Intro: Welcome to Crew Life at sea podcast. Here we will share the skills you need to make your experience and adventure out at sea a success, hear inspiring stories from the experienced crew, from all diversities, gain knowledge and know your rights. Be Part of the crew life at sea, and let’s welcome your host, Raymond Crystal.
Ray: Hello and welcome to crew life at sea, the only place where you can find useful information, advice, insights and resources to help inspire you to take that next step in working on a cruise ship. Today I have a guest who is all the way from the West Indies right? You’re the first guest I’ve ever had from the West Indies. Me and him have a bit of an issue when it comes to cricket, he thinks his cricket team is better than my cricket team.
James: Of course the West Indies is the best. Well back in the day, not now.
Ray: Back in the day with Brian Lara, but he’s toast, he’s an old man now sitting by his TV just chilling right?
James: Yeah, just enjoying it now.
Ray: So tell me, James, how long have you been at sea? And what made you decide to work at sea?
James: Well I’ve been at sea for 5 years now. I got inspired by my brother. He was the one who went to see first, and I thought that he encouraged me to do it. I thought it would be fun working alongside my brother at sea, share a room, same cabin mate. But when I got the job, he left. So he left me alone at sea and being able to travel the world, see different countries every single day, meet new crew members, learn different cultures, it inspired me to stay.
Ray: Wow man, so what was his job when he was hired?
James: He was a suite attendant.
Ray: And he was working how long at sea?
James: He only did 1 contract. He didn’t like the sea, but for me it’s good.
Ray: Older? Younger?
James: He’s older, 2 years. But he wanted to settle down in Carousel, he lives in Carousel. So he left me alone and I found new friends and a new life.
Ray: So let me ask you, some may not know and some people may know, what does a housekeeping utility actually do on board?
James: Well they’re in charge of taking care of all the crew area, depends on your job description, on your responsibilities. Depends when you sign on if you’re in the public area or you’re in the crew area. So if you’re in the public area then you take care of the public area, depends on your assignments, you have different tasks, different sections, different parts. Maybe you have the theatre to take care of, you just maintain and make sure everything is clean, and spick and span. If you’re assigned to the crew area, it’s the same, what you do for the guest area, you do for the crew area.
Ray: How many crew cabins do they give for one person?
James: It all depends because different officers require a different amount of time to do the crew cabin, for example, a junior officer is only 1 time per week. So 1 housekeeping utility can have approximately 21 cabins. It’s over a week period.
Ray: So in a day, how many does he have to clean?
James: Maybe 10.
Ray: And do you have any issues with crew ever?
James: Sometimes it’s a little bit difficult to communicate because of the different language barriers. And we’re at sea, it’s international. We have like 30 different nationalities on board, so everybody has a little bit difference of English, pronunciation of words. So sometimes it’s only a little bit difficult, but as long as you get it out there, they will realise it’s a joke.
Ray: So tell me your daily schedule and how you manage your work hours and your free time, how does it work?
James: Well I’m always an early riser, because I’m always looking forward to the new port I’m in, the new country. Waking up in a different country, it’s amazing. You don’t have to pay for this, can you imagine. So once I get up, I start the day early, you always get inspired to, and through your day. As long as you have the motivation.
Ray: That’s good, I love it. But how many hours a day do you work, plus-minus?
James: 9 hours roughly. You don’t work over 6 hours consecutively. Then you go and rest, and then come back and work another 3 and a half.
Ray: What made you decide that this was the career you wanted in your life? Or how did you get to this kind of a job?
James: Well I like challenges, and this is very challenging, it’s adventurous, and if you love adventures, this is the place to be.
Ray: Can you tell me the process if somebody wanted to work on board as a housekeeping utility, how would they have to go through it?
James: Well first it depends on their country. Depends on what are the requirements of their agency or their country. First, you have to get some sort of maritime background, like basic first aid training, get that certificate. And then you go to the online website of the company you like and you choose and then write to them and send them your resume, and then you see from there if they like what you have on your resume if you fit the profile, and then they will contact you.
Ray: So you have to go to www.crewlifeatsea.com and everything is on the online applications with the online agencies. I’ve taken everything you need and it’s all under 1 umbrella, and you just click and it will redirect you to where you need to look for those sites. So I’ve made that very easy for everybody. So back to the crew cabins, because this is interesting. Do you have any arrangements with tips or anything with the crew? Do they ever give tips or how does it work?
James: Yeah, depends. They have services, it’s good, they have tips, the money is good, the salary is good. Sometimes you don’t even have to touch your salary. Tips are taking care of everything.
Ray: Some of the crew really are generous.
James: Believe me, you cannot imagine.
Ray: Okay I’m going to start following you, I’m going to start checking your pockets and start helping you carry that heavy weight.
James: You know once at my previous company, I took home 10000 dollars, that’s just tips.
Ray: What!? This is so motivating, people out there.
James: When I got home, I bought my first car, a Toyota, white. I wanted a cherry red but they didn’t have so I settled for the white, it’s okay. That’s the good thing about working at sea, there’s a lot of opportunities and you can save. You don’t have to pay for electricity, you don’t have to buy food.
