5 Leadership and Soft Skills You Learn at Sea

The adventure of a lifetime is not all that a seafaring career promises. A career spent traversing the oceans of the world also provides a number of invaluable skills and make you a better, more experienced, and exceptional leader. Take a look at 5 particular lessons that will stand you in good stead long after your sailing days.

1: Adapting to constantly changing teams and environments.

As a seafarer, you typically spend around 4-6 months with each ship and crew. You spend all this time learning to work with people, sharpening your interpersonal skills, deepening your technical knowledge, learning from different leaders – and then you switch to a totally different ship and crew after that. The differences could be so stark that it’s equivalent to changing companies. If you were to do this in any other industry, it’s considered ‘job-hopping’. But in seafaring, it’s often part and parcel of the job. You might miss some of the good friends you make, but that’s what social media is there for, right? And with all those contacts, the advantages that this network will provide you in future is like no other.

2: Keeping calm in difficult situations.

It doesn’t get any harder than being responsible for thousands of tonnes of cargo, millions of dollars, and the lives and safety of the crew! Navigation problems, storms, tight deadlines, and even pirates – these are all possible situations the seasoned seafarer might face. TNTA Cadet Muhammad Farhan recalls a particular incident when the ship in front of his suddenly slowed down, almost to a halt. There were other ships behind his and they would all have to alter their course; making a mistake in that would have severe consequences, to say the least. Thankfully, his captain told everyone not to panic, and follow his instructions calmly. Keeping your wits about you and making the right decisions in these situations becomes second nature after a few years at sea. Hardly anything else is going to seem as stressful!

3: Long Term Planning

The daily grind of both work and/or school can make the days go by in a daze. You focus on finishing task after task, assignment after assignment. As a seafarer though, you have to consider the future. Planning out the contracts that you take, the vacation time in between, slotting in the time to take your certificate of competency courses, you often have to plan the months ahead systematically. However, this actually makes the days more enjoyable and meaningful – every thing you do is a step towards a larger goal and a greater purpose, you aren’t just completing tasks that people set for you for the sake of it. Currently the Director of PACC Ship Management, Mr Lim Tau Kok, became the youngest Chief Engineer ever at age 26 by sailing as often, and as much as he could back then. In his words, he knew he had to clock a certain amount of time at sea, and so he cheerfully took very few breaks compared to his peers without complaint, knowing that he was fast tracking his future career.

4: Working in a multi-cultural, multi-national environment.

Seafarers come from all over the world, and all sorts of people sign up for the maritime career (check out the five traits of people who choose this demanding but rewarding line). TNTA Cadet Ivan Wu once worked on a crew of 15, with 11 different nationalities between them! Having to work very closely with the most diverse team you could find anywhere, not to mention living aboard the same ship, makes you learn how to interact with, work under, and eventually manage different people from all around the world! At sea, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you used to do, only how well you perform and get along with everyone else. This grants you the edge over many of your peers in management skill, worldly knowledge… and making new friends!

5: Appreciating your loved ones.

Being away from home for months at a time, you very quickly learn to cherish the smaller things in life, such as the ability to go out shopping whenever you like, eating whatever you like, sleeping in your own bed, and of course, your family. Every cadet, officer and engineer talks about how being at sea actually helps make their family bonds stronger. Captain Menon actually had his wife write in a diary when he was away, for him to read when he returned home, back during the veteran’s seafaring days. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say, and seafaring definitely does this for you too.

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