There are false myths about seafarers that make them popular these days. Many people, especially the young ones, are attracted to this career.
They perceive seafarers as wealthy, uncomplicated, cool, and leading an easy-going life. This is one of the wrong beliefs they have about seamen.
We can’t blame them if they have those opinions. Their impressions about seafarers sprang due to the news, our lifestyle, and lavish travels posted on social media.
But the problem is, that they exaggerate what they know. A single piece of news, story, or event heard on television is amplified into a huge drama that paints false ideas for seafarers.
The next thing we know is that they see us like a walking cash machine or someone who has girlfriends in every country.
Here are some of the wrong beliefs and misconceptions they know about seafarers.
1. Seafarers are like an ATM Machine.
Today, a seaman is synonymous with dollars- lots of it! This ought to be the number one perception most people have of us.
When an insurance agent approaches you with an offer of their product, they won’t readily believe if you refuse for lack of money.
If there is a gathering or planned event among your friends, people usually nominate you to pay for everything including the food and venue.
When your long lost friend suddenly appears friendly on Messenger and then borrows money and you deny him of it, every explanation you give won’t be heard.
But the famous is the “pasalubong tradition” which people expect to receive from you when signing off. This is not bad as long as you have an extra budget.
“Ikaw na bahalang gumastos nyan, seaman ka naman ehh!”
“Seaman walang pera? Maniwala ako jan!”
Don’t fret. We are about to break this fallacy.
Seafarers may earn big but it doesn’t mean we are rich. Being a cash-dispensing machine is also far from the truth.
We have families back home. We want to give them the life that they deserve and send them to good schools so their future will be better than ours.
At other times, we help our relatives too by providing their children with education. The bigger our salary, the more help we can render.
Aside from that, we have goals and dreams that need money to materialize.
Even on board, money doesn’t grow on trees. It requires hard work and sacrifice to earn a month’s salary. That’s why seamen are reluctant to spend their hard-earned money on something outside their domain.
2. Every port, report. Every place, replace.
A seafarer’s wife or girlfriend often hears stories from other people that their sailor is out there with another woman.
“Who knows, your sailor is now in the hands of a blond, young, sexy, and beautiful Brazilian with porcelain skin and a hypnotic smile. He’s probably drooling right now just by the sight of it.”
“He is a seafarer! Of course, he will sleep with women from other countries. What else would you expect?
Those are the usual cries my girlfriend told me when she was talking with her friends. She was affected and asked me if it was true.
People label us as playboys or someone with families in every country. They see us having an affair with another woman when we are away from our families.
I know it’s crazy but they think we are given a mission to go to the world and multiply. Whether outside the country or in training centers, they still suspect us of womanizing.
The fact is, that seafarers spend more time at sea than in port. With more regulations now coming into force, shore leave is sometimes close to impossibility. Some ship terminals are miles away from cities or the nearest town too.
Shorter port stays, busy operations, provisions, and inspections cram the ship’s crew prompting us to stay on board and sleep.
That’s right! Sleeps because we are dead tired of long hours at work. The era where shipping was at its best lax is over.
Yes, some seafarers manage to go ashore. But we do this to keep our sanity in check. And yes, we bring an extra $250.00 in our pockets. This is for buying internet SIM cards for us and our crew mates so we can call our families.
You will notice that during a seafarer’s contract, he would have a minimum of seven SIM Cards. This is what it truly means by that expression:
“Every port, report to his wife. And every place, buy a new SIM card to replace the old one.”
3. Sailors’ work is relaxed while the pay is HUGE!
I wish that was true!
Since most people haven’t seen the actual job of a seafarer, they conclude that seafarers are only out there sitting with their feet on the office table while making loads of money.
Besides, our complexion changes to mestizo upon arriving home giving false impressions of lax jobs.
“Naging mistiso si Dudong!” goes one flattery.
Then there is the part where our standard of living suddenly improves because of high earnings. New house. Cars on the porch. Expensive apparels.
But the most noticeable change is seen in our bellies. Seafarers develop belly fats, flabs or “bilbil sa tiyan” over time during our sea service. This is another reason people think that our occupation is slack.
Thanks to social media, our loved ones today slowly understand the type of work we have on board. We earn much because we are putting our lives out there to provide for their needs.
I remember one time when we were battered by a hurricane. The ship was barely making headway and the bow was pounding with the waves.
My Mom was on the phone as we were video-calling. She requested to see how big the waves were but I was reluctant because of my old Captain’s advice not to show it to my family or they would worry too much.
But my Mom wanted to see it so I sent him a short clip. There was a long pause and the next reply came from my sister saying that my Mom was crying.
As my instructor said in college,
“When you are working on board, expect that one of your feet is on the ship and the other one is already at sea.”
This means working on board is dangerous with risks always present to hurt us. He wanted to prepare us for the worst case so we could be on our guard both physically and emotionally.
We earn every penny with sweat, blood, and overtime. There is no such thing as too hot, too cold, or too much because we are expected to perform our duties every day.
Seafarers seldom take pictures during work due to the fact that even electronic devices are prohibited in some areas. Besides, our hands are busy working.
We develop belly fat because our life on board revolves around the work-sleep-eat cycle. No or less time for the gym. Sleep and relaxation are important on board to recharge our batteries for another strenuous job the next day.
4. Seafarers are greedy with their money.
Since people think seafarers have high incomes, they come to the conclusion that money is not a problem for us. Thus, they tend to expect that we should give them something.
It could be a “pasalubong”, a gift, or an approval to borrow moolah. And because we value our relationship with them as friends or relatives, we give or lend a portion of our hard-earned dollars.
But we can not provide for other people’s wants most of the time. When we deny them their requests, they are often provoked thinking that we changed because of money.
