“Don’t let fears, doubts or perceptions hold you back!”

There is an increasing focus in the maritime sector on career planning, including the transition ashore – and rightfully so.

Initiatives such as the Marine Society’s Coming Ashore or Nautilus International’s Sea to City programme are supporting seafarers as they prepare for shore-based employment. But are careers always linear? 

As with many mariners, I completed the Certificate of Competency ladder, but I was aware I was lacking in some shore-based skills – this being before the days of Microsoft Teams, and an ever-closing gap between shore management and vessel management on many ships today.  

Onboard one day, I saw an advert for a master mariner marine inspector in the Middle East, and this seemed like my opportunity. A few months later, I stepped off the plane to come ashore for one year “to gain transversal skills”.  

Fast forward 10 years, I was still ashore! A successful career running my own business, reaching senior management in the corporate world, working in management positions in four countries, and embracing the exciting world of autonomous vessels for a dynamic and ambitious organisation – yet I found myself asking “is this enough?” 

At sea, I had transitioned from deep sea reefers via passenger ferries to offshore vessels. Like many seafarers, I had experienced the pace of newbuild vessels, and the surprises offered up from the golden oldies. I had sailed as an Officer cadet, then as a Rating in my first seagoing position, then a fully-fledged Officer.  

All these experiences made me a better seafarer. But so too did my shore experiences. From being a hands-on ship surveyor through to late-night phone calls as DPA or presentations as senior management, my competencies increased far beyond the confines of obtaining those initial Certificates of Competency. 

Responsibility for a fleet of vessels enabled me to experience and see a wider range of best practices, while incident investigations and vetting inspections taught me a wide range of ‘not-so-best practices’, far in excess of the range I would have seen in a comparative time at sea.  

As valuable as these shore experiences proved, I never lost sight of how seafarers ‘make ship happen’ – and the distinct and vitally important role seafarers as human capital are in providing for our everyday needs. At times I felt I had one foot at sea, and one foot ashore.  

Seagoing work had been my original ‘comfort blanket’ – a job I had done since leaving school, comforting in its familiarity. Shore employment had expanded my horizons, but the shadow of obsolescence felt like it was looming, heading in my direction. CATZOCs, scrubbers, fall prevention devices, forward looking sonars –despite regularly attending vessels and having a bunch of dynamic young seagoing mentees both deck and engine, I was becoming rusty. I missed that coal face reality, in a world where ships can feel a long way from the ever-present ping of incoming emails. I missed the humility that seeing the world and the industry through a different lens brings.  

I periodically thought back to the inspiration several colleagues had provided along the way, many of whom remain unaware of their impact on my career choices or bravery in taking steps away from the comfort zone. I think back to a former marine pilot who retired and returned to seagoing employment as a 2nd Officer, when I was a young officer aspiring up the ranks – he could easily have been Master, but chose the role that was right for him. That was a powerful example of what today might be called a work/life/stress balance.  

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Ann Pletschke at work 

Likewise I was aware of a shoreside manager I had little contact with, who after a successful shore management tenure, returned to sea. I often reminded myself of the opinion voiced by a Master I sailed with, who believed in me and my aptitude to become a marine inspector, which was instrumental in my first step ashore. Never underestimate your impact on others!  

So, after 12 years at sea followed by another 11 ashore, I returned to seagoing employment. I had agonised over whether this was a step back – not just to times past, but a career regression. After a couple of months, I have no regrets.  

My first month back working as an SDPO, I can honestly say that every watch was a joy. They were not always easy, but there was a sense of enjoyment at being back ‘home’ doing the job I loved – albeit with an unfamiliar workscope, vessel and company ,and some rusty skills to relearn, but ‘back’ I was!  

I am now sailing as Skipper of a small workboat, enjoying practical hands-on small vessel driving, as well as responsibility for the small engine and bow thruster – all whilst trying to also complete an MEng in my spare time.  

My advice to fellow members, whether seagoing or ashore, is to never say never! Stay involved in the industry in as many ways as possible. I have previously written on the benefits of mentoring and continuous professional development, but it is important not to overlook engagement with branch activities, watching IMarEST TV and participating in Special Interest Groups – and of course reading Marine Professional!  

There were times in the past decade ashore where I doubted I would ever return to sea. The ability to continually revise topics through professional development opportunities by organisations such as the IMarEST have allayed some of my significant doubts and fears over whether I could be good enough to return to the ocean waves. As much as I felt a better manager for my seagoing experiences, I now also feel like a better seafarer for my shoreside experiences. I have no regrets for eschewing the linear trajectory of a ‘forever’ transition ashore. 

Read ‘A two-way path of self-reflection and trust’ on mentoring with a contribution, by Ann Pletschke.