From a distance, even the short distance from the deck of the tug to the deck of the ship, an outside observer can't tell much about what life is like on board any particular ship. Busy guys in coveralls bustle around the deck; the crews of tugs or bunker barges may interact with them briefly, and note that they seem happy and energetic, or unhappy and harassed. And then they're gone - and for most outside observers, they essentially cease to exist.
But earlier in my career I sailed in tankers, and I know something of shipboard life. So I know, as do you, that what is visible to the outsider tells him almost nothing about what life is really like on board that ship.
What makes shipboard life good or bad? Many sailors would agree that being paid on time, including proper pay for overtime, would be a big factor. How about food? Chow time can be the high point (or else the low point) of a day at sea, and over time, diet will affect a seaman's health. Communication: does the company provide internet access, at least email, on board - and voice communication when necessary, such as in family emergencies? Or vessel routing plans: are they available to be shared with the crew - ideally, before shipping on board - so that a mariner can evaluate piracy risks with that company before taking the job?
There are many factors one might take into account, and since - once signed on board - you'll have to live with those factors for months on end, they loom large in importance.
But unless you can talk with someone who has actually worked for a company, you may not learn the score until too late. We know what happened to the crew of MV ICEBERG 1, for instance - though that's a particularly bad case. What to do?
This Mariners Action Group blog post from over a year ago talked about our idea of establishing a company rating service, powered by confidential reviews from seamen who had worked for that company and had actual experience with the conditions. At that time, we had been talking with some larger, well-established maritime sites about implementing the idea. But it turned out that no one was really interested.
So Mariners Action Group has gone ahead and implemented a company rating tool for ourselves. If you haven't seen it already, look under the "MORE" menu at the top of the page and click "Seafarers Rate Your Companies". You'll see a page where you can enter a shipping company's name, the date of your experience on board, a checkoff list of common issues you might have experienced with that company, and a box to enter any other comments you may have, good or bad. Then hit "Submit". No personal information is taken - your entry will be anonymous.
Once you've made an entry, it will be collected and added to a database of seafarers' comments about their companies. That list will appear on another page, which you can reach from the "MORE" menu by clicking "Company Ratings"; or, the same page can be reached directly from the "HOME" page by clicking the blue "Company Ratings" button.
Please look at the company rating tool, and think about adding your experiences. If there is something that you think your brother seafarers should know about a company you have worked for, use the rating tool to tell them - before they pay a price. Your participation will determine whether the rating system works! They and their families will thank you.