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1965 built, US flagged steamship Pacific Tracker lays at the ready in Portland Oregon, picture by Martin Leduc

General information on Seafaring

Container ship at seaSome years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to the sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.
- Herman Melville (Moby Dick, 1851)

Webster's New World Dictionary defines

Seafarer (-far'er) n. traveler by sea; esp., a sailor
Seafaring (-fer'in) adj.. of or engaged in life at sea -n. 1 the business or profession of a sailor 2 travel by sea

Traveling by sea is done on a variety of ships. The word ship in the English language comes from the Old English word scip. A ship is always referred to in the feminine tone. i.e. "she's a beauty". We can attribute this to the British Navy where all ships in UK used to be called 'Her Majesty Ship' (The Queen). So, when we say a ship, we mean her Majesty; thus, 'she'. Of course, in French, its the opposite, a ship is referred to in the masculine tense - 'le bateau'.

There are a many persons, like me, who marvel at the complexity of these machines. Machines which, in my opinion, highlight man's finest values such as ingenuity, curiosity, and bravery.

Ships have evolved, over three thousand years, from hollowed out tree trunks to massive 550 000 tons super tankers. With two third of the earth covered with water it is no mystery as to why ships and the sea conjure up so many different images in people minds - when it is in their minds. You can't help but to admire a container ship, with it's sleek fine lines, brilliant white super structure and multi colored "blocks" on deck, being tended to by men and their massive machines. Plus the fact that our social and economical situation rest heavily on these quiet giants. Simply amazing.


LighthouseBetween the innocence of infancy and the recklessness of adultery comes that unique specimen of humanity known as a seaman. Seamen can be found in bars, in bed, in arguments, in debt and intoxicated. They are tall, short, fat, thin, dark, fair but never normal.
They dislike ship's food, Chief Engineers, writing letters, sailing on Saturdays and dry ships. They like receiving mail, paying-off day, nude pinups, sympathy, complaining and beer.
A seaman's secret ambition is to change places with the owner for just one trip, to own a brewery and to be loved by everyone in the world.
A seaman is a Sir Galahad in a Japanese brothel, a psychoanalyst with "Reader's Digest" on the table, Don Quixote with a discharge book, Valentino with five dollars in his pocket and democracy personified in a Red Chinese prison cell.
A seaman is a provider in war and a parasite in peace. No one is subjected to so much abuse, wrongly accused, and so often misunderstood by so many as a seaman.
He has the patience of Job, the honesty of a fool and the heaven-sent ability to laugh at himself.
When he returns home from a long voyage no one else but a seaman can create such an atmosphere of suspense and longing as he walks through the door with the magic words on his lips:

Have you got the beer in????
Tony Jones, " long merchant marine,
currently retired and runs "My Suzy's" bar in Tacoma, WA, for seamen"


Types of Vessels

Diagram of a Tween-decker (circa 1970's)We as humans have adapted many different vehicles for use on land, the same holds true for vessels on the water. If you live near a port you have certainly seen a large variety of ships.

For instance; if you were to look out over the waters of the Port of Metro Vancouver, in British Columbia, Canada, you will see many different ships. Predominately you will see ships called bulk carriers, or bulkers. These ships carry bulk cargoes such as grains, fertilizer, sulphur, coal, wood chips and other dry bulk cargoes. Bulkers make up the majority of ships you see at sea.

Although not a big "oil town" Vancouverites see many tankers in their harbour. Tankers conjure up images of oil products, which is definitely their primary domain, but there are many tankers carrying other goods, such as wine, beer, olive oil, various chemicals, just to name a few cargoes. If a tanker does carry petroleum, there are also specialty ship in this domain as well; crude tanker, or product tanker. Then of course there are the various types of petroleum gas tankers, which are not normally seen in Vancouver.

Some ships that are quite common in Vancouver's harbour, are cruise ships, especially from May - September, also known as the Alaska Cruise Season. These large sumptuous and technically complex vessels, take thousands of passengers on a cruise, to wash their misery away with excessive pampering and breathtaking views.

Another major product being handle through the Port of Metro Vancouver, are wood products. Car carriers can frequently be found in the port, especially in the Fraser River, part of the Port of Metro Vancouver; large white and grey "blocks" floating on the water, kind of odd looking. They bring in vehicles from Asia, then load packaged lumber or pulp for paper production in their large covered decks

Cut away drawing of tramp freighter

One of the most popular type of ship seen in most ports nowadays, especially Vancouver in Canada, are container ships. These ships handle standard size steel "boxes", generally filled consumer goods. Most container comes in two sizes, twenty foot long, or forty foot long - a container ship's capacity is measured by TEU or Twenty Foot Equivalent unit. Nowadays there is large variety of "boxes" to carry a wide variety of cargoes, but all have the ability to be transported, handled and stacked as a standard size box regardless of what's inside.

