All Officers, Staff and Crew members wear the uniform allocated to their job when on duty, with the exception of entertainers and social staff members who wear their own clothes for occasions like cocktail parties. In the evenings, ship’s personnel not in uniform should adhere to the passenger dress code, which may range from very formal to casual, depending on the nature of events. Note, however, that even ‘casual’ does not include T-shirts or jeans (unless of course it happens to be Wild West Night).
Typical evening dress codes for the passengers and non-uniformed employees are:
Uniformed officers will also be expected to follow the evening dress codes, wearing dress uniform on formal nights.
Policies on uniforms vary considerably from company to company and most lines will provide good quality uniforms free of charge. Footwear is not normally provided and there may be certain stipulations, such as shoe colour or heel height. In the main, however, common sense prevails, especially bearing in mind that many crew members spend long hours on their feet.
Additional regulations may concern hair styles (particularly for those handling food) and general appearance (no earrings for male employees, for instance).
Accommodation will depend on the status given to your particular job and the ship on which you are working. Officers and other senior employees will generally have single accommodation with en-suite shower/toilet facilities. Accommodation for staff (and this includes casino, health & beauty and shop concessionaires) is variable and may be single or shared, depending on your job and the cabin allocation for your department. Managerial and ‘one-off’ staff positions generally warrant good standard single accommodation with en-suite facilities, while other staff positions may involve sharing with one or (rarely) two other employees (usually of the same department). Some staff members and entertainers may be allocated passenger accommodation, and often these are cabins that for reasons of location, noise, etc., would be difficult to sell but are nevertheless quite acceptable.
Possibly the best crew accommodation currently afloat can be found on the Europa (Hapag-Lloyd) and the Crystal Harmony and Crystal Symphony (belonging to Crystal Cruises). Other ships with good crew quarters include the Asuka (NYK) and the ships of Seabourn Cruise Line.
Dining place will be subject to your rank or job status. Officers usually eat in the Officers’ Mess with waiter service while crew members dine in the self-service Crew Mess. Staff members, entertainers and concessionaires have the most variable allocations, depending on the ship. Larger ships may have a Staff Mess with waiter-service or self-service while smaller ships may reserve a section of a passenger restaurant for staff. Officers and staff members are usually permitted to eat at passenger buffets as long as they give priority to the guests. Certain Senior Officers and members of the social/entertainment sector may also be expected to host a passenger table for dinner on specified evenings.
While passenger food is of a reasonable to excellent standard, crew food can be variable even on the best of ships. So if you get a good deal (and crew food can be good) eat well, as tomorrow you may prefer to diet.
If you are generally prone to travel sickness, it may be a good idea to take some form of remedy until you find your sea legs. Medication is usually freely available on board, but if you still find yourself suffering:
(a) Try to get fresh air. Go out on the deck if you can and look out at the horizon, not down at the waves. Alternatively, keep to the middle of the ship and on as low (and therefore stable) a deck as possible.
Above all, don’t let the prospect of seasickness put you off working on ships. Many of the most popular routes tend to be in calmer waters and it is not a myth that even so-called bad sailors get better over a period of time.
Leisure facilities for the crew
Generally, the bigger the ship, the better the facilities for crew members. Larger ships may have a crew gymnasium, sunbathing area, library and even specialist facilities such as a computer centre. Most ships will have a Crew Bar and/or Recreation Room, although bar opening hours may be subject to restrictions.
Officers and certain staff members and entertainers will be allocated a cabin steward(ess) to attend to the general cleaning (but not tidying!) and servicing of their cabins. Although the steward’s wages are paid by the company, good service should be rewarded with a tip.
Most ships will have self-service laundry facilities especially for the ship’s personnel. (It must be said, however, that the condition of some of the washing machines and dryers may leave a lot to be desired). Crew members’ uniforms and overalls are usually cleaned free of charge by the ship’s laundry service and there are generally special rates for personal items sent to the onboard laundry.
Adapting to new surroundings
This is something you will never know until you step aboard your first ship. Everyone finds things hard for those first few days, even seasoned crew members joining a new vessel. But whether or not you take to the lifestyle and enjoy it or are tempted to disembark at the next port really depends on you.
A specialised unit of the Deck Department is the Security division, headed by a Chief Security Officer. Security Officers hold responsible positions, covering all aspects of security from issuing and checking identity papers to enforcing fire and safety regulations and carrying out regular clock patrols. In keeping with modern anti-terrorist techniques, the Chief Security Officer on high-profile ships may even be from a military background and fully trained in bomb disposal.
One senior manager with a specific shipboard title is the Purser. The Purser is chiefly responsible for the ship’s accounts, although there are many aspects of the job that fall outside the realm of accountancy, including requisitioning supplies, overseeing printed matter and dealing with customs and immigration officials as well as anyone with a problem. In the days when ships were ships and not floating hotels, the Purser often assumed the role that is now allotted to the Hotel Manager. Although a few shipping companies still adhere to the increasingly-outmoded practice of referring to the head of the Hotel Department as the Purser, it is nowadays generally accepted that the Purser’s position is different from and subordinate to that of the Hotel Manager.
The Purser (also known as the Chief Purser) may be aided by an Assistant Purser or Hotel Purser (to oversee all areas of passenger business), a Berthing Officer (to allocate accommodation) and various Second, Third and Fourth Pursers. Most ships also have at least one Crew Purser (and maybe Assistant Crew Pursers or Clerks) to deal specifically with crew issues and accounts. Quite often the Purser’s office, with its many comings and goings, is seen as the hub of the ship.
Often there is no actual reception area, but the front desk of the Purser’s office serves this purpose. Bearing in mind that this is also the place where most passenger complaints are aired, a patient and tactful, not to say thick-skinned, disposition is also beneficial.
Considering the hundreds or, indeed, thousands of passengers and crew on the average ship, it is hardly surprising that a reasonably equipped hospital should be a fairly standard feature. What may be surprising, however, is that sickness is rarely the main complaint. Medical problems of all descriptions from cardiac arrests to workplace accidents need to be swiftly treated. Although patients may later be ‘landed’ to shoreside hospitals, it is the members of the ship’s medical team who have to cope in the interim.
In charge of the Medical Department is the Principal Medical Officer (PMO). Depending on the size of the ship, he/she may be the only Doctor, although very large vessels are more likely to have two fully-qualified Medical Officers (Doctors). Ships’ Doctors, referred to as surgeons by naval tradition, tend to be General Practitioners rather than specialists.
Doctors employed by large companies an on ships catering mainly to North American passengers, are generally licensed in the US, Canada or Great Britain. They automatically receive Senior Officer status (usually three stripes) together with the appropriate conditions.
In most cases, ships’ Doctors are assisted by a team of other medical personnel. Qualified and experienced Nurses (RGN or equivalent), preferably with a strong Accident and Emergency or Intensive Care background, are frequently needed. Many ships employ only one nurse, but some vessels may require two or more onboard at any time, including a Senior Nurse. Nurses generally receive two-stripe Officer status.
In an environment where guests eat around the clock, catering for hundreds of passengers (and crew) is a mammoth task that requires a huge number of staff. The person in charge of all these staff members, plus the administrative planning and budgeting, is the Food & Beverage Manager (or F & B Manager). The alternative title Catering Manager is preferred on some ships, though the responsibilities are much the same. This important department of the ship also includes the bars under the supervision of a Bars Manager.
The F & B Manager will be assisted by various under managers:
Restaurant and bar staff work long hours on ships, generally up to 15 hours a day. Much of this time is spent standing around, and stamina is therefore an important prerequisite of the job. Comfortable shoes are a must.