Ray: You just have to work. Wake up, work, sleep, eat, wake up, work, sleep, eat. So when it comes to the guests, how do you handle it when they’re unhappy? Have you had guests?
James: Oh lots of times. You just smile. That’s the first thing. The first impression is always the best. And you have to make it on the first impression, no matter how rude they are, no matter if they don’t talk much. Just smile and greet them, that’s it. Eventually, during the course of the day, they will get out of their moodiness and they will realise no matter how much s**t I give to this guy, he still smiles. They will come around, believe me, I’ve had endless encounters like this. I’ve had guests complain about every single thing, but still, you just smile and give them that good personality and they’ll come around.
Ray: Awesome man, I love it. So what happens if, for example, you have a guest or crew of falsely accusing you of taking or misplacing something that was somewhere or something like that, how does that happen?
James: Well firstly, the first step, once they say they misplaced something, they told us, we told them okay no problem, we informed our superiors, then the superiors go and speak to the guests directly, would you like to make a formal complaint, there are passages for it. They go to the guest relations, they file a complaint, security will come with the managers and they will search the guest cabin first, a proper thorough check, maybe the guest misplaced it, maybe it fell under the bed or something. And then if it cannot be located, then the guest is insisting you took it, so then they go to your cabin along with you. They will search your cabin of course with your permission, of course, it’s not there, so 2 days after, the guest says ah I found my thing, or it’s lost outside or somewhere on the ship. They find it, they return it to guest relations lost and found, they always get it back. The crew always know, there’s one thing, don’t take what’s not yours.
Ray: A lot of cleaning is done with you guys, what is the process of cleaning? Because I know you have some type of rules and regulations, and they always check everything.
James: The main thing is that it’s a ship, it’s a confined area, it’s easy to get sick in terms of Noah virus which is famous at sea. But that’s why we do all the time sanitizing, that’s the most important thing, you just sanitize. You just clean when it’s necessary and everything will be okay, there’s no hard thing to it. It’s just if you don’t like to work, then the sea is not for you. You’ve got to work.
Ray: I see you walk around with these little buckets with 6 or 7 different kinds of sprays.
James: Yeah you have different cleaning chemicals for different cleaning purposes, like for the bathroom they have a special chemical, for the glass they have a glass cleaner, air freshener. You have everything up to date on the ship. You have all the tools man.
Ray: I think I must take some of these chemicals. So you vacuum, you clean, you wash, you wipe, you do linen, you change the linens, you dust, you clean the floors, you clean the walls, you polish, did I leave anything else out?
James: It might sound like a lot, but at the end of the day, if you know what you’re doing, you don’t work hard, you work smart.
Ray: Have you worked out that? Have you worked out a system? A smart way?
James: First time, of course, you feel it. You finish late, you cannot finish on time. But after, you start to add up your own technique, then you start to get going, and you realise you’re finishing faster than the time, and you’re doing more than what you used to do before.
Ray: So he’s got his own technique, you can’t force him, maybe I’ll choke him out later and get the truth from him, no I’m just kidding bro. okay let me see, what else can I ask you that would be interesting. What happens when you don’t have a vacuum or you can’t find something and time are running out? Like if something breaks.
James: There’s always a backup system, you have your colleagues, you have your teammates, they’re always there for you.
Ray: I know this, I just wanted people to understand. So if you had no vacuum and had 2 or 3 cabins still to do and you had like 20 or 30 minutes, obviously they would call 3 or 4 other guys who are not doing anything and say hey you go to this guy’s cabin and do whatever he says. On embarkation day you’re always the busiest, do you guys have helpers or you do it on your own?
James: Yes we do have helpers, not all the time they can help us, because they have a heavy load they’re dedicated to other duties on that day because it’s the busiest day for everybody, it’s a long day. But we tend to manage.
Ray: Some people on other ships and bigger ships, they have helpers, they actually give them extra money and they help them. How stressful is it if you have so many cabins and many duties to do? Do you manage it? Do you stress out?
James: No, like I said you have to find your own rhythm in working, and then you will see it’s not stressful. The first week when you sign on, probably yeah you’ll be running like a chicken you know. But after that you settle in, you’ve got to adapt.
Ray: So what is your most challenging part of your job?
James: The most challenging part for me is when I have a guest who’s not so happy. And there’s always that one person who’s in a mood or something and don’t speak much. But like I said, all I do is smile and greet. I go my way and that’s it.
Ray: Yeah, I’ve experienced before, people told me sometimes they had 3 or 4 guests, they were so good to them and so nice to them, and at the end, they were the ones who wrote the bad comments. You just got to do your best, it is what it is.
James: But as I said, if you have a guest like that, there’s always your managers who are always there to support you and stuff like this. So you have a problem from the first instance you tell your managers, so they know by the end of it, should it become a major issue, your manager was already informed of it, so they know what to do.
Ray: Take this tips guy, it’s really important. Tell me a little bit about opportunities for promotions in this job?