Vancouver is the largest container port in Canada, but Montreal, Halifax and Prince Rupert also see many container ships. The standardization of a container size has allowed a dramatic increase in automation and productivity in moving goods. Born out of the late fifties, the container, the hard working seafarers manning the ships, and a litany of technological advancements, are the backbone of global trade, and why you can get such tasty affordable treats like red grapes from Chile, on a cold January day.

Vancouver, like many establish port in urban centers, has a healthy all around marine community; large marinas with scores of private yachts and sail boats, vibrant tug and barge operations, and various shipyards and ways (dry-docks and repair facilities). To support this port, and many other ports, we can find other vessels at work in the port, such as: dredges, ice breakers, ferries, heavy lift and salvage, various patrol vessels, etc. The Port of Metro Vancouver is a very typical port for a nation.

A cutaway illustration of a modern fishing shipOn the open ocean we find all sorts of ships for all sorts of jobs: ocean miners, cable layers, rocket platforms, research ships even a condominium ship. The oil industry in itself, has a large variety of ships built for their specific needs: stand by-anchor handlers, floating production platforms, jack up rigs, drill ships, supply boats and on and on. The militaries of the world have all sorts of different ships to support their mission: destroyers, frigates, minesweepers, submarines, aircraft carriers and on and on.

Of course, if there is water, we always find the ships that started it all, the fishing boat - these can be from a simple skiff, to massive factory trawlers, with nets that can trap thousands of pounds of fish in one set.

The International Shipping Federation and other agencies have put out a great little brochure detailing the impacts shipping has on our world. You can download it here, or visit their website here. Some interesting facts they present...

Don't have a clue as to what the ships mentioned above look like? Check out the picture area of and our photo gallery website


Seafaring tattoo meaningWith ships the sea was sprinkled
WITH ships the sea was sprinkled far and nigh,
Like stars in heaven, and joyously it showed;
Some lying fast at anchor in the road,
Some veering up and down, one knew not why.
A goodly vessel did I then espy
Come like a giant from a haven broad;
And lustily along the bay she strode,
Her tackling rich, and of apparel high.
The ship was nought to me, nor I to her,
Yet I pursued her with a lover's look;
This ship to all the rest did I prefer:
When will she turn, and whither? She will brook
No tarrying; where she comes the winds must stir:
On went she, and due north her journey took.
- William Wordsworth


Regulating Shipping - "IMO" (International) and "Member State" (National)

Logo of the IMOThe marine industry is a global one, transcending many borders and continents. Because of various degrees of laws and requirements, an international body exist to make sure minimum standards are in place. Since 1982, this body is known as the International Maritime Organization or IMO. Originally, the IMO was know as the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO) and was established in 1948, as a branch of the United Nations.

The IMO is made up of "member states" who meet in conventions to establish requirements as the need occurs. These requirements are, sadly, of the "tombstone design", which means they result from tragedies. The result of a tragedy then overpowers the economical arguments that prevented common sense from prevailing, and thus become regulations.

For example, the massive loss of life resulting from the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912, resulted in a good deal of ship regulations. Following this tragedy, the member states got together to draw up minimum safety standards. These standards would apply to all ships from those gathered member states. The result was the groundwork of the SOLAS convention which would come later, in 1960, and be the cornerstone of the IMO - one of the 'pilars of safety'.

SOLAS stands for Safety Of Life At Sea; from it, many standards of safety we adhere to today on ships, come from. Such as whistles on life jackets, which makes a person easier to hear and spot. Over time SOLAS has been revamped several times, to face new concerns; as a result of tragedies, like usual.

Over the years, "new" concerns have also been addressed by various conventions; such as maritime pollution (MarPol 72/78 - Marine Pollution Code) training (STCW95/10 - Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) safety culture (ISM in 1999 - International Safety Management) and the current security issues arising from the "terrorist acts" of 2001, (ISPS - International Ship and Port Security Code) and more.

These conventions (regulations) are not static, they are constantly being studied and modified. Once the updated or new regulations are approved in a conventions, they become the standard for the accepting member nations to adopt. Yes, accepted; if a regulation is agreed to, it is not automatically enforceable internationally until a majority of the member states adopted it. That's one of the reasons why it takes so long to get shipping regulations to change.

The whole IMO system works on the principle that if a shipping company wants to participate in the economic trade of a member states, it must meet the standards of that state. If that state is part of the IMO, the state must make sure it's standards are at least the same as what the IMO suggests.

For example, Canada is a member of the UN and IMO, a Canadian registered ship in Vancouver's harbour, will have whistles attached on their lifejackets, or at least, are in violation of Canadian regulation, if they do not. If the ship is in violation of the various regulations, insurance companies may not insure the ship or its cargo. In some cases the ship may be barred from picking up or dropping off cargo, some are even ordered arrested.

Member states, such as Canada and the United States, have departments which establish and enforce regulations which meet, and sometimes exceed minimum safety standards set by the IMO's various conventions. In Canada, not only will there be a whistle, but there will be a light on each lifejacket. Transport Canada Ship Safety and the United States Coast Guard are two organizations which enforce the above mentioned lifejacket regulations, on their own flagged vessels and that of other IMO member state vessels, visiting their ports.

