Ship Career

Ship Career


IMG_8465   1. How to get a job on a cruise ship

While you can find a lot of valid advise online from companies hiring for cruise lines or travel blogs, showing you the step-by-step process of applying and interviewing for variety of jobs onboard any cruise ship, I believe the first thing anyone who is interested in this kind of venture is to ask him(her)self the following  questions:

   – Why do I want to work on a  ship– Is it the travel that attracts me; the monetary compensation or I want to get away from my current life style and start a new career? Or simply I have a friend or a partner onboard and want to stay close? You would like to work in a multi-national environment with other similar minded people and have a good time? All these are great reasons to motivate you to choose this lifestyle (yes, it is much more than just a job) and decide to make the first step towards changing your career.

   – Will I manage to be away for several months? While the various positions have different length of contracts, it is very important to decide if you are a person who can stay away from his/her family for an extended period of time without causing major disruptions and if working every day for long hours is something you have the stamina for to begin with. While there are policies in place that monitor and control the work and rest hours on cruise ships, it is not a secret that for many of the positions onboard there will be no day off for the entire tenure with the company and the work hours can be flexible, sometimes with no firm schedule, especially when there is an emergency or out of the ordinary situations.

Do I qualify for any position onboard? While many of us may have a degree in a  particular field, a lot of the positions do not require a college or university degree, however prior knowledge or experience in that area will be a plus. Nowadays, being fluent in more than one language (except for English and your mother tongue) is much appreciated and computer basic knowledge is also becoming more and more important. Many times the position that you are looking for is not be available and as an alternative the hiring agencies offer you to get a  different position (lower rank, pay, etc), as long as you get hired onboard and once there, wait for an opening for the position you desire. This may be a a good idea if you are ready to do something you are not 100% interested in and be patient, as an opening may not become available for months or even years. While onboard, to qualify for a transfer from one position to another, you must have a good rapport and clean record on the current position and you have to be prepared to go through a series of interviews to be able to prove that you qualify for a job you were not originally hired for. There is no point of misrepresenting a CV, adding skills you don’t have, as sooner or later it will become evident that you do not qualify and you would have simply wasted your own time and possibly of your managers and HR department.

If I get hired, can I choose the ship I like? Once hired, you are free to share a ship preference, but it is highly unlikely you will be granted your wish, considering that the cruise line reserves the right to follow business needs as a priority. Of course, if you have a spouse on a  certain ship, you absolutely need to mention it, so the company is aware and try its best to accommodate you.

– Can I expect a fast track career onboard? It is highly likely to progress quickly through the ranks if you do have the necessary skills for the position you occupy and demonstrate integrity, team spirit and high drive to succeed. Nowadays, the cruise lines are growing so fast, an enormous turn over of staff and crew is the every day reality, so in my opinion if you have the desire, you will get the chance, if of course the company has the need of a professional like you.

Should I do this just for a few months or make a career at sea? This question no one can answer prior to actually being on the job. I started as a bell station attendant myself 20 years ago and intended to stay only a  few months. However, the great experience and timely promotion opportunities, as well as the support of mentors onboard made it possible for me to enjoy a long career instead.

  – What if I get hired, but I don’t like it after a few days/weeks/months and refuse to stay till the end of my contract? Be prepared to pay for all travel expenses should you decide to leave prematurely. Of course, no one will keep you against your will (unless you engaged in some sort of a  crime :-), but it will be up to you to cover all your repatriation expenses.

  – Will there be people from my country/religion/life style preference onboard? Rest assured that the crew members onboard come from all walks of life, from more than 50 different countries, every religion and age group. You will be able to quickly make friends and the amazing part is that they will be from different countries and religion than yours and somehow everyone gets along pretty well.

– What if I can not swim? It is not a mandatory requirement to swim to get hired. It is highly unlikely you will ever have to swim, unless there is a boat drill and you will be asked  to swim with a flotation device.

