Having a career in the maritime industry doesn’t necessarily mean working away at sea for months on end and if you’re thinking of making the transition to one of the many shore based maritime jobs, you may well be feeling a little trepidation.
That’s understandable - it’s going to be a big lifestyle change. So we’re going to take a look at how you can make the leap from the seafarer jobs you're used to, to living and working permanently on land.
Tips before switching to a shore based maritime job
The good news is that maritime jobs on land are numerous and fall into many different sectors of the shipping industry.
Whether you’re looking for another physically demanding job, you want to put your technical skills to good use, or you’re thinking about entering ship broking or marine insurance, chances are you’ll be able to find a job that suits you.
You could even consider passing on your years of experience in the maritime industry to budding seafarers by training to be a lecturer in maritime studies in an academy, college or university.
Likewise, where you are based can vary wildly too.
If the thought of being completely parted from the ocean sounds like too much of a wrench, jobs in seaports are plentiful and encompass everything from surveying ships to checking their seaworthiness and repairing them to marine engineering, and from port and harbor management to pilotage.
Or maybe you’re considering a move inland. In which case you could start looking for shore-based marine jobs with shipping companies that manage and control their own fleet’s operations, or one that manages them on behalf of other shipowners.
Often your experience working in seafarer jobs will stand you in good stead for securing one of these positions and you might find yourself putting your seafaring skills to good use albeit behind a desk while working as a fleet manager, safety officer, marine superintendent or even a coder or software developer.
How to climb the career ladder in shipping
The thought of making the change to a shore based maritime job in the shipping industry may seem daunting if you’re used to working at sea. A big part of making that transition a successful one is to make sure that your new working role is as fulfilling as your previous one.
Maybe you thrive on a challenge, maybe you’re looking for less strenuous, round the clock work: whatever your reasons for coming ashore, if your new job doesn’t make you feel fulfilled the entire experience will be a more difficult one.
And to give yourself the best chance of finding the right role for you, you'll need to make sure you're impressing shipping companies and your potential employer with a CV or resume that makes you stand out from the crowd.
According to a survey conducted by the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST), a high proportion of seafarers who underwent the move to a shore based job felt trepidation about both their change in direction and climbing the career ladder in the industry.
The survey also found that mariners who found the shift in their circumstances easier to deal with emphasized how important it was to study for the relevant qualifications required by their new employer before transitioning to land.
While it’s true that experience at sea will be helpful in some roles, the nature of working on land is so different that you might need a degree or a postgraduate qualification instead of your seafaring certificates.
Of course, this very much depends on the types of roles you will be applying for. If you’re a senior member of staff looking for a managerial position, or you’re making the move into ship brokerage or maritime law, you will need to have studied the relevant subjects.
The good news is that many institutes of maritime education offer distance learning so you could be studying for your new life on land, while you’re still at sea.
Overcoming practical difficulties
You should also be aware of practical issues. A good number of seafarers who responded to the survey and struggled with returning to land mentioned the difficulties of trying to arrange interviews for land based maritime jobs while at sea.
The inconvenience of trying to schedule interviews while they were on leave - and then having to convince potential employers to wait for them to return from their next voyage to move the process along was a major source of frustration.
Unfortunately there is not much you can do to counteract this annoyance, but do be aware that the recruitment process for maritime jobs on shore may well take ‘longer than your leave.
Indeed, one seafarer who took part in the survey noted they ended up resigning from their job on board a vessel so they had enough time on shore to complete the interviewing and hiring process.
Developing different skills
Let’s say you have the technical capability and the qualifications or aptitude - otherwise known as hard skills - to move into your chosen field on shore. However, you might find that you need to brush up on your ‘soft skills’ too.
Hard and soft skills complement each other and work together to make you a more rounded employee, person or manager. You'll need to be able to get all this information across on your resume too.
In a nutshell, soft skills are essentially people skills.
And you’ll need them for effectively managing both people and projects. They include such traits as leadership skills, negotiation, the ability to communicate well both verbally and in writing, problem solving and a willingness to collaborate. In other words to be a team player.
Therefore as well as working on gaining the right qualifications for the new role you’ve set your sights on, whether that’s through higher education or by undertaking management or business training, working on your personal development and people skills are equally important.
A potential employer, and the success and fulfillment you experience in your land based job in shipping, will be directly affected by your adaptability and your understanding of everything your new role requires.
How to work on your soft skills
Upskilling while you’re on a voyage is great as it allows you to remain living, working (and earning!) in your jobs on ships while also preparing yourself for the changes to come when you move to a shore based maritime job.
Distance learning through an academy is one way of gaining necessary qualifications but soft skills are not something you can learn by reading a manual.
Your main goal when developing soft skills for the workplace is to improve your communication skills.
It is worth bearing in mind that communication on board a vessel and in an office environment may be two very different things. However in any environment, your aim is to be understood and to have a better understanding of those you work with.
This is especially important if you’re moving into a managerial role. Knowing how to read and deal with the way different personalities work within a team is vital if you’re to get the very best out of the people who’ll be working for you.
