Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Hardest Job On The Boat

A friend of mine is a cook on an ocean-going tug based on the Oregon coast. He says he has the easiest job on the boat; cooking and cleaning up meals for a relatively small crew three times a day. The rest of the time he reads, watches movies, and sleeps. This sounds like an alternate universe to a lot of people employed in the maritime industry, where long hours and tough working conditions are the norm. So who has the hardest job on the boat?

Some would argue that the captain, regardless of the vessel, has the hardest job because he or she has the most responsibility. The physical demands of being captain come mainly from stress and occasional lack of sleep, although the smaller the vessel and crew the more likely the captain is to be helping with the more physically demanding shipboard tasks.

On some cargo vessels the chief mate may have the toughest job, with responsibilities not only for watch standing but for supervising all cargo loading and unloading. On large fish processing vessels, the people who actually process the fish on the "slime line" working long hours under tough conditions may have a claim to hardest job. And on cruise vessels the cruise director (or expedition leader, or whatever she or he is called on that particular vessel) deals with guests all day, including accompanying them on trips ashore and being available for questions or complaints all the time (I've sailed with several mariners who came to the passenger industry from other types of vessels and found it not to be the easy duty they'd assumed it would be. Crude oil and dead fish don't complain about the water pressure in their showers). Back in the era of steam, it was probably the "black gang", what we would now call the engineers who had it roughest, enduring very hot, unpleasant and dangerous working conditions.

Some say hardest job afloat is not on a ship at all, but held down by the spouses and families of those left behind, especially by those in seagoing combat jobs. As the saying goes, the hardest job in the Navy is that of Navy wife.

The blogger Snarky Navy Wife has a passionate rant about the "hardest job in the Navy" here. Army wife and veteran Cheryl Harvey Hill is less earthy but just as passionate in her Open Letter to America.

Tony Robinson not only hosts Britain's "Worst Jobs in History" but actually tries his hand at the jobs. Find his exploration of the worst jobs of Britain's Maritime Age here.

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