No matter how familiar you are with safety at sea, you will undergo numerous trainings not only your first time around, but every single time you return back onboard. Some training is available prior to joining the ship in some countries (China, the Philippines, for example), but you will be scheduled for basic training once onboard too. One of the perks is that some positions (in the Hotel department) have to drive a life-boat, so you can get a certificate for driving it.

– How do I go about interviewing for a position onboard? In my opinion it is best to get online and check the big cruise lines’ websites for career opportunities. Royal Caribbean International, Carnival, Holland America and others maintain a very strong hiring program and you can check with them directly if the position you are interested in is available. If they can not perform the interview themselves, they will direct you to the closest hiring partner they are working with. Alternatively, if you can not find the position you want on the web sites of the cruise lines of your choice, you can try a hiring agency, however there you may be asked to pay a fee to apply and in many countries, this is a tricky business, as paying a commission to them will not guarantee you being hired, more so, you may never even hear back from them. You can find a lot of these agencies online, some reputable, some not so, the rule of thumb is to get one that you know for sure has hired someone you know and will make it less likely to be a  fraud.

– I don’t have much money, what if they hire me and send me on the other end of the world, how will I pay for my ticket? A lot of the cruise lines will require you to pay your ticket en route to the ship the first time you are joining and many positions (waiters, room attendants, bar servers, etc) will always be paying their return tickets, but if you are having trouble paying initially, you can negotiate and it is possible for the company to agree purchase your ticket and  thent collect the payment in installments from your salary once onboard.

– What will the interview be like? You will be asked why you would like to work on a  ship, what prior experience and skills you have and when you can begin your career at sea. There will be questions asking you what strengths and weaknesses are and what will you do if a difficult situation presents itself. You may be asked to describe a situation where you worked with a  difficult co-worker and how you handled it. There are lots of standard interview questions available online with suggested appropriate answers. It is important to show a pleasant disposition, warm and friendly attitude and do not sound demanding, but sincere and honest. You have to work on your CV, to capture exactly the qualifications you need for the job you are applying for and needless to say, you should be honest with yourself and the interviewer, as you do not want to get hired for a Slot Manager when you have never been in a  Casino before, for example. Just like with every other interview you have to bring any diplomas, recommendations and certificates you may have as a back up to your CV. Make sure you wear appropriate business attire, have a neat and presentable look and do not forget your big smile :-) Many times, in the hospitality industry,  it is the pleasant personality and positive attitude that will get you a job over any credentials. If you are not a  people’s person or you can not work with other people, this is definitely not the environment for you Do yourself a favor and consider a different way to work and travel.

– What if I do not have a hiring partner anywhere close to where I live. You can still contact the agency and find out if the interview can be conducted on Skype or other means online.

– What visas will I need to work on a  ship? For those ships that operated out of the United States, you will be asked for a Seaman’s C1/D visa. This can be acquired after you are a hired and the company issues you a Letter of Employment, which you can present in the American Consulate closest to you. You will need to make an appointment and show up for an interview, but if all your required paperwork is in order, you should be granted this visa, unless you have some prior dealings with the American authorities, who have denied your entry in the States. If your ship will be operating out of europe, you will be asked for a Shengen visa or a visa  for the country you are joining the ship in. This is the case with Australia, some South American countries, etc. Again these visas can be obtained once you get a Letter of Employment and your first assignment.

– Will I be able to have relatives and friends visit me once I start work onboard? Most cruise lines offer their employees to invite relatives and friends for a cruise after certain time working onboard (6 months or so)  and the cruise fee may very depending on the availability, time of year, ways of booking the cruise, etc. If your friends or family would like to visit the ship just for the day, this can be arranged with the Security department onboard.

– I am a single parent, can I bring my child to live with me onboard? What about my pet? I am not aware of a rule that allows kids to live onboard with their working parents, however exceptions may apply, depending on what position you have onboard. Senior Officers are allowed to sail with their families for the duration of their contracts. Regular crew members can invite their family members for up to a month in a year and this can also very from cruiseline to cruise line. I am not aware of a cruise line that allows Pets for crew members onboard, unfortunately :-(

– Last but definitely not least- will I work long hours every day?

