The British
Merchant Navy

Merchant Navy

As an island nation, we depend on the sea for 95% of our trade and for our security.

A career at sea in the Merchant Navy, or the fishing industry is both challenging and rewarding, and can lead to a wide range of other careers in the maritime sector ashore.

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Merchant Navy Careers Handbook
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Gary Smith
Deck Cadet, P&O Nedlloyd Kobe

Gary Smith, Deck Cadet
This is me ...
P&O Nedlloyd Kobe
Gary is currently berthed on the P&O Nedlloyd Kobe shown here.

My name is Gary Smith. I'm 22, live in Southampton, and I'm a deck cadet with P&O Nedlloyd.

I first thought about earning my living at sea shortly after I left college at the age of 18. Prior to that I didn't really know what I wanted to do as a career.

At school, the careers advisers were saying 'you have to pick a career option soon otherwise you'll be stuck in a dead-end job, shoveling dung for the rest of your life'.

As much as I tried to pretend that that wasn't true, I knew that they were right. I remember when my mum and dad used to say 'you won't believe me son, but when you leave school, you'll wish you were back'.

How right they were! But now I've got used to having to think for myself, I actually enjoy my job here. Seafaring is a proud profession and I am proud to be a part of it.

The job may not be as glamorous as being an airline pilot or a high flying stockbroker, but people are intrigued and they always ask questions about it.

I joined because I want to see as much of this beautiful planet as I can before I die. I haven't even finished my training and already I've seen things that some people will never see: sailing past the Statue of Liberty in New York; cruising under the Golden Gate Bridge; humpback whales courting in the Bering Sea; waterspouts dancing together in the South China Sea; the list goes on.

I also enjoy the feeling of total solitude I get when we are in the middle of the Pacific, thousands of miles from civilization. The ship is in effect, a small close-nit community. We have two bars and mess rooms, games room, TV room and a plunging pool. We also make our own entertainment: quiz nights, lotteries, bingo, deck golf, barbecue parties etc..

As a cadet in the deck department, my working day can be very different from the last, or be completely the same as the last.

Deck cadets are in actual fact deck dogsbodies! That isn't meant in a derogatory way; for we have to learn the job of the sailor before we learn the job of the deck officer.

This is to give us credibility when we ask the sailors to, say, put an eye into a mooring wire or to paint the ship. I would look quite the fool if I couldn't demonstrate the task to a sailor who wasn't sure or passed a splice as safe only to see it pull out under load.

Many of the skills we learn and use have been developed over hundreds of years. The standard 3-strand rope has been used for centuries, as has the splices and knots associated with it.

Even on the navigation side we must still be confidently able to deduce the ship's position using only the heavenly bodies and a sextant. This was the same technique that enabled Captain Bligh to navigate his small boat over 3500 miles to Dutch Indonesia when he was set adrift from HMS Bounty.

Another aspect of this job I enjoy is knowing that as the officer of the watch, I will have full responsibility for a piece of machinery weighing as much as 120,000 tonnes. I enjoy making those split second decisions that are often required.

I would be one of the first to admit that this life isn't for everyone. Spending months away at a time, separation from family and loved ones, and the solitude, has driven many people to leave.

But for me the rewards more than outweigh the price. What could be better than going to exotic, far flung places, going ashore and having a good time there whilst getting paid for it!?

It can be hard work and sometimes it can be lonely. But as with everything, it's only as good or as bad as you make it.

To work at sea is to be a true professional and I would recommend it to anyone who is up to the challenge.

onboard P&O Nedlloyd Kobe

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