August 08, 2014

All at sea

There was a time was when giving advice to youngsters wanting to go out to sea was simpler. Tell them, realistically, enough about the life, make them realise the pluses and minuses of the profession and they were ready to make a decision. However, although the same framework could be used today too, the process is not so simple any longer.

For one, and surprisingly in this internet age, many wannabe seamen know very little about a mariners working life even after they seem to have decided to sail. They come to me for advice sometimes, already misled by family or touts or both.  What I tell them is that they do not know enough to make a decision yet. I then tell them the reality of what their working life will be for the next five or ten years; I do not pull any punches and I don’t sugar coat anything. And, because most of these kids do not really want to be at sea, and since most of these kids look at seafaring only after they have failed to get admissions to other professional colleges and the like, they are discouraged easily. Which is just as well; the ocean is no place for the half-hearted. 

Every once in a long while, though, a potentially ideal seafarer of the future comes to me. He is well educated, erudite and clear about what he wants. He may not be well informed about the seafaring life- which is why he sought me out- but he is smart and a quick learner. Invariably, he wants a working life different from what the majority of his peers seek, and he likes the idea of being at sea. He is also, usually, the type of cadet we should be looking for- good language and mathematics skills, the right attitude and temperament and with potential. He should be encouraged to join the profession.

But I don’t do that either. 

What I do instead is to take extra time and care to explain the life to him, much more time than I take with somebody from the first group. To make him understand that the money is not great any longer- not if you have the ability to excel ashore, it isn’t. To explain to him that another advantage of sailing- seeing the world - has eroded considerably. That a generation used to being in constant contact with family and friends online or otherwise may find the lack of communication facilities on most ships a special irritant. That the good life has been largely eaten away by the system and its lackeys.

On the other hand, I tell him, the sea has the ability to give you, exactly, the different kind of life you are looking for. It can be exciting and will make a man out of you in a way that you will enjoy. That, if this kind of life is the attraction, he should seriously consider signing up. Provided, of course, that he joins a maritime training setup that can guarantee him on board placement without tout charges or extortion. I tell him of the few institutes that are worthwhile.  I tell him if he doesn’t get into one of those he should scrap the idea of going out to sea. I tell him why.

I also tell him, finally, that he should be willing to spend the best part of the next decade at sea. And that he should, after a few years, look at whether he wants to move ashore at the end of this decade, and to start preparing for that eventuality. He probably will want to, anyway. If I were from his generation, I would too.

Life at sea is not that great any longer, I tell him. But it is still good enough.  Just be clear that it has the potential to give you what you are looking for, is all. 


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