They see us as greedy seadogs. People start to think we are so avaricious even though we have an unlimited supply of fresh cash.
They can’t imagine seafarers running out of money so they conclude that we value money more than our relationships with them.
It is true that seafarers earn more than normal land-based workers in our country. But this does not mean it is our obligation to provide money to those who constantly ask.
There could be a variety of reasons a seaman “looks greedy.” Perhaps he acquired a huge debt during his student days and is paying it now.
Or maybe he wants to build his house first for his parents. It could also be that he is helping his brother or sister finish their studies. And maybe he’s saving his money for training back home.
The list goes on and on. The problem is, that some people don’t understand this side of the story. They were not probably even there during your hardest battles.
All they see is the overnight success. They didn’t know it took you years of sacrifice to build it.
You have your own priorities in life and most of them require money too. Besides, our work on board is no joke so we always value our income up to the last penny.
5. Seafarers’ life is easy.
Traveling to different countries, walking where James Bond walked, taking pictures of historic sites, eating foreign delicacies and many other images glamour the outside world.
Some people think that’s all there is in being a seafarer. Life is easy and the next time they know, we are on different ports with another great photo to show.
After our contract, they see us once again on beaches, clubs, resorts, and many local attractions. It seems seafaring life is a stress-free life and all we have to do is ride the ship, make money, and go out again. Weee!
Then toys for the big boys start to come in another object of belief that reinforces their false impressions. Adding all these creates an incorrect picture of how our world operates.
While you see that seafarers are enjoying their shore leave, it doesn’t mean that life on board is easy. Seafarers show the better side of sailing most of the time.
During working hours, their hands are busy with tools, grease, paints, ropes, and machinery.
The job could be hard and dangerous altogether. Time constraint is also present especially if critical equipment is needed to get fixed.
Imagine working for nine straight months without shore leave. All you see is the ship, huge bodies of water, unlimited skies, and the same 20 faces every day. The psychological impact could be pernicious.
Thus, seafarers take time to enjoy and shake off the stress either on shore leave or at home. You know that a three-month vacation is actually less than that since training also takes a huge bite of your time.
Sometimes, our manning agency calls earlier than the planned schedule making family time much less. In a normal year, a seafarer could only be with his family for less than three months.
He makes the most of that time with them and that’s why you see him enjoying so much. When reality kicks in, he must endure seven or nine months again away from home.
6. Seamen are excellent swimmers.
Swimming is the primary skill a seafarer should learn. This is a prerequisite for every wanna-be sailor, especially the young ones.
Come to think of it, our workplace is surrounded by huge bodies of water. When the worst happens, we should be ready to waddle in the water for a long time until rescue arrives. But is this really the truth?
Non-seafarers automatically think that we are great swimmers because our job is located at sea.
I’ll say it to you point-blank, seafarers are not excellent swimmers. In fact, there are seafarers out there sailing for 10 or more years who don’t even know how to swim!
For my whole sailing career, we never had a “swimming session” on board. Diving, waddling, floating, and paddling in the water only happen in schools and training centers.
We may have photo competitions, safety competitions, and energy-saving contests on ships but there is no such thing as a swimming competition for seafarers.
This may surprise you. But why?
First, we don’t work directly on the water. We never immerse ourselves at sea. In fact, that is the last thing a seafarer must do.
Consider our ship as a floating island. There within that huge cubicle, lies our work.
But what about drowning and sinking?
This can be a factor for casualty but hypothermia is more fatal since even the best swimmers are killed with it. If you also swim too hard, exhaustion and cramps could shorten your survival.
Aside from life jackets, there will also be floating debris around the area where you can cling to when the ship sinks. Conserving your energy and body heat is the primary goal here until help arrives.
7. Seafarers are always in danger of piracy.
When the piracy attack was at its peak, everyone including my family and friends was worried.
Crazy images were running in their heads about the worst scenarios.
“It’s a total nightmare. Pirates are chasing us. Gunshots erupted and the terrorists fired an RPG which luckily missed. They got near our ship but had a hard time getting on board because of the high freeboard. The firehoses did a great job too.
Unfortunately, they managed to board us one by one and had taken over the vessel. The crew were held hostage and we deviated our course near their territory. It’s over now. Our company has to give a ransom or else we will be killed.”
This event best describes how their mind worked during the time when pirate attack was all over the news. This was also intensified by the movie “Captain Phillips”.
While piracy is a huge threat to seafarers, it only happens in certain places. These are called piracy hotspots identified by the IMO and other authorities.
When vessels transit or arrive in those areas, special measures are taken to avoid getting hijacked like piracy drills, citadels, rigging razor wires, implementing triple watch systems, taking armed guards from private maritime security companies, and sailing in convoys.
Places like the Gulf of Aden and the West African regions are famous for kidnapping, hijacking, and violent treatment. In other countries, pirate attacks are mostly about theft and robbery.
Considering the piracy incidents all over the world, the frequency of occurrence drops lower every year. International authorities are taking action to prevent such events.
Not all ships travel in pirate-infested areas too so the belief about facing pirate attacks all the time is an exaggeration.
But a single pirate attack garners huge media attention thereby giving the impression that seafarers are at a constant threat from pirates.
Seafarers are not superhumans nor have divine skills. We are normal people like everyone else who has needs and wants. Like you, we go through the ups and downs of life, especially in our workplace.
The only difference that separates us from the status quo is our line of work which requires more of us than the typical human beings. Our environment on board is very different prompting other people to make false beliefs about us.
Fortunately, Facebook Groups and Pages like Seaman Memories, Seaman Problems, Marino PH, Humans at Sea, Tinig ng Marino, and many others are educating the masses about the realities of seafarers’ lives.
May the winds be in your favor.