Second officers are the third highest ranking officers onboard ships. They are called the “Navigation Officer” because they handle the ship’s passage plans, fix and update corrections for the publications and check that the vessel can reach the destination in the shortest time possible. Sometimes they are referred also as the “ship’s doctor” for they are the ones who looks out to the health and welfare of the crew.
I became a second officer on 2015 after passing the board exams for Management Level in MARINA. At first I still expect the I’ll be going back again as a third officer, but I accepted it since it is an opportunity for me. Actually, it was a shock for me to go back onboard because I was told that I’ll be joining on my next vessel when I was still on my vacation in Hong Kong! I know I’m prepared for my job, but physically, mentally and emotionally I’m not. But this is it. No turning back, I have to suck it up, do my job and it did well.
Sec, as known onboard, sometimes referred as the “papetiks petiks” officers because they do not require to do jobs under the heat of the sun. Almost all of their duties and responsibilities are found either in the bridge or in the accommodation. But little they know that being a second officer is not a joke.
I asked some of my colleagues and friends about this issue, and so for the second part of our series, we’ll get to know what are the struggles a second officer experiences onboard.
1. “Please no major medical emergencies on my tour of duty”.
As I’ve said earlier, they are the ship’s doctor. They handle the medical matters onboard and give treatment for those who have complaints about their health. They also handle the Hospital, (aka Infirmary or Sick Bay) where it contain medicines, a bed, first aid kids, and some medical apparatus.
Accidents do happen onboard sometimes, when some crew are injured during work, off duty, or sometimes fell into illness. For this reason, second officers are required to have a training on Medical Care so that they can do minor surgeries, prescribe medicines and revive patients who are severely in need of medical attention.
But the worst thing that could happen that second officers wish that they can’t do is to apply that knowledge on actual scenario, especially if it is life or death situation.
2. Pay Day today. No small bills for salary!
They were also preferred as the “ship’s purser” because they are the ones who give the crew’s monthly pay onboard. This is done every end of the month or it can be earlier as per Master’s advise. The only problem was, not all captains have the luxury to give smaller bills because the cash onboard is also limited. As a result, some second officers are forced to give salary in larger bills.
Worst part here is, not all crew have smaller bills as a change for the larger ones that they receive.
3. Notice To Mariners do not come on time.
Notice to Mariners are booklets that are used to update all charts and publications onboard for navigation. It is usually sent by their office onboard once the vessel docks at any port where it is convenient to ship into.
There are two kinds of NTM, the traditional booklet and the email type that is sent onboard via email. These are received onboard every week, fortnightly or monthly depending on the nationality of the producer.
If the NTM is book type, you can only receive it only if the vessel is in port and when the vessel is at sea, of course you can never receive it.
4. Monthly drills conducted at morning
Onboard ships, crew are required to have emergency drills to sharpen their skills in combating such incidents such as fire, rescuing man overboard, even abandoning the ship. Usually these drills are conducted every Sunday at 1000H until lunchtime. This is also coincides with the rest time of every second officers wherein they are still supposed to be sleeping. Some other masters start their drills even as early as 0900H! But this adds to the competence of every crew, not just only second officers because all are required and expected to answer the call for emergency preparedness even if they are sleeping of having a rest.
5. The 0000H to 0400H shift or the “Graveyard Shift”.
This is the hardest part of all shifts in the bridge because the second officer and his helmsman are the only ones awake onboard, together with the duty engineer and his oiler. If unlucky enough that the vessel is an Unmanned Machinery Space (engine room with no duty engineers at night), the two watch at the bridge are the only ones awake at this time. A human’s body clock is normally adjusted to the time that he should be sleeping or taking rest at night. But for them, it’s a part of the job they signed up with. During these times, they must not fell asleep because navigation at night is one of the riskiest tasks onboard. But for some, they choose to make their other jobs like correcting charts and publications or paperworks at this shift especially when the sea has minimal or no traffic because they have partners on duty.
6. The body issues.
Yes, you read it right. Have you noticed that there are some seafarers that are quite bulky, chubby or fat? Well, blame it to the fact that they were the ones that have minimal physical demanding jobs. Aside from making paperworks, maintenance of navigational equipment and publications and the hospital, there are no more strenuous jobs for them so that they can sweat out their bodies. Add to this trouble is that they also eat foods as early as 0200H. How? They usually instructs their partner on duty to prepare foods (since this time the cooks are still sleeping and the usual time for breakfast is 0600H). So no strenuous jobs plus large meals at morning equals wrecked body figure. In their duration of their contract they can gain weight from 5 kilos to 15 kilos!
7. Changing route plans time to time even if the ship has already departed from the port.
This is a very normal sight for all second officers especially when the vessel has to deviate from the planned voyage before the ship left the port. Sailing plans are often changed in the middle of the voyage because of deviation due to bad weather, adjustment of distance, unforeseen circumstances or change of sailing instructions (the ship will head on to another port). Oftentimes this gives headache to them because passage planning or making routes is a very meticulous job, sometimes painstakingly planned to ensure that the ship will be navigating safely. This put into accounts all of the available information resources onboard, drawing them into the charts and making documents for it.
This is one of the most challenging jobs for them (including me) because they must put into play one of most basic knowledges of a skilled navigator. They must ensure that the ship is not short or excess of its distance to ply in.
Nevertheless, most of the second officers are licensed chief officers or masters. They are also like “trainee chief officers” because in case of emergency or when the chief officer will disembark and they have no relievers, second officers can be jacked up and be promoted to management level.
These things stated above are just some of the craziest struggles a second officer experience onboard. Currently I am still second officer onboard and when I was asked by my friends how is my job onboard, even though I know all the struggles, I can still say that I love my job.