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Your Stories: James, Marine Engineer

Introducing James

James has been a friend of ours for nearly 10 years now. Over those last ten years he has been working exclusively in the marine industry, across many different sectors. 

After years of sailing, studying and working, James is now a qualified and experienced marine engineer onboard superyachts. He started life in the industry working as a Dockmaster in a south coast marina. A few years later, James was awarded sponsorship through a Maersk cadetship to study for his merchant navy engineering officer qualifications.

James is now 3rd Engineer on a a 100m+ well-renowned yacht but due to usual rules within the superyacht world, he can’t publicly reveal which yacht he’s on. Super shady world this salty business!

Our Interview With James

We had a chat with James about his career so far. He shares some great stories and insights with us below…

How did you take your first steps into the marine industry? Did you have any support to do this?

Initially my first steps into the marine industry were through determination to relocate to the South Coast. I am originally from Northampton, which is near enough the one of the furthest places you can get from sea within the UK. However, after growing up visiting the south coast to go sailing with my parents, I had always known I’d end up living there eventually. Once I left school I started saving, and eventually just quit my job and made the move. The hunt for a new job to get me settled on the south coast resulted in a job working in a marina in Portsmouth Harbour. This gave me a base to start trying to start my career as a marine engineer!

Sailing onboard sail training vessel ‘Jolie Brise’ as a teenager

Did your time working in a marina help prepare and inspire you for a career at sea?

Working at the marina did help push me towards my goal. I started doing some part time work with a local marine engineer which cemented the idea of making a living from that kind of work. On top of that, being a deep water marina, we had quite a few superyachts stay with us. Getting to know the crews onboard planted a seed with regards to working within the yachting industry. The only question then was how to go about taking the next step. After becoming single I decided to take the step into the merchant navy.

How did you fund your merchant navy training?

This is the question that usually shocks your average student! I applied for my merchant navy training through a shipping company, Maersk. As a result I was sponsered for the duration of my training. This meant that they covered the course costs, any additional training and also paid me a small wage to cover food and accommodation during my time training with them. This is the case with almost all of the merchant navy companies who offer cadetships. On top of this I applied for a student bursary which helped out a bit more!

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Are there some sectors within the marine industry that you think young people are more attracted to than others?

I’d say there’s a lot more attraction to both the superyacht industry or the leisure yacht industry than the likes of commercial shipping industry. There’s a lot more street cred surrounding working around the rich and famous, or sailing with the people who want to be on the water for the fun of it and then often in the pub in the evening for a few scoops. This contrasts with the long periods of time away on commercial vessels pushing to get to the next port as soon as possible, on a prodominently male crewed ship. Of course there is the cruise industry which has the best of both worlds.

What are the hardest things about working in the marine industry as a newly qualified marine engineer?

With my paticular route, the common issue people suffer is getting used to long periods away at sea and away from family, and the diverse multicultural mixture of crew onboard ships. I’ve never really had an issue with being away from home, it’s just another adventure to me! I also had no issues with mixing with other crew, but I know a few of the people I went to college with suffered with being the only European on a vessel crewed entirely by Russians and other similar scenarios. It’s not often an issue with many people, but it does happen. The issue with being newly/recently qualified within the industry when it comes to superyacths is that most yachts want someone with experience, and like in many career paths, you need that first job to get the experience they want! That old chesnut…

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Your career has taken you on various vessels all over the world so far – can you pick a few highlights?

So far through work I’ve managed to travel to 5 out of 7 continents, and around 50 different countries. A few of the highlights include, relaxing on the copacabana beach for the day drinking rum from a coconut, experiencing the unfortunate delay of a ship I was joining and being stuck in Miami for 3 days (hello hire car), cycling around the F1 track in Abu Dhabi, playing on Seabobs while anchored off remote islands in the Maldives, seeing how close I can get to a waterfall further up a Norwegian Fjord than tourist boats just can’t reach, getting to explore places you’d generally not get to explore such as eating curry with the locals in india, being fed pigs eyes from a fresh hog roast by filipinos, being arrested at gunpoint in West Africa because I had a camera and having to bribe my way out of it… Okay, that last one was not the most pleasent of experiences but you get the idea! A cheeky one from my early career also has to be helping a friend of mine take his Open 60 to the start line of the Velux 5 Oceans!

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Have you noticed big variations within the local marine industries in those countries and working on different types of vessels?

There’s a big difference depending where you are in the world as to the level of health and safety when it comes to the local vessels. Although there’s a lot of legislation within the marine industry trying to keep an even standard of training, condition of vessels and equipent some of the local vessels around less safety-concious countries definitely show a lack in this department.

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The larger shipping companies are very heavily safety-concious and crew are actively encouraged to find, report and correct any issues that come to light regarding health and safety of both the crew and the vessel. The yachting industry is also generally pretty good when it comes to health and safety, however there are exceptions where boundries are pushed to ensure guests’ needs are met. This is forever improving but has come from a time where many yachts weren’t regulated, due to being privately owned and the boss/guests always got what they wanted.

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How does the pay vary across the different sectors of the marine industry you’ve worked in so far?

Pay within the marine industry can vary hugely. At one end of the spectrum being barely making a living, but rather working to live the lifestyle, which there’s nothing wrong with and a lot of people enjoy doing so. At the other end of the spectrum, you can be an officer within the superyacht industry. Although this involves spending periods of time away, they do reimburse you for the pleasure. Of course there’s always exceptions, as in any industry, where you can make a lot of money if you do well in your particular sector.

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What do you wish you could tell your previous and current employers in the marine industry?

Life does exist outside of work…

Do you constantly have to keep up your training and study for further qualifications? What are you aiming for?

STCW certification in safety training such as sea survival, firefighting etc. needs be be renewed every 5 years. That can be done with a week’s worth of refresher training, providing you’ve actively been working in the industry in the time between. I am also actively training to gain my next level in marine engineering. The ultimate aim is to achieve my Class 1 unlimited engineers Certificate of Competancy. This would entitle me to work as Chief Engineer of any vessel of any size.

Any words of wisdom for other young people keen to get into the marine engineering, merchant navy or superyacht world?

I couldn’t recommend taking the merchant navy route of training enough. They invest heavily in your training and afford you good oppurtunities to get on ships for hands-on training. If you’re lucky, you might get a trip on an old ship that’s falling to bits, has no spares and needs a lot of TLC to make it to the next port. It’s a lot of experience you just wouldn’t get anywhere else when it comes to fixing things.

The main thing though is that the marine industry can be a very rewarding and fun industry to get into, there’s certainly worse ways  to make a living!

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Want More Inspiration?

Read our success story helping find a last-minute engineer for a tall ship voyage. Lucky Shaun Eve landed the job and had a fantastic time. Submit your CV and like us on Facebook to find out about the next opportunity.

Are you female and interested in marine engineering, or working onboard superyachts? Go for it. Don’t let gender bias put you off. There are some amazing women in the marine industry – come and join us.

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