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Members at work

Fleet safety trainer Steve May came late to trade unionism but is now one of Nautilus's biggest advocates

7 May 2021

Former submariner Steve May is a fleet safety trainer for Carnival UK (P&O and Cunard). He serves as a Nautilus lay representative on his company's Partnership at Work committee

What originally attracted you to a career in maritime?

When I left school it was a time of high unemployment in the UK, and after being made redundant twice in two years, I went to the Navy Careers Office because I was walking past it and fairly quickly found myself in the Royal Navy.

Having spent 24 years in the Royal Navy – much of which was in the submarine service – I retired from the RN and transitioned to the cruise industry, originally as a security officer but since 2011 in my current position as a fleet safety trainer.

Do you have any personal or family connections to the sea or inland waterways?

No. Not really sure why I ended up in the Royal Navy and a life at sea as my father and uncle were both in the Army and they had left before I was born. I didn't actually know anyone in any maritime jobs at the time and we didn't live by the sea.

What did you do before joining the maritime sector?

After leaving school I worked in a nursery growing chrysanthemums for a while and I worked in a factory for a short while.

What does your current job involve?

As a fleet safety trainer I am responsible for the safety training of the crew including STCW courses such as Crisis Management & Human Behaviour or Crowd Management, plus occupational safety courses and any bespoke training which may be required, such as additional training for any of the emergency teams following drills if required.

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

The biggest career highlight has to be back in the days of the Royal Navy when I finally qualified as a submariner and was presented with my 'Submarine Dolphins', but when I came to the cruise industry I still remember my first day joining the first ever vessel I worked on, which was the Silverseas ship Silver Whisper. The ship was late arriving where I was joining in Helsinki and I was stood on the dockside with the port agent watching the ship arrive. The closer it got, the bigger it got, and the biggest ship I had been on arrived alongside. It turned out that the Silver Whisper was actually quite a small cruise ship and I would go on to serve on much larger vessels.

One career challenge was on the same ship, where only three weeks into my new life in the cruise industry the ship was to undergo a full inspection which included a security inspection. Although I had 10 days with the guy I was relieving before he disembarked, I soon discovered how much I didn't know about the job. Fortunately, the inspecting officer was very good and understanding, and when he found out I was very new in the position he helped me through to achieve a successful Inspection.

Who has helped you the most in your career?

The person who I would have to say helped me the most was a very good friend of mine from the Navy who has now unfortunately passed away. He left the Navy a few years before me and was already working in the cruise industry. He put me in touch with a number of people to help me get a position as a security officer, and also taught me a lot about the job.

What are your plans for the future?

After 40 years in maritime, I'm not looking for promotion at this stage of my life, which in my position would mean a move to the shoreside office. Eventually I guess I will need to retire, but at the moment I enjoy the job, and whilst I enjoy it then why stop?

When I do finally decide to give up the sea then maybe I will take a part time job to give me something active to do a couple of days a week away from the house. Maybe something like collecting trollies in the supermarket car park with the only responsibility is not hitting anyone's car and making sure there are always trollies available for the shoppers.

How long have you been a member of Nautilus, and what made you join?

I have been a member of Nautilus for about 14 years now. In the military we were not permitted to be a member of a trade union and I knew very little about unions. It wasn't until I came to Carnival UK (CUK) that I found out about Nautilus, as the company included a Nautilus application form and brochure in the envelope when they sent me my contract to sign. Having read the brochure and spoken to a few people about it, I decided to complete the application form and join.

Tell us about any voluntary positions you've held with Nautilus

After joining the Union I quite quickly became an active member and started attending collective bargaining meetings to help negotiate pay uplifts. After a couple of years we set up a Partnership at Work (PAW) committee with Nautilus and CUK, so instead of just having discussions each year about pay we could discuss issues affecting members throughout the year and also negotiate improvements in the terms and conditions.

All the founder members of the committee (both Nautilus members and the company representatives) completed a week-long PAW training course which was arranged jointly by CUK and Nautilus.

I have also completed the Nautilus Lay Reps Course, Advanced Lay Reps Course and an updated Advanced Lay Reps Course. I remain an active member and I am now the longest serving lay rep with the company.

Tell us about why the Union is important to you

I am a huge advocate of Nautilus and try to spend time onboard with people new to the company explaining the benefits of membership, which as we all know is not just about getting a pay rise each year, but legal assistance, help with welfare matters etc.

As a rep I probably see more of what the Union does for members than most people. I am in regular contact with our Nautilus industrial officer and I am quick to dispel any negative comments I may hear about the Union as we have achieved so much. One example is that many years back we were all on fixed term contracts (so only paid whilst onboard, which is still very common throughout the maritime I=industry) but through PAW we negotiated for annualised contracts so we got paid every month. This was especially important for some of the younger officers starting out on the property ladder as many of them were getting refused mortgages because the mortgage companies were viewing fixed term contracts as temporary or part time. The annualised contracts have also proved invaluable during the upheaval of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Are you a member of any Nautilus forums or committees, or have you attended a Union conference like the General Meeting?

I have recently started attending the Nautilus Professional & Technical Forum, which I find very interesting and gives a great insight into things Nautilus is doing which may not always be so obvious, such as lobbying government over different issues.

What do you like doing in your free time?

I do a lot of DIY, which is fortunate having purchased a house that requires a full renovation. I play golf (very badly) and only socially with some friends who are just as bad as me. I would say it is a few hours' exercise out in the fresh air taking out the frustrations on the ball.

Additionally, when I am home I am an active member of our local branch of the Submariners Association which not only provides a number of social functions but also maintains contact with people who are part of a very close knit community and helps us 'look after our own' when needed.

What is your favourite place you have visited during your career, and why?

I'm often asked that and I always say I don't have a 'favourite' but I like lots of places for different reasons. Having done two full seasons up in the Baltic, I find the countries there fascinating with lots of history.

In Norway, the scenery in the fjords is great although the fjords in Chile are probably even more amazing.

Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and the whole of Asia has very interesting cultures with people that are some of the friendliest, and everything is so cheap.

The Caribbean has a great climate through the cruise season and they have a very relaxed attitude to everything.

With spending a huge amount of my life away from home travelling for work I tend to have very few holidays, as it is nice to get chance to spend time at home, but of the holidays I have taken I think Kefalonia, Greece was probably one of the best as the whole island is relaxing with great food and drink, beautiful scenery and friendly people.

What is your favourite film?

Top Gun. Who doesn't like Top Gun?!

What are you watching on TV right now?

A Touch of Frost. It may be old reruns but David Jason does a good job as a copper even if he does have an extortionate amount of murders to investigate.

What are you reading right now?

Crisis Four by Andy McNab – I've enjoyed several of his.

What's your favourite podcast / app / website?

Podcast? What's that? I use Facebook regularly and not sure I have a favourite website but Google Search is a very useful tool to find out all sorts of information. The younger generation are far more into the computer technology than me having grown up with it. I had to do my maths exam at school without a calculator just a slide rule and logbooks… The younger generation won't even know what that is!

Tell us one thing that people may not know about you.

I am qualified to drive Heavy Goods Vehicles.

Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?

I should probably stop at this point and if anyone has read this far about me they are probably already bored, but thanks for the opportunity to say a little bit about me which has given me the opportunity to look back over some of the things I have done in 40 years in the maritime world.

For the younger people starting out in a maritime role, I'd say it is not always easy, and can be long hours each day with long periods away from home, but it has some very rewarding opportunities such as travel to many places you may not otherwise have visited, and the chance to make some lasting good memories. Work hard and enjoy the experience.


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