Working at sea: not your typical 9-to-5 job

25 June 2022

As roughly 90% of global trade is transported by sea, shipping is of relevance for all of us one way or another, a fact the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, specifically the Directorate of Maritime Affairs, would like to bring to the attention of the general public. As recognition of the role seafarers play in the transport industry and global trade, the IMO declared June 25 as the Day of the Seafarer. Kelly de Jong (from the Ministry) spoke to seafarers Jeroen Bosch and Alex van Roon about their experiences at sea.

Before joining Boskalis as a Third Engineer in the offshore industry, Jeroen Bosch held various positions as a Maritime Officer in the shipping industry. Alex van Roon is currently training to become a Maritime Pilot on Bonaire after sailing the oceans for 15 years.

Why did you choose a life at sea?

‘It sounds very cliché, but every day is different’, Jeroen explains. ‘Sometimes, it’s a bit dull, at other times, it’s very busy, which is fine because you are there anyway. Besides, I like the strict division between my private life and my work life. Sometimes people comment on the fact that being aboard for six weeks also means being away from home. That is true, of course, however when I am at home, I am completely free of work: no emails or other obligations. That is something I appreciate very much. And yes, sometimes we need to work long hours on the job, but when I’m at work, I don’t have to cook or commute, things that are quite time-consuming for people ashore.’

Alex adds: ‘Since I went to sea 15 years ago, I’ve been all over the world, and I still enjoy that feeling of taking on a range of challenges in a huge vessel, in so many different countries. When the position of Maritime Pilot on Bonaire became available, with the opportunity of training, I was immediately sold. It’s close to my home and to where I grew up, but I’m looking forward to new adventures too. Currently, I am gaining experience as a Trainee Pilot under the guidance of an experienced Pilot to make sure I will be able to dock ships safely in the ports of Bonaire. A love of the sea has run through our family’s veins for generations. When you have your first cup of coffee of the day on deck while enjoying a view of the Norwegian Fjords, the Hong Kong skyline or sunrise over Bonaire, you know you’ve made the right choice: never a dull moment.’

What are the less attractive parts of the job?

‘Before, I was stationed on a dedicated ship, and you grow very familiar with the ship itself and the crew. Now, I am learning how to work with different ships, crews and cultures. Besides, docking vessels at Bonaire can be tricky due to the offshore winds for most of the year,’ Alex explains. Jeroen recognises the first part. ‘It can happen that you don’t get along with one of your shipmates. In that case, you are stuck with each other all that time. The biggest challenge outside work has to do with the fact that I am unavailable for one and a half months. Not everyone is able to deal with that. When you’re on the other side of the world, planning things like holidays or a mortgage can be tricky. At my former employer’s, the office staff would come and visit the ship, just to see what a ship looks like. Some of them were genuinely surprised that we stayed on board when the ship was sailing. Somehow, they had the idea that we could go home at five o’clock like they did.’

This year’s theme of the Day of the Seafarers is ‘Your voyage – then and now, share your journey’. 

Jeroen, what is the first thing that comes to mind?

‘I’ve only been sailing for five years. But compared to when I started, it is more of an “ongoing job” now, with less crew if they can get away with it. Years ago, you could go on shore to go sight-seeing but a growing number of ports operate 24/7, which means the crew has less time to rest. That goes particularly for ships that operate with a minimal number of crew. Corona didn’t help in this case either.’

Which part of the job makes you most proud?

This is an easy question for both seafarers. Alex: ‘I am proud of the fact that I haven’t been standing still. The maritime world has many opportunities to offer. Working together helps to get a job done properly. In this profession, you are never done learning.’ ‘And it is a meaningful job’, Jeroen adds. ‘Lately, we’ve been occupied with projects for offshore wind. When the job is finished and we’ve added some turbines, it feels great, just the idea that you’ve contributed to a worthy cause.’


Day of the Seafarer

To stress the importance of seafarers, the IMO launched the ‘Day of the Seafarer’ in 2010. The UN also acknowledges this day, the aim of which to recognise the contribution of global seafarers to international trade over sea and the global economy, as well as the risks they take while doing their jobs. In the IMO, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management is also committed to sound working conditions and education for seafarers on a global scale.

This year’s theme, ‘Your voyage – then and now, share your journey’, gives seafarers the opportunity to share their experiences and stories: what it’s like to be a seafarer and how the profession has changed over time.