If you want to work on a boat the first thing you need to do is your STCW. This is the basic level of training that everyone working in the maritime industry needs and you aren’t going to get hired on a bit white floaty thing if you don’t have it. It can be a bit of a cash commitment to make when you don’t have a job yet but it’s unavoidable, you just have to take the hit and hold out hope for your first months wages. Or you can do what I did and put it on a credit card and then stew in that horrible “I’m in debt” hole for five months.
I had pretty much zero idea of what to expect from my STCW course. I hadn’t even properly realised that the STCW was actually five different courses that can all be booked separately should you want to. You could say I was under-prepared, and if you said that, you would right. I went in with that anxious/excited stomach feeling, and fear, because my fire training course notes asked me to bring trousers that were made entirely of natural fibres…I’m all about comfort, who owns trousers made of entirely natural fibres?!
I wouldn’t say no to a pair of cashmere trackies, but I would also never wear them in a burning ship, they would be excessively luxurious loungewear only.
So on Day One I rolled up to the Camel’s Head Fire Station 45 minutes early, terrified I was going to fail my STCW because all I had was a poly/cotton blend on my bum. It was a pleasant surprise to find the place full of super cool dudes who instantly allayed my trouser fears, they kitted me out with a pair of fire proof slacks held up to camel toe proportions by big red braces. I also got a jacket that was a bit snug around the bum (not many wide-hipped fire lassies out there), gloves, a flash hood, a super cool jumper that I wanted to keep, big rubber head stomping boots and a helmet. I totally looked the part, if you couldn’t see me with another firefighter for scale. Next to those guys I looked like a child playing dress up.
I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed these two days, it was by far and away one of the best training courses I’ve done and in great company. Walking into a building, that you are fairly sure will be a total sausage fest, can be intimidating as a lady of below average stature. I was a bit worried about lads, lads, lads attitudes and I was entirely, completely, happily wrong. These guys are literally facing their own mortality in their day to day work and I think that contributes to their winning attitude towards inclusion and support. If you’re in the UK (or even if you aren’t) these guys are the ones to train with.
So anyway…enough of my sycophantic ramblings. The course itself was a mixture of theory and practical work over two days at the fire station. For classroom stuff we were in the very experienced and capable hands of Rob (OBE) who taught us the theory of fire and instilled the key lesson ‘don’t have a fire on a boat’.
The practical stuff was where my inner pyromaniac had a field day. Except it wasn’t that ‘inner’ and the guys clocked the mad eye gleam instantly. I mean come ooooon, who doesn’t love burning stuff?! (If anything burns down in suspicious circumstances I would like to categorically state now that it definitely wasn’t me, I’m too much of a goodie two shoes for that kind of carry on). We got to watch sprinkler systems in action, tackle fires with different kinds of extinguishers and practice rolling out hose. We sat in burning hot rooms with a fire on the other side, used fire blankets and generally got a lesson in not fucking with the hot burny stuff.
The days were leading up to a final exercise where we would be working in teams to go inside the faux ship they have out in the yard and rescue a casualty while tackling a blaze with a fire hose. We were fitted with breathing apparatus which includes a full face mask, harness and tank…for me it was basically just like diving so I had no troubles but if you’re claustrophobic then you aren’t going to like this one bit. If you are claustrophobic I would question your decision to pursue a yachting career in the first place, crew quarters on boats aren’t exactly known for being roomy.
That afternoon we were split into teams and myself, Lee and Jason were the last team to enter the boat, tackling two fires, rescuing a casualty and moving through three rooms. This meant we had to drag in a massive amount of hose and that shit is stupid heavy when it’s full of water. It was exhausting, sweaty, exhilarating and just straight up awesome. I never want to face it for real so I guess the ‘don’t have fires’ lesson was firmly entrenched.
If you have a nervous disposition and a fear of enclosed spaces you might struggle with this part of the course. If you’re like me and enjoy a good fire, don’t mind crawling through a pitch black tunnel and really want to work on a boat then you are going to love it. If money was no object I would do it every year.
I booked my course through Sea Regs in Plymouth, UK and they put me in touch with the fire station for my course. I had to pay separately to each company, the fire training portion was £546 and worth every penny.
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