Pilot station

Regulating Shipping - "Member State" (National)

Transport Canada logoCanada, as an IMO member state, has designated Transport Canada (TC), a high level federal agency, to be responsible for Canada's marine transportation. More specifically, Transport Canada Marine Safety (TCMS), is the agency within Transport Canada, tasked with regulating shipping in Canada, according to its agreed obligations under adopted IMO conventions.

There are numerous federal laws that apply to ships in Canada, but the big one is the Canada Shipping Act of 2001, others are the Canada Labour Code - Part 2, dealing with workplace safety; there is the Canada Marine Act, dealing with cabotage, and many other laws. These laws are enacted by parliament, and dictate responsibility, obligations and penalties for breaches of the law.

With the authority from the Canada Shipping Act, TCMS then develop regulations and standards that reflect the changes in conventions adopted from the IMO. Regulations are far reaching and applied to nearly everything to do with ships, from electrical standards and construction standards, to the number of fire drills to be done, to how seafarers are certificated. Before making or changing rules, TCMS, twice a year, will seek comments from industry stakeholder under the banner of the Canadian Marine Advisory Committee (CMAC).

Logo of MCAOnce regulatory changes are adopted, they become enforceable. "Enforcement" is done by local TCMS Surveyors, commonly called "Ship Safety Surveyors / Inspector" located in TCMS office across Canada. On the west coast, there are four offices: Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, and Prince Rupert. Typically a TCMS office will have one or two specialist in "engineering" matters and a couple more specializing in "navigation" matters. A surveyor's work is far ranging from office work to inspecting Canadian vessels for conformity, responding to accidents, pollution incident response, etc. Generally, they deal with matters at the office, such as approving plans, issuing certificates and the likes, administrating and correcting certification exams, etc. 

A Marine Safety Surveyor, aka Inspector, has the ability to charge a person or entity with breaking applicable law(s) or regulations. These infraction are issued "speeding ticket" like summons, which a person may or may not dispute; these are called Administrative Monetary Penalties (AMP). You can look in The Advocate section for further information on this punishment system. Additionally, an Inspector may choose to charge for more serious matters under the applicable law, such as the Canada Shipping Act. This represent more serious burden of proof and carries higher consequences.

AMSA LogoI observe the style / aspect of laws and regulatory system found in Canada, to be somewhat similar to those in other international jurisdiction, especially in former commonwealth countries. Like mentioned above, the United States government delegates the regulatory responsibility to the US Coast Guard; in Australia, its the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA); in the UK its the Marine Coastguard Agency (MCA); all have similar functions to those describe above.

Growing container ships, over the years:  


Regulating Shipping - "Port State Control" (International)

Canada has a well established regulatory and enforcement framework, as do other nations. However not all IMO Member States are as well equipped, trained or financed to deal with shipping safety. Over time it was observed that substandard ships were still coming into ports like Vancouver. As a result, in the early 1980's, member states developed agreements known as the Paris MOU (Memorandum of Understanding). This agreements saw a network of 17 nations' regulator target substandard ship, when they show in their port of jurisdiction. A targeted ship will be boarded by a national ship inspector, such as TCMS Surveyor, and this is called a Port State Control inspection (PSC). It is essentially a Quality Control measure to make sure that what member states have agreed to at the IMO, are actually being done on the ships flying their nation's flag. Several other regional agreements similar to the Paris MOU, have been signed since the 1980's, such as the Tokyo MOU, Caribbean MOU, Mediterranean MOU, etc.

If a ship owner flags his ship under a Flag Of Convenience (FOC - more about this, further down the page) nation that meets IMO member states standards, that member states if suppose to be able to make sure that the ship actually does meet the IMO standards. However due to lack of resources the inspection is delegated to... essentially the owner's say so. The ship then sails into Vancouver to pick up a cargo. Once in Vancouver that ship, its age, its flag history, class history, and such, produce a risk profile. If the risk profile is high, or its been six months since last inspection, a TCMS Surveyor will attend the vessel to perform a Port State Control inspection under the terms / authority of the Paris MOU.

The TCMS Surveyor will examine the ship for obvious defects focusing on safety equipment, procedures, and crew welfare. There is also a focus on "paperwork" and making sure the ship has legitimate certificates under the various conventions affecting the type of ship. If deficiencies are discovered they are called "deficiencies", and may lead to the ship being detained - prevented to leave the port, until said deficiencies are corrected. If too many issues are observed, or the ship has a track record of deficiencies, it may be banned outright, from entering any of the ports of nations which are signatories to the Paris or Tokyo MOU, effectively limiting the ship's ability to carry cargo.

