Former Clyde Marine Training (CMT) cadet Paul Macleod was recently promoted to Captain at the age of 27. Commanding a marine protection vessel for Marine Scotland Directorate of the Scottish Government, Paul is the youngest person to be appointed Captain in the organisation’s history. Paul kindly answered questions on his cadetship with CMT and his career to date, offering advice to others setting out on a career at sea.
Why did you want to go to sea?
I wanted to go to sea for a few reasons but the main one I believe is because growing up in a remote part of the Isle of Lewis on the coast, I was brought up around boats and the sea, so it was something I was used to from a young age and enjoyed a lot. My father worked at sea as does my older brother, so this influenced my choice as well not only to follow in their footsteps but hearing first-hand how much of an enjoyable and rewarding career it can be.
Why did you join CMT for your merchant navy cadetship?
I started my seafaring career at Lews Castle College, studying the ‘Access to Merchant Navy’ course that they offer, which was a great transition between school and my cadetship. It was through this that I was made aware of CMT, and towards the end of the course, a representative from CMT came to the college and interviewed those who wanted to undertake a merchant navy cadetship with them, which I was very fortunately successful in and am thankful to this day for that opportunity.
What are your memories of your Merchant Navy cadetship with CMT?
My CMT cadetship was very enjoyable, and I met lots of good people, many of whom I am still friends with today. CMT have a great reputation and have a lot of merchant navy cadets go through them every year because they know the industry and look after their cadets during the three-year cadetship. The cadetship can be challenging but very rewarding in the end when you gain your certificate of competency from the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA). The tough exams you will do over the three years sets you up well for the MCA’s exams, and there is no better feeling than passing that final one. There can be difficult moments when you are on your ‘sea phases’ away from home and family, but they are all worth it in the end. You will meet lots of different people and cultures and travel to many parts of the world, which at a young age can be daunting but at the same time you will gain valuable life lessons.
Tell us about your first trip to sea as a merchant navy cadet and how it affected you and your ambitions?
My first trip at sea was on a 220 metre, 2,000 TEU Containership called ‘Ocean Promise’. The first few days were hard. I missed home and I felt very lonely. But as the days passed and I got to know the crew, started getting stuck into the work onboard and started seeing different ports in the world, I really started to enjoy it. Things at sea have changed quite a lot now and communication is much better with Wifi on most ships so you can keep in touch with home. It is important not to spend all your free time on your phone/computers, and you should get out and about, socialise and learn as much as you can about your ship and your department (deck or engine). This will be of massive benefit in the long run, and experiences you gain even as a cadet will set you up well for a career at sea.
When at CMT can you describe the excitement and camaraderie amongst cadets about their future careers?
As mentioned above, my CMT cadetship was very enjoyable and I met lots of good people, many of whom I am still friends with today. All of the cadets you start with on day one are in the same position as you and will know little about being at sea. You will all go away on your sea phases on your different ships before returning to college again where you will share lots of different stories and experiences between you. All are valuable and you never know when you will come across something that another colleague has seen or done in their time at sea.
What do you think are the reasons for your quick rise to the rank of Captain?
The MCA changed the criteria for when you were eligible to sit Chief Mates/Masters certificate of competencies a number of years ago, so through this, and the opportunities given to me where I work now, I was able to obtain my Chief Mate’s after sailing as 2nd mate for 12 months and then obtain my Masters after sailing in rank as Chief Mate for over 12 months. This fast-track method has made obtaining senior certificates much more achievable at a younger age. Lots of hard work and dedication are required along the way too. I have been with my current employer for over seven years now sailing in all ranks, so I know the job well.
What part has the CMT cadetship played in you achieving your career ambitions?
Without CMT, I wouldn’t be at sea today, and I am forever thankful to them and my training manager for the opportunities they gave me. I was not very good at maths at school and didn’t particularly enjoy it. However, maths is required for working at sea, so during my first phase at college it was critical that I passed my navigational maths exams. My training manager at CMT supported me in this and fortunately I got through it. By the time I came back to college to do my Chief Mate’s, I didn’t mind maths anymore and was actually quite good at it. CMT enabled me to get my 12 months sea time during my cadetship through my sponsor company, which again, I wouldn’t be able to sit my MCA exams without.
What do you recommend about a merchant navy cadetship to those interested?
I can confidently say that working at sea is an excellent career choice and has been great for me and my lifestyle. I work three weeks on, three weeks off rota, so at the end of my three weeks at sea, I can look forward to a full three weeks off at home relaxing. The cadetship is the first step to that, whether you work in the deck department or engine. Both are great careers and can open a range of career paths even if you don’t want to be at sea all of your life. One bit of advice I would offer is stick at it. There will be tough times, especially at sea, but push yourself to obtain your certificate of competency, and don’t stop at the last hurdle, no matter how difficult the MCA exams get.
Tell us about your current role as Captain
As Captain, I am in overall command of the ship and responsible for everyone onboard, the ship itself and the environment. My decisions and actions have a direct impact on all those things mentioned, so I am constantly planning what to do and where to go next, taking weather and lots of other factors into account. I also do all the Manoeuvring of the ship in and out of ports, which is very enjoyable. One of the things the Marine Scotland Directorate of the Scottish Government is responsible for is monitoring fishing activities in Scottish waters, which requires us to board and inspect fishing vessels to ensure they are complying with the law. My day-to-day job is ensuring we achieve this.
What is the best thing about being a seafarer?
The best thing about being a seafarer is probably the time off. As mentioned before, you get long spells at home after a trip to relax, reset and go again. The job can be very rewarding too, and you’ll meet lots of characters along the way.
What is the biggest challenge in your job?
The job as Captain has many challenges. It is very difficult to pick one as the biggest but being responsible for the crew’s safety is always of course the number one priority, so this is always on your mind. Crewing matters/issues can often be very challenging too.
Was the bond/friendships you made with fellow cadets lasting?
As mentioned previously, I still have several people I consider to be close friends who I met during my cadetship. I have even sailed with some of the in my current job since completing my cadetship!
Is there anything you would like to add?
Re-iterating the advice that the career is definitely worth sticking with and at the very least obtaining your certificate of competency. Unless of course you get very sea-sick or do not enjoy being at sea at all.
To find out how you can begin your career at sea visit our Merchant Navy Careers page to find out the benefits and options open to you.