Included in the price of halls was two meals a day, the food was what you’d expect from a canteen but the staff were brilliant and would make you a salad if you asked to them. In fact, the staff at Fleetwood have been brilliant throughout my time – whether you’re speaking to catering staff or the head of school, everyone will speak to you with a smile and do their best to help.
In addition to the academic content and CDC, we also had to attend and pass short courses. Some of these short courses are legal requirements before you can go to sea. During the three weeks of short courses I took in so much information and felt much better equipped to actually go to sea. We covered so much during the short courses that it’s too much to detail here but by far and away the toughest part of the courses was the firefighting. Obviously there are no fire stations at sea, so if there is a problem then it comes down to the crew to deal with it. We spent two and a half days learning about the fires, the kit, how to conduct searches in low visibility and then practiced everything. Those blue containers in the background of the photo are used for training: a fire is started at one end (under control) and you and your team go in with full breathing apparatus, locate and retrieve casualties then fight the fire. It’s quite arduous and something I hope to never have to do for real.
As part of the Basic Training for Seafarers, we spent a week learning how to cosxwain (drive) lifeboats, both old fashioned ones and the newer completely enclosed ones that most people would be familiar with. By old fashioned, I mean that the lifeboat was powered by oars, the main discovery with this is that most of us are terrible at rowing! In fact, by boat managed to beach ourselves – no mean feat!
We also did the Efficient Deck Hand course which was all about working on deck and being a sailor: ropes; knots; wire splicing; anchoring; MacGregor hatches; flag identification and much more. This was also a really tough course, mostly because I’d never been to sea before and had to absorb in so much new information. I was rather proud to be able to make a working stage after many, many attempts…
The 19 weeks (4 months) of college flew by, we had exams to sit and pass and then we’d be off to sea to put into practice everything we’d been taught. We had a quick brief on something called Work Based Learning, which was a reflective project we’d have to complete whilst on ship, were issued with our Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB) Training Record Books, briefed by our Company Training Officer and then were sent on leave until our next phase began and we joined our first ship.
For more information on a career at sea, have a look at the Careers at Sea website. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary is the company for me but it’s not for everyone. I’ve had my eyes opened to the wider maritime industry since starting at college,and that can only be a good thing.
As many of you know I’ve recently fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition by joining the military, except that I haven’t really because I’ve joined the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) which is a civilian manned MOD owned fleet. It’s pretty warry for a civilian job, we go to war zones, wear uniform and have big guns but we’re still civvies at the end of the day. The RFA is a unique organisation that lies somewhere between the Merchant fleet and the Royal Navy, because of this my training will consist of both civilian and military courses. Most people I’ve spoken too are pretty confused as to what I’ll be doing over the next few years so I thought a blog post would be useful.
I’ve joined the RFA as a Deck Officer Cadet and I’ll be training to become an ‘Officer of the Watch’ meaning I’ll be responsible for the safety of the crew and the ship for each of the four hour periods I’m in charge on the bridge. I’ll be trained to use advanced satellite navigation systems, how to assess weather conditions, to conduct Replenishments at Sea (RAS), moor the ship and how to load cargo.
The first stage of my cadetship was a two month course at Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) Dartmouth, developing leadership, communication and teamwork skills – these two months warrants a whole blog post all of its own! The next stage for me will be to join cadets from other parts of the Merchant Navy (MN) at one of the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) accredited training establishments to begin a three-year course. I’ll be studying for a Foundation Degree (FdSc) in Nautical Science because I’ve got a few UCAS points in addition to the required GCSE results (I’ll write another post on entry/selection to the RFA). Those without the required UCAS points work towards a Higher National Diploma (HND). Both routes also lead to the Certificate of Competency: Officer of the Watch qualification allowing you to work on a MN ship. The three year course is split into five phases interspersing time at college with time at sea, ensuring plenty of time onboard ship shadowing qualified officers to build skill and knowledge. The course culminates in a gruelling MCA Oral examination and after successfully sitting that, I’ll be qualified and wearing the rank of Third Officer.
My Royal Navy training will also be fitted in as and when is appropriate, as a Deck Cadet (and hopefully a qualified Officer) I will have to do quite a few RN courses as we work so closely with the Navy. It’s certainly going to be an interesting few years and I’m looking forward to it: I’m being paid a decent salary to get a degree, an MCA qualification and to see the world. I’m pretty happy with that.
I should also add that the RFA (and other Merchant Navy companies) offer cadetships in Marine Engineering and Systems Engineering, but why would you want to study them? Everyone knows that Deck is the best department…