Tag Archive: cadet


Someone recently Googled “Merchant Navy Cadet First Trip Homesick”.

Not sure my blog was really much help on that subject so I shall try to adjust this balance now.

Feeling homesick is perfectly normal – especially on a 1st trip. Even more so if you are only young. It’s perfectly possible to be a cadet, on your own, on a ship with no one else who speaks English, aged 16.

You won’t be alone in feeling homesick, most people have at some point been homesick, especially at the start, where you are out of your depth, you are in a (usually quite literally) foreign environment.

To be honest if you are only 16/17/18 & this is the first time you’ve been away from home, & you didn’t at least miss it a little bit I’d be concerned.

The best advise I can give you is this though. Don’t disappear into yourself when you are feeling homesick, not when you are a cadet anyway. You still don’t really know how to deal with it. Most of us old sea dogs have ways with dealing with it if we still suffer from it, but we’ve built up our techniques. Go out on the ship, be social, the last thing that will get you out of feeling shitty is locking yourself in your cabin staring at 4 bulkheads of mottled beige.

Have a quick scoot round the accommodation – see whose doors are open, see if the 3rd or 4th engineer fancies a chat, or if you feel like lowering your IQ a few points try & spark up a conversation with one of the mates (joke, I’ve been told there are some intelligent ones out there), but I’d try to speak to the Junior officers, we don’t bite…hard, & generally are willing to chat shit, it’s not like we have an important date to go on.

On cruise ships get yourself down the bar, you don’t have to get blasted, but theres always someone willing to get a few rounds in with you I’m sure. Ships are social places on the whole, despite more & more of them becoming dry, we do all generally like a good banter session. Even if it takes your mind off it for a bit, it’s better than nothing.

But believe me, you won’t be the first person to feel homesick on a ship, & you won’t be the last. Certainly don’t quit because you are homesick, homesickness passes, once you have your ticket and if you are still getting homesick, you can find a job that is shorter trips, or closer to home. There’s options, but don’t give up because you miss home. I mean after all – you were planning of moving away from home at one point I presume?

Also one last thing, when you are at college, don’t go home every weekend, or every opportunity, the faster you get used to not being home the easier it is at sea, & also with a lot of ships these days you will have free access to email, or at least cheap access, also phone calls are a lot cheaper as well (When I was 1st at sea it was £5/minute), so you won’t be out of contact for long & it won’t cost the earth.

Hope it helps

Stay Safe



Life as a cadet

I was a cadet for 3 years, and I’ve sailed with enough of them in the near 7 years since I’ve been qualified to think I know what I’m talking about.

If you want to get by as a cadet, at sea, especially as a 1st tripper, you could do a sight worse than read these words.

Bring a sense of humour and a bit of humility.

Accept the fact you are the lowest ranking most junior thing on the ship.Your experiance regardless of what it is, unless it’s actually on a ship, wont count for much if anything, I’ll be honest. You’re degree in aeronautical science doesn’t mean shit if you don’t know port from starboard, and left loosey, righty tighty. You are coming into our world, respect that.

I don’t like it but in the 30 or 40 cadets I’ve sailed with since qualified, the easiest to teach and most eager to learn were not the degree cadets, they were the 16/17 year old children who came away and were shocked into learning. Degree cadets I’ve found on the whole, when they come to sea, are arrogant and won’t listen to anything a fully trained officer who is younger than them, has to say. I’ve had degree cadets say to me, “I know that I know it, what do you know? You’ve only a HND”. I’ve had it said twice to me before, and twice I’ve had the cadets in question confused with work within 10 minutes and had them re-write the technical reports they had to do for their NVQ as they were hopelessly shit. Respect the fact we are more experienced than you. Despite our age.

You’ll be referred to as “The Cadet” in conversation, you probably won’t be praised an amazing amount if you are in earshot as well. No one likes an arrogant cadet, and no one certainly likes a cadet who is cocky. To engineers, like myself, there’s nothing in the world worse than a cocksure, arrogant smug deck cadet. I’ve never ever praised a deck cadet for the work they have done. I rarely praise engineer cadets to be honest either. But I’ll explain later.

