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Life as a shipping cadet

22 August 2019
Katie is a cadet sponsored by BP Maritime Services. She is nearing the end of the three year cadetship programme. Find out about her experiences

What made you choose a career in Shipping?

I joined the BP Maritime Services Sponsored Cadetship Programme in September 2011 after completing a BTEC in Engineering at Loughborough College. A family friend was a seafarer and I thought it sounded a really interesting career, which led me to apply.


Tell us what you’ve done so far as part of the programme?

I have chosen to convert the Marine Operations Foundation Degree that is a standard part of the programme into a full degree by spending a few extra months studying, supported by BP Maritime Services. Since joining, I’ve had 12 months at sea combined with an initial four month stint at college which for me is at Warsash Maritime Academy in Southampton, along with four other BP Maritime Services sponsored cadets. Other cadets in my intake are studying at different colleges although we did get to meet before we started on an introductory day at BP’s Sunbury offices. It was a great way to get to know each other, meet people who work for BP, and find out a bit more about the role.


How did you find your first experience at sea

My first stint at sea was really exciting, but also quite daunting! You really don’t know what to expect until you get on-board. Luckily I was with two other cadets on their first trip which helped, and everyone was very welcoming. It’s a big learning experience, there’s so much information to take on. The size of the ship was surprising, it’s hard to visualise quite how huge the ship is going to be – it was 330m long, that’s three rugby pitches end to end and one of the biggest in our fleet. I enjoyed my time so much I ended up extending an extra two months, so was on the ship for five months in total!


What’s it like living at sea?

There are so many facilities on-board; cinema, TV room, gym, table tennis, basketball, pool and so on. Our cabins are a good size too, with our own bathroom. The food is pretty good too – lots of variety each day. You have to be sociable and get on with a range of people to enjoy this job, people are really friendly.


Do you actually get to visit any of the locations you pass through whilst at sea?

In my 12 months so far, I’ve got to visit Houston, Beaumont, New York, Long Beach, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Singapore, Korea and Panama - we went around Cape Horn and through the Panama Canal which was fantastic! Sometimes the locations are a bit remote, but I’ve always made the most of opportunities to go ashore. We typically work a four hour watch, then have eight hours off, so there’s time to go ashore and get into the nearest city or beach to have a look around!


Tell us more about your role on-board?

On your first trip, you do day work, starting with small jobs like buffing, and painting decks, then after a while spend time on the bridge, shadowing. As you progress, you get to spend more time on the bridge and as your knowledge and skills improve, you’re given more important tasks to do. We spent quite a lot of time in Singapore which is a busy shipping area so there is quite a lot of traffic. The captain would ask for my input in situations as to what I thought we should do, it was good to have that input and feel valued as part of the team.


We also spent two weeks in dry dock, which is when ship maintenance takes place, so I was able to see what the processes involved and understand the more mechanical aspects which was very interesting and educational.


Once qualified, I’ll be a deck officer, responsible for the safe navigation of the ship. The role involves ensuring the ship keeps to the passage plan, monitoring traffic situations, but also if there is any work happening on the ship, making sure everyone is safe.


Any highlights?

One of the highlights for me has been passing the ‘Officer of the Watch’ oral tests. It’s a really big exam that you take in the final phase at college, and you’re asked questions on any aspect of what you have learnt over the last three years training – so passing that is a big milestone!


What skills do you think you need to succeed?

If you’re driven to achieve goals, confident and able to get on with a range of people, then this is a great opportunity. I’d say I have a lot of determination to succeed and that’s important. I found the exams quite challenging and you also have down days now and again at sea – when the weather is awful for example, but you just have to push on through! Having good time management is also quite important; you have assignments to complete whilst at sea which you have to manage yourself.


What’s next?

One of the reasons I chose BP Maritime Services over other opportunities was that I could see myself having a full career here. I don’t want to be at sea my entire career, I want to get to Ship Master level, but then the opportunities shore side are a real selling point too. I know lots of people who have moved to office roles, and BP is really good at encouraging people not to just stay in one role.


So far I’ve really enjoyed my time, it’s a nice place to work, BPs values are very prominent in the work environment so you feel safe and part of a team.


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