Who's navigating? A seafarer’s life; seeing the world is the ideal basis for a lasting professional career

01 Feb 2014 The Navigator

In this series, The Navigator speaks to current navigational personnel about their motivations, careers to date and thoughts for the future. In this issue, it’s the turn of James Spear, a third officer serving on tankers in the USA.

Name: James Spear
Current position: Third officer, volunteer delegate for NAMEPA
Training: State University of New York Maritime College

What interested you in a career at sea?
I was raised in Tampa, Florida, which has a strong maritime community, so it’s something that I’ve been familiar with since I was young. The experience of seafaring, I believe, leaves an indelible mark on your life. So many writers, businessmen, and military leaders have been influenced by their time at sea. People such as Jack Kerouac, Jack London, John Paul Jones and Joseph Conrad have, at some point, gone to sea, and each has been lured by the promise of new experiences and opportunities. I suppose that’s what helped pique my interest in a maritime career.

What career path has led to your current position?
After graduating in 2011, I began sailing on international-flagged LNG carriers. It was a tremendous chance to experience how international shipping operates. To go to sea around the world with a myriad of cultures and nationalities was an unparalleled opportunity that I’m lucky to have experienced. Since 2013, I’ve been working on crude oil tankers that run between the US West Coast and Alaska.

Where do you see your career going from here?
I hope to continue to sail and gain experience; upgrade my licence/CoC and see what opportunities arise. The more people I meet and speak to, the more I believe that experience at sea is an invaluable tool for the maritime professional, and I’m grateful to have worked for companies that recognise that. I believe things like onboard communications, increased training, shore-side opportunities, advanced education, and sustainable growth may become more central to a seafarer’s career in the future. If the marine community can effectively integrate and manage this change, it has the potential to grow even more in the future.

What are the greatest rewards of your life at sea?
Seafarers have always had the reputation of being self-reliant and hardworking, independent and goal-oriented. The chance to work in an industry that promotes those values has been a significant reward. Furthermore, shipping more than just about any other industry, is the indispensable link in global trade. To be able to work towards a common goal with a diverse range of professionals around the world has been my greatest reward so far.

The integration of ECDIS in the worldwide fleet is a perfect opportunity for mentoring between junior and senior officers

Tell us about your work with NAMEPA?
NAMEPA, the North American Marine Environment Protection Association, is an industry-led non-profit organisation that works to address the challenges and opportunities in marine environmental protection. I started the first student chapter of NAMEPA while I was a cadet at SUNY Maritime College, and I currently serve as their Maritime Academies Coordinator while I’m ashore on vacation. NAMEPA hosts seminars, workshops, and initiatives to spread the message of “Save Our Seas,” and it’s particularly focused on marine environmental education. I would encourage all maritime professionals to learn more about what we do at www.namepa.net

What advice would you have for navigators using an unfamiliar ECDIS for the first time?
Training, training, training! ECDIS, like any technology, is only as good as its user’s understanding. Effective, thorough formal training is critical with any new tool, especially one as complex as ECDIS. This can be supplemented by reading manuals, focusing on details, and cross-checking with other means of navigation. Also, I believe the integration of ECDIS in the worldwide fleet poses a perfect opportunity for mentoring between junior and senior officers. Familiarity and confidence with ECDIS can provide ‘up-and-coming’ junior officers with a means to contribute to effective communication and resource management through mentoring of senior officers, or vice versa.