Being a Crewmember- the things that happen at sea

Monday I wrote about my typical day working onboard, but today’s post tells you about all that stuff that just sort of “comes up” that we might have to deal with, and how we handle it.

Very Small Ports
In small ports that don’t have a large dock for cruise ships we have to do something called “tendering.” This means we anchor near the harbor and send in small boats (actually lifeboats if this were an emergency situation) that we ride to the harbor.  This takes a lot of extra work for the ship to organize because you need a lot of extra crew to drive the tenders but to also help passengers on and off and monitor for security.  Plus there’s the added time of loading and unloading the tender and of course the ride from ship to shore. Plus we need staff onboard to control the flow of traffic down to the tender so that guests who want to go ashore don’t all go at once and congregate on stairways, which could cause chaos and a fire hazard

Basically it’s a big pain.  I hate tender ports because there’s so much extra work to get ashore, plus you have to be really careful with the amount of time you give yourself to go ashore and return, because sometimes there are long lines to wait for a tender ride. If you go on a cruise and your itinerary lists one of the ports as “tender required” just know that getting ashore and back that day will require a little bit more work and time than when we dock and you can just walk off the ship.

Bad weather and Rough Seas
Generally we try to navigate around bad weather if we can, but sometimes rough seas cannot be avoided.  Depending on how bad it is we often take extra precautions like securing certain items down when they’re not in use and closing outside decks.  We also place barf bags around the ship in the various lobbies so that if guests get sick but can’t make it to the bathroom they have some relief (sorry to get graphic… you don’t want to know what things I’ve seen people do in spite of their seasickness…. let’s just say barf Bingo!).  My advice to people during rough seas is this: keep a full stomach (it’s worse if you don’t eat), look out the window and focus on the still horizon-not the rolling seas, drink lots of water, and eat green apples or something with Ginger (Ginger Ale is my go to motion sickness relief). 

Bad Weather and inability to dock or tender
Sometimes weather is so bad that we’re not able to stop in a port.  I hate days like that because guests are unhappy, I have to work more, and we’re all ready to get off the ship but we can’t.  If that happens, I get ready as quickly as possible and head to the office to talk to my supervisor.  I tell her what 2 classes I’d like to add in and at what time.  And then I go about my day and try not to think about what my original plans were.  I know that if we’re not stopping it’s for our own safety.

Medical Emergency
If there’s a medical emergency onboard (whether it be with a guest or a crewmember) that can’t be treated properly onboard (we do have a mini hospital with several nurses and 2 doctors, but of course we are limited) we often disembark the person who is ill or injured.  Sometimes we need to do that quickly, but we are scheduled to leave a port or are at sea.  In situations like that we’ll often alter our schedule- delay our departure, turn around and go back to a port, or stop somewhere that we weren’t originally scheduled to stop- to disembark that person so they can get the help they need.  If we are in an area where there are no ports nearby, in really grave situations a helicopter will come in from the closest port and we will stop in the middle of the ocean while the helicopter lands on the bow and we disembark the person that way

In my 3 years at sea I have seen us do all of those things to care for ill or injured guests and crew members.  To do something like this usually means the person has had a heart attack or similarly serious episode, and in one case one of our crew desperately needed an appendectomy.

Code Red
This is the worst.  Code Red means that too many people have reported “GI” symptoms (vomiting and diarrhea) to the Medical Center.  Unfortunately on a cruise ship stomach viruses spread very quickly since it’s a confined space.  As a crewmember we are required to report any GI symptoms to medical (or we could be fired), and depending on the severity we are often confined to our cabin or ward in the hospital until our symptoms are gone for 24 hours.  If too many people have symptoms we go into what we call “Code Red” which means that everything has to be cleaned every five minutes, and nearly any kind of community object (library books for example) have to be put away until we go out of Code Red.  We also restrict anyone from serving themselves in the Buffet, normally people can serve themselves coffee or salad and other small items like bread and desserts, but during Code Red we try to minimize any times when multiple people might touch an item allowing germs to spread through the “community” item.  So all the crew have to help with food service at some point because it’s a lot of extra work when we can’t serve ourselves. Last time I was in Code Red it easily added an extra 3 hours of work to my day.  So, when you’re on a ship, stay healthy by washing your hands… the majority of people pass on GI illness to others because they aren’t washing their hands after going to the bathroom or after eating and putting their hands in their mouth.  Gross.

Holidays and Special Events
We know how to celebrate on a cruise ship, believe you me.  For many holidays the crew has as much fun celebrating as the guests.  For Halloween we have parties and costume parades, a special dinner for Thanksgiving, crew choir concerts at Christmas as well as sweets served all over the ship all the time, and a huge New Years Eve Bash with lots of free champagne.  And any other holiday that you can celebrate- don’t you worry we’ll have decorations and a special event.

Crew parties, tours, and events
There’s a whole team of people who look after the crew and work to keep them happy by offering support and other types of services (bikes to ride in ports, DVDs to rent, Money exchange services, etc.) including planning parties and other events for crew as well as crew tours in some of our more memorable ports.  Some of my best travel experiences have been going on tours with the crew, and once a month or so we have a party where it’s great to socialize with other crew and see everybody relax a bit.

Fires and other Emergencies
If there’s a fire onboard certain emergency teams assemble to both put out the fire but also to let guests know what’s going on and keep them out of restricted areas.  I’ve been on several ships where we’ve had fires, they were always put out in a short amount of time (A couple of times we had fires in the incinerator room… yes, you read that correctly…).  I’ve never been on a ship that has had a non-fire emergency, but if something were to happen (like someone goes missing or a passenger tries to deploy the anchor while we are sailing- both true stories from other ships…) the captain will sound the general emergency alarm and we are all to assemble at our lifeboat/liferaft stations, and then we check that everyone is accounted for.  (They do this to try and determine if someone is actually missing, and in the case of the anchor to figure out who actually did it, getting everyone in one place and having the captain say you’re not leaving until someone confesses did the job).  If a fire were to escalate or if we needed to evacuate the ship, we would go through this same procedure, but also retrieve our lifejackets and begin evacuating into the different rafts and boats. 

New and or Remodeled/repaired facilities
Cruise ships are “open” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year.  So when we have to implement something new or repair something (carpet, replace curtains, install new electronics, whatever) it just has to happen as we go.  It’s not uncommon to have special staff come onboard to do the work overnight, once I went to bed and the next afternoon realized that my hallway’s carpet was different.  If you’re on a cruise ship and you see a lot of maintenance going on, just know that we’re doing it for you, and unfortunately we can’t close down completely and so we can’t shield you from certain work that has to be done while you sail with us.

That’s all for now.  Let me know if you have any other questions about ships or working onboard!


One thought on “Being a Crewmember- the things that happen at sea

  1. Both of your posts were seriously fascinating to me, lol.

    My New England and Canadian cruise recently was interesting, simply because I was one of the younger people on the boat. There were 80 cruisers under the age of 21. I would guess that less than 300 were under the age of 35, lol. So, the “Code Red” prevention was out in full-force, tendering was VERY different (please imagine watching a women and her walker almost taking a header into the ocean), and I quickly learned who among us were actually part of the crew and were on free-time.

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