Is it possible to go all the way from a cadet to a Second Officer, and then to a Chief Officer in just a few years? Bogdan Bagdasaryan’s story is proof that yes, it is possible. Is it difficult? Yes. Is it interesting? Very much so, provided that you love your work and trust your employer. The Professional Seafarer asked Bagdasaryan a few questions about his career in Columbia Shipmanagement (CSM). We are sure that every novice seafarer will find something useful in this story.
Professional Seafarer: You started to work for CSM in 2011. Was it your practical training?
Bogdan Bagdasaryan: Yes, that was my first experience on an actual ship. Before that I had training in the coastal waters on pilot boats and ferries, but it was a different story. The coastal fleet is very “homelike”. The atmosphere is different and requirements are not so strict, whereas on tankers that are in the United States one day and in Nigeria the next, things are much more serious.
Professional Seafarer: How did you find yourself at CSM? Was the interview difficult?
Bogdan Bagdasaryan: A friend of mine recommended CSM. He joined the company a year earlier. No sooner than I submitted my application, the company invited the top students from my year to its Odessa office for a meeting. Later on I found out that it was one of the principles of CSM to select the best cadets and give them employment opportunities.
The interview was…smooth. No pressure, no one frowned upon wrong answers and the overall treatment was very friendly. The interviewer Captain Grigoriy Leonidovich Mashkevich asked me about my hobbies off-topic. I told him I liked to read and he recommended some books that I might like, and yes, it turned out that I did like them. In general, I was a good student at university and at that time I didn’t think the interview was difficult.
Professional Seafarer: Do you remember your first voyage as a cadet? What was the most difficult for you?
Bogdan Bagdasaryan: I remember my first voyage, from the very beginning, when I met with Captain Dashkin at the airport and made my way to the ship, to the very last day. I was lucky to find myself on a ship with a crew that liked and knew how to teach. I liked and wanted to learn, so I fitted in. There were a lot of unusual and new things for me there. I didn’t apply most of my academic knowledge to practice, except for English skills and Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea. Everything else was absolutely new and interesting. Motivation was not a problem either. When you see young yet already accomplished officers, it is an incentive for your own growth. Long periods of isolation were much more difficult to deal with. It still is difficult, though today with Internet connection on ships it is easier to handle.
Professional Seafarer: Was the knowledge you had back then enough? Did you have to learn something fast?
Bogdan Bagdasaryan: As I said, English proficiency is a must. The more fluent you are, the better. The cadet’s job on a ship is learning. Cadets don’t have specific duties, so there is no real pressure for not knowing something. The most important thing is willingness to learn. This is important not only for cadets, but also for the maritime industry in general.
Professional Seafarer: In your opinion, for how many contract periods should a seafarer work as a cadet before he gets enough experience and starts climbing the career ladder?
Bogdan Bagdasaryan: It is difficult to name a specific number of contracts one should take. For some, four contracts won’t be enough, and for others, one would do. For instance, before joining CSM I had a couple of contracts on small ships. It was my first time on a tanker. But I did my best and my efforts didn’t go unnoticed. When I got my next contract, I already joined as an officer. Yes, I had questions at first, many questions. That’s normal when you take on a new position. It is not possible to grasp all aspects and details just by watching someone else. A lot of complex issues arise when you start doing the work yourself. But that’s nothing to be afraid of. The important thing is to be able to listen and to know where to find resource materials. Professionalism will develop over time- practice makes perfect.
Professional Seafarer: What difficulties did you face in your new position?
Bogdan Bagdasaryan: The difficulties I had were connected with some sector-specific