Working at sea

People dynamics

Life on board a research vessel is exciting, busy and challenging as it involves a small community working at sea on a moving platform.

Your workplace is also your home for the voyage

As the vessel is a closed community, you will be with the same people for the entire voyage.  Therefore, it is even more important to be respectful and considerate of other people’s needs. Having a positive attitude, even in difficult situations, always helps to maintain morale, especially after a long and hard period of work.  Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself.

Chain of command

A ship at sea operates in a potentially dangerous environment that requires certain behaviours to ensure the safety of all those on board.

Under Maritime Law, on a ship the Master has ultimate responsibility and is in control. The Master's directions are carried out by the crew who act on the behalf of the Master. The senior on board management team consists of the Master, Voyage Manager and Chief Scientist in respective order of authority.

Safety always takes priority over science.  The chain of command and the respect for authority is therefore quite noticeable on a research vessel, as this is important to ensure the safety of all on board.

First time on a research voyage

Some voyage participants will be seasoned seafarers while for others it will be a new experience.  Supporting those not familiar with going to sea is important so people can quickly settle in and enjoy the voyage.

If you have not been on a research voyage before it will be a learning experience but there will be support on board from experienced seafarers.  It is only a matter of asking if you are not sure about anything.

Personal space

After a hard period of work people often need some time to themselves. 

Personal space on a vessel is limited and people deal with this in a variety of ways.  Some people go to the gym with headphones and a music player while others find a quiet corner to read a book.

The need for time alone differs between people and it is important that it is respected.

Hone your empathy skills

On a research vessel it is important to get along with the other voyage participants.  What might be acceptable at home may not be on the vessel, so a little thought needs to go into how things are done and particularly how your behaviour impacts on other people.

Waking an MNF support person in the middle of the night, because they are accessible, for a minor issue that could be resolved in the morning is not a good idea nor is having music blaring instead of wearing headphones when others might be talking or reading a book.

Manage relationships

Your capacity to deal with the demands of life at sea will be influenced by various factors, including your prior experience and personal situation. The stresses that can arise as a consequence of separation, isolation, seasickness, personal pressure, community living and changing circumstances may test your individual resourcefulness.

You are expected to work positively to maintain your motivation, confidence and self esteem and to show sensitivity, acceptance and support towards your fellow shipmates.

You are expected to treat others with consideration, courtesy, respect, fairness and tolerance, without patronage or favouritism or regard to sex, race, nationality or other similar factors. It is important to always respect others’ rights, opinions, duties, aspirations and privacy.

As you will be working with many people you do not know and over an extended period of time, it is important that relationships are managed and not taken for granted.
Friends understand each other and their idiosyncrasies.  Strangers do not understand each other initially and can only really react to what they see and hear.  You will need to be aware that moods will change, and adjust behaviour accordingly.  At times this could mean not saying something you would normally say in order to maintain harmony.

It also could mean not reacting negatively to a statement but recognising a colleague is having difficulty and needs support, not criticism.  Most people will go through highs and lows, particularly on extended voyages.

The people dynamics on a research voyage can be challenging at times but with the right attitude a difficult situation can be resolved quickly to the benefit of all those involved. 

Everyone on a voyage wants to enjoy the experience so there is a lot of goodwill that can be harnessed.

Look out for others

You will be part of a team on a research voyage and it is important that everyone looks out for each other.

If someone is having problems, see if they need help.  If you notice a safety hazard, let the Chief Scientist, Voyage Manager or Master know so they can deal with it.  If you are having a hard time with sea sickness or any other issue, let your manager know and seek help about what to do.

Sometimes people withdraw if they are depressed or trying to deal with a difficult situation.  The difficult situation may not be anything that has happened on the vessel.  For example, it could be something that has happened at home while they have been away.  If you see someone withdrawing, check to see if everything is alright while respecting their privacy.  It may not be a big problem, the person may need support or there may be a real problem developing.  If unsure about a situation, the Voyage Manager and Master are there to help.
On a voyage you need to be proactive.  People will help if they know there is a problem and problems can be dealt with if the right people know something needs to be done.

Personal well-being

Just like your physical health, it is important that you look after your psychological health and general well-being while at sea.

Living and working in often isolated environments, being separated from family and friends and not having the same level of access to normal support networks can be demanding while at sea. In addition to being able to discuss these issues with on board friends and the Voyage Manager, you can access a range of ‘self care’ resources available on board from the ship’s libraries.

Maintaining a safe and healthy working environment is a shared responsibility.

Updated: 17 December 2014