What to be careful about when working on a cruise ship

Don't get lost in the palm trees and sunsets just yet. Before we go any further, there's an issue that has to be dealt with.

Cruise ships do have their own problems.

Anyone who's seen the news will know about passenger deaths, drug shipments and crime on board, outbreaks of disease, food poisoning, and even cruise ship sinkings.

In the industry itself, working conditions, wages, quality of accommodation, legal issues, insurance, crew and staff entitlements, are all regular topics of debate and complaint.

Working conditions

There are cruise ships and cruise ships.

Some, like the 5 Star class, are run like Rolls Royce cars, smooth, elegant, dazzling.

Others are run like defective skateboards, by comparison.

'Tramp steamers' got a reputation for squalor that they fully deserved.

They still exist, and they're a career hazard, and sometimes dangerous places to work:

  • On older or poorly maintained ships, where someone's skimping on costs, the conditions are variously described as 'hellish' or worse.
  • Paint, hygiene and plumbing may not be priorities.
  • Amenities, if any, may be familiar to your grandfather.
  • The food may seem to be left over from Magellan's trip around the world.
  • Passenger and crew safety are still at the theoretical stage.
  • Ship security (see below) is a joke. Not a good joke, either.

This is not the sort of job or workplace suitable for human beings, and needs to be avoided.

If the ship isn't up to your idea of a decent job, forget it.

If it's not safe, healthy, and well run, it's not a CV type of job, and it's not worth it.

Wages and entitlements

These are generally 'bandwidth' salaries, budget based, and usually fixed by law and/or industrial agreements.

Bonuses, pay increases, and superannuation are also worked out on a contract basis, unless there are laws overriding contracts, as a general rule of thumb.

You need to know what your job's worth, in the industry, and on land, so you can compare the job to standards.

You also need to know if you're being ripped off.

This is basic business. You are a contractor. You may not be able to do much picking and choosing, depending on circumstances, but you could sign up for a truly lousy, unrewarding, job, and miss something much better.

The big cruise lines are much stronger in terms of employment and conditions, and they're big business. They usually do everything strictly by the book, the way good employers are supposed to conduct themselves.

Know what you're getting into, and make an informed decision.

Ship Security- the job, and the job environment

This is a 'cruise ship job', but it's a very special job, and it directly relates to the job environment.

Ships have their own security, for very good reasons. The safety of the ship and passengers depends on it.

Maritime crime is high. Drug smuggling, assaults, thefts, petty crimes, and protecting ship's property are among the main drivers for the security systems on board.

Even piracy is an issue in some parts of the world, with people with RPGs and AK47s infesting the shipping lanes.

Ship security is a very highly specialized, 24 hour a day, exercise in law enforcement on board.

Security personnel are sometimes required to cooperate with local police, Customs, and military operations. Ship searches, cabin searches, detaining people, almost all of the work of a police force can be required.

This isn't trivial. It can be major league crime. Murders, rapes, drug-related crime, it's all part of the Crimes Act, in every country on Earth.

Cruise lines, understandably, want people who know ships and the issues involved.

So do the crew, passengers and staff. Their own security depends on security being up to standard.

One of the symptoms of a badly run ship which isn't a good or safe place to work is poor security, or corrupt security.

Ship security jobs, on major cruise lines, are very high maintenance, high performance jobs. You need to know the law, (both international and maritime) the ship's rules, and the company's policies.

Ship security isn't for amateurs. Your career credentials will need to be excellent, and they'll be very much enhanced by working on a big name cruise line ship. Your CV will flower like a rose garden, in the security industry, if you're up to cruise ship standards.

You will also probably be able to literally smell a bad ship, after you've seen one. Security deals with the tough side of the industry, and the experience is very valuable in more ways than one.

Shipboard disasters

Ships are seen on the news catching fire and floating around the Mediterranean like driftwood, ships are seen off Antarctica sinking, and outbreaks of disease or food poisoning are sometimes reported.

There are a lot of very serious things which can happen on ships, and unfortunately they do, either because of bad management, pure stupidity, or dumb luck. Lives are threatened, and lives are sometimes lost.

If you're on board when these things happen, you can start to wonder about a career on cruise ships.

In practice, the industry isn't exactly keen on these events, either.

They are extremely rare, and one of the reasons for that is the very high safety and security standards they operate.

That's why you need to check out your job options, and go for the good employers.

In any industry, there are good jobs and bad jobs.

The trick is to know the difference.

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