The short answer is “Yes”. While the various positions have different schedules and some lucky ones can even get a  day off as a perk for reaching targets/ great job performance, etc, you should be prepared to work up to 10 hours every day for the duration of your contract. It is not unusual to work even longer hours, if need be, however most cruise lines are strictly scrurinized in this particular aspect of the employees time and attendance, as the International Labour organization has strict rules every cruise line has to adhere to. For example, you are not to work more than 14 hours a day, no longer than 77 hours a week, you should have at least 2 breaks in every 24 hours, where one is minimum of 6 uninterrupted hours, etc. You will be advised of your rights and you will know how to monitor your own schedule, however you will not be the one to design it, unless you are your manager:-) Most crew members manage their working hours by balancing them well with  their rest hours, i.e. key is to have enough sleep, to eat and exercise regularly and watch your health by not overdoing anything.

Some cruise lines are not as religious about following the ILO rules, but it is the law and there are instances where crew members have demanded their rights and cruise lines sued for violating them.

One of the best online sites that can assist you with finding a  job onboard a cruise ship in my opinion is (please note, I am not affiliated in any way with this company, nor I am paid for this recommendation):

Questions? Contact Janet

2. How to prepare for your first contract

Once hired you will need to get all your visas for your travel and a medical. Usually you will be advised by the hiring agent which are the approved medical facilities you can obtain your medical from. You may be asked to attend a training school prior to joining the ship, which will take care of some important safety and customer oriented training that is mandatory for the Hotel personnel to work onboard. If you are a Marine officer (Navigators, Engineers, etc) you will obviously need all your licenses and certificates for company required training.

When all this is nicely prepared, you will need to start packing. To be able to figure out what to bring onboard, you need to be aware of where the ship you are joining is sailing and what type of climate and season you will face. You also have to be aware that the airlines nowadays charge for luggage, so get familiar with the airlines baggage policy ahead of time, to avoid disappointment when asked to pay for  a few extra kilos.

Most likely you will be on one ship for the entire contract, but it is not unusual for a company to transfer you mid contract to fill a business need. So, if you have only brought summer clothes for the Caribbean and you get sent to Alaska for 3 months mid contract, you will most definitely need warmer clothes. You may be better off bringing a small jacket just in case, to avoid buying an expensive cold weather gear once onboard.

When on the ship, you may not have a great opportunity to wear formal clothes, unless you have a position that allows you to be in a guest area and as such, you may be allowed to wear your own clothes, however when this is the case you will be asked to dress nicely. Casual clothes and a nice pair of pants and a shirt may be sufficient if you don’t plan on being  in a guest area regularly. Swim suit is always a must and workout clothes, as most crew members like to enjoy the gym, riding a bike and practicing other sports when not at work.

Inquire about what shoes you will be allowed to wear with your uniform (which will be given to you once onboard) and try to get comfortable shoes  with a good grip to avoid an accident like slip and fall. Bring a small amount of toiletries and necessities, as you will be able to get more once onboard. Most of the ports have shops for the crew and you can get these inexpensively in several places.

Bring your phone, tablet or/and  laptop (you will need it to converse with your family and friends and watch movies when in your cabin). Most cruise lines have equipped the crew rooms with TVs, DVD players and fridges, but you may want to watch movies or listen to some music on your laptop as well. The crew cabins are equipped with small safes where you can keep your valuables, however don’t go overboard bringing expensive jewelry or watches.

Final word of advise- try to pack lightly, as while traveling you will acquire more stuff- gifts, souvenirs, etc and you will need to have this extra room in your suitcase, to avoid buying an extra bag. Do not forget to bring $100 with you at least, to cover travel expenses and allow you to have some money until you get your first pay. Get a nice haircut before joining and purchase any medication you may need for the duration of the entire contract, as the medical facility onboard may not have it.