You will be given jobs that seem pointless, but remember we all were given these jobs. You will be expected to make cups of tea, organise the flag shelves, help with the mundane painting/chipping, cut gaskets, wipe down tanks. You will be expected to get stuck in, especially the shit jobs. You’ll garner more respect off us if you offer up to do the shitty jobs, I myself even though I’m now a senior engineer still enjoy washing down sewage tanks and inspecting sludge tanks. nothing makes me happier on a ship if after a job my boiler suit is so minty I have to bin it straight away rather than wash it. if you off to do the shitty jobs you are more likely to be offered the nicer jobs. If you only try hard at the plum jobs we will make sure you end up cleaning the grease trap, or find a pointless repetitive task that needs doing for no reason. We are experts at finding these things.

You will be given crappy jobs that we don’t want to do, but remember if you weren’t there we would have had to do them, and it’s not like we don’t know how to do any of the jobs we give you. Yes we will give you the smelly, vomit inducing, jobs. But think, in 2.5 years time, when you are final trip cadet, or qualified you probably won’t have to do them again!

remember it’s not all G&T’s at high noon on the bridge wings. In fact it rarely is ever these days. You are joining as a cadet, you will not be expected to have mastered the ins and outs of spherical trigonometry or how to change the cross head bearings. You will be expected to have a certain amount of common sense and if someone tells you to learn something, learn it. We don’t tell you these things for our own good, we tell them because YOU WILL be asked them at college, and YOU WILL be required to know them. Some of us may not come across as the smartest cookies in the jar, but we have had to pass the same exams you guys have had to, in some cases we’ve had the same teachers as you have.

If you are lucky enough to be able to drink onboard or ashore, do so, I did, and I had a fucking brilliant time, but I always turned up on time. Theres nothing worse than a pissed up cadet. Especially when you’ve just got them trained up enough for them to have a smidggen of responsibility. I like to get cadets to do the morning readings and stuff in the engine room. If you are pissed out your skull, 2 hours late, and turn up whingeing that you are hung over, you and I will fall out quickly. It will involve you opening up a grease trap, or tracing an untraceable system, or bilge cleaning. Something that will only help me, not your learning.

Now the reason I rarely heap praise on cadets is because unless they are doing an extra-ordinary, off their own back, job on the ship they are just doing what they are being told to do. For example if I told a cadet – “have a look at number 2 purifier” and they came back and said, “Its fucked, its shitting oil into the tank and the sealing waters arse” he wouldn’t get thanks for telling me whats wrong. If they came back and said they’d shut it down and started the standby one, and got the kit ready to strip the other one down and cleaned up then they would get thanks, as it proves they are starting to think alone.

The reason why I never praise deck cadets is that they get enough back slapping and well dones for the tiniest of things they do. Its nothing personal against them, it’s the fact that everything that gets done on time and good, on a ship is apparently due to the deck department and everything wrong is the engineers fault. Engine blows up due to the Captain going to fast for too long against our advice its out fault. Ships gets to port on time thanks to the engineers blood sweat and swearing, the captains a bally bloody hero. But that’s oil and water for you, we never truly mix well.

Sea is a great place to work, I love it, I wouldn’t have devoted the last decade of my life to it otherwise & I do genuinely believe that if you are willing to learn and can have a laugh and show just a bit of respect, you will go far. Those are the 3 basic principles of working at sea. In importance I’d say,

1) Have a laugh,
2) Respect,
3) Willing to learn,

You’ll be walking into an environment of an entirely new language and atmosphere. You’ll learn to find that table salt is in fact “fucking salt” and the Engineroom is “That fucking shit hole”, and deck “The fucking deck”

You’ll love it really….. promise*

*promise nul and void after reading this blog

cheers and ta

2nd engineer

Things they never tell you but you WILL NEED and how to pack properly for sea

Sturgeron 15 – LOADS – Not only the best seasickness tablets I’ve ever known but they will knock you out as well – good if you have a bit of insomnia or you can’t sleep due to the weather.

European Adaptor plugs – nearly every ship I’ve been on regardless of where its built has only European sockets in the bulkhead

Multi gang strip – You will probably only have 2 -3 sockets in your cabin also get one with a surge protector you won’t regret it. So this is ESSENTIAL – do not use the blocks though, they are dangerous and SHIT.