In ports all around the world, such inspection are carried out routinely. The findings under Paris MOU (and additional nations) are then entered in a database called Equasis, which keeps record on just about any ship in the world. This database is accessible to all, in particular ship inspectors. This database records the amount of time ships are inspected, where, findings, etc. Along with inspection data, there is the ships particulars such as owner, manager, flag, classification societies, sizes, age, information on companies, etc.

The database sees a constant input of information from the many inspections all around the world. This data is then used to build a risk profile of a particular ship, which drives the frequency of targeting for inspection. Trends develop over time, and certain IMO members states have not performed well in making sure ships flying their flags, are safe. This is reflected by the results of cumulative inspections and as such the Paris MOU group has started classing the various nation "flags" into risk factors, based on previous performance. The result of this, is known as the White, Grey, and Black List.

These lists indicate that a ship flying a certain nation's flag, listed under the Black List, is at a higher probability of being a substandard ship than a ship flying the flag of a White List country. This results in more intense scrutiny by TCMS every time that ship docks in a Canadian port. Whereas a ship, flying the flag of Germany, which is high on the White List, is therefor assumed to be less risky based on past inspection results. The German flagged ship will still get an inspection, but at longer intervals, and probably under less scrutiny - one inspector in a suit and tie, versus, three inspectors with flashlights and dirty coveralls.  

World map showing intensity of shipping
2013 World map whosing the intensity of shipping routes (from the interwebs)

Regulating Shipping - Classification Societies

DNV logoClassification Societies are so called "non profit entities" that have a traditional role of developing standards for ships, but are unrelated to government. These organization came about as an expert "third party" to help insurance companies reduce their financial exposure to claims from ship owners operating ill designed, poorly constructed, and / or maintained ships, that eventually run into trouble.

When you go to the store and buy a lamp, or toaster, look underneath the article, and you will undoubtedly see a marking "UL"; this is a logo of the Underwriters Laboratory. Their job is to assess that lamp or toaster you are buying, to make sure it is basically safe, and will not expose the insurance companies to financial loses due to a faulty design, which could lead to it burning down your house. The classification societies are similar to the Underwriters Laboratory, in their origins at least. 

RINA logoThe most notable societies have names like Lloyd's Register (aka LR, and not affiliated with Lloyd's Insurance) of the UK, Det Norske Veritas (DNV) of Norway, Germanischer Lloyd (GL) of Germany, American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) of the USA, Bureau Veritas (BV) of France, Class NK of Japan, RINA of Italy, etc. These organization, although based in their "home" countries, operate in nearly all parts of the world individually. The International Association of Classification Societies, or IACS, represents the majority of the societies, and attempts to set certain operating standards for the classification societies themselves.

Although they are not for profit corporation, per se, they behave much like one. They pursue clients - ship owners - for work, and so have a strange relationship with owners, regulators and their fellow classification societies, who are also, not corporations - but competing for the same business. There is rivalries and differences, which are sometimes exploited by ship owners, who may "shop around" for a better deal. 

The main part of a class society's work, or Class as it is commonly known, is to develop ship construction standards and to make sure these standards are met, throughout the vessel's life, to whatever capacity the ship owner requires the ship to operate in. They are involved in the building of a ship, it's operation and maintenance.

Class is involved in the initial design work, approving plans to make sure they meet safety and construction standards for the work the ship is expected to do. Class is then involved in the shipyard, making sure the plans are followed and the work is carry out according to their standards. Once the ship is launched, they are involved in issuing certificates, assuring regulators that the ship meets internationally (IMO) agreed standards. At different intervals, they physically come onboard the ship, to make sure it keeps meeting the standards. During maintenance such as steel repairs, or main engine repairs, unplanned breakdowns, and accidents, class is involved, making sure standards are kept to the original design specifications.

Classifications societies are essentially large corporate entities with many people working for them. For most seafarers, the organization's representatives are known as Class Surveyors, and are frequent visitors aboard a ship. They are the shore visitors in coveralls, with flashlight, hardhat, keen eye for detail, and a hefty notebook. Typically these people are ex-seagoing Marine Engineers and sometimes deck officers.

ABS logoOver the last century, classification societies have gain tremendous importance in the shipping world. Their routine involvement in nearly all facet of ship activities for such a long time, have seen them build a large knowledge base. Cash strap governments have honed in on this fact, and have increasingly relied on classifications societies to carry out their mandate. Transport Canada is one such regulatory body, taking advantage of this situation, under a program called Delegated Ship Inspection Program, or DSIP.

With DSIP, Transport Canada delegates the inspection responsibility to an approved class, but profess to maintain ultimate authority for standards aboard ships, flying the Canadian flag. In the past, Transport Canada would send it's own surveyors to a ship, to carry out standards conformity inspections, and these surveyors were paid by the government. With delegation, the class societies is now sending their surveyor to inspect under the authority of Transport Canada, as well as for their own purposes. However, now the class societies are paid by the ship owners. With this system, Transport Canada rarely makes any inspections aboard a "delegated" ship, choosing instead to "oversee" class's work by bureaucratic means.

