My way, experience and life at Sea
(“Very important – to share your experience with newcomers”)
Name: Vladimir Torsky
Current position: Chief Officer
Education: Odessa National Maritime Academy (Master of Navigation, Specialist in Maritime Law)
Cadetship: Deck Cadet, 4th Officer, 3rd Officer, 2nd Officer.
Publications: more than 20 scientific articles.
I studied at Odessa National Maritime Academy (ONMA) 5,5 years, whereas 1,5 years were dedicated to seamanship. Knowledge that you acquire at the higher educational establishment is no doubt important, but yet there are problems which you are facing during the voyage and you have to take your decisions, gaining vital experience. I also graduated in Maritime Law by distance learning in ONMA. I think that future Masters need this knowledge in their day-to-day work.
I can say that studying at the Academy was the most careless (in comparison with a job of a sailor) time in my life. Most students knew why they came and what they wanted to achieve after graduation. Therefore, the studying wasn’t such a difficult issue. An important factor of the studying was that we were taught discipline and self-organization due to the marching drills and the regime. It was of great use in my work and life.
When I was a cadet I had to wear uniform every day. For girls who study at the Academy it eases the problem “small wardrobe, nothing to wear”. I remember the first time when I wore marine uniform. It seemed to me that everybody was looking only at me.
It is very difficult to go on a voyage for the first time. Nevertheless, those who make it an aim – achieve this goal. Especially hard period is growth in position from a trainee, cadet or a deckhand to the officer. All shipping companies specify tough requirements to candidates, most often – this is work experience in a particular position. According to the world standards, Ukraine, unfortunately, doesn’t practically have its own fleet. In spite of this fact, Ukrainian sailors have achieved a high level of background and they work on different types of vessels in all companies of the world. Therefore, there is no such a huge problem with employment nowadays as it was before. We should also take into account the possibility of working in maritime sphere on shore.
A lot of my course mates didn’t want to follow the intended route, and this is also good. There is no place in the crew for people who suffer from a sea voyage.
About working day
A working day usually consists of 12 hours divided into watches. Although the international rules specify tough requirements to the rest on board of the vessel, it often happens that you manage to sleep up to 5-6 hours. There are operations of high priority, such as mooring, inspections, different checks, preparation of inward documentation and other “must-to do- things”. You can’t just ask somebody to “give you some hours off”.
About sea sickness
Sea sickness can become a serious obstacle on your way to seafaring. But even in case of individual intolerance to motions at sea, there are different ways to cope with sea sickness or perhaps to ease its symptoms. It is important to prepare yourself morally and physically to a possible continuous adverse weather and motions. There is the way how you can train your vestibular system. You should close your eyes and do about 15 circular motions with your head in one side and within a few minutes – in the other side. It is better to eat fish or toasts. I know it from my own experience.
There is just no place for superstitions in the present sea life. That’s why a lot of “bad signs” are forgotten, and young sailors don’t even pay attention when the vessel leaves the port on the 13th or on Monday, or to the presence of a woman on board. Just imagine the sum of demurrage which companies would pay for such reasons.
Quality and diversity of food can depend on different factors. Firstly, it depends on the sum of money which a company is ready to spend on nutrition. Secondly, it also depends on how cooks are skillful and hard-working.
During my work in Kazakhstan on the accommodation barge, where 250 people lived, they served salad with the only ingredient – shallot. They also ate mashed potato powder. In the other company, they set a barbecue every week on the deck, where you could try pock, big shrimps, best quality fish and lobsters.
About first experience
My first vessel, on which I crossed the ocean, and which worked on the Northern Europe-Asia lines was a 331 meter long container ship. I had to fly on my own to Hong Kong with three transfers. Taking into account that I had never been a passenger of a plane, it was a little scary. I would never fly to Hong Kong if I hadn’t known English.
I really like working in a multinational crew. There was one vessel where I worked with 50 people of 12 nationalities. Each person has their own history, attitudes to life and different religion.
There is one very accurate popular quotation: “The only luxury I know is the luxury of human communication ”. When you travel and communicate with many different people, you start to perceive the world around completely differently - it is really small, and different cultures don’t divide people on some groups, they unite them.
Visiting new countries is one of the most interesting and favorite sides of this profession. I have my own list where I note all visited countries – currently there are 32 countries. Nevertheless, it’s not too much. When you work, for example, on the passenger vessels which are going around the world, you can visit almost every place in the world within the short term. There are places that make you fall in love with them once and forever. For me such places are South Africa (Cape Town) and Cuba (Havana). At the same time, there are countries that I try not to visit to avoid bad impressions. Mostly, this is Central Africa – malaria, Ebola virus, poor quality of provision, tough relations with local authorities are the reasons why this region is not good for work.
Each time it is very hard to leave your family, relatives and friends. But I have an example of two generations of sailors in my family who created strong relationships, though they spent half of their lives at sea. Due to the development of different means of communication it became possible to keep in touch with your home via Internet, telephone and e-mail every day. That’s why I know that even if it is hard, it is still possible. Happiness for me is a strong family and the job I really enjoy.
About free time
Healthy way of life is becoming popular not only on shore, but also at sea. The crew tries to spend their free time working out in a gym, running on a helicopter site (if there is such), playing ping-pong, darts and other games. Strict policy of most companies against alcohol favors such pastime. Moreover, in spite of severe appearance of sailors and their difficult work, you can meet among them writers, artists, photographers and even those who like needle pointing. They don’t aim to become famous in such a way - may be due to this fact, you can often find very talented works. When I was a cadet, I was keen on photography and still I don’t miss a chance to take my camera in a voyage.
The principles of emergencies have been so properly described and studied that they are now minimized. Safety has always and everywhere been a top priority. That’s why it is important to pay the highest attention to this issue to all cadets, bringing up and instilling in every cadet, a future sailor – “the culture of safety”.
Of course, errors sometimes happen and they result in accidents or incidents, but this is an exception rather than the rule.
Sailors try to treat everything with humor due to their specific work. Thus, some funny situations always happen.
About Dynamic Positioning System
It is remarkable that before January 1st 2012, to become a licensed DP-operator you didn’t need to have qualification of an officer of the watch. However, since 2012 the situation has dramatically changed; and position of a DP-operator can now be held only by a person trained according to the requirements of STCW Convention. That is, the knowledge of exploiting the dynamic positioning system and understanding of its general principles in full manner is now available only as a supplement to the basic profession of a navigator, and not vice versa.
A new DP-operator/navigator will have to face difficulties from the start of a training program – holding of Basic/Induction certificate, but without experience it is very hard to get a job, almost impossible. The best solution of this problem, as for me, is to arrange practice on the training vessels to get a DP qualification by the licensed educational centers in those countries where they are. We can draw an analogy with educational-production vessels which ONMA possessed in times of the Black Sea Shipping prosperity and national shipping, when cadets of maritime educational establishments were sure that they would get professional sea practice and navigational qualification on these vessels.
As a result, in spite of my 5 years' experience in the offshore sphere on different types of vessels, I didn’t mange to get the necessary 30-days practice on the vessels equipped with a DP system or it was out of operation.
About Nautical Institute (NI)
To be a member of the Institute is not only prestigious for a sailor but also very useful. In Ukraine there is a strong branch – Nautical Institute of Ukraine that has been functioning for 15 years. To my mind, NI is a very important (brain center) for upgrading a professional training of sailors for maritime and offshore industry.
I was a NI member for 6 years, but currently I have suspended my participation.
I’m going to resume it in the near future.