Here are a few things to practice when it comes to developing your soft skills that you can easily do while you’re still working on board a ship:
- Keep your body language in check. What does your pose say? Do you appear open to discussion or are you adopting an aggressive or unfriendly stance?
- On a similar note, pay attention to the other person's body language. Is what you’re saying making them display feelings of discomfort? Of annoyance? Of negativity? If so, think why that could be and what you can do to change the interaction through your own use of words and body language.
- Make eye contact with the person you’re speaking to - let them know you’re listening and appear interested in what they have to say.
- Work on your writing skills. Office life or your role on shore may well involve a lot more written communication. Brush up on your email etiquette and know that things like emojis and text talk have no place in business communications.
- Practice speaking and listening. It’s all too easy to engage in a conversation and not really think about what we’re saying or how we come across. It’s even easier to tune out and pretty much ignore what the other person is saying! Try being more mindful and fully engage in the next conversation you have with a fellow crew member.
Explaining your seafaring skills to shore based employers
To return to the survey conducted by IMarEST, more than half of the mariners who answered said they were promoted to a higher position when they moved to their shore based maritime job in shipping companies.
But despite this, some of them actually took a pay cut.
The main reasons were either their lack of formal qualifications or the problems in getting across how the experience they acquired at sea could be translated into useful skills on land.
It seems that no matter how experienced a seaman is, they are often seen as a newbie or a novice once they’ve moved to a role ashore.
Indeed it seems that a high proportion of the seafarers surveyed felt undervalued by their new coworkers. For example, take the response from someone who felt they were “...seen as a jack-of-all-trades....rather than a flexible employee with broad engineering experience.”
This is the issue: being able to properly communicate and ensure a shore based employer understands what the skills you learned working in jobs on ships are - and crucially, how to use them in a shore based working environment.
All you can do as a seafarer making the switch to a maritime jobs on land is do your best to communicate to an employer how the experience you gained at sea can, and does, transfer to their vacant job role.
One way of doing this is to make sure you don’t describe your current job using specific references that apply to working on a vessel. Instead, try and translate this into how your skills are transferable and will benefit the new role.
Find a maritime recruitment agency that understands you
Overcoming this major hurdle of being misunderstood means finding a recruitment agency who can help you find a role because they understand your unique background.
The majority of recruitment agencies work with job hunters and companies across the entire working spectrum. Through no fault of their own, a general recruiter will have little to no understanding of maritime experience and qualifications.
Finding a marine recruitment specialist who can relate to you and your employment history is a huge part of finding not only the right vacancies to apply for but also helping the employer know who you are, and where you’re coming from. Quite literally!
And finding a job you love and an employer who values you is a very big deal when it comes to successfully transitioning to land after years spent at sea.
Dealing with culture shock
Culture shock is a very real deal for anyone who has moved to a foreign country and who is struggling to adapt to the ways of their adopted homeland. But that’s just the side we hear most about.
Culture shock - or reverse culture shock - also affects people who have spent years living outside of their home country when they return. And it can also affect seafarers who are returning to life permanently on land after spending long periods of time living and working at sea.
Culture shock can infiltrate every part of your new and unfamiliar lifestyle. From your home life to the office.
Many seafarers find the lack of urgency when working in land based maritime jobs almost bewildering. At sea you have deadlines and rules and the knock on effect of something not being done when and how it should be can be serious.
Contrast that to a desk job where an attitude of “I’ll do that in the morning…” may be normal and it’s clear why some mariners initially struggle to adjust.
A seaman is also used to working unsocial hours - living on the job as it were. In an office it’s far more likely you’ll finish at 6pm and then begin your commute home or perhaps head to the local bar for a post-work drink with your coworkers.
These are not necessarily bad things but to say it’s a different change of pace is an understatement!
Working hours aside, the actual environment itself might throw some challenges in your way. While land based shipping companies will of course have a management structure, you might find that the hierarchy is less strict and more informal than the one you’re used to on board.
This is not without its own set of issues as it can make dealing with problems or knowing who to speak to about a project less transparent. It may take a little while to adjust to these less than clear boundaries and figure out who is who in the leadership chain.
Going back to soft skills, an office environment will also usually call for more tact, diplomacy and patience when it comes to interacting with your coworkers and managers.
Life at sea versus life on land
The seafarer’s life is sometimes shown as a lonely one: you spend months on a voyage away from your family, friends and loved ones.
And while for some mariners this aspect of the job is not a big problem, for others it can take its toll. Maybe that’s the reason why you’ve decided to start training for a shipping job on land. Maybe it’s not - there are countless reasons why a seafarer might decide it’s time to return to life ashore.
However the potential for loneliness and the physical demands of a life spent working in jobs on ships may well be replaced by other problems. The slower pace of a life spent working in an office, or adjusting to spending your days in the same, familiar surroundings, for example.
But like everything in life, there are pros and cons and if you’ve decided it’s time to settle down on shore for good, the very best chance at making the transition as smooth and successful as possible is to be aware of the potential difficulties you might face and know how to overcome them.
And of course, it’s very likely that you’ll be glad you persevered as you may very well find that the door has opened up to countless career opportunities and promotions for you too.
Looking for a new job role or crewing position but not quite ready to make the leap to a land based role just yet?