Cutaway of research vesselThere is an old saying in business - "the customer is always right"; with this in mind, one can see the precarious dilemma ship standards are in. There is a "dance" done by a quasi-corporate structure, now with expanded social responsibilities, entrusted to it by responsibility shy regulators, yet must still please their customer, the ship owner. An amateurish look at this arrangement, might reveal some misgivings about the priorities, this "funky dance" might result in. 

Regardless, classifications societies are therefore at the forefront of maintaining standards in international shipping. Unlike government and their never ending bureaucracy, classifications societies are able to charge for their services, which means they are also able to pay proper wages for surveyors. Although not a foolproof plan, this helps ensure properly qualified and motivated people keep reasonable ship standards alive and hopefully progressive - and not just for the owners. For those of us who sail ships, and would like to see our families at the end of our contract, the Class Surveyor is becoming a very important person.


The economic aspects of shipping

Ever Given in SuezWe are all too familiar with the business of the world which sometimes give way to to the most "efficient" (cheapest) way to do things in order to maximized today's profits. This is where Flag of Convenience, or 'FOC', comes in. When the ship is registered, it has to be registered in a certain country, it will fly the flag of that country. These nations, being member states of the IMO, adhere to the minimum IMO standards. Thus provides the vessel's owner with a compliance certificate which will then allow them to trade between other member states, and to be underwritten (insured).

Canada, sometimes requires "higher" standards - standards above the bare minimum that IMO convention requires - these are interpreted as resulting in a higher operating cost to the ship owner. Therefore the Canadian ship owner will register their vessels with a FOC, such as Marshall Islands, Cyprus, Liberia; so on and so forth. That's why you rarely see "Vancouver" on the transom of a large foreign going ship routinely calling the Port of Metro Vancouver for example.

Ships that principally trade within Canada - from one Canadian port to another Canadian port - such as ferries, have no choice (so far) but to register in, and adhere to standards in Canada. Most countries have provision in their laws (Cabotage Rules) that state that only their nation's ships and crews, can carry cargo between that country's ports. In the United States, these protective measures are known as the Jones Act.

For example, Liberia is a prominent FOC. It has a negligible fleet of its "own", but is one of the largest ship registers in the world with many prominent companies registering their ships, and their companies in this destitute country plague by war, for tax and standards reasons. In actual fact, very little work of managing the shipping registry is done by a FOC like Liberia. No is this work done in Liberia, or by its citizens, they just happen to be convenient, cheap place to buy politicians.

Cutaway of feeder ship

The actual management of the registry is done in, say, the US, in some office building in Delaware, and such, or other "first world country", by a company which pays the Liberian government, a percentage of the fees they charge to the "first world country" company based in, say New York City. So the money trail goes from NYC to Delaware, then a small percentage goes to Liberia's "leaders" for the use of their countries name, in doing business. Those funds, of course, go to fund the "strongest man" of that country to do as they please. Those with a shred of conscience can obviously see a dilemma here.

The trend for the last decade now, is for shipping companies to try and have a better image by having their ships registered in more obscure registries, out of the media's eyes, or better yet in their countries, using the FOC as bargaining leverage. Flagging your ship in your modern traditional seafaring nation is always a bit more expensive because of higher standards that people expect (...that they seem to forget should extend to third world nations).

The dilemma continues! For some, the solution is to have a 'Second Registry' in a 'first world' country with some concessions from the companies and the government of the Flag. For instance, Norway has large shipping interest, the government creates the NIS, a parallel, Norwegian ship registry, but for ships trading internationally, and not strictly within Norway's borders. Ships trading within Norway's boundary still have to register with the full official Norwegian Ship Register, to which cabotage rules apply (ship must be built, crewed, and taxed by Norwegians etc).

An illustrated cutaway of a cruise ferry

But with the 'second register', the companies have less stringent requirements; such as hiring the senior officers from Norway, but the company can hire other crew from third world nations, and treat them accordingly. In exchange, the companies get tax breaks because they fly the more palatable colours of their 'first world' country and hire very few of the flag's national. This is very pleasing to all concerns; ship owner get to put the very respectable "Oslo" or "London" on their ship's transom, and the politicians get to brag about how they are helping find jobs and keep traditional seafaring nations at the top of the charts.

The catch is once you have started concessions, why not have more. "Why should we even bother to have Norwegian officers at all?" - the ship ran fine when we were under the Marshall Island flag - that comes next, then "taxes should be cut because we are not competitive enough" and the usual business lingo to increase profits, and the leveraging of one International Registry against others, to inch down standards, yet maintain the perception of higher standards by flying a modern country's flag. The general public is usually not aware of much of this, of any maritime matters really, so as long as the pretty colors of their flag is flying on the pretty white boat, then it must be good. Well at least the appearance that they are not supporting mass genocide in a poor foreign land, is comforting for all too.

