Sun | Aug 1, 2021

Oran Hall | Life after cruise ship employment

Published:Sunday | February 24, 2019 | 12:31 AM
A Royal Caribbean cruise ship docked at the port of Falmouth in Jamaica.
A Royal Caribbean cruise ship docked at the port of Falmouth in Jamaica.


How would you like being at work while at the same time getting an opportunity to see other parts of the world?

Working on a cruise ship offers such an opportunity and although it provides many opportunities to improve financial well-being, it rarely provides lifelong employment and thus creates its own set of challenges.

Cruise ships are like hotels in many ways. They offer many facilities and services to people who want some adventure, time away from the hustle and bustle of life, fun, and exposure to different cultures.

There are restaurants, shops, pools, gyms, theatres, health clinics and, very importantly, the cabins in which the guests are accommodated and the kitchen, where meals are prepared. So there are many opportunities for employment.

Employees derive many benefits from working on cruise ships. They earn foreign exchange, interact with people of many nationalities and cultures, have access to facilities like the swimming pools and playing facilities and health care services, and are assured of their meals.

The income employees earn help to put them on the path to realise their personal and financial goals. Among the goals I have heard some articulate are the education of their children, home ownership, providing for their families, owning their own business and providing for a comfortable retirement.

Working on a cruise ship has its own challenges, however. Working hours are long and employees do not have much time to see family. Rotation and vacation leave allow them to be home for several weeks, usually once per year. They may also see family members if the ship makes a call at a Jamaican port.

When away, they may maintain contact by Skype or phone, but technical issues sometime makes this challenging. This type of working arrangement, therefore, may put serious pressure on family life.

There are other kinds of challenges. Although some persons maintain employment on the ships for as long as 30 years, and even longer, the average length of service is generally seven to eight years.

Employments contracts are usually for three years, and there is generally no guarantee of rehiring when a contract ends. The income of many cruise ship workers fluctuates and they do not generally receive pay when on vacation, so there is limited certainty of income.

Quite apart from the risks to which the above challenges expose them, workers on cruise ships have to contend with limited provisions for retirement, the risk of sickness and disability, which could bring a premature end to their employment.

Given the relatively short-term nature of the employment, the plans made for the post-contract years assume great importance. Most will have many useful years left as they are usually quite young. The experience can be used to deepen their skills and learn new ones so that they can be competitive in the job market or start their own business when they return home.

Many do improve their lives as a result of their experience but the cost of living in Jamaica does pose a real challenge. One man who has been working on cruise ships for over 10 years and has visited over 40 countries during that time noted the significant difference between the purchasing power of the income earned by Jamaicans and that earned by workers in the Far East, for example, who are regarded as being well-off in their home countries based on what they are able to do with their income.

Although the end-of-contract gratuity may be seen as a good windfall, it is critical to ensure that there are adequate savings to lay the foundation for building a solid financial future. A budget can go a far way in helping to build up a good pool of savings and generating funds to make good investments.

Debt management is also important as is having a good money manager at home to see to the financial affairs of the family.

Cruise ships provide employment opportunities for skilled and semi-skilled workers – in addition to employment for some professionals. Similar opportunities for employment on short to medium term contracts are provided overseas in hotels and on farms, for example.

That many have had a life-changing experience and have put themselves and their families on a secure financial foundation is primarily due to their adherence to sound financial management principles.

Oran A. Hall, principal author of The Handbook of Personal Financial Planning, offers personal financial planning advice and counsel.