5, – New Zealand Maritime School. A solid understanding of maths and science is helpful – for understanding areas like navigation and stability.
What have you enjoyed the most? I was lucky enough to work on board a 47 metre sailing yacht travelling from Italy to Cuba and back. I also helped move a newly built superyacht through the canals from Amsterdam to Rotterdam and then down to Gibraltar before crossing the Atlantic to Grenada, and spending five months cruising the Caribbean. Another highlight was visiting Silver Bank, where humpback whales gather. It was pretty special to be among so many breaching whales.
Spending time aboard a boat installing an oil rig off the coast of Taranaki with waves peaking over 10 metres was also pretty spectacular though if I’m honest, what I’ve enjoyed the most – has been the challenge of driving ferries safely and effectively in virtually all conditions.
What challenges did you have to overcome? Changing paths through my career had its challenges. Particular skills that could be applied to one vessel weren’t necessary relevant for others such as superyachts. I learnt the hard way that it’s worth understanding the various sectors and a suitable path early in your career.
Advice for a younger you? If I was going to change anything, I think in the beginning I would have gone for a big boat qualification – a Foreign Going Master. You can start as a Cadet and work your way up to it. It’s easier to go from a big boat to a smaller boat than the other way around. Also, don’t wait for an advertisement – go and see the companies directly.
Noel Watkins is a shore based engineer with a MCA Master 3000 ton, marine fitter qualification. He started his career as an engineering apprentice in the Royal New Zealand Navy.
Noel’s initial role with the navy lended itself to overseas travel, with Noel working on-board charter boats in Turkey for six years, landing a job as a private yacht skipper and then working seventeen years later for the same boss on-board four yachts (including three new builds), and travelling to many different parts of the world.
Working in yachting enabled Noel to have some “incredible adventures” including rowing the Atlantic Ocean (twice), kayaking from the Andes to the Pacific Ocean in Chile, a snowmobiling expedition in North Canada and lots of other fun.
Says Noel “Hard work is something that appears to be lost on the younger generation but impresses the heck out of my generation so don’t be shy to get your hands dirty and muck in.”
Noel would rate his role as a Super yacht Captain the best of his maritime jobs and whilst finding the amount of time away from family challenging, really enjoyed the opportunity to travel to new places and experience different cultures. And advice for a younger Noel? To have invested the money he earnt better, earlier.
Originally from Westport, with a 2nd Mate Foreign Going / Deck Watch keeper qualification, Tony Goldsworthy is currently working from Nelson as a Deck Officer/2nd Mate on an offshore support vessel while studying towards a Chief Mate’s Certificate to further his career.
Tony started his life at sea going down to the old Tug Lyttleton on weekends with his Dad.
After a varied early life, he found himself at sea on fishing vessels – and enjoying it!
He is also a member of the New Zealand Company of Master Mariners.
When asked about his favourite job at sea, Tony rates his current role up there with the best of them enjoying working as 2nd mate with anchor handlers and offshore supply.
Although this role includes the challenge of balancing home and work life, Tony enjoys overcoming challenges when the job doesn’t go as planned and recommends those keen on a career at sea to back themselves by finding out what is needed for the job and taking steps to get there.
Casual work in the hospitality industry is common but in this case it led to a career as a ships officer. Chris O’Leary hospitality industry training took him to a summer job on a ferry. He loved it, retrained, and is now a Second Officer.
Name: Chris O’Leary
Current role: Second Officer, Bluebridge ferry Strait Feronia
Qualifications: Watchkeeper Deck, Able Seafarer Deck, and hospitality industry qualifications.
Best maritime job: What I am doing now.
What have you enjoyed the most? Being on the bridge – it is the greatest office in the world. Every day is different: sunset, sunrise, the weather and the elements always changing. The entrance to Tory Channel is fantastic. Some days in the Strait you will see whales or dozens of dolphins. I love being on the water.
