6 Life Changing Lessons We Can Learn from Seafarers

The vast and open seas are a striking reflection of the currents of our lives. Whether stormy and wild or calm and serene, they are always moving, shaping and bringing us to new shores.

Consequently, the sea has much to teach those who are willing to listen. We spoke with some of Singapore’s most seasoned sailors to uncover the key lessons garnered from their years of nautical navigation.

1. Trust yourself to swim

When someone gets sick on deck, who will fill in and get the job done? While you could stay within your comfort zone, the only way to grow is to trust yourself to step up and take charge of the steering wheel.

“They [the captains] put that trust in you. They know what you’re capable of doing so they will give you little tests like, ‘ok the third mate is sick today, you take over because you’re going to be the third mate soon.’ Somehow, at that point in time, you feel different as you are suddenly given the chance to perform as a Third Officer.” – Faizah

2. Stay committed

A ship knows when it is leaving, where it is going and how it will get there. The same can be said of our careers, and the clearer we are on this, the more we can focus on the things that will make the ship go faster.

“When I was 2nd Mate, I was still going to school for class 1 and 2 studies. That took some time, but during those periods I was focused. All I did was sailed, had short breaks and went back to sea. I knew what I wanted to do and kept doing it nonstop, which was why I got promoted fairly fast.” – Milli Koh, Chief Officer

3. Build your future today

The first step of working in shipping involves becoming a cadet – an endeavour that can take around 18 months. After that, you need to continue clocking up time at sea to move up the ranks. While the first few years are difficult as you exchange freedom for a foundation of experience, the opportunities awaiting onshore make it all worth the while.

“You have to manage your own career and your own life. It’s within your control and do it when you are young. Work hard for 10 years and benefit for the next 30-40 years – it’s an investment.” – Lim Tau Kok, Advisor, Wavelink Maritime Institute (WMI)

4. Discover the impact you’re making

Working on a ship doesn’t happen in isolation – every crew member has a specific role that impacts everyone else. Understanding how that impact fits into the grand scheme of things gives your work greater purpose and meaning.

“When you take over a watch, the officers are sleeping. You are in charge, and 22 lives are dependent on you. So that’s responsibility! Not just [for the] lives, but also the company’s cargo.” – Farhan

5. Sometimes you need to learn the hard way

Our favourite teachers are generally the ones that take us under their wing and nurture us. However, our greatest teachers – the ones we learn the most from – are often the toughest ones too.

“[Our Chief Officer] would hit our fingers if we weren’t doing it correctly, but I appreciated it. Because of that, my oil tanker knowledge, especially on pipeline tracing improved so much, even until now.” – Captain Cheong Kwee Thiam, Senior Lecturer, Singapore Maritime Academy

6. Be open to other cultures

From Indonesia to China to Ukraine, a single ship may employ crew members from all around the world. Although this melting pot of languages, beliefs, cultures and even dietary requirements could ignite friction, learning how to work with each other can lead to greater understanding, new ideas and growth.

“Be tactful – don’t judge people from the first look. Try to click with them and find out about their cultures. People have different lifestyles and come from different backgrounds so you should try to understand and accept that.” – Ivan Wu

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