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Able Bodied Seaman

What’s it like working as a Able-bodied seaman?

As a member of the deck crew, an Able-bodied Seaman (AB) has a varied role on board a ship, which is often physically demanding, and by its nature, all-weather.

Able Seamen, as with any seafaring role, have to balance their family and work lives as they can be at sea for long periods of time. The flipside of those prolonged stretches at sea is lengthy leave periods, which makes seafaring a unique sector to work in.

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Roles

What kind of work can I do?

The AB’s duties include standing watch, where the AB will steer the ship according to the Deck Officer’s instructions and generally assist the mate on watch, performing routine maintenance and docking duties, and any other tasks that Deck Officers request. ABs may also carry out deck and accommodation patrols, and maintenance on lifeboats, rescue boats, liferafts, and emergency and damage control gear.

Senior ABs could take on a further role akin to a foreman, directly supervising maintenance operations and allocating tasks.

Where can I work?

ABs can find work through a number of channels, including directly with shipping lines, through third party employment agencies, or specialist ship rating agencies. Positions are readily available on a range of ships, including bulk carriers, containerships, cruise ships, and tankers.

Seagoing experience is also valued in onshore industries, such as the ports industry, giving a career path both onshore and offshore for experienced ABs. Significant sea time is also an advantage in a number of support roles, including ship operations, safety and marine assistants.

A rise in international shipping trade, and the consequent growing need for ships to transport cargoes, opens up a world of opportunities for ABs.

What happens if I join as an Able Bodied Seaman and then decide I want to be an Officer?

Provided you show the right aptitude, it should be possible to study for the necessary qualifications and achieve Officer status

Is it difficult to make the step from an Able Bodied Seaman and qualify as an Officer?

There are countless examples where Able Bodied Seamen have succeeded in gaining officer qualifications and it is something that is greatly encouraged by the Unions, the companies and the colleges.

And although you may not have the academic qualifications necessary for immediate entry as an Officer, there are Distance Learning Programmes and college courses that can help to bridge the gap.

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Case Studies

MEET A CAPTAIN! Captain, Kim Aarup

A typical service takes 12 weeks. “In the beginning I found it difficult in relation to my family and my wife, but now we both appreciate this work scheme. It may sound odd, but it brings us closer together than if I had had a normal 9-5 job and all days were alike”, Kim says. Hailstones as golf balls

”The voyage along the Westcoast of Africa was very warm, and despite the many exotic country names quite uneventful. To us, it is just “yet another day at the office”. The voyage along the coastline of Southern Africa did, however, provide a few events. The evening before the arrival to Durban, the vessel was hit by a fierce hailstorm. The hailstones were the size of golf balls.

Captain Kim Aarup and his 18 man crew onboard the product tanker m.t. NORD PRINCESS passed no less than 55 degrees of latitude on the 3,900 nautical mile long journey along Africa from the United Arab Emirates to Durban in South Africa with a cargo of gas oil. During the voyage, they met hailstones the size of golf balls, whales in high spirit, and suffered from severe heat. The following is a report on life at sea and the duties onboard

Kim Aarup is 47 years old. He graduated from the Copenhagen Navigation School in 1980-1982 and served as third officer, second officer, chief officer and master (captain) for a total period of 20 years, until in February 2003 he joined NORDEN; first as chief officer, and in August 2005 he was appointed master. In May 2006 he took over m.t. NORD PRINCESS and boarded when the vessel passed Mina Saqr in the United Arab Emirates on her voyage to Durban in South Africa with a cargo of gas oil.

19 crew members onboard

The crew onboard NORD PRINCESS and a number of NORDEN’s other tankers consists of 19 crew members. There are four senior officers who are all Danish: The master, the chief officer, the chief engineer and second engineer, and a Danish officer apprentice. There are three junior officers from The Philippines: One chief cook, two mess men, and eight AB seamen/motormen (GPs) with various functions.

Arriving safely – on time

”As master, it is my task to get the vessel and the cargo safely to the destination – on time. I have the overall responsibility for all matters onboard, including the vessel’s communication and contact to the owner, agent and authorities. I am also in current contact with all groups of employees onboard and am everywhere present at the vessel. I have to be fully up-to-date with our performance in all areas and to foresee any problems that might arise. When the vessel calls at or departs from a port, the captain is responsible for the contact to the authorities and the customs. He is also responsible for manoeuvres to and from the quay and agreements with the pilot”, Kim says.