What challenges did you have to overcome? The biggest challenge is sleep deprivation and fatigue. We are 14 days on the ship, then 14 days off. When you are living on board, even when not on duty, you are always aware of the ship and what you would have to do if there was an emergency. It is stressful and there is pressure – when you are standing in for the Master you are responsible for the whole ship and all on it but that is the satisfaction of making a safe crossing for the ship, our passengers and cargo.
Advice for a younger you? I came from hospitality, to being a deckhand, and then trained as an officer. I am glad I did that because I know the ship in different ways but I would advise someone considering a career at sea to look at going straight into an officer training cadetship so they can progress more quickly. Also, think carefully if the lifestyle would suit you. I love being on the water and at sea but it is two weeks at a time and longer on deep sea ships.
From Doubtful Sound jack of all trades’ tour guide to Maritime Officer, Steve Hainstock recommends you try every new opportunity.
Name: Steve Hainstock
Current role: Maritime Officer
Best maritime role: Tough call. Probably leading small-group day trips to Doubtful Sound from Manapouri as jack-of-all-trades skipper, bus driver and underground power-station tour guide. Patrolling the coast of the Abel Tasman National Park as Harbourmaster on a good day was also pretty hard to beat.
Qualifications: Inshore Launchmaster, Construction Diver Part I, Queensland Open Coxswain, BSc (immunovirology)
What challenges did you have to overcome? Getting a foothold in the hands-on inshore maritime sector where a tertiary science background was seen by employers as a disadvantage.
Advice for a younger you? Take every opportunity to try new things and to up-skill. And don’t leave it until your late thirties to start saving for retirement!
Passengers and truck drivers travel throughout the day. The crew on duty live on their ship. Feeding them all at the food courts and messes is a central, state-of-the-art kitchen running 24 hours a day. Managing the kitchen is Chief Cook, Paul Shipp.
Name: Paul Shipp
Current role: Chief Cook, Interislander ferry Kaitaki
Best Maritime job: This job now.
Qualifications: Qualified chef, City and Guilds 1, 2, 3, and Advanced Diploma, cooking tutor at Whitireia Polytechnic, Standards of Training, Certification & Watchkeeping for Seafarers 10 (STWC 10), Maritime Medical Certificate, safety training and watch keeping training.
What have you enjoyed the most? I appreciate working at sea while not being away from home for a long time. I work seven days on and seven days off. Even when I am living on the ship for my seven days I am only four hours away from my home if there was an emergency. At sea, you live and work together. It is different to a restaurant because you cannot leave work. It becomes a family atmosphere. When you are ashore you have seven days off for your family.
What challenges did you have to overcome? There are lifestyle and work challenges. When you start at sea it is an adventure. However, after a while you can begin to feel like a prisoner who cannot go out with friends, play sport at weekends, go out to the shops, and do things like that. You have to learn to adapt to your seagoing roster. That affects how you live with your family, what are your hobbies and interests, and how you spend time with your friends. On the positive side, you get a whole week at a time be with family and friends, and what you want on shore. The work challenges are learning to work in kitchen that moves and with only a short time in port, usually just an hour, to restock. You learn what to cook (e.g. you cannot set a jelly), how to cook it, and to plan well.
Advice for a younger you? Consider starting at a younger age than I did. Working on a ferry gives you a taste of life at sea. It is the closest thing to working on a deep sea ship. If you like it and are happy with being away from home for months at a time, then that is an opportunity that opens up. When you are working on a ferry there are plenty of opportunities for part-time study during your time on shore and by distance learning whey you are at sea. Take them to progress your qualifications.
Name: Uzoma Osita Prince (from Nigeria)
Current role: Deck Cadet
Best maritime job: Navigation, cargo operations, and safety drills.
Qualification(s): BSc in Maritime Transportation
What have you enjoyed the most? the pride that comes from delivering consumer products and needs to the entire world.
What challenges did you have to overcome? I’ve had to challenge myself, by making a lot of sacrifices – though these sacrifices have yielded positive results in my career.
