Being a Captain, I think, is the best job in the merchant navy

Captain Orry Crews has had quite a journey with us here at Red Funnel. Having been with us throughout different stages of training (even leaving us and coming back!), Orry has now recently completed his Master’s training and can’t wait for the next big adventure.

We wanted to hear all about it, so we asked Orry a couple of questions about his experiences so far, how he feels about working at Red funnel and about his new qualifications.

Hi Orry, can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a Master and I have been with Red Funnel on and off for around 5 years now. I live in Cowes, and I’ve lived on the Island all my life. Due to this, I’ve travelled with Red Funnel since I was young and I’ve always been aware of the company.

When I was younger, I loved living near the sea and used to spend a lot of time at school staring out the window and watching the vessels on the water. I knew this is what I wanted to do for a long time, but I didn’t quite get all the GCSE’s required to start a cadetship with the merchant navy. So I worked in various other marine roles for a couple of years after leaving school. Aged 19 I applied for a cadetship and a company offered me sponsorship which was brilliant. They took me on because I had the marine industry experience to back me up. Although qualifications are preferable, I’m a good example of someone who showed willing and kept trying until someone gave me a chance.

What did your cadetship involve?

The cadetship was through Warsash maritime academy which is local to Red Funnel. I spent 3 years as a Trainee Officer, and those years are split into different phases. Some of those phases are spent at sea on ships, but you have to go deep sea to complete your cadetship and obtain sufficient sea time. I sailed on cargo ships and saw the world during my sea phases, gaining experience in navigation, cargo operation and ship board knowledge required to prepare me for my final Officer’s exams. Once I was qualified I went back to sea with the same company as a 2nd Officer for a couple of trips. I then got married and at the time my wife wasn’t too keen on me running away to sea for 4 months at a time, so being from the Island and having Red Funnel on my doorstep, I thought “that’s where I want to go”.

And how did you end up at Red Funnel?

When I was on leave I saw an advert for a Chief Officer at Red Funnel which I applied for and I was successful. Initially it was going to be a summer job but my wife then also fell pregnant and I really didn’t want to go back to sea at that point so I ended up extending my contract and I was here for a couple of years as Chief Officer, working both on the car ferries and the red jets. It was brilliant, I absolutely loved the job. The teams here are great and its very hands on. I think for someone who was in effect then a Junior Officer, I had an awful lot of responsibility working on the ferry as a Chief with a junior license and I developed so much in my time here. You also gain pilotage exemption certificates with Red Funnel so we could navigate the ships in Southampton and Cowes without a pilot. The area we work in is so diverse with these complex tidal systems and it’s one of the busiest ports in Europe. So when you consider the large amount of commercial traffic mixed with the thousands of private craft that use the Solent as a playground, our day to day crossings are very different. It's definitely hands on and you don’t really get bored, that’s for sure.

So what does the job of Chief Officer involve?

The Chief Officer is the Captains deputy, so you’re there to assist the Captain in the navigation of the ship and once you’ve got your pilotage exemption licenses, you do a lot of the navigation on your own and due to the nature of our operation you get the opportunity to do a lot of berthing operations. I would say the Chief Officers main role would come down to cargo operations in port, once we’re alongside we then have to discharge the vessel and load the vessel within a short time frame. It’s quite intense, especially on a busy day but dye to it being a swift turnaround we actually find it fun and interesting. The types of cargo vary on every sailing with the main sector of our business being cars, coaches and passengers. We also carry a lot of freight and basically anything that needs to get to or from the island that can be driven onto our ships.

Other parts of the role include statutory responsibilities, such as being the ships Safety Officer. We’re in charge of the planned maintenance of the vessel, ensuring at all times the crew are operating in line with company procedures, following the safety guidelines, wearing the correct personal protective equipment and issuing and conducting planned maintenance of all safety and deck equipment. We also conduct crew training, not just with deck and engine crews but with all the catering crew on board as they all have emergency duties. They could be a caterer, but at the same time if anything goes wrong that caterer stops serving food and drink and they’re now assisting in mustering passengers or fighting a fire. So there’s quite a lot of training, and again that’s very good because you develop yourself when you become a trainer and you can see growth in your own professional development.

You had a bit of a hiatus from Red Funnel, why was that?

