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  • What to take to sea

    suitcases.jpgFrom the pen of our esteemed member Hatchorder...

    Here I sit, remembering my first trip to sea, and all the things I took that I did not need, and all the things I should have taken that nobody told me about. So my son, who is just about to start his cadetship, turns around and says “Dad, what will I need to take away to sea?” I got to work and produced a spreadsheet. Then came the inevitable questions of “why that?” so I started adding notes. By the end it was a work of art and I got to thinking “How many cadets do not have the luxury of an ex seafarer to help them or an adult with too much time on their hands and a passion for doing things to the nth degree and getting things spot on?”

    The spreadsheet actually prints out on a single sheet and is split up into 9 separate sections. Below I have separated each section and added notes as to why things are on the list.


    1) Uniform

    Uniform No
    Jumper 1
    Long sleeve shirts 3
    Short sleeved shirts 3
    Black Trousers 2
    White shorts 3
    White socks 3
    Epaulets 1
    Black Tie 1
    Black Shoes 1
    Shoe Shine Kit 1
    Prescription Glasses 2
    Sunglasses 1
    Glasses Wipes 50
    Check with somebody in the company about whether you will need a Uniform Cap, tropical uniform, Uniform Jacket etc.

    For many years I took my cap to every ship and never had to wear it. The first time I left it at home the skipper asked me on the bridge on my first standby “where is your hat?”…… Doh!

    Some companies use grey uniform, and if you get onto anchor handlers many of them have no uniform at all. Do not be afraid to ask someone in the company before you travel to join the ship what you will need for that voyage.

    If you need glasses take a spare pair. You will not have time to have a new pair made if you only have one pair and you break them. If you use contacts take enough to last the trip and a bit longer and don’t forget all your cleaning kit, pots etc if you use anything other than daily disposables.

    Sunglasses for watch keeping or looking cool going ashore! Prescription ones if you need to.

    Ladies, swap trousers for skirts on the list if you want! I’m not being sexist, lads you can pack a skirt if you want….. Shhhhhh!

    2) Casuals


    Casuals No
    Underwear / socks 8
    Jeans / Slacks 3
    Shorts 2
    Tops 5
    Shore Shoes 1
    Ship comfy shoes 1
    Coat 1
    Fleece 1
    Swimming Trunks 1
    Flip flops 1
    Sun Hat / Cap 1
    You may not be going somewhere too hot or too cold so make a judgement call on the things you need.
    Some people take slippers with them for slumming around their cabins during down time. Always take a weeks worth of underwear + 1. You may need a reserve pair if you get wet or chuck a cup of coffee all over yourself.

    Also remember that you will need light coloured underwear if you are wearing tropicals, as anything dark will show through. Ladies that means white bras! It may sound obvious now but come the day you pack and mum is clucking around you like mother hen, you may forget…

    Swimming trunks may not be necessary unless there is a pool on board or you are a “bronzy merchant” and spend every spare moment out on deck catching rays. I cannot ever remember taking trunks or flip flops to Anchor Handlers in the North Sea! In fact, I can only remember taking a big sports bag asit was only for 4 weeks and I did not need uniform.

    3) Work wear

    Work No
    Boiler Suits 2
    Rig Boots (Safety) 1
    T shirts 5
    Leather work gloves 2
    Woolly hat 1
    Torch 2AA (Maglite) 1
    Torch with red filter 1
    Lock Knife 1
    Multi Tool 1
    Some companies issue PPE on board, some supply it to you beforehand, some make you supply your own boiler suits but provide everything else. Check before you pack.

    Make sure you know what you need by asking. Leather work gloves for Deckies are a good idea as gloves onboard may not be good quality. If you always have to wear a hard hat get a woolly hat that is microfleece type, that way you can put it on under your hard hat. Again, if you are not going anywhere cold then don’t bother.

    For engineers the 2AA Torch needs to be swapped for a bigger C or D torch. The reason I mention a 2nd small AAA torch for deckies is because you can put a little red filter over the lens (A Quality Street wrapper!) and use it on the bridge. That way you do not destroy your night vision when you put on the chart table lamp if you just want to check something quickly. Don’t forget spare batteries.

