By: Trevor Crone, Rigzone Analyst
Figuring out what you want to be when you grow up or considering a major career change can be a daunting task. For most professions, you have a pretty good idea of what will be expected of you. If you think you want to pursue a career in the offshore drilling industry you’re almost taking a leap of faith because without having been there it’s impossible to know what it’s going to be like. Hopefully I can shed some light on the offshore experience help you to have a smooth transition into this rewarding industry.
When I broke into the offshore drilling industry in 2001 I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into. My total knowledge of the industry was that the money was pretty good, the time off was great but the work could be hazardous at times. A few friends of mine had worked offshore as roustabouts and roughnecks during the summer while they were on break from school. They were excited when I shared my plan with them and were eager to pass along useful pieces of advice like “don’t get killed” and “don’t fall overboard.” Now those are extremely good suggestions that everyone should definitely follow but they weren’t exactly helpful in getting me ready for what awaited.
Just getting hired proved to be a lot more difficult than I had expected. Most drilling contractors are only interested in you if you have at least 6-months of experience. I didn’t have 6-minutes of experience so most of my job applications got no response. The adage “it’s not what you know but who you know” is alive and well in the oilfield. Network every chance you get!
After several discouraging months I caught a lucky break; I was contacted by a friend of a friend of a friend who was a barge engineer. We spoke for a while over the phone and he agreed to deliver my application to his HR department. A week later I was called in for an interview which was followed up by a thorough physical and a week after that I was on my way to a dock to catch a crew boat. The hiring process can move quickly for offshore positions and when they call, you’re usually needed within a few days so be prepared.
Most companies will have some sort of initial training program they’ll put you through to prepare you for life on a rig as well as to give you the basic knowledge you’ll need to function safely out there. During this 1 or 2-week long training period you’ll likely get a few certifications out of the way such as basic firefighting, CPR and rigger’s training. At the training site, the company is also likely to provide you with whatever items of clothing they’ll require you to wear while you’re working. From there, it’s either off to your rig or home for a few days until they figure out which operation needs personnel the most.
Roustabout is an entry level position and the duties are somewhat different depending on whether you’re assigned to a semisub, drillship or jackup. Regardless of the rig, you’ll be working for one of the crane operators and there will be a lot of cleaning and painting in your future. Being a roustabout definitely isn’t rocket science but it puts you in a position to observe and assist with almost every position onboard your rig. Pay attention, work hard and identify other positions onboard that interest you.
You’ll be expected to work a 12-hour shift which is called a “tour”. Time should pass by quickly while you’re on tour because there is never a shortage of tasks to accomplish. When you’re off tour your goals should be to clean up, eat and get some sleep. Most rigs will have some sort of a TV/movie room and workout facilities. Wifi is also pretty common as well as TVs in a lot of rooms. Bear in mind that a lot of this depends on the type and age of rig you’re assigned to. You should also be prepared to eat due to the galley serving 4 meals per day and a never-ending rotation of deserts. I gained almost 10 pounds after my first few months.
Possibly the most important ingredient of a successful transition offshore is the rig crew. You’ll be working with a group of people that hail from several different areas with varying degrees of education. As you get to know them, you’ll find out that you share hobbies and beliefs with many of them and that there is some underlying aspect of your personalities that caused each of you to gravitate to the offshore industry. In short, you’ll make some of the strongest bonds of your life.
People tend to argue that you miss out on too much while you’re away. You just need to decide if missing a few holidays and birthdays is a fair trade for a handsome salary and the freedom of having 2 to 4 weeks off at a time. If you decide that this type of work is for you, visit Rigzone’s Career Center to start your search. Posting your resume is free and you can apply for as many jobs as you like. Also, take a look at the Rigzone Salary Tracker to get an idea of what wages are being paid for various positions in the industry.