This forum thread explores the reasons both seafarers and their partners which account for seafarers’ continued service at sea and the benefits they see attached to this particular lifestyle.
When asked about the benefits of a seafaring career both seafarers and their partners most commonly would mention ‘money’ as attraction of the work. Seafarers would often admit that their salaries are significantly larger than those they could expect to earn ashore.
It is also recognised that the differentials between seagoing and shore-side salaries are increased due
to the tax benefits extended to seafarers.
The financial security associated with the job and the assurance of a regular wage is also an attraction to some seafarers.
The importance of the money and the regular salary was such that many seafarers would cite it as the only advantage of working at sea
Indeed this dependence on the particular salary level could act as a trap to many seafarers and make it difficult for them to consider alternative (and less lucrative) shore-side employment due to their existing financial commitments. This dependence on the financial rewards of seafaring could be vouched by several seafarers, as the following selection of quotes from SIRC study illustrates:
• Because I needed to secure mortgage for a property and I’m kind of obliged to stay where I am to retain the necessary level of income, that’s the only reason. (Senior Officer)
• Well I don’t like going away to sea, it’s just that I don’t think I can do anything else that brings in the same remuneration package onshore as I can earn at sea. (Senior Officer)
• I got to this stage really where I was thinking, you know, ‘what the devil am I doing this for?’, and then I think ‘well I am doing this because I need the money and I am just hanging in until I think I have saved enough’. (Senior Officer)
The benefits of a seafaring salary can also be mentioned by seafarer’s partners; however they mention this less often than seafarers and are more likely to cite other advantages of the lifestyle. Seafarers’ wives would talk about financial benefits in terms of having a ‘nice house’ or car and also in relation to the fact that they feel they do not have to ‘worry about money’.
As with seafarers, women also recognised the ‘financial trap’ where becoming accustomed to a salary at a particular level could act as a ‘tie’ to keep the seafarer working at sea.
Benefits to marital relationships
Whilst research has pointed to the detrimental consequences of intermittent partner absence on couple relationships, many would admit that such working patterns could have beneficial effects on their relationships.
The positive effects are more likely to be mentioned by women than their partners, perhaps due to the
fact that women may be more used to reflecting on, and talking about their relationships.
Many seafarers and their wives would talk about the intense pleasure and happiness they experienced when the seafarer returned home and some would use the term ‘honeymoon’ to describe their relationship during reunion.
The following quotes(from the SIRC study report) are illustrative of their comments:
• It’s tremendous buzz just seeing your wife again and just being there sort of thing spending time with her. (A Junior Officer)
• There is always that I am looking forward and I want to see him. There is something that I can always feel exited about and I feel happy. (Wife of a Senior Officer)
• When he comes home and relationship is fresh and exciting so maybe that wouldn’t be there [if he had a shore job]. (Wife of a Senior Officer)
Periodic absences of one partner are seen to stop the relationship ‘getting into a rut’ and encourage couples to appreciate each other and their time together. Rather, some couples do feel that they have fewer rows when they are together than their shore-based contemporaries do with their partners
As following comments would ratify:
• You don’t take so much for granted and you do more together as well. (A Junior Officer)
• I think what happens is as a seaman you learn to value your time with each other,[ . . ], you learn to respect each other a lot more, [. . ] we have our ups and downs but I stand back and you pay attention to a lot more things than you would do if you worked in a factory. You don’t take each other for granted, I don’t, or try not to, put it that way. (A Senior Officer)
• You don’t get into your ruts that people talk about. I don’t think you take each other for granted, and you appreciate each other more and you appreciate the time you’ve got. (Wife of Junior Officer)
• I think when he does come home we don’t argue like a lot of couples. We don’t argue that, very, not often at all, because it is like a holiday when he’s home then, you know, we get on really well when he’s home. (Wife of Junior Officer)
Where seafarers have been in previous, unhappy relationships, the lengthy separations required by seafaring work patterns are seen as making difficult marriages more tolerable. However, this could be disadvantageous as it was also felt to prolong relationships which are considered better ended. As two seafarers explained:
• I regretted it [my first marriage], financially, emotionally, in all ways it turned out to be terrible, a terrible move, and caused a lot of pain to myself and my first wife, and had I been living ashore it wouldn’t have lasted so long. (Senior Officer)
• The only reason I think I stayed - we stayed together - was because of the fact that I was away [at sea]. I could handle a couple of months at home knowing that I was going away, I managed to go away and see friends and relations and all the rest of it so it wasn’t too bad. (Senior Officer).
A further attraction of seafaring was the work-to-leave ratio. Although working conditions varies, officers in senior ranks could be employed on contracts as favourable as equal work to leave periods and those in junior positions have higher work to leave ratios.
Seafarers enjoyed these long periods, free from the constraints and demands of work and couples were positive about the benefits of the time together on their relationships. Both seafarers and their partners would often make comparisons to traditional shore-side hours of ‘nine-to-five’ and may point to the increased quality time with their families that seafaring work patterns allowed. As following comments from the same SIRC study would confirm:
• It’s nice having 2 and a half months. You don’t have to work. You can go out every night of the week if you want to. You can lie in as late as you wanted to rather than get up at 8 o’clock each morning, no watches. (A Junior Officer)
• Really I think we benefit quite a lot from, from the lifestyle as well. Because we do have then home, sort of for long periods of time, which compensates, I think, for the periods they are away. (Wife of Senior Officer)
• I was that person who had a 9 to 5 job and had to commute to it, I mean I don’t think, if you work out hour for hour and a day by day situation, I don’t think that same person could turn round and say I’ve the same quality time as with my children as I have when I’m home. (A Senior Officer)
• It’s lucky because when he’s home for a month he’s got more quality time with the children than a lot of fathers have because like now yesterday he took them swimming and he’ll take [our son] for a bike ride after school so he does do a lot of things like that for the kids where if he was working 9 to 5 he wouldn’t be able to do. (Wife of Senior Officer)
Some women would talk positively about the opportunities and freedom offered to them during
their husband’s absence. Women took advantage of this time to pursue their own interests, hobbies and friendships and conceptualised their time alone in a positive way.
For seafarers, other benefits related to the nature of the work, in particular the relative flexibility and autonomy that they did not feel would find in shore based employment. As two comments would ratify
• I like irregular hours, well on the ships I’m on the watches on our ships is 6 hours on 6 hours off. And I like doing 6 hours on 6 hours off, puts the hours in-between for the paper week and all. I couldn’t do a 9 to 5. (Junior Officer)
• I don’t necessarily think I’d be happy even if I could earn the same money in a shore job if that was too routine, I wouldn’t like to be too physically bound to a job in a confined, or by virtue of the job itself where you’re stuck in a particular room for a lengthy time, or on a shop floor doing the same job. (Senior Officer)
Additionally, despite increasing rapid turnaround times and growth in offshore loading and discharge, the opportunity to travel continued to be a benefit of the job appreciated by seafarers.
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