    The Lock Knife needs to be a good quality stainless Steel one of a decent size. An Opinel Messer Number 12 is a good knife and not too pricey. A Gerber Suspension Multi Tool is also handy.

    Another question, Do you want your own ear defenders? Not really necessary as a deckie but a must for engineers.

    Just remember all knives and tools need to be packed into your hold luggage, otherwise you will lose them at the airport.

    4) College work

    College Work No
    Notebook 2
    Biro 2
    Pencil & Rubber 2
    Colour pencils 1
    A4 Paper pads 2
    Folder 1
    Calculator 1
    Envelopes 30
    Writing Paper pad 2
    Ruler 1
    You will need to take away any work you need to do, and whilst it may be possible to rob the Office of the odd rubber and pen the ship is not there to provide a full shop of things, so take it with you (and don’t get caught by the C/O nicking stuff!)

    You may not always have access to email or the Internet, depending on your employers’ policy, so get writing letters! Also, whilst getting email is great, letters from loved ones are still appreciated. Get anyone who writes to you to either write the date on the back of the envelope or number them. There is nothing worse than reading your mail in the wrong order when 5 letters turn up at the same time. Whilst you may be thinking this is a bit soppy just wait until you are on the other side of the world on your Birthday or Xmas and then you will be picking up you letters and reading them again. I was in a little port in South Island New Zealand (Port Chalmers) for my 21st. Got a great pewter tankard from the Officers, had a great, great, great time ashore - but still missed everyone at home!

    5) Cabin

    Cabin No
    Laptop & Charger 1
    Speakers & Power 1
    External Hard drive 1
    USB Memory Stick 2
    Camera/Video & Charger 1
    Ebook & Charger 1
    Mp3 player & Charger 1
    Earphones 2
    Alarm clock 1
    SW Radio 1
    Multi gang socket 1
    Euro Adaptor plug 1
    Mug 1
    Playing Cards 2
    First of all very few ships have UK sockets, so get a travel adaptor. Secondly the electricity is 60Hz, whereas UK is 50Hz. Why is this important? Because most mains alarm clock works on the frequency of the power source so you will find your alarm clock gains 12 minutes per hour! Get a battery alarm clock and take some spare batteries. Thirdly, the electricity on a ship is not as clean as at home, so get a 4 or 6 gang surge protected socket. It will not stop anything really nasty but will go a long way to protecting your sensitive electronics.

    Taking 6 films on DVD will seem a bad idea after the first week so get an external drive and rip all your films to the hard drive using free software off the internet. If people want to blag a film copy it to a memory stick for them. The last thing you want is them destroying a 300 film collection. Remember that some countries will allow you to travel with a laptop but not external drives, so check before you travel what is allowed. Also, please do remember that if you have some “unusual” films with you it could get you into a lot of trouble with the authorities. If you must have it make sure it is encrypted, renamed and hidden, but this is not me condoning or condemning it, just being a realist.


    Memory sticks with the essential stuff, college work, email etc. backed up on them will stop tears later if things “disappear”. I left a ship in Venezuela once, with another cadet, and we got to the little regional airport, and were taken to one side and asked to open our bags. The 2 customs guys then took all our cameras, tape players (shows my age!), calculators, watches etc out of our luggage and then told us to repack. When we asked for our electrical goods they then drew their pistols and asked us if we wanted to leave Venezuela! They then shadowed us to the plane so we could not report them. Scariest hour in an airport, EVER!

    The best small and relatively cheap SW radio is the Tecsun PL380 radio. Get it on ebay!

    Learn to play cards but never partner the Captain in Bridge, they always play badly but you can never tell them they are pants at it! Two Club opening bid? Plonker! Finally don’t forget your favourite mug!

    6) Documents

    Documents No
    Passport 1
    Discharge book 1
    ENG 1 1
    MNTB Record Book 1
    Certificates 1
    Driving Licence 1
    Glasses prescription 1
    Medicine prescriptions 1
    Credit Card / Debit Card 1
    Electronic copies of all Documents 1
    Spare passport photos 4
    Home Photos
    Never pack any of these into your hold luggage, if it gets lost, you lose it all.

