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Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

We seafarers are always delighted to receive our flight details back home. Undeniably, our minds are on how we can make up all the lost time away from our families, friends and other significant people in our lives. We know that we only have a limited amount of time—be it a lucky three-month stay, or just a few weeks—and so our most common problem is balancing our time with our families and processing prerequisites to getting back for the next contract.

Often, we leave for our next contract with heavy hearts not only because we will be away from our loved ones again, but because our last moments before departure were spent lining up for renewals or going through trainings for things we have already mastered. Sometimes, we can’t help but feel resentful of all these requirements we need to fulfill.

Is it fair to blame the system for stressing us out with requirements, or can we acknowledge that we have a part in this? Can we create a better system for ourselves? When we plan our vacations, do we even check which documents are expiring, or look out for professional development steps to take while at home? Or do we just focus on the next seat sales and plan the next party?

We can avoid a lot of the stress of last-minute cramming with a little foresight.

Start with a plan

Sure, the most unforgettable moments are spontaneous, but that doesn’t work for everything.  When you get those flight details, think ahead. How much time are you most likely to have before the next embarkation? How much time do you need to recuperate? What do you need to accomplish before your next contract? What do you plan to achieve and how will you be able to execute that? List down everything that you think fits the goal. It is always good to have a concrete guide, especially in times when we tend to enjoy and overcompensate.

Check for expiring documents

Go through your passport, seafarer’s identification record book (SIRB), visas, and licenses. Estimate whether your documents will be valid until the end of your next projected contract. It is better to renew earlier than to cram. Not even expediting might help you every time.

Review your training certificates

Do not forget that the Certificate of Proficiencies of your mandated trainings under Chapter VI of the STCW Convention expires five years after issuance. Check if you need refresher courses for the reissuance of your COPs. You cannot afford to overlook this one; you may delay your next employment if you don’t have up-to-date certificates.

Educate yourself on the new systems

With the advancement of technology and evaluations of practices, the maritime industry has always been unpredictable. Stay in the loop by familiarizing yourself with new systems in play. One of the most popular ones in the Philippines as of now is MISMO or the MARINA Integrated Seafarers Management Online System. This is in lieu of the former Seafarer’s Certification System (SCS). Study it beforehand—don’t try to learn it on the day of your application of renewal.

Invest in professional development

The competition in the maritime industry is getting tougher as the supply of seafarers continue to exceed the demand. It wouldn’t hurt if you also invest part of your time in professional development by enrolling in graduate school (you may opt to consider distance-learning so you may personally manage our own time) or taking trainings that are industry standards. Do not limit yourself with STCW mandates. Go beyond the minimum requirements.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying what you’ve worked hard for. Vacations are indeed time to recover and catch up, but it is, objectively speaking, also a time to process your prerequisites for the next vessel. Just like we have strategies on how to manage our overhauling maintenance or passage planning, strategizing how we can process our requirements will allow us to spend more time with our families.

If we change our mindset and commitment to these documents and trainings, we’ll realize that it’s a necessity that need not be stressful. It is also a gift to our loved ones and ourselves, because it means that we can continue to work and earn.

Spend your vacation wisely! Seize the day for you only live once, but also, please get the job done.


Elijah Jose Barrios

Elijah Jose Barrios is a 24-year old Third Officer, Teacher, and Course Developer. He advocates for child literacy and youth empowerment through his involvement in different organizations.  He considers himself an appreciator of any form of art and usually puts all his realizations into writing.