In the latest of our series of articles focusing on Clyde Marine Training (CMT) Alumni, we spoke to Neil Atkinson, Head of Fleetwood Nautical Campus, who held a number of seafaring roles after graduating, as well as Harbour Master and Pilot, before taking up his current role, focused on producing the next generation of Merchant Navy officers.
Neil provides us with an insight to his own time as a cadet and advice to anyone else embarking on the same path.
Why did you originally want to go to sea?
Living in Fleetwood and growing up around the sea I always had an interest in anything to do with the sea. A family friend who was a lecturer at Fleetwood Nautical Campus suggested I should go to a night class there to see if I was interested in a career at sea, which I did and that’s where my career at sea and involvement with Fleetwood Nautical Campus started. I can honestly say it was the best thing I ever did!
What did you enjoy most about your cadetship with CMT?
I thoroughly enjoyed my deep-sea days, tramping worldwide on bulk carriers with Souter Shipping, seeing the world and sailing with some fantastic people. On reflection, my college time prepared me for the sea phases and set me up well for the future.
And what was the biggest challenge during your cadetship?
I don’t think there was a single biggest challenge. It took time to get used to being away from home, but I wouldn’t say this was a huge challenge. As with all jobs there are times when it gets hard, but as a Chief Engineer once told me the harder it gets, the harder you have to work. I have found this to be true, all though now I would add to work smarter not just harder.
When you were a cadet did you think there was a pathway to onshore roles in Marine?
When I was a cadet, I was just focused on gaining the sea time and returning for the next college phase. Talking to officers onboard I was aware that there were pathways to onshore roles. I was fortunate to move ashore into pilotage before returning to Fleetwood Nautical Campus. I am still in contact with a number of people who I have sailed with who are in various roles in the industry from pilotage to surveying.
How do you think cadetships compare today?
I think that cadetships still provide the ideal first stepping stone into the maritime industry, whether you stay at sea or eventually come ashore. The skills that cadets learn that are transferrable into a number of roles are second to none. That is why so many shore based roles require seagoing qualifications and experience.
What were your highlights of your career at sea?
The highlights of my career at sea were without a doubt passing my OOW, Mates and then Master’s exams leading to eventually the ultimate highlight taking command of my first ship as Master.
What was it like moving from an offshore role to an onshore role?
I came ashore into a role as a Harbour Master and Pilot so still managed to get afloat piloting ships on a regular basis, so I had the best of both worlds as I transitioned to family life ashore. I still teach in the simulators so still get to keep my hand in without leaving the building.
You are a mentor in the marine industry, what drives you to do this?
I consider myself to have been very fortunate in my career that I had a number of excellent mentors, so my driver is to try and be a mentor to other people in the hope they get as much out of it as I did during my career.
Please tell us about your role at Fleetwood Nautical Campus.
My role as Head of Campus covers a wide range of things, and no two days are the same. I get involved in everything from the cadet’s induction on day one right through to their graduation ceremony when they finish their cadetship and everything in between.
You are a recipient of the Merchant Navy Medal – can you summarise why were you awarded?
I was awarded the Merchant Navy Medal in 2020 for services to maritime education. You don’t get to find out who nominated you or supported the nomination, but I am delighted to have received the medal for something that is so important to me. Without maritime education, starting out with cadets, we would have no maritime industry!
What has been the biggest challenge in your career?
During my time at sea we had a number of emergencies, from fires to oil spills, which all provided their own challenges. Having responsibility for the launch and departure of a nuclear submarine whilst Harbour Master was a huge but enjoyable challenge. Whilst ashore managing the campus during covid and returning after the pandemic has been another huge challenge.
What piece of advice would you give to those considering a cadetship with CMT?
You will only get out of it what you put into it, so put 110% into everything you do from day one. Whilst currently you may only be focused on the first few years of your career as a cadet, the opportunities for you to progress into the wider maritime industry are almost limitless.
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
Gaining my Masters, taking over as Master, qualifying as a pilot, taking over as Head of Campus, being awarded the Merchant Navy Medal, there are too many to pick from.
Was the bond/friendships you made with fellow cadets lasting?
I believe that the bond and friendships that you make with other cadets is really important and that continues as you bond and make friendships with officers that you sail with, some of who I am still in touch with and working on projects with to this day. So, yes the bonds and friendships that you make are certainly lasting.