    If you have prescription medication or glasses take a spare prescription with you. It is easier to get stuff from a prescription than it is to start from scratch.

    Scan all of your documents, print copies but put digital copies on your memory stick. You will then have more information to hand if you ever lose any documents.

    Take your driving licence. We got stuck in Melbourne for 10 days and Sydney for 12 days when the Aussie Dockers had one of their many go slow strikes (1 container per hour!) so the Captain gave us days of in turn to go and explore but we needed driving licences to hire cars so only a couple of people could drive. The rest of us had to stick with drinking – shame!

    Always take a copy of the pages of your discharge book after every voyage as well as your Watchkeeping certificates. If you ever lose it you WILL need the proof.

    Photos from home, digital or framed help to personalise your cabin.

    7) Washkit


    Washkit No
    Shaving Kit/Spare foil 1
    Soap 5
    Showergel 3
    Toothpaste 3
    Toothbrush 1
    Deodorant 2
    Shampoo/Conditioner 2
    After Shave 1
    Suncream 1
    Nail Clippers 1
    Sewing Kit 1
    Cotton Buds 50
    Some ships provide soap, from memory it was always Lux, the only thing it was good for was bartering with the bum boats in Suez. Chief Steward always got his locker raided before we got there. So unless you want to smell like auntie’s linen drawer then take your own. Ships always have small stocks of stuff but don’t bet on them having your particular choice. More likely on cruise ships though, but you will pay over the odds!

    If you have an electric toothbrush take the charger, if you have an electric razor take a spare foil and the lead. Nothing worse than a split foil 1 month into the voyage and scratching yourself to death for weeks!
    Ladies, you know all the other things you need. Take enough. You may never get the chance to go ashore and top up. A sewing kit can be bought for as little as a couple of quid off Amazon.

    Remember brushes and makeup and beard trimmers if you use them. Same goes for you ladies!

    I know many of you will raid mums cupboards at home for the little things like nail clippers and cotton buds last minute. Why not get them sorted now and save her wishing you gone in the last few days before you join ship!

    8) First Aid


    First Aid No
    Prescription medicines 1
    Paracetamol 100
    Ibuprofen 100
    Sturgeron 15 60
    Plasters 20
    Vaseline 1
    E45 / Skin cream 1
    Mosquito spray 1
    Antibiotic ointment 1
    If you have any prescription medications make sure you have enough for your voyage. Unless you are on a cruise ship the nearest you will get to a doctor is a “Pan Pan Medico” in the middle of the ocean.

    Tablets, whatever your poison for a headache or backache take them. The last thing the designated medical officer needs is paperwork and running to the medical locker for 2 paracetamol. Some people may need Sturgeron 15 for seasickness, but some others keep a packet if the weather is really rough so you can get a nights sleep, as they are slightly sedative. Pitching up and down in a force 10 in the North Sea in an Anchor Handler means nobody gets any sleep and even a damp towel across your bunk will not stop you falling out of your bunk so forget Sturgeron then. Remember the only guaranteed cure for seasickness is to sit under an apple tree.

    Vaseline for protecting split skin (despite the scare stories about needing it for visiting the Bosun!).


    A good antibiotic cream is Neosporin which you can now buy on Amazon.

    Remember if you do feel seasick, eat a spoonful of Jam. It does not stop you being sick but does make everything taste much better when it comes back up!

    9) Luggage


    Luggage No
    Main Bag 1
    Hand luggage bag 1
    Washbag 1
    Bag Locks / Cable ties 2
    Laundry Bag 1
    Luggage always causes trouble! First of all buy good stuff. Trust me it will pay off in the long term.
    The first option is to go for something like the Victorinox CH97 Explorer 36" Wheeled Duffel bag. £200 ish, but tough as hell and I think it has a lifetime warranty. Trust me at the point you are trying to lug a traditional suitcase up a 40 degree narrow gangway or you are stood watching the contents of your suitcase travel around baggage reclaim with your mankini on top - without any sign of your suitcase - you will wish you listened!