So I stayed at Red funnel a bit longer whilst my wife was pregnant and that’s the beauty of this job, you get to do all the salty sailor stuff but you get to go home every day too. When my son was about 1 years old I decided it was probably time to go back deep sea and continue with my sea time to further my knowledge and experience, and work towards my Masters license. I left Red Funnel for about 4 years and worked for 2 different companies. I went back to cargo ships initially as a 2nd Officer and Safety Officer before transferring to Carnival UK where I worked for both the P&O and Cunard brands. Whilst there I was a 3rd Officer and then a 2nd Officer to get my Chief Officers ticket. I then eventually transferred that into a Masters license which gave me a chance to work as a Master back here at Red Funnel.

And why did you decide to come back?

Well, when I left Red Funnel it was a very difficult decision because I wanted to progress with my career and obtain certification as a Master, however having a family and doing a job I love at home every day, it was really tough trying to give that up. My first few trips back to deep sea were really tough, trying to get back into spending 3 months away, especially with a new born at home. But you adapt to it and there’s the goal at the end which was always to try and come back to Red Funnel, hopefully in the capacity of a Master.  I always had that goal and continued to work towards that. It was tough work and I had a lot of support from family, friends and colleauges, especially when I went up for my higher licenses as they were quite intense. Eventually I finished the qualifications, had spent enough time at sea, and it was only this year I came on leave and I saw that there was a job advertised at Red Funnel again and I applied for it. I was lucky to get the role as Chief Officer which then led on to the intentions of hopefully becoming Master.

Once back I worked as Chief Officer and started my in-house Masters training here at Red Funnel. You can have a Masters license but you can’t necessarily just step on a ship as Master. You must do company related training first, such as learning the Management Systems and the ships themselves. Luckily, I had the benefit of already working here and knowing the business, understanding the waters we work in and knowing the ships and the operation, so that worked in my favour. I managed to complete the in-house Masters training pretty quickly.

What’s the difference between Chief Officer and Master and why did you want to take on the role?

So the Master, or Captain as it’s commonly known as, is in overall command of the vessel. First of all you need to make sure the Chief Officer is doing their job properly and everybody on board is operating in compliance with the companies Integrated Management System and international marine laws. There are times, for example, where incidents are thrown in the way or adverse weather conditions make navigation and operations extremely intense; as Captain you would take control and deal with the situation using your immediate resources where as when Chief Officer, if you feel you can't deal with something you simply call the Captain.

As I mentioned earlier, I always wanted to work at sea, I like being on the water and I like shipping and even mucking around on a small craft on the water is good fun. When I started my cadetship I really got into it and obviously the dream at that point is to become a Master/Captain.
Initially with the cadetship it was tough because I didn’t have all the GCSE’s and I thought I would struggle, but when I passed my cadetship and started working at Red Funnel, it gave me the appetite then to think “actually if I’ve made it this far, what’s going to stop me from now progressing?”

I love ship handling, that’s my favourite part, especially when there's adverse weather as it just makes it a slightly different challenge to the normal day to day crossings. Things like that are in a way good fun, a lot of people might not agree but it’s a part of what we do. It’s fun for us because it’s what we train for and being challenged keeps us on our toes.

Of course there are many barriers in the way, both academically and due to family commitments, but it just made me want it more and more. Being a Captain, I think, is the best job in the merchant navy.

Why would someone want to work for Red Funnel?

Overall it’s a very friendly business and we’re quite diverse in terms of roles. The overall vibe in the business is a very happy one and it’s like a big family. We employ nearly 500 people in the height of summer and everyone gets along. I think that’s reflected to our customers because we’re led well and we do get looked after. That means in return you get a happy workforce that do go the extra mile if we need to and we will do what we have to do to keep the service afloat.

Quite a lot of people in the business, myself included, are from the Isle of Wight and we know how important the ferry service is to those who live there. Everything I buy in my local supermarket comes over by ferry, and for us to go on holiday or to work, we need to get a ferry to get off the Island, so it’s very important to us. We do put the service first and we’ll do what we can, especially on busy days, to accommodate the passengers who at the end of the day are our customers. We have a very good working schedule in the marine department and we get good leave too which is fantastic. The pay and conditions are pretty good, you can’t really fault them.

We have a very robust Integrated Management System and being in the shipping industry, safety is paramount so we have very formal procedures that we follow and the way we go about implementing them here at Red Funnel is in a very professional manner.

If you want that kind of role where you can be home every day but still go to work and do sailor type things then this is the place to be. Some people may say Red Funnel is a slow paced company, and that was the perception I had when I was young and new to the industry. However, it’s not at all. It’s very fast paced, and because of the hours we have and the benefits we receive, in fact it’s very much a young person’s job too and I recommend employment here to many of my colleagues who still work deep sea.