Cruise Ship Officer

Cruise Ship Officer

CruiseShipOfficer

New York, NY

Male, 33

I have worked as a deck officer on large cruise ships for almost a decade. When standing watch on the bridge for eight hours a day, I was directly responsible for the safety and navigation of the vessel. In addition, in my roles as Safety Officer and Chief Officer, I have had duties outside of the bridge regarding emergency response and procedures.

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Last Answer on May 17, 2012

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How many crew members are responsible for piloting the ship at any given time? How long are the shifts?

Asked by Fran almost 6 years ago

It depends on the size of the ship, mostly, along with the conditions at that time... Smaller cruise ships on a normal passage out at sea will usually have one qualified officer on watch at any time, along with a lookout, or Quartermaster. But the vast majority of modern cruise ships will have two officers on watch at all times, with at least one lookout/Quartermaster assisting as well. However, if the vessel is in an area where there is more demanding navigation- close to shore, coming into or out of ports, areas in which there is heavy traffic, or during restricted visibility, for instance- the bridge team is supplemented by additional officers. Usually this would be the Staff/Deputy Captain (ie the Second in Command) or the Captain. (Coming into a port, you will often find there are two Officers of the Watch, the Staff Captain, the Captain, and a local harbor pilot.) The standard schedule for bridge officers is 4 hours of watch followed by 8 hours off watch. Some ships vary that routine in order to give officers one period a day where they can get at least 10 hours off, but most ships around the world operate on a 4 hours on, 8 hours off schedule.

Have you just been getting flooded with questions about the Concordia sinking when you tell people what you do? What do you say when people ask how that could've possibly happened in this day and age?

Asked by Jessie almost 6 years ago

Absolutely, yes. (No doubt that is part of why I was asked to answer questions on here!) As soon as the accident occurred, I had many emails in from both friends and journalists asking for my reaction. It definitely has raised the awareness of my job-- but not in a way I had hoped. As for how this could possibly have happened-- well, it is of course a very relevant question. The first is the typical disclaimer-- we have to wait and see what really happened before we can make final judgements about what went wrong. Until those official reports come out with transcripts from the bridge and screen shots of the electronic chart and radar displays at the time, we won't know entirely what happened. That being said, if everything that has been reported so far in the media is fairly accurate, it seems to be a simple case of human error-- someone just not paying enough attention. This is an obvious statement, but it should never have happened. The area was well charted, the ship had excellent technology, and the weather does not seem to have been a factor. It definitely appears now that certain procedures and good industry standard practice were not being followed on the bridge that night.

Do you think the Italian captain deserves criminal penalties and if so, what is an appropriate jail term?

Asked by Alex almost 6 years ago

Great question. At the end of the day, you are given tremendous authority when you are captain, but you also burdened with tremendous responsibility. He was entrusted with the lives of many thousands of people, and if, once the reports are out, he really was simply grossly negligent, then yes, he should face criminal penalties. Unfortunately accidents do occur, but there is not always gross negligence. For instance, if it turns out there was a large mechanical failure that was unpredictable and was the direct cause of the accident, and the Captain then acted prudently and was able to keep the ship afloat for as long as possible and promptly ordered an evacuation, etc, I don't believe he should be penalized. As for appropriate jail term-- I don't think I can come up with a solid number. The ship was registered in Italy and so Italian law- with its applicable penalties and jail terms- should apply.

Have you experienced any close calls on any of your passenger ships?

Asked by Jmac almost 6 years ago

I wouldn't say any really close calls, no. There have been, however, many moments where my blood pressure has gone up and my heart rate increased, for sure, or times where if the situation was not handled correctly and promptly, there could have been more serious consequences. But I've seen fires- albeit minor ones that are out quickly- power outages, medical evacuations, big storms, and mechanical failures. But well trained crews can and do respond effectively to these situations to ensure they don't become 'incidents.' And being responsible for the safety of these ships is stressful- I always felt when I walked down the gangway at the end of a contract onboard something like relief that nothing major had happened. I definitely believe that highly qualified crew is vital for manning these new, huge, technologically advanced ships and that cruise lines need to focus on attracting and retaining top talent.

How many passengers fall off cruise every year, and what percent are rescued?

Asked by drc79 almost 6 years ago

Truthfully, I have no idea-- but the number is very small. Whenever it happens, there is usually a fair amount of media attention, so the frequency might seem higher than people think. The bottom line is you really have to try hard to fall off a ship. Regulations dictate the minimum height of railings, and they are high enough you won't just accidentally slip and suddenly find yourself in the sea. To fall off, you essentially have to be doing something pretty stupid- like climbing on a rail- or intentionally throw yourself off. Recovery chances vary depending on how high the person was when they jump and where the ship is-- obviously if you go overboard in the cold North Atlantic, your chances are much slimmer than if it is in the Caribbean. Recovery is therefor not totally out of the condition-- there have been a few cases within the last few years where the ship's crews have successfully recovered passengers who fell overboard.

Is the 'women and children first' rule still in effect, or is it antiquated at this point?

Asked by ondabriny almost 6 years ago

Antiquated. What surprises me are the news reports that this was- either formally or informally- the policy at some boats on the Concordia. None of the passenger ships I've worked on have had this rule at all. In fact, it is the opposite-- to keep passengers calm, you want to keep families together. Splitting people up will only make crowd control more difficult.

Do the crew have their own emergency lifeboats or do you use the same ones as the passengers?

Asked by YMCA almost 6 years ago

It depends on your rank. A few deck officers will be in charge of some of the regular lifeboats with passengers. But on a ship with, say, 20 lifeboats, there aren't 20 deck officers to be in charge of each lifeboat. (In this case, other trained (and certified) people- Quartermasters, engineering officers, etc- will be in charge of the boat, along with several other crew members that will also help man the boat.) In addition, when you give the order to abandon ship, losing all of your officers to go man the lifeboats means you have less people onboard to ensure critical elements of the ship and evacuation are going as they should-- so a core team might remain behind until all the boats and rafts are away, and then that core team will go in the last liferaft(s). But each company has a different policy- and a different emergency response structure- and so do it a different way. But the general answer is some officers will go in lifeboats with passengers, and others may wait until the end and go in the last liferafts after the rest of the evacuation is complete.