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Ex-Royal Naval officer Thomas Stapley-Bunten starts a second career in the Merchant Navy

14 May 2020

Thomas Stapley-Bunten loves the adventure of life at sea and reckons you can't beat the work/life balance

What is a typical day in your job?

As an ex-Royal Navy Deck Officer transitioning to the Merchant Navy, my day involves trying to see as much of the ship's operations as possible. This tends to be split between the bridge and the cargo control room (CCR). I focus my time on learning the company-specific procedures for bridge management, Firefighting Equipment (FFA) and Lifesaving Equipment (LSA) maintenance, cargo operations and chart/ECDIS maintenance.

When I am not working on the bridge, on deck or in the CCR, my time is my own. A lot of my free time is spent studying. This time studying is either in the ship's computer-based training suite or in my cabin. Apart from work and study, I aim to use the gym most days and I ensure I keep honing my (limited) skills playing table tennis and Fifa.

Why did you choose a career at sea?

I chose a career at sea for the travel and adventure. When I first joined the Royal Navy, I had envisioned staying for only four to five, to have fun while I was young before moving on to what I thought was 'a proper job' (working in an office wearing a suit and tie, working nine to five).

The traditional concept of a 'proper job' had never really appealed to me but I had assumed it was an inevitability if I wanted to make a proper success of my career.

However, once I embarked on my career at sea, I quickly realised that it is entirely possible to forge a successful and rewarding career in the maritime industry, whilst spending a good amount of time at sea, travelling and living out the adventure I had hoped for.

Tell us some of your career highlights – and challenges – so far

I have been very fortunate in my career to have lots of highlights. I certainly got the travel I was hoping for. I have been ashore in ports across more than 50 countries with highlights including Goa, Seychelles, Miami, Panama, Falkland Islands, Sicily and Zanzibar.

I have been able to experience life onboard a variety of ship types such as aircraft carriers, ferries, frigates, ro-ro, destroyers, LNG carriers and patrol boats.

My career highlight was being selected for the role of Captain of a Royal Navy patrol boat based in Newcastle.

My greatest challenge was my role as boarding officer during life-saving rescue operations near the coast Libya during Operation Sophia in 2015.

What are the best things about your job?

The best thing about my job is the variety at all levels. Every day is different at sea, sometimes in small ways, other times in large ways. Whether it's the corner of the world you are sailing in; the nature of the operation you are conducting or the ever-changing crew onboard, there is always variety.

Would you recommend seafaring as a career?

I enjoy seafaring so much that I have just started a second career at sea with the Merchant Navy, so yes.

Tell us one thing that people may not know about your job?

One of the great advantages of a career at sea is the time off. A lot of companies offer a 50:50 rotation of sea time to leave. This means your work/life balance is exactly 50%... not bad.


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