Advice for a younger you? Give priority to all that makes you a competent, credible, and reliable seafarer. Character formation and academic excellence is also required in this career.
Charles Pagler, currently 3rd Officer for Holland America Line with a 2nd Mate Foreign Going Ship qualification was late to the game of a career at sea.
It dawned on Charles one day that working at one of Auckland’s top recording studios and bartending was not for him. The following week he was back in a classroom starting his cadetship and never looked back.
Charles was taken on by Holland America Line as a cadet and once he received his OOW ticket, they offered him a job. Now he’s back at school studying towards a Chief Mate’s ticket - which he aims to complete by end of 2015.
When asked what his best maritime job has been, Charles says “This is the only one I’ve had! I wouldn’t be here pushing to go further if I didn’t like it!”
There’s been a few challenges along the way including giving up his love of music (Charles also has a diploma in music performance and practice, and a diploma in audio engineering) and “realising that for every person you meet along the way who takes an instant disliking to you that there will always be far more colleagues that become your mates.”
When asked what he’s enjoyed the most, Charles cites previous experience of sailing a 2000 passenger cruise ship in to Napier standing on the bridge side by side with the Pilot - who also happens to be his old man!
And advice for a younger Charles - or others interested in a career at sea? Charles says, “I learnt it’s never too late to change your mind, but when you find something good, you should stick at it through the good times and the bad. Commit to it, and give it 100%.”
Emigrating half way around the world led to an exciting career in the business of keeping people safe in the maritime sector
Name: Ritchie Bower
Most recent role: Regional Compliance Manager, Northern – Maritime NZ
Best maritime job: “I worked for eight-and-a-half years as a health & safety consultant conducting safety and occupational hygiene audits and inspections on vessels all over the world, generally involving 2-3 days on-board. I was fortunate enough to work on all the major continents and went to some amazing places (and some not quite so), however from time to time I would be involved in longer projects. One of my most interesting was as a HSE Advisor for 3 months on the Lewek Crusader. My role saw me assisting an offshore construction client to effectively implement and maintain their Health, Safety & Environmental Management System on-board a heavy lift / pipe layer vessel during the construction of the North Rankin Hub, the world’s largest offshore production facility in North West, Western Australia.
“Managing the safety of the team on board was challenging - the maximum number of people on board was 440. My day-to-day activities would see me coordinating safe helicopter activities as a Helicopter Landing Officer (HLO) for the client, vessel resupply and simops (simultaneous operations), training of staff in their responsibilities under the safety management system (SMS) and investigating any incidents that occurred. The operation was 24/7 with a number of different contractors involved, many of whom had little offshore or maritime experience. The project team built up a great camaraderie and I am proud to say that there were no major incidents or serious harm events during my tenure.”
Qualification(s): Diploma of Occupational Health & Safety, PG Certificate in Occupational Hygiene, Certificate IV in Surface Ventilation (Appointed Ventilation Officer under the Dept of Mines & Petroleum WA), Lead Auditor ISM, Safety & Quality, MCA Designated Person Ashore (DPA) & Company Security Officer (CSO) certificate.
What have you enjoyed the most? “Without doubt it’s the people you meet and the places you go, places you wouldn’t imagine you would ever visit under normal circumstances.”
What challenges did you have to overcome? “My biggest challenge was getting an Australian visa (as an Englishman), the days of the ten pound POM are long gone!”
Advice for a younger you? “I should have moved to Aussie when I was younger, the opportunities and projects that have been generated there during the resources boom have given lots of young (and not so young) guys and girls the opportunities to upskill and work on some amazing projects.”
When he left school in Wellington Kyle Smith did a joinery apprenticeship. He used it to get trades jobs in the United Kingdom while on a travelling holiday, and then took up a hospitality role managing a bar..
Kyle was always a keen fisherman in his spare time. When he returned to New Zealand he got his first run-about boat, and trained as a scuba diver. He would often be at the seaside - out boating or diving for crayfish.
