Who's navigating? Cruise ships, COVID-19 and coffee

01 Jun 2022 The Navigator

Third officer Iryna Bates talks about life onboard cruise ships, her early days as a yacht stewardess and how she copes with tiredness and fatigue at sea

What do you like best about a career at sea?
It’s a fast-paced environment where no two days are the same. It gives you the chance to meet many people from different cultures and backgrounds, and teaches you valuable lessons not only professionally but also socially. Every single day you get to apply yourself so you can work to the best of your ability and learn something new.

What career path has led you to your current role?
My career at sea started at a later age than the majority of cadets nowadays – not as a cadet, but as a stewardess on a yacht between finishing A Levels and going to University. Naïvely, I thought I would have the life of luxury working on a yacht. However, the stewardess position turned out not to be for me, and I found myself feeling jealous of the deckhands and officers who got to do the exciting jobs, such as sailing the ship that we called our home.
So, I started my cadetship in 2016 and spent the next three years eager to get my OOW ticket. I qualified in 2019 and was already planning how to get enough sea time to get my Chief Mates qualification. I was fortunate enough to complete a contract as a Third Officer before COVID-19 hit and the world stopped – including all the cruise ships. I couldn’t stop, though, and applied for anything that would give me sea time. I returned to working in superyachts for a while, this time as an officer. I then moved back to cruise ships once they came back into service.


Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten?
I’m currently studying for my Chief Mates SQA’s and Orals after completing the required sea time. In five years, I would like to be doing my Masters, maybe have even completed it. I want to have visited places that are rarely seen, and encountered events that only a few people get to experience. I want to continue learning and growing as a person and hopefully become someone others can look up to, as I myself look up to so many people in this industry.

What do you find most interesting or challenging about working on cruise ships?
I think the sheer number of people on a cruise ship is the most interesting and simultaneously the most challenging thing. The amount of work that is required by all teams for the ship to function is phenomenal. Being one of the people who communicates with every department, as everything goes through the bridge, becomes a blessing and a curse at the same time.

How do you protect yourself against tiredness and fatigue affecting your work while you are on duty?
I would say that anything can be cured with a coffee! On a serious note, however, it is very important to get the rest that you need; not only physically sleeping but also mentally. I make sure that I comply with my rest hours and am comfortable enough to speak out if I’m not meeting those hours or if I feel fatigued. I work in an environment where I know that I can ask for help with tasks if I ever feel overloaded with work.

How does your bridge team help you stay alert and focussed while at sea?
I think with the introduction of BRM (Bridge Resource Management), the bridge team as a whole becomes more efficient and aware of their roles and responsibilities. Maintaining a good relationship with all members of the team also helps; I have worked with all members of the bridge team and they have become more like family members to me than colleagues. We all have each other’s best interests at heart.