Sailing with the Smallwoods: Getting your sea-time recognised

Sharon and husband Julian get a little hot under the collar when they have difficulty getting  sea-time recognised by authorities.

Okay. I've been inspired by Captain Cranky to let off some hot air! If you're a cruising sailor who's successfully navigated your boat through any of the world's oceans or coastlines then give yourself a pat on the back. The skills we accumulate at sea are quite considerable and deserve to be recognised as such.

With this in mind my husband Julian decided to pursue the use of his seamanship for more profitable gain. Since we are often based in major boating centres and cruise with a work-as-we-go philosophy, an involvement in the marine industry makes sense. We've known several cruisers who make a living from skippering vessels in roles ranging from charter boat briefer to Master Mariner.

Two years ago Julian enrolled in Master Class 5 and MED Grade 2 courses at the Bundaberg Maritime Tafe. He completed the courses with flying colours, scoring top of his class in the MED 2. When it came to the small matter of collecting his licence, however, he ran into the first of a series of bureaucratic burning hoops. “You don't have the relevant sea-time,” he was told.

Prior to enlisting in these programmes Julian was careful to check the rules. It goes without saying that no self-respecting authoritative body will issue a licence involving responsibility for the safety of others on the basis of theoretical knowledge alone. The need for some previous practical experience is totally understandable, but herein lies the catch. In Queensland at least, your sea-time must be considered commercial and yet you cannot operate commercially (in a position of any significance that is) without having already gained a ticket.

Contrary to this “commercial' ruling Julian had been clearly told that his recreational sea-time would count. And why shouldn't it? Hours, days, nights and thousands of miles in command of a vessel navigating through international waters seems like a pretty extensive apprenticeship to me. His rejection was therefore somewhat surprising. “What can I do about this?” he asked. The answer was astounding – “Get a deckhand job on a fishing boat or serve drinks on the Bundy Belle,” “You're joking,” he suggested… Right? Wrong.

I mean no disrespect to the deckies of our fishing fleets nor to the tourist river ferry the Bundy Belle, but what I'd really like to know is how serving tea or reeling in nets constitutes better sea-going experience than plotting your way through the shipping lanes of the Singapore Strait or abiding by international Colregs in the South China Sea.

Thoroughly disheartened, my husband came home empty-handed, his logbooks legally witnessed for no apparent reason. To add insult to injury it was around the same time that a 21-year-old woman was granted her Master V due to sea-time accumulated on her parents' Hervey Bay whale-watching boat from the tender age of two.

Fortunately this story has a happy ending. Since re-locating to the Whitsundays Julian has completed yet another course (Inshore Yachtmaster) and recently passed the oral examination for his Coxswain's licence, restricted at present to the bareboat industry. Although this is a couple of steps below the Master V he originally aimed for it is at least some form of official qualification recognising his abilities as a capable skipper and allowing him to seek professional employment as such.

It is my opinion that recreational sea-time should be accepted as valid experience by our maritime authorities as long as it can be verified and the relevant tertiary qualifications also achieved. Competent cruisers have much they can contribute to this country's marine industry, most notably maintaining standards of safety at sea. If you agree with this principle or have your own story to tell, then be vocal about it. Alone we stand little chance of being heard. Together we become a louder voice.

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