After joining the Police in 2006, Kyle was excited to see an opportunity to move into the maritime unit. He says it is a great sense of achievement to have completed his Skipper Restricted Limits qualification and captain the Lady Elizabeth IV emergency response vessel. He also holds an MEC6 (Marine Engineering Class 6) certificate of competency.
Kyle says “you also feel the full weight of responsibility in such a leadership role, but I enjoy stepping up.”
An incident that stands out in his memory is chasing down a stolen yacht and apprehending the thief - while also impounding a load of cannabis.
In addition to the wide variety of work in the maritime unit, Kyle enjoys learning new mechanical and engineering skills as he and fellow crew members repair and maintain the Police launch to keep it in prime condition for emergency call-outs.
Leaving school at 13, barely able to read and write, his life soon went off the rails and he became, in his own words, a ‘troubled teenager’. After two years of strife, his mother got him out of a hole and onto a fishing factory ship. After hard work, with ups and downs, Kyle Cotton now has a family, a home and is skipper of an inshore fishing boat.
Name: Kyle Cotton
Current role: Skipper, fishing boat Magane
Best maritime role: : In his sixth week skipper, Kyle broke the Magane’s record, bringing in a whopping $57,000.
Qualifications: Inshore Launch Master, Offshore Watchkeeper, Marine Engineering
Kyle found deep sea trawlers were not what he wanted and after two years he became a deckhand on an inshore fishing boat.
“It was good but I didn’t want to be a deckie for ever so I realised I’d have to step up my game.”
Kyle began studying for maritime certificates by correspondence but struggled.
“Thirteen years or so at sea I had the right boat knowledge but I couldn’t get that down on paper in a way it could be understood so I needed help from a lot of people to get through it all. It was very hard.
“I dragged that out over a few years by correspondence because I still wasn’t the best at reading or writing. If I needed help I’d hit up one of the other skippers and they’d explain things, though the engineering ticket wasn’t too bad, more practical. It really helps to have good people around you.”
Kyle has been a deckhand, a mate and now is a skipper.
“Fishing gives me a lot more quality time with my family and I’m earning more.
“Doing those tickets has helped with my reading and writing which all goes to prove if you want something bad enough there really isn’t any reason why you can’t achieve it.
“Timaru is a good place to work out of. There’s a lot of fishermen here willing to help each other out if there’s any problems. It’s a big ocean out there after all, so we work together. But there really need to be more young people coming through because at the end of the day its and good lifestyle if you want it bad enough; they’ve just go to have the urge to do it.”
This is a summary of Kyle’s story from Seafood New Zealand magazine, page 37.
In conjunction of celebrating World Maritime Day 2016, James hopes this article of his sailing story will be an eye-opener to the youths today about the exciting careers and opportunities at sea.
Name: James TH Foong
Current role: Student, New Zealand Maritime School
James TH Foong, a Malaysian, is currently taking his advance studies in New Zealand, which enabled him to meet different people around the world from mixed cultures, changing his whole perception on life - increasing his confidence, independence and decision making.
Keen to progress his maritime career, James is currently studying towards a Mate’s/Master qualification at the New Zealand Maritime School. He aims to complete his Class 1 Unlimited (Master Foreign Going) Certificate of Competency by the end of 2016.
James is no stranger to the sea, showing there are great long term careers available. In 2007, at the age of 19, James started sailing with the Merchant Navy as a deck cadet in MISC Berhad (Malaysia International Shipping Corporation) under the Company cadet sponsorship program.
Today, as a 2nd Officer for the Merchant Navy, James reckons his current role as Navigating Officer as his best job so far. James is also a member of The Nautical Institute and The Royal Institute of Navigation, United Kingdom.
While he had to overcome challenges at work such as paper work and navigating through rough weather at sea, such challenges have been trumped by the types of opportunities you will never get in an office job such as a beautiful sunrise/sunset, dolphins and whales. All reasons why James recommends you should consider a career at sea!