James: Well on the cruise ships they always hire from within in terms of, let’s say you come as a housekeeping utility, you do your first contract on good behaviour, no bad behaviour, no written warnings, nothing like this. You apply for a promotion, let’s say as a suite attendant, talk to your manager, they approve of it, you do a cross training for a period of time and then in the next contract, you can come back as a suite attendant. That’s how fast it works because they always employ from within.
Ray: That’s very nice to know. There’s always an opportunity. Living on board out at sea can be kind of tough, how is your accommodation space and what is your benefits?
James: Well so far my accommodation space has been great for my 5 years at sea. I’ve never encountered any problems, my roommates we work everything out, we always communicate, talk to each other, we live nicely, we become family. You have to be like a family on board.
Ray: So if you have a problem with a crew member, you can always change cabins right?
James: Yes, you can always change, you can always go to the HR, you can request for this reason, for this purpose. They always try to fix it.
Ray: I remember on some ships, they don’t allow you to change in some areas, you’re only allowed to change with certain departments. But different companies, different rules, that’s what I thought you know.
James: But for example, I’ve worked with companies before, all the Indonesians, they want to stay in one section, they allow them to stay in one section, because the Indonesians, they like to sit outside at night and meditate, so it’s better like that.
Ray: So knowing what you know now, if you can change one thing in your life, what would it be? And why?
James: Why I didn’t start earlier, because maybe now I’d be captain.
Ray: You never know, if you were captain I’d be up there with you sitting there, talking to you about cricket, still waiting for you to get us a game of cricket, if I wait for you I’d wait for 10 years.
James: Believe me, man, I can play some good cricket.
Ray: That’s what they say. Do you prefer batting or fielding?
James: Batting, but I’m an all-rounder basically. I even once played as wicket keeper. I took some bowling techniques from your guys in South Africa, Sean Pollock, Mkaya Ntini.
Ray: All right, back to the interview. What was one of the toughest days you’ve ever experienced? Tell me what happened and how you got through it.
James: Embarkation day was the toughest. It’s the busiest day and the longest day for us. Sometimes things don’t go the way you want, but you just have to pick yourself up and just man up to it, because at the end of the day, the day will end, and it will get done, believe me, the ship will sail.
Ray: Have you worked on big and small ships?
Ray: Do you feel that there’s any difference?
James: Small ships, it’s nice, it’s easy to manoeuvre, to move around. Big ships, it’s a little bit challenging but it’s still okay, lots of crew members.
Ray: Tell me about the negatives and the positives of your job?
James: The positives, there’s always room for improvement, there’s always room for promotion to move up the ladder. The negatives, I don’t really see any negatives at this point in time from where I stand.
Ray: But if you have a bad boss you’re in trouble?
James: Well you just have to work around it, no matter where you go in this world there will always be the good and the bad.
Ray: So I have a big question I ask all my interviewees, it’s the big question. Tell me the most shocking thing you have ever encountered or seen in your career at sea? It can be anything.
James: Oh wonderful, I’ve never forgotten this story. It was in Malta in 2013. The girl was a singer; the guy was an officer in the bridge. So they went out in Malta, having a nice time. They forgot to check what time the ship is sailing. So there goes the horn blowing, and in Malta where the ships dock, you have this ramp that you have to go down to get to the bottom because in Malta everything is higher.
So this ship is blowing, they come down holding hands walking, the girl in heels, they’re just walking, they didn’t pay attention, they’re so in love. And then when they get a glance of the ship, the ship is leaving the pier. And this guy saw this ship moving and this guy just let’s go of this girl’s hand and starts to run to the ship, she took off her shoes and starts to run but, of course, she cannot catch him. This guy jumps from the pier into the gangway of the ship. The girl had to stay there, we sailed anyway. The girl had to get the port agent to get her a flight to the next port. They got final warnings.
Ray: In some companies that are an immediate dismissal, especially if you jump from the pier into the ship. That’s a really good story bro.
James: And one very good point, when I started working on the ship. This was from a training and development manager on board, she was an American lady. If you want to make it in this company at sea, always let your name be known.
Ray: So has to be at sea changed your life?
James: Yeah, so far yeah.
Ray: You’ve been at sea for 5 years, why do you keep coming back?
James: Like Jack Sparrow, it’s a pirate’s life for me man.
Ray: Would you recommend somebody to work on a cruise ship?
James: yeah if you’re up for challenges and adventures then go ahead.
Ray: So let me ask you, your favourite ports and why?
Ray: And that’s where we’re going soon and that’s when I go home.
James: I love the excitement.
Ray: it’s a lovely place, that one street is called las rumbles, you walk down there, people are doing these funny mannequin things.
James: It’s just beautiful there, I love Barcelona.
Ray: Well is there anything else you’d like to send us off with?
James: Well I’d like to say Crew life at sea is making it easy for everyone to get a chance to work at sea.
Ray: I really want people to know. Thank you so much for your time, James be ready because the cricket match is coming, thank you very much for being on this show. God bless you.
Outro: Thanks for listening to Crew life at sea podcast. Want any of your questions answered? Send us an email at crewlifeateainfogroup.com. Thank you for being a part of our adventure at sea.