A Seaman’s Primer

In my opinion life at sea is no place to learn some basics you should have learned while still ashore. You are likely to learn all your sailorly knowledge at the hands of more experienced sailors, but conduct on liberty is not something you’ll find in the Blue Jacket’s Manual or a book on navigation. Correct conduct can save you from some fearsome experiences. So, pipe down, and listen up. Here are the basic nine things you need to know:

My maritime education began at about age nine as I assisted my father on jobs aboard the large party fishing boats in New York’s Sheepshead Bay. As an engineer in the Merchant Marine, my Dad had been on several world cruises, numerous passages to China and Japan, and had survived two torpedo sinkings. He was eminently qualified to pass along a Seaman’s Primer:

  • 1.) Keep your wallet in your front pocket so it can’t be stolen. Seeing a sailor running down the street in a liberty port pursued by a pimp who had cut his wallet out of his back pocket confirmed my father’s take on this.
  • 2.) Be careful what articles and agreements you sign. Fairly obvious, but for a sailor, this one can be deadly. On my father’s first passage, the mutiny of all the crew except the engine room ingrained that in him and subsequently in me.
  • 3. The police use tattoos to identify you, and many people have the same artwork. My father had the usual eagle with fouled anchors that thousands of mariners had, so he knew.
  • 4.) Sooner or later, every sailor winds up under the tutelage of some deck ape bosun (known “affectionally” as Boats) who wants you to chip paint. So my Dad’s advice was to learn how to create a map; it looks like you are keeping busy. My father’s favorite was a map of Ireland. From personal experience, I can tell you that this does not work when deployed against older mariners who also know the trick.
  • 5.) In a bar, stay close to the exits, stick with your shipmates, don’t get into card games in the backroom, and oversee the barkeep as he pours your drink. As soon as someone gets shoved and things get loud – get out.
  • 6.) Always look like you know where you are going. Don’t dawdle. Walk with confidence.
  • 7.) Can the arrogance. Treat people politely. Most fights start because people swagger around, acting like jerks.
  • 8.) Always find out how good the cook is on any ship you think about shipping out on. On a long voyage, food is essential.
  • 9.) Different ships, different long slices. You may know that the way things got done on your last ship was the best, but crowing about it on your new ship will not make you any friends.

Well, there you have your Primer. Don’t bet forgetful of these basics, and as another old mariner of my acquaintance was fond of saying. “go ye forth, and sin no more”

3 Replies to “A Seaman’s Primer”

  1. Good advice, all. #9 though…. a new employee we had kept talking about the way they did things at her old job….ad nauseum. So go back to your old job, sweetie!

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