I don't think its is a bad idea to have second registry, after all the money and decision are made in first world countries, they should fly their flag. It is easier to relate to and hold persons, companies, and our collective actions accountable when we have some "ownership". It's easy to dismiss "crackpots ships" from some damned tiny island in the Pacific. As long as standards are kept to a decent levels - respectful of all people and our environment, there is no reason not to provide a service that we all need in an open business environment.

Overall, it would appear that there is little place that shady outfits will be able to operate in, without impunity in the near future, and as a whole shipping quality will improve. Maybe that's what is behind the downward trend of tragic accidents. I guess we will just have to see what the accountants and lawyers come up with next.

The Plimsoll Mark on ships

Above, is a diagram of the Plimsoll Mark of a ship. It came about when too many ships were overloaded and heavily insured to increased profits for the shipping company. They foundered and their crews never came home. Mr. Plimsoll (1824-1898), a British lawmaker and champion for seafarers, persuaded the British government to adopt a law in 1876, that all ship should have a load line, clearly and permanently visible on all ships. The load line is visible along the ships side, usually welded in, mid-ship on the horizontal axis. It indicates the maximum draught that a ship can have depending on the region and time of year. The draught of a ships usually represents how much cargo is aboard. TF stands for Tropic Fresh Water, F for Fresh Water, T for Tropic, S for summer, W for winter, and WNA for Winter North Atlantic.


It's little wonder why the Mafia never went into shipping - they didn't want to get a bad name.
- unknown


Others keeping watch on standards

A Platform supply vessel cutawayTrade unions are widely integrated into the life of a mariner. Although some unions appear to be bothersome to some, most believe they are quite necessary in representing seafarers, in an otherwise lawless high seas. As an officer there is a strong chance that a seafarer will be represented by a union. As a rating, such as stewards, deckhands or oilers there will most likely be little or no representation. On most North American registered vessels, most crew are in, or will be required to join a union. Below are some union's web presence.

In Canada, union affiliated seafarers are principally represented by the following unions;

Unions around the world

Additionally there are many other organizations which are dedicated to the seafarer's well being. They address important concerns such as physical, mental and spiritual well being of the seafarer. You can visit some of these excellent organization's websites below.


Know your rights when in a investigationKnow your rights as a professional seafarer

If you are involved in a maritime incident, you should be aware of your rights. No matter where you are from, where you are working, and what has happen, you have a right to due process.

You can download the poster pictured, to print, and put up on your ship's bulletin board, for the benefit of all your crewmates and your company. You can read further on your rights and obligations in further details, in this document.


At sea I learned how little a person needs, not how much.

-Robin Lee Graham


As an engineering officer, there are further organization with many different goals to subscribe to. Organizations for engineers exist all over the world, and are there for engineers to interact with each other. The Vancouver Island branch of the Canadian Institute of Marine Engineers is one example. They hold various social and developmental functions which are well attended by the local marine engineering community. This branch, like many others across Canada, are part of the National Institute. In the United Kingdom they have the Institute of Marine Engineering Science and Technology (IMAREST). You can visit others below.


Being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of drowning.

- Johnson

epaulettesWhat is a professional seafarer ? What do they do ?

A professional seafarer is a licensed or unlicensed person who earns wages while carrying out their responsibilities as part of a ship's crew.

The operation of a ship requires various skilled people who fall into two general categories: licensed, also know as Ship's Officers, and un-licensed, known as Ratings.

Officers and Ratings are further categorized into two departments (usually) on ships, Deck and Engineering.

In a ship's engineering department, the Third, Second and First Engineers answer to the Chief Engineer. The Chief mechanic, the lead hand, and 2 wipers answer to the Engineering officers.

The engineering department of a ship is responsible for the safe and efficient operation of the onboard machinery used for propulsion, hotel and cargo operations - basically anything that has bolts or uses electricity. Ratings in this department are known as wipers, oilers, mechanics etc. they work under the supervision of the Engineering Officers who answer to the chief engineer who answers to the Master.

Engineers are a cross between Professional Engineers and heavy duty mechanic and are responsible for the operation and maintenance of the ship�s mechanical, electrical, and electronic systems. Engineers, and seafarers in general, must do their work in a physically demanding, sometimes violently changing environment, and at any time will be called in an emergency such as fighting an onboard fire or search and rescue operations.

In the deck department, officers and ratings are responsible for the safe navigation, cargo (or mission) operations and general upkeep of the exterior structure of the ship. Ratings are known as seaman, or deckhands and work under the guidance of the Deck officers who navigate the ship and answer to the Master, the senior deck officer, also known as the Captain.

The Chief Cook reports to the Chief Officer, and usually has a steward answering to them.

