A second shot at sea studies
Published: 10 May 2016
After years in other maritime jobs, Shaun Bindon has finally achieved his ambition of qualifying as a ship’s officer, with a little help from the Slater Fund…
It’s amazing how academic people can be-come when they know their studies really count. Shaun Bindon admits he messed around a bit at school, so didn’t get the grades needed to apply for a Merchant Navy cadetship. But when he got a second chance in his mid-20s, he really got swotting — and his stronger motivation has seen him right through to his Officer of the Watch certificate.
‘When I left school at 16 I managed to get a marine engineering apprenticeship at Mashfords boatyard in Cornwall, near where I’m from,’ he says. ‘I completed that when I was 18, but what I really wanted was to go to sea. It’s in the family: my dad, Raymond Bindon, is a seafarer and both my grandfathers were at sea in fishing and passenger boats.’
Shaun decided to start gaining some sea experience, with the eventual aim of getting work as an AB (deck). He worked as a deckhand on harbour cruises in the summer, and took training courses such as firefighting and EDH (Efficient Deck Hand). This paid off with an AB job offer from Serco, a company providing port marine services including tugs and pilot boats.
Slowly but surely, Shaun was putting together a career at sea, and he decided that it was worth while investigating officer training again. ‘In 2012 I wanted to do the NVQ route to OOW with a training company in Plymouth,’ he explains, ‘but first that route was withdrawn, and then the company went bust!’
In many ways, this was a bigger blow than failing to get into officer training as a school-leaver, because there was more at stake now. As an adult, Shaun would have to fit his OOW studies around work and family commitments, and this would be difficult without a local training provider.
He confided in an officer colleague, and was advised to call the Marine Society to discuss his options. ‘They were so helpful,’ he recalls, the relief still evident in his voice. ‘They put me onto a flexible college — Maritas — that could offer courses near me, and told me about the Slater Fund, which has been the most amazing bit of luck.’
The JW Slater Fund is a Nautilus scholarship scheme, administered by the Marine Society, for experienced UK seafarers seeking to upgrade their qualifications to Officer of the Watch. It pays tuition fees for students not sponsored by their employers, subsidises textbooks and other support materials, and may be able to offer some financial help if candidates have to cut back on paid work in order to complete their studies.
The scheme welcomes applicants with a range of maritime backgrounds, and Shaun’s years working as an AB made him a promising candidate, but first he had to show that he’d be able to handle the academic rigours of officer training.
As his school record was a little weak, it was a condition of his Slater scholarship that he had to complete the Marine Society’s foundation courses in numeracy and literacy — Maths@Sea and Writing@Sea.
He thought this was entirely reasonable: ‘They’re spending a lot of money on you, so they need to know you can do it. In fact, I couldn’t believe how generous the scheme was. I kept wondering, “What’s the catch?” but there really wasn’t one. I just had to work hard.’
Still working as an AB for Serco, Shaun got his necessary sea time with the company. This meant he didn’t go deepsea during his officer training, but he was happy to stick to the European near-coastal OOW certificate, lim-ited to 500gt, because he was planning to continue working on tugs and knew there were jobs available in the sector.
‘The standard of all the courses is the same as for the unlimited ticket,’ he points out, ‘but you just miss out one or two subjects, like celestial navigation. If I wanted to do the unlimited qualification in the future, I could use the near-coastal as a stepping stone.’
It wouldn’t be surprising if Shaun did take his studies further one day, as he has already repaid the Slater Fund’s trust in him by achieving his target of gaining the OOW near-coastal. ‘It’s been a struggle at times,’ he admits, ‘doing this with two kids and a mortgage, but I really wanted it and my dad was right behind me all the way. I never could have done it without Slater, though — I can’t recommend it highly enough.’