A friend of mine contacted me the other day to ask what advice I would offer as he prepares to go on his commercial cruise next summer as a Cal Maritime cadet. I’ve learned a lot in the last five or six years that I’d like to pay forward; for the sake of brevity, let me touch on at least one topic that I value quite a lot.
This applies to everyone in my book, but here I’m talking to the ones sailing as cadets, whether you’re at PMI, MITAGS, or HMTS with the Workboat Academy, or on a ship or tug putting in your 90 days for a traditional maritime academy. Although you aspire to be a mate or captain, you’re not there yet; always respect your deck hands and your engineers. Chances are they’re older than you, they’ve made a career out of what they do, and they have a lot of knowledge they can pass on to you if they so choose. You don’t need to kiss anyone’s ass but in a perfect world you’ll be genuine and respectful and they’ll be the same to you.
For me, the only time this goes out the window is when you’re being bullied by another crew member. This is tricky: if there is someone on board that you trust, confide in them, especially if you’re facing a hostile work environment, which I feel should never be tolerated. Just remember that gossip is everyone’s favorite pastime and you may fuel a worsening situation. Sometimes the only answer is to put your head down and get tough. There may be shipmates in your future who will have a chip on their shoulder just because you’re young and ambitious. There’s nothing wrong with being young or ambitious, but you’ll have to work harder to prove yourself. If it’s the captain who is giving you a hard time, you’re kinda stuck. Just remember that if you’re doing your job well (be honest with yourself here), no one has any reason to pick on you and if they do, it’s probably because they’re dissatisfied with their lot. In the meantime, every trip eventually comes to an end, and chances are you’ll learn a lot from that guy about how not to behave. And now for the tough love:
Stuff No One Wants To Hear
I’m guessing that whatever is happening at the moment, you probably don’t know everything about it. More importantly, if someone is trying to coach you or offer you advice, the quickest way to lose their support and respect is to cut them off with “I know”. To refuse help or advice from someone is to take a serious risk. Your shipmates feel that what they’ve learned over the span of their career is valuable, and their advice may well be valuable to you. If you shut them down, you demonstrate that their knowledge is not important to you, and this can turn people off to helping you in the future (best case) and possibly offend them to the point where they are willing to let you fail, even in a potentially dangerous situation (worst case). To avoid situations like this, be receptive to coaching and advice, even if you think you already know something or you’ve heard it before, because you may gain a new perspective and, if nothing else, you’ll reinforce the lessons you’ve already learned. A better alternative to “I know” is a sincere “thanks”. You will also give someone the satisfaction of knowing that he was able to teach you something, which is worth its weight in gold.
It’s 30 below outside? You’re stuck in a hurricane and going backwards? You’re tired? No one wants to hear it. Two words: crew morale. Everyone on that boat is going through what you’re going through. When you voice dissatisfaction, it brings everyone down just that little bit. It poisons the very air you breathe, and makes it that much harder to face your next watch. This has the potential to lead to disaster. I can promise that no one appreciates your complaints, so foster some positive self-talk and get on with the damn thing. You may not realize that your attitude has an impact, but every individual plays an equal role in keeping crew morale high.
“I want to go home”
To what, or to whom exactly do you feel the need to return? Mommy and daddy? Your girlfriend? Stop it. If you are going to make this your career, there’s something you need to accept: you chose to do this, no one is making you stay, and from now on, “home” is exactly where you are at this moment. Whether you’re on the ship or on land, you get nowhere by wishing you were somewhere else. Take control of your situation and make the very best of it, and you will thrive. And if they love you, the ones at home will understand.
So there you have it, my best advice gained from a few short years involving lots of proverbial blood sweat and tears. I hope my offerings help someone out there, and I wish you all the best of luck.