Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Is there a Frat House of the Sea?

(This post is a continuation of my previous post)

As members of a forgotten industry, one thing civilian seafarers in the US lack is a social support network within the industry. Divorce is unsurprisingly common, yet the trial of separation brings other couples remarkably closer. This begins with the understanding of your loved one's career. The strongest relationships between Kings Point men tend to be those with women who grew up in a military or seafaring household. It often involves 'tying the knot' in marriage years earlier than landlocked peers- how many 23-year old college graduates do you know whom are engaged or married?

On commercial ships, the level of communication with loved ones is governed by the munificence of shipping companies. Some older ships in the US fleet lack email or radio-telegraph service for crew members; their family members live in "river city"- reduced communications- between port calls. In the go-go nature of modern shipping, few shipping companies (Matson Lines being a notable exception) host welcome-home events, or other recognition for spouses and family members.

Since the US Government is the largest employer of civilian mariners, there are shared experiences  for the hundreds of 20-something's who "man the victory fleet" each summer and fall, as engineers, mates, and stewards' utilitymen. Questions we didn't think about as cadets, college students, or short-order cooks now find answers from voices of experience, or the Delphi method (8 people can't be unanimously wrong). These issues include powers-of-attorney and choosing an insurance plan. Currently, there is no comprehensive website to address these questions related to civilian life at sea, though GCaptain comes close. My second week of work sent me to New Jersey, where I and the other maritime college graduates, who have up-to-date training, joined the newbies in basic safety classes. This gave us engineers and mates an opportunity to guide the others through the ropes of life-rafts and such. Time between exercises gave the chance for the group of us engineers to hypothesize about hefty situations requiring our professional consideration: one example is the "leaky oil pipe" jury-rigged to send oily water overboard of the ship. This is a practice strictly banned in commercial shipping, and discouraged by our environmentally friendly allies. Would we notify the Inspector General, or would we join the culture of complicity?

While mates receive significant department-specific classroom instruction before reporting to a ship, engineers like myself will receive on-the-job instruction. In international terminology, I'll be an "Officer in Charge of an Engineering Watch". It has dawned on me that I could be on a ship next week. I have a short list of items to take care of at home this weekend. Other than those tasks, my bags are packed and I'm ready to go.

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