Your own mug – little things like that are nice to have, and usually better than the standard issue company mug

Torch – Deckies – a 2AA Maglite will suffice, be flash and have one with a red filter for night-watch on the bridge as well as a plain one.Quality Sweet wrapper will do.

Engineers – a 2AA Maglite for the cabin, and 2C or 2D cell for the engine room – LED if possible

The torch thing I find very important. No company I’ve EVER worked for supplies good engine room torches. Maglites I’ve found over the years represent good value for money. even better now if you get the LED versions. They will put up with being dropped a few deck, immersed in fuel, used as rudimentary hammers and so on.

Bed sheets – I’ve started taking my own bed sheets to sea now, not every company provides nice bed sheets. Most cargo companies supply “cotton rich” sheets Which I find as comfortable as a smack in the face. Especially if you are working in the tropics on an old ship, a set of cotton sheets goes A LONG way.

Clothes – On-board the ship no-one cares really what you wear outside of uniform times as long as it is clean and you smell clean. There’s no need to take 3 suitcases of crap.I suggest 5 t shirts of which for dirty work. At least a weeks worth of jocks and socks, 2 pairs of jeans, a couple of up the road outfits TOPS.Shoes wise, one pair for off ship one SUPER comfy pair for slobbing on board. I know a lot of people who just wear slippers round the ship unless working.

Plus all your uniform stuff. make sure your black shoes are comfy.

Also recommend taking wooly hat that can cover your ears. Try and get a thin one. If you are working on deck in Alaska and there’s a wind, your hard hat wont protect much against it.

Soft leather work gloves – not every ship carry these (in fact only 1 I’ve been on), take 2 or 3 pairs if you are afraid for getting workers hands.

Take a laptop, speakers and hard drives full of movies – you will be everyone’s friend with lots of movies. 2 weeks into a 5 weeks at sea jaunt – you’ll suddenly realise that those 3 DVD’s you bought in Heathrow aren’t going to hold your attention for much longer.

Take an alarm clock or 3. If you are on watches you’ll be getting up twice a day in 12 hour intervals at least. Fully recommend 2 alarm clocks to help with this. Not mains powered either. Ship frequency is 60hz – your clocks will magically gain 40 minutes every 2 or 3 hours if you use mains powered clocks.

Stationary – Take lots of your own stationary, ships are not floating stationers, we have certain stuff on-board, but we don’t have hundreds of colouring pencils, fountain pen cartridges, gel pen inserts and so on. Also a notebook, most ships carry them, and I encourage you to carry one at all times. You WILL NOT be able to remember everything you are supposed to have in the first week. Especially on your first trip. I recommend getting “RED & BLACK” Wirebound polypropylene or any of the Red & Black wirebound range. Also use biro not Gel – biro doesn’t run when wet, and it will get wet, even better use pencil, but I don’t like to – my writing is worse when in pencil.

Try your best to fit everything into one bag, I’d also recommend getting a bag on wheels not a suitcase. The best I’ve had are The Northface Longhaul 30, or the Victorinox Explorer Wheeled Duffle. They are pricey but they are worth it. These are good sturdy strong but soft bags and wheeled, and easier to get up a gangway at 55 degrees than a suitcase is. If you are going to use a padlock make sure it has the US Airport security key lock on it, otherwise every time you go through America you’ll have to buy new padlocks.

I recommend getting the largest hand baggage bag you can as well. In here carry the usual, passport, discharge book, certificates, laptop etc. Clothes and that can be replaced easily. Your discharge book CAN NOT.

Penknife – regardless of scaremongering knives are essential for work on ships. I myself have 2 leathermans onboard and a lockknife. You’d be surprised when you dont have one on you how much you need it. Invest in a good quality lock knife – Gerber do an excellent seaman’s multi tool., or a Leatherman – but keep it oiled.

Fan – Take a USB powered air fan, it’s now something I don’t travel without – they are small but keep you cool. Just enough air movement to be useful!

1st Aid kit – Theres no need to take the prop box from Holby City but a few plasters, vaseline, sudocrem, cold and flu tablets, and PAINKILLERS, take loads of strongest painkillers you can find. You don’t want to be bothering the Chief mate every time you have a boo boo or a headache for basic supplies, also its more paper work for him. But be sensible, if you’ve half severed a finger off, no amount of elasto-plast will help you.