    Hand luggage should be airline max size, big enough to take your laptop, all your documents and a small amount of clothes. That way if your main bag goes walkies you are not stood on the bridge feeling like a pillock in jeans and a t-shirt for 8 days because your luggage has not caught up with you. Put a small selection in your hand luggage, enough to last a couple of days. Happened to me in Spain once. Not funny having to wash out 1 pair of skiddies and socks by hand every night and no shaver for 8 days! Things like boiler suits soap and shampoo you can borrow for a few days, but personal stuff – nah! Something like the Swissgear GA-7001-02F00 Comp-U-Roller is ideal. That does have a lifetime warranty.
    The next alternative is to go for a Rucksac instead of the Duffel bag. Make sure it is 80 litres in size. However I do have reservations. First of all they do seem to have a lot of loose straps and I have seen them get caught up in conveyors at the airport and be ripped apart. Secondly things always seem to come out of them creased no matter how well you pack them.

    There is a third alternative, go cheap and throw them out when they get trashed!

    Tesco’s have a promotion on at the moment to get Swiss Luggage stuff at low prices. Have a look at them.

    Finally get a couple of travel padlocks. Make sure they are TSA approved. That way the customs can open them with a special key and they guarantee your contents if they do open them. (They have a special insurance to cover it.) If you get locks with Searchcheck indicators then you will know if it has been opened. Finally if it is Okoban then you can register every trip on the website and people can track you down if they find your luggage. Free for life. Some of the companies guarantee to replace your locks for free if they are cut off. One that does everything is the Tripneeds Trackerlock 400 Tsa Lock With Okoban And Searchcheck. £10 each.

    Remember your washbag needs to be in your hold luggage for the liquids, make sure your nail clippers, scissors and sewing kit are in there as well.

    A laundry bag, pillowcase size, means you don’t leave a trail of dirty undies down the passageway when you go to wash your kit on a Sunday. Ladies, trust me you do not want someone handing you your favourite pink thong later in the day, or find them pinned to a bulkhead! You can also hang it on your door to put the dirty stuff in. The bag – not the thong! Stops the Captain pulling you up on Cabin Inspection as well.

    Always check with your company what your baggage allowance is for each flight. Most companies ensure you will have 35 or 40 kg. Enough in my day for all the above, a No 1Barathea jacket, Uniform Cap, a sextant and a set of “Nories” in place of a laptop!

    Don’t forget, the above list is for a trip of 3 to 4 months, modify your lists for the length of trip, and ladies, if you have long hair you might want to pack more shampoo and conditioner.

    Got a hobby? Take something away with you to do. In my day there was rug making, plastic models, matchstick modelling, fancy knots and ropework. There may be more modern hobbies that appeal. Just remember you need something small that will pack easily and will last more than 3 days.

    You will get to know what you need after your first couple of trips. In the meantime use a list, any list, and make it work for you. Just remember to ask your mum / wife / partner the day before you go away to sew buttons on, buy wash kit, press uniform, buy underwear and help you find your passport, discharge book and tickets. I know it always helped my mum to wave me off with a smile!

    Ian.
    Attached Files

    • stronglead
      #35
      stronglead commented
      Editing a comment
      Make sure you have spread your weight too, ie don't have all your heavy stuff at one end, it's a bugger (ive done it)

      I took to much first trip like everyone, the things I didnt use at all and where left in the place i thre them when i go onboard, I took note of and took out for the next trip

    • Silvertop
      #36
      Silvertop commented
      Editing a comment
      Best get used to the bare minimum now, otherwise you'll end up like me, after 25 years I still overpack and wonder why I brought so much stuff away with me!! Plus all the goodies my wife gives me to take away..

    • Clanky
      #37
      Clanky commented
      Editing a comment
      Someone once gave me good advice for kayaking trips, they said when you come home make 3 piles, stuff you used every day in the first pile, stuff you used every other day or every few days in the second pile and stuff you never used in the third pile.

      Next time you go don't take anything from the second or third piles.
    Posting comments is disabled.

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    1) Uniform

    Uniform No
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    White shorts 3
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    Ladies, swap trousers for skirts on the list if you want! I’m not being sexist, lads you can pack a skirt if you want….. Shhhhhh!

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    Shore Shoes 1
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