Who's navigating? Weathering the storm

01 Jun 2019 The Navigator

Ailsa Nelson MNI faced more than her fair share of adverse weather during her time working on cruise ships and navigating supply vessels through the unpredictable waters of the North Sea. Here, she talks about battling the elements and offers advice for others in a similar position

Name: Ailsa Nelson
Current Position: Mate onboard Svitzer Meridian
How I got started: Cruise ship company cadetship

What interested you in a career at sea?
Ever since I was young, I had always enjoyed being on water and hearing my Dad’s stories of working on the tug boats on the Clyde and around Scotland. When I was around 15 years old, Dad got me interested in kayaking. Through this, I progressed and developed my skills which led me to qualify as a kayak instructor. I knew I wanted to do an active job when I left school. At the time, Dad was renewing some of the qualifications required for working on tug boats at Glasgow Nautical College. Whilst there, he learned about sponsored cadetships and suggested that I apply.

What career path has led to your current position?
I accepted a cadetship with a cruise ship company, where I learned a lot of useful skills, such as how to interact and deal with different people and cultures and how to complete safety drills and training. One of the things I enjoyed most, though, was boat handling, from driving the fast rescue boat or twin-screw lifeboats used as passenger tenders when the vessel was at anchor. After completing my cadetship, I heard about job opportunities in the North Sea working on DP2 supply boats, applied for a position and was lucky enough to be accepted. I worked offshore in the North Sea as a second officer for seven years, sailing as Chief Mate for the last year-and-a-half. However, I had always wanted to work on tug boats after hearing Dad’s stories. In January 2019, I gained my unlimited qualifications and made the move to my current role working onboard the Svitzer Meridian in Sheerness.

How do you like to gather your information about weather when on the bridge?
Over the years, I have used several methods of gathering weather information. The main one in my previous job was a specific forecast compiled by an external source for the locations we were working in the North Sea. This was pretty accurate and focused mostly on wind direction, swell and wave heights. Other useful sources included surface pressure charts, along with forecasts provided by the coastguard via radio. We were lucky that the installations owned by the company had weather sensors on them that were accessible via a password-protected website. This showed us live-feed wind and wave data which were really helpful.


Have there been any times when weather seriously affected your planned passage?
Yes, numerous times, especially when I was working on the cruise ship and offshore. How it was corrected for depended on the type of vessel I was in and the commercial side of the operation. When we had to re-route for weather on the cruise ship, our top priority was always the safety of the vessel, with the next consideration being how to have the least amount of impact on ETA at the next port of call as we were always on a tight schedule. If we could navigate around weather, that was always preferable than taking a vessel full of passengers through bad weather.

On the supply vessels, due to their location, we were constantly encountering heavy weather during winter months. Dealing with it meant making sure the vessel was properly secured and then riding it out, checking if it was possible to seek shelter either near land or in port, so as to reduce the effects that it would have on both vessel and cargo.

What advice would you give someone faced with unexpected or adverse weather conditions ahead?
Keep everything secure at all times. If you know there is a possibility of bad weather ahead, don’t risk it and always take precautions. It’s better to make the crew lash cargo and secure accommodation during good weather than look back in hindsight and wish you had done it before the nasty weather hit. If weather does get bad, then nine times out of ten it will be when everyone is resting, or at night with minimum crew around. So, it’s better to have prepared beforehand, rather than be faced with having to sort everything out in rough conditions.