A typical cargo ship as seen in the port of Vancouver might have a crew of 17 or so. The Master or Captain is in charge of the ship at all times and in the deck department, there will be the a Chief Officer (head of navigation), a First and Second Mate. The Bosun answers to the deck officers and is the leader of the three seamen.
In Canada, professional seafarers are licensed by Transport Canada Marine Safety, which is guided by international agreements reached under the International Maritime Organization (IMO). As such, licenses are recognized worldwide, and enabling Canadian officers to staff licensed positions on commercial vessels of any nationality. Likewise, licensed seafarers from all nationalities who are members and signatories to applicable IMO conventions, have the same opportunities to compete for those positions. Generally, all ships are required by international law to be manned by a given number of officers and crew, who have proven their competence before a regulatory board.


Crossing the BarPositions within the Engineering Department

Positions in the Deck Department

Positions within the Hotel / Catering Department

How long have you been a sailor ?
Construction of a shipAll my bloomin' life.
Me mother was a mermaid.
Me father was King Neptune.
I was born on the crest of a wave
And rock the cradle of the deep.
Seaweed and barnacles are me clothes,
The hair on me head is hemp,
Every bone in me body's a spar,
And when I spit, I spit tar.
I'se hard, I is, I am, I are.
- an old answer to an old question


Getting to know ship life

The marine industry is full of traditions, procedures and various bizarre sounding lingo. And if you want to become a seafarer, you'd better get use to some of them ! The lingo goes much farther than just port and starboard, but for starters take a look at the major terms of a ship.

Getting to know parts of the ship

These two drawing are from a great little book by Bob Basnight, "What ship is that ?"

Getting to know parts of the ship


Rhythm of life aboard a ship

A seafarer life on the ship is dictated by a term we call "watches" i.e. "he is sitting a watch". Which means that a particular member of the crew is on duty and responsible for their particular task(s) i.e. navigation, machinery supervision. There are many different types of watches, although the industry is slowly adopting one consistency, that is "eight hours off" for adequate resting.


A friend of mine works for tug outfit and his watches are 6 on 6 off. Some other outfits, like the Coast Guard are 12 on 12 off, some others are 4 on 4 off 4 on 8 off, on cruise ships I used to work 4 on 8 off. Some ships are considered to have Unmanned Machinery Space (UMS) and their schedule is day work - 8 hrs during the day, to perform maintenance, then rest for the night unless your "on call", when the engine room alarm goes off.

One consistency, is that if you are scheduled to work 8hrs in a one day, there's is good chances you will work 10-12 hrs - there's always work to catch up on on a ship. However, international laws introduced at the beginning of 2012, dictates that no seafarers is allowed to work more than 14 hours in a 24 hours period.


Cutaway of the SS Master, an historic tug in VancouverThe engineer and the mate
Oil soaked shoes all covered with grime;
Polished shoes with a brilliant shine,
Sweated clothes all stained with grease;
Shirt and tie and pants well creased,
Oily scarred and calloused hands
Manicured fingers, looking grand.
Thus they approached the pearly gates,
The Engineer and the Mate.
Saint Peter gazed at this strange sight;
He knew one was wrong, the other was right,
To be sure, he then did look
In his gigantic secret judgment book
Then looking up he said so clear
I'll now pass judgment on the Engineer.
You've sweated blood, you breathed some gas
The scars and bruises and burns still last.
A model cutaway of an LNG tankerSo come my son and take your place
Like a king, in all his grace.
My son you've stood it very well -
You've surely had your share of hell.
The Engineer passed through the gates;
Saint Peter then turned unto the Mate.
You've filled your lungs with cool clean air;
You've known the breezes and the sun up there,
Pushing a pencil, you've traveled in class;
You've been a passenger before the mast.
There isn't a question, yes or no -
Now it's your turn to go below!!
- unknown author


A ship's motion at seaThe six way a ship moves in water, believe me, it only takes a few to make you sick.


Of course, besides traveling, one of the biggest attraction of seafaring, is friendship and camaraderie. When you spent six months a year in close quarters with someone, throw in some life threatening situation and you have some great ingredients for a strong, long lasting friendship.

On the other hand...

When you spent six months in close quarters with someone, throw in some life threatening situation and you have some great ingredients for a strong, long lasting dislike for someone.

Ahhhhhhhhhhh the sea. and all it's mysticism, can't beat it. Although I must say, its not for everyone.


" There are big ships and small ships. But the best ship of all, is friendship."
~Author Unknown


The sea !

Here are a few excerpts from the US National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Top 10 Questions about the Ocean

Ships flexingHow deep is the ocean?
The depth of the ocean is remarkably variable, from the surf zones at the world's beaches to the deep ocean trenches. The deepest point in the ocean is generally believed to be in the Marianas Trench in the Western Pacific Ocean at approximately 36,160 feet [11,021 m], according to the Rand McNally Atlas of the Oceans (1977).

What are tides?
Tides are rhythmic variations in vertical water level and in horizontal water motions (tidal currents) caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun acting on the mass of water in the ocean basins.

