I first applied to go to sea and accepted an oil major's offer in 2006. I studied at Warsash Maritime Academy on the south coast. I then sailed as a junior officer for about five years before deciding to take an early career change by going back to Warsash to study for a marine engineering degree and then accepting the graduate trainee surveyor programme for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which I completed this year .
I initially decided to go to sea after watching James Bond with Daniel Craig. I saw the Aston Martin DBS and saw there and then that I needed about £90k to go out and buy this car.
A friend of mine's sister was a deck officer and he told me about a career at sea – and the way he sold it to me was that within five years you could be earning £90k a year and buy the dream car and house, and just move on from there.
This is a respectable career; and honourable career – something that my parents would be proud of – and if it pays well then why not?
After I successfully completed my course and moved into the main fleet, I stayed there for four or five years. I only sailed in the junior ranks whilst studying to become a third [officer]. However, promotions were very slow at the time in the industry because of the lack of SMarT funding. Support for Maritime Training was reduced for the higher tickets and there seemed to have been a glut of officers passing the engineering side. For me it was disheartening to think that I would struggle to progress because of the number of excellent officers that were ahead of me and not moving on. I decided then to change my direction because I found that there would be more opportunities by making an early career shift with the intention to then go back to sea to finish it [the sea time] off.
That's why I decided to quit whilst I was onboard and then go and study for the degree. Before then, I was told by all my lecturers, do your sea time and then come back into higher education.
I always wanted to go into higher education but the conventional university route didn't sit well with me. The courses didn't reflect what I wanted to do and I couldn't see the long-term goal or intention in it. Also, the debt didn't appeal at all.
I didn't want to lose the best part of my 20s just hoping to be supported in my ambitions for doing my degree and progressing through the ranks.
When I was at sea there were cadets coming through the system. A lot of people would either decide to stick it out or just complain about a lack of promotion or a lack of study leave available. I decided that I didn't want to just talk about it. If you're willing to commit and put yourself out there and seek the opportunities, then they are out there.
At the time other officers were shocked as to what I was doing. The chief engineer couldn't understand it as to why you'd just throw your career away like that. The captain was concerned if there was bullying onboard but I had to explain to them that if I'm not happy where I am then I need to move on and progress in a way that will keep me happy and motivated.