Got What It Takes? Skills to Succeed Offshore

By: Trevor Crone, Rigzone Analyst

If you read the first installment of “Got What It Takes?” you’ve no doubt been wondering if/when I would present you with another round of my unique perspective on the offshore drilling business. Well this is your lucky day! In case you missed it, Part I included an account of the hiring process and a brief description of life onboard an offshore drilling rig. With Part II, it’s my goal to give you some insight on the skills and attributes that should allow an individual to excel offshore.

To start with, you probably need to be a little crazy. I don’t mean crazy like that shady person at your office who everyone assumes lives alone with 20 cats, but crazy in the sense that your idea of adventure is just a little riskier than what is commonly accepted by most people. Safety in the industry has come a long way since the early days but there are some inherent risks you need to be ready to accept. Offshore drilling rigs contain an abnormally large amount of equipment that is big, heavy and under pressure. That’s mainly because the formations that you’re attempting to drill contain a lot of pressure that needs to be counteracted. When was the last time you were trying to get to the water cooler in your office and the hallway was blocked with caution tape because high-pressure piping was being tested? It happens a lot on a rig so get used to having to take the long, inconvenient way to get there.

Being physically fit is just as important as being slightly crazy. That’s not to say that offshore hands all look like characters in Magic Mike (I’ve never seen that movie) but being in reasonable shape will make your transition offshore a lot easier. Remember that route to the water cooler that’s blocked because of pressure testing? Your detour offshore probably involves walking up and down 3 flights of stairs. And you’re probably carrying something heavy. And it’s either really hot or really cold. And you’re wearing fire-retardant coveralls … you get the point. After arriving onboard from my time off, it always took my legs a day or two to reacclimate myself with the constant climbing of stairs.

Climbing a lot of stairs means you’re gaining elevation. This makes drilling rigs bad places for people who are afraid of heights. Exterior stairs and walkways are typically situated on the perimeter of the rig so you’re always very near an edge. Roustabouts frequently travel on personnel baskets to transport themselves and their equipment to and from supply boats. A crane then picks you up and sets you down where you need to be, which isn’t nearly as simple as it sounds when your destination is the deck of a boat in rough seas. Older variations of the personnel basket required a person to hang on to the outside of the basket while their gear rode safely in the middle. As you can imagine, the stress of that circumstance is greatly reduced if you are “crazy”, fit and aren’t afraid of heights.

It’s my opinion that anyone in possession of these three qualities can readily adapt themselves to the offshore working environment. However, it’s not all about work. The rig becomes your second home. You have to be able to live out there. I’ve seen very few people quit because they couldn’t handle the physical demands of the job, but I’ve seen many people quit because they couldn’t adapt to being confined in an isolated metal box for weeks at a time. Rigs do offer a few comforts that most people are accustomed to like television, internet, good food and recreational facilities. But the hard truth is that seeing the same faces, machinery and horizon every day in such a confined area is difficult to take for some people. Space comes at a premium on offshore rigs so personal areas, like rooms and work spaces, tend to be pretty small, and there isn’t a lot of privacy to be had. These circumstances demand an individual with an easy-going attitude that won’t let close quarters and distance from family and friends get to them.

Of course there are material skills that go a long way towards helping people succeed in many offshore positions. Rigs are full of machinery and machinery breaks. Yes there is a mechanic on board, but he’s probably tied up fixing something else so you’ll often need to roll your sleeves up and start turning wrenches. Some people are more mechanically inclined than others, but it’s a skill that can be learned and improved with practice. I recommend that you start taking apart the major appliances in your house and attempt to rebuild them. The results will give you a good indication of where you land on the mechanically-inclined scale. Knot tying is another highly valuable skill and one that far too many people don’t possess. Learn the blowline, clove hitch and rolling half hitch. I personally guarantee that these knots will come in handy many times over.

The latest downturn in the industry means that operators are cutting budgets and putting projects on hold. It’s not the greatest time to be looking for a job offshore, but it is an excellent time to polish up your skills, get in shape and decide if this is a career you really want to pursue. History assures us that the price of oil will go back up and companies will begin to spend money again. There are a lot of new rigs coming out of shipyards. When the market turns back around, drilling contractors are going to need hands to crew those rigs. If you’re even remotely interested in entering an exciting career field with great pay and 6 months off each year, I strongly urge you to create an account with the Rigzone Career Center. When the market goes back up, a hiring rush is going to happen so be proactive and get ahead of it.

Sidebar: Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, ideas or topics you’d like me to cover please leave them below or tweet me @RZOffshoreGuy.

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