What is the Gulf Stream?
The Gulf Stream is an intense ocean current in the western North Atlantic Ocean that is part of the circulation of water in this ocean basin. It flows generally northward along the east coast of the United States from Florida to North Carolina and then veers out into the North Atlantic near Cape Hatteras, NC. The Gulf Stream forms a boundary between the warm waters of the Sargasso Sea and the colder, denser waters of the continental shelf. The Gulf Stream current develops meanders, loops, and bends as it veers away from the coast, so its exact position is variable. Satellite images of the east coast of the US provide visual information about the position of the Gulf Stream. Knowledge of the position of the Gulf Stream is important to fishermen, weather forecasters, Coast Guard search and rescue operations and many others.

Are Mermaids real?
Mermaids - those half-human, half-fish sirens of the sea - are legendary sea creatures chronicled in maritime cultures since time immemorial. The ancient Greek epic poet Homer wrote of them in The Odyssey. In the ancient Far East, mermaids were the wives of powerful sea-dragons, and served as trusted messengers between their spouses and the emperors on land. The aboriginal people of Australia call mermaids yawkyawks a name that may refer to their mesmerizing songs.
The belief in mermaids may have arisen at the very dawn of our species. Magical female figures first appear in cave paintings in the late Paleolithic (Stone Age) period some 30,000 years ago, when modern humans gained dominion over the land and, presumably, began to sail the seas. Half-human creatures, called chimeras, also abound in mythology in addition to mermaids, there were wise centaurs, wild satyrs, and frightful minotaurs, to name but a few.
But are mermaids real? No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found. Why, then, do they occupy the collective unconscious of nearly all seafaring peoples? That's a question best left to historians, philosophers, and anthropologists.


An older ship's derrick

Proceed to read further on . . .


Un-recognized, you put us in your debt;
Un-thanked, you enter, or escape, the grave;
Whether your land remember or forget
You saved the land, or died to try to save.
-John Masefield


An older heavy lift ship's derrick

For webfarers...


Expect the Unexpected
"When anyone asks me how I can best describe my experience of nearly forty years at sea, I merely say uneventful".
"Of course there have been winter gales and storms and fog and the like, but in all experience, I have never been in an accident of any sort worth speaking about.
I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea......"
"I never saw a wreck and have never been wrecked, nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort."

- from a presentation by E.J Smith, 1907.

On April 14th 1912, the RMS Titanic sank with a loss of 1500 lives.....
one of which was the Master; Captain E.J. Smith.


A cutaway illustration of a hovercraft

Seafarers on the net...


In a ship, you are constantly reminded of how much you depend on your fellow sailors.
- Douglas Reeman

The Voyager of the Seas illustrated

Ships on the web...

An illustrated cutaway of the seimic vessel

The siren shrieks its farewell note, and proudly on her way,
The brand new giant liner moves in grandeur down the bay.
A marvelous creation, her builder's joy and pride,
The great hope of her owners as she floats upon the tide.
The passengers in festive mood, 'mid laughter' jest, and quip,
With keen delight enjoy the great ship's maiden trip.
She�s sure to break the record, she'll do thirty knots or more,
Is the hope of all on board her as she leaves her native shore.
Upon the bridge the Captain, a Skipper proud and bold,
Bedecked in gorgeous raiment's, navy blue and gold.
All eyes are fixed upon him and its going to his head,
He stops to drop the Pilot, then rings 'Full Speed Ahead'.
And 'Down Below' the battle starts for the trophy of the seas,
By Engineers, not clad in gold, but greasy dungarees.

On deck the scene is blithe and gay' fair ladies, song, and wine,
But Hell is popping 'Down Below', beneath the Plimsol Line.
The Chief raps out his orders to the men on watch below,
The men obey his mandate, and about their tasks they go.

Steam pressure must not fluctuate, the bearings not run hot,
The revs must not be allowed to drop, to make the thirty knots.
At dinner, on the first night out, the Captain proudly boasts;
"We'll surely break the record", as the Gallant Ship he toasts.
But breaking records puts no grey hair upon his head,
His contribution ended when he rung 'Full Speed Ahead'.
Through weary days and sleepless nights, to consummate this dream,
The Engineers slave ceaselessly till Ambrose Light's abeam.
The record has been broken with thirty one point four-
The Captain wears another stripe, he's now a 'Commodore'.
And thus he gets the credit for what other men have done:
He boasts to press and radio, the record he has won.
Neglecting even to mention, as he swings his ballyhoo,
The men of Brains, and Brawn, and Guts, who shoved the great ship through.
The moral of this poem then is quite conclusively,
That glory seldom goes to those who win the victory.
So keep this simple thought in mind, about a record trip,
The man behind the throttle, is the man who drives the ship.

B.F. Renz, Marine Engineer
Submitted by Adrian Perkins via EMail

A illustrated semi submersibledrill rig

I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says, "There, she is gone".
"Gone where?" Gone from my sight.
That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar, and just as able to bear her freight to her destined port, as she was when she left my side.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
And just at the moment when someone at my side says, "There, she is gone" there are other eyes watching her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, "Here she comes!"
And so it is in dying.
This page was originally created in 1999. Extensively updated in 2012

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