Jobs 101: Seafarer

Ever fancied a life at sea? Ahmad Tarmimi has all the inside information.

Camillia Dass
Camillia Dass

Published: 11 May 2016, 9:50 PM

Have you ever wanted to travel the world by sea and still get paid for it? We met up with seafarer Ahmad Tarmimi, who gets to do just that and more.

So, what exactly does a seafarer do? Well, they sign on to a offshore supply vessel and sail all over the world, transporting cargo from port to port or rescuing ships in distress. Pretty cool stuff, no?

Who: Ahmad Tarmimi, 27
What: Seafarer
Studied: Diploma in nautical studies from the Singapore Maritime Academy, and a CoC class 3 licence to sail from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore

Tell us more about yourself.

After my ‘O’ levels, I was attached to the police coast guard during my National Service (NS). Since I only had my ‘O’ levels then, I decided to sign on with the police coast guard.

While I was patrolling with them one day, I was told by a colleague that if I liked the sea, I should take up a nautical studies course in the Singapore Maritime Academy.

So, I decided to retake my ‘O’ levels after NS to get a diploma in nautical studies, as well as a licence to sail. This allowed me to do something I really enjoyed and I felt productive.

Ahmad is now a second officer and a junior dynamic positioning officer at Boskalis.

Describe a typical day at work.

I usually wake up at 5am to have my breakfast and a quick shower. Then, I will take over the current officer’s shift at 5.45am.

Before I start my shift, there is a mandatory, formal handing over of responsibilities from the previous crew mates, so that all the necessary things that need to be done on my shift will be completed.

I will then check the radar and the weather, take the bearing of the sun, and check the errors of our magnetic compass. After that, we will do radio check, navigation equipment check and paperwork.

This usually involves going through checklists from the company to make sure that the fire and safety aspects of the ship is in order.

Ahmad (right) and his crew at work. Photo credit: Ahmad Tarmimi
We normally have six-hour shifts, followed by a six-hour break. At 11.30am, I’ll have my lunch, go to the gym on board, and sleep. We don’t get off days, though. We work every day until our contract ends, and then we go for a two-month paid leave.

What sacrifices have you made for your job?

I don’t get to see my family for months at a time. It helps that there is Wi-Fi on board, I get to call my family and text them.

We generally don’t get to take medical leave. We have medication on board, but unless you are really sick, you can’t rest because you still need to work your shifts and duties.

Ahmad (centre) with his parents during his graduation ceremony at Singapore Polytechnic. Photo credit: Ahmad Tarmimi

What’s your most memorable experience at work?

We were once stationed in Mumbai for salvage work due to the monsoon season. We then received a call from the coast guard.

Apparently, a ship that was anchored at the port had started sinking due to bad weather. By the time we got there, half the ship was submerged and the vessel’s cargo was floating all around the ship.

It was one of the most interesting salvage operations because there were helicopters deployed to the scene, and rescue workers were rappelling down to rescue the crew. It felt like a scene from an action movie.

As a seafarer, Ahmad does plenty of salvage work. he rescues ships that are stuck in bad weather, such as monsoons. Photo credit: Ahmad Tarmimi

What advice would you give to youths considering this career path?

Just try it. Try something different, something not everybody is doing because you never know what your true calling is. You could end up liking it.

Ahmad’s favourite thing to do on board is to observe the sunset. Photo credit: Ahmad Tarmimi


Educational requirements: A diploma in nautical studies from Singapore Maritime Academy, and a CoC class 3 licence to sail from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.

Qualities needed: You must be able to handle stress well, be rough and tough, and be independent.

Salary range: The starting pay for a third officer is about S$2,184 per month.

Working hours: You will work six to 12-hour shifts, but you will need to dedicate time for maintenance work on the ship after your shift ends.

Career prospects: Most people sail until they get promoted to a captain’s licence. Others might go ashore and venture into human resource to manage the allocation of seafarers. You can also become a surveyor to check ships and make sure they are fit to sail, or become a lecturer to pass on your knowledge to youngsters hoping to join the industry.

You may like these