3. What to expect once onboard

Once onboard you will be very busy for the entire first week or two. You will be asked to attend numerous mandatory training sessions and since you will be unfamiliar with the ship and the work environment as a whole, it will take you long time to achieve everything, including finding your cabin or the crew mess :-) This is why, it is a good idea to start your trip to the ship rested and try to get as much sleep as possible on the flights prior to signing on.

When you sign on, you most likely will be given an uniform and asked to report on duty right away. Usually there is a “buddy” who will familiarize you with your emergency instructions and important things like where is your room, where you can eat, walk you around the guest and crew areas, etc. You will not have much time for anything, but sleep in your free time, so don’t plan on going out for the first few days at least. You will have to plan ahead things like your trainings, meetings, your laundry, to be able to be on time and get enough rest and avoid stress. While it is important to find balance between work and pleasure, be prepared to have more of the first at the beginning, until you get familiar and accustomed to your new environment.

5. Recreational times.

As you get settled, you will find out that crew members have a lot of fun onboard. It is up to you to make your work as stress free as possible, but also make time for yourself to maintain a good health. On bigger ships there are usually special people who take care of the crew activities onboard, but even if this is not the case, crew members always find the time to recognize someone’s birthday, independence day, anniversaries, religious holidays, etc. Most ships have a small open deck or a bar dedicated to the crew, as well as a gym, game and computer rooms, table tennis  and even small pools or a jacuzzi. You will be invited to gatherings in your friends’ rooms or to all crew parties. There are tours offered specifically to the crew, shuttles organized in the different ports to the shopping centers,  special crew appreciation dinners, Karaoke or Crew talent shows. There are sports events where you can be part of a team competing against other crew members or guests. As I mentioned before there is a gym and bikes for rent. In short, you will have a good time if you have the right attitude. :-)

6. Relationships onboard

You will be allowed to form a relationship with another crew member, however fratinizing with guests is not allowed.

7. Food and Accommodation

Most ships have several Messes for the crew and depending on your rank and privileges, you may be allowed to guest restaurants as well. The food is usually good enough, but after a while you will feel the need to go out and have an occasional lunch in a local restaurant as well.

As far as accommodation goes, some cruise lines have already eliminated the 3 and 4 birth cabins, you will share maximum with another crew member, or depending on your position have a single room. Some of the newest ships actually have a single room for every one, but you may share a bathroom with another crew member. You will have to be considerate towards the needs of your room mate (s) and if smoking is allowed in the rooms, obtain their permission before lighting a cigarette inside.

8. Compensation

This is probably the most important bit of information for everyone who is interested in working on a cruise ship. While the salaries widely very between employees on the same position within the same company , this is more so the case between the different cruise lines. The pay is usually pretty competitive in the cruise industry, however still, make sure you are aware of your exact pay before you sign your contract. A lot of times you may be subject to taxes, allotment, etc, make sure you are familiar with your pay structure before you agree to join a ship. The hiring agent should be able to give you the exact information on this subject.

9. Concerns

Lots of people worry if ships are safe and what type of accidents they may encounter. Right off the bet I have to say that the modern cruise ships are built with lots of safety features and they are durable and age well. Of course, just like with everything in life where humans are involved, mistakes can happen and accidents can occur. Mostly they are related to crew members not getting proper rest or taking short cuts in doing something that requires attention to detail and a protective gear.  No one can afford to be careless on ships, all crew look after each other and no compromise should be made when safety is concerned.

Despite the fact that I  have seen some misfortunate and tragic situations while onboard, I have to say that ships are probably the safest means of transportation and one of the most secure working environments.

I intend this to be a living document, so I will update it with any incoming questions and information. I hope the above details helped you make up your mind whether or not to work on a cruise ship and if you have decided that this is a good idea, I wish you the best of luck and even envy you that you will experience it all with fresh eyes…:-)

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Questions? Contact Janet

Voyager of the seas

Questions? Contact Janet 

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