Both quay and office

As captain of a tanker vessel, you need special ”tanker vessel documents”, i.e. proof of education in safety and loading of oil and chemicals, pumps and pipe lines and extended knowledge of oil and chemicals. The control of the authorities is more extensive for tanker vessels than for bulk carriers concerning both safety and environment.

During the port call, the captain has to be accessible 24 hours a day for contact with the Coast Guard, the Port State Controls (random checks of the vessel’s safety, carried out by the authorities) and Vetting Inspections, which are inspections of the tanker vessels’ technical safety, the qualifications of the crew, and the validity of the certificate.

The Vetting Inspections are carried out by the customers (normally the oil companies). A continued development and extension of the demands of the authorities and the companies for procedures take place, and the inspections become more and more comprehensive and time consuming. Thus the captain’s responsibilities become more and more administrative but it still involves a lot of seamanship and management. It includes both “quay and office”, as Kim Aarup puts it, and it suits him well.

Far away and nearby

“A typical service takes 12 weeks. It does involve a lot of sacrifice in relation to family and friends, but it also gives you a number of major home leaves of 2-3 months each year, where you are 100% present and able to do what you want. It is a question of getting used to it”, says Kim. “In the beginning I found it difficult in relation to my family and my wife, but now we both appreciate this work scheme. It may sound odd, but it brings us closer together than if I had had a normal 9-5 job and all days were alike”, he says.

Logbook

Along Africa ”Our first stop was Khawr Fakkan, which is situated in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The vessel was scheduled to take bunkers (fuel oil) and supplies onboard. Simultaneously the vessel’s radar and Voyage Data Recorder (the vessel’s ‘black box’) had to undergo repair, and we were to unload slop (oil remnants from an earlier voyage) to a barge. The previous captain, Michael Sloth Madsen, signed off here”, says Kim Aarup.

NORD PRINCESS then continued, heading for South Africa. On her way to Africa, the vessel passed Oman in the Persian Gulf and the Oman Bay and Yemen in The Arab Sea.

“Along Africa’s Horn and the Somalia coast, NORD PRINCESS kept a distance of 200 nautical miles to diminish the risk of pirate attacks”, he explains.”The vessel passed the equator while we were still sailing along the coast of Somalia. We then passed Kenya, Tanzania and the Isle of Zanzibar, Mozambique, the Comoros and Madagascar, until Durban appeared on the horizon. The voyage was 3,900 nautical miles in total, and underway the vessel and the crew passed 55 degrees of latitude. One degree of latitude corresponds to 111.11 kilometers, or 60 nautical miles. One nautical mile is 1,852 meters and is also called a meridian- (latitude) minute.

Hailstones as golf balls

”The voyage along the Westcoast of Africa was very warm, and despite the many exotic country names quite uneventful. To us, it is just “yet another day at the office”. We each have a number of fixed tasks to do each day, around the clock, no matter the degree of latitude or longitude”, Kim Aarup explains.

The voyage along the coastline of Southern Africa did, however, provide a few events. Every day flocks of whales gamboled in the waves. The evening before the arrival to Durban, the vessel was hit by a fierce hailstorm. The hailstones were the size of golf balls and caused damage to the radar antennas and some loudspeakers.

Back again

The NORDEN tanker vessels are typically at port for 16-24 hours, and the crew is responsible for the cargo operation. The port calls are markedly shorter than for the NORDEN bulk carriers which typically call at ports for 3-7 days, and where local stevedores are mainly responsible for loading and discharging.

At the present moment, NORD PRINCESS has only just called on the port in Durban. “We discharged our cargo of gas oil and returned to the anchoring place to wait for our next cargo of petrol to be ready for shipment. The intention is for us to return to the United Arab Emirates, either Fujayrah or Jebel Ali to discharge our cargo of petrol. We will then proceed from Jebel Ali and Jujaira to Singapore and Jakarta with a cargo of petrol”, says Kim Aarup.

Article from NORDEN News

Photo: Dennis Schnell, Bulldog and Partners