What you should know about working at sea?

Cruise ship.

Why would anyone want to be working at sea ?

On the other hand, seafarers often ask, why would any person want to work in a factory or an office entombed away from the refreshing beauties of the great outdoors?

Why would anyone want to be a subway train conductor or work in a mine where he must forego the fresh air and sunlight of the great outdoors?

Questions such as these serve to highlight the difference of ideas that people have on the subject of employment.

On the surface of things the seafarer's lot may appear infinitely better than that of the person who is forced to sweat life out in a foundry or mine or who is obliged from day to day to face an insatiable public in a store or shop.

But every experienced seafarer knows that appearances are extremely deceiving, that life itself, whether on land or at sea, is not to be judged by appearances.

The reasoning person search should be for truth.

Behind the thinking of the young person who is contemplating a life at sea there may very well be visions of exotic lands, a life of ease with good pay, free of weighty responsibilities and loaded with adventure.

Any seafarer worth his salt will tell you that those are dreams, and dreams, while they may contain some truth, usually differ drastically from the stark realities.

This is not to say that life at sea does not have its good points, for it does.

Sea life can have its adventurous interludes.

The sea itself fills men with awe and wonder, and some of the port cities are among the most fascinating in the world.

Nevertheless, what we want to do is equate sea life with the facts.

The person behind a desk in some office in a large city may be prone to envision sea life in glowing romantic terms, perhaps as an escape from tight schedules, traffic jams, carbon monoxide gases or a nagging wife.

The young person in the factory may regard life at sea as a haven from the dreaded monotony.

Of the production line, and the farmer boy may see this life as a flight from boring chores.

While all of those outlooks might lead people to the sea, none of them reflect an honest appraisal of sea life.

For at sea there are schedules to be met and boring chores just as there are on land.

Rewards and fears

But life at sea does have its rewards.

For example, the hashes of the sun at it's rising and setting make the ocean astonishingly beautiful.

The sounds of the waves are most awesome and varied.

There are the hollow boomings and heavy roarings, great watery tumblings, hissings and seethings, sharp, rifle-shot reports, splashes and whispers.

Every mood of the wind, every change in the weather, every phase of the tide has its own peculiar attraction.

Yet with the various tinges of the sea, the polar lights in the north and in the south, the myriads of stars and meteors, still these natural wonders are no more influential toward making a seafarer a good person than the sight of a rising sun or beaming stars is to a factory worker on vacation.

On land as well as at sea, it is our own attitude that really counts.

There are tranquil and spellbinding moments at sea.

But this is only one side of the story.

What about the other side?

There are also frightening and terrifying realities that are not so widely publicized, and these are as much a part of sea life as a boatswain’s whistle.

There is no denying that sunsets and sunrises are beautiful to behold, but what about the endless days that are buried in bleak wintry gloom, when the raging sea resembles stampeding mountains and the ship struggles to keep from being torn to pieces or from being buried beneath the waves?

Icebergs do reflect a breathtaking brightness against a black sea.

But have you ever been near them in a North Atlantic gale when your ship was tossed and pitched like a feather in a hurricane and your very life and the life of everyone on the ship depended on evading those treacherous masses of ice?

Have you been aboard when the ship’s deck was caked with tons of ice, when waves like angry mountains made each groan sound like the ship’s very last as it plunged in and out of the sea?

During moments like these there is very little that is romantic about sea life.

The office worker would welcome the sight of an office, and the boy, his father’s farm.

The demands and dangers 

Have you ever considered how demanding and dangerous sea life can be?

At times the seafarer must face unbearable humidity, violent winds, solar radiation, frequent changes of climate, insufficient sleep, poisoning effects of the cargoes by development of gases and the so-called “metalplate disease” (a harmful effect on man caused by fields of terrestrial magnetism acting on iron pieces of the ship).

Add to this the fact that by long tradition the captain has the final say on matters.

Woe betide the seafarer who runs afoul of the ship’s master.

Every year some ship vessels disappear at sea.

These mysterious losses involve some crew members also.

Of course, there are disasters on land, too, mine disasters, explosions and other industrial accidents. 

But at least land disasters can be analyzed and steps taken to avoid repetition.

What can be done about ships that are mysteriously swallowed up by the sea?

Why, then, the sea?

A seafarer’s life, perhaps, can best be described as an isolating experience.

It is a life confined in a vessel of cold steel, which rocks and rolls, pitches and tosses, sways and vibrates.

It is often a life of deep loneliness, agonizing solitude and frequent hours of absolute boredom.

Wrote one ship commander after years at sea:

“I remember only one man who walked his deck with a springy step, and gave the first course of the passage in an elated voice. But he, as I learned afterwards, was leaving nothing behind him, except a welter of debts and threats of legal proceedings.”

This is not to say that there are no exceptions to the rule, for there are, but not many.

There are seafarer who say that the water is their element.

These men boast that for them really to feel at home is for them to live on the ocean waves.

Some old-timers were born at sea, and at sea is where they would prefer to end their days.

Veteran sailors tell us that there are moments at sea when life can be unforgettably beautiful.

It can be a great doctor, say they, for sore hearts and sore heads.

Cares, they feel, seem to be left astern as easily as the light air bubbles in the swirls of the ship’s wake.

Nothing, it appears, but a gale can disturb the orderly serenity of life when all is well at sea.

But these moments must be weighed in the light of all the other factors when considering a life at sea. 

Sober reflections 

There are serious considerations to bear in mind.

For example, ask yourself, is a seafarer’s life a life for a family ?

The person might reason that he or she provides well for the family.

But are material considerations the only ones to be met by him?

How much affection can a person shower on his or her while at sea?

How much instruction and direction can one offer them?

The person operating a subway train or working in a mine may be away from his family all day, but he does have an opportunity to come home at night, and his weekends can be spent with the family.

Studies from Norway, Britain and the West Indies, all tend to show that children growing up in split-up families are seriously handicapped in their chances of growing up normally.

When one parent is away, the other parent has to do the work of two; consequently, children suffer.

Consider, too, the moral aspect of such a life and the strain that it places on both the husband and the wife.

Many foreign ports swarm with prostitutes who are only too willing to sell themselves.

And seafarer are singled out as prime targets.

The lack of moral integrity aboard ships, too, is not a hidden secret; also group influence and loneliness-all these factors tend to weaken, corrode and destroy the virtues of even one of high principle.

Marital fidelity and moral integrity do suffer; without question.

The wife may be tempted while the husband is away, and the husband certainly is exposed to temptation.

An upright person would indeed be placing himself and, his high ideals in frightful jeopardy by ignoring these facts of sea life.

Do you want to take such chances with your life?

Throughout the world merchant fleets are expanding, and enticing offers are made to lure young people into that way of life.

Some vessels today are breathlessly beautiful to behold.

Many of them have comfortable quarters.

A number are controlled by automatic instruments, remote control, radar and other complicated electronic devices.

It also may be true that seafarers have much leisure time to study.

According to the Bureau of Naval Personnel, “persons at sea service read a lot more books than the average adult.”

But what is the quality of their reading?

It would be naive to think that people aboard ships are all industriously engaged in constructive pursuits in their spare time.

Such is simply not the case.

A seafarer’s life is a hard life, particularly difficult for a person with a family.

So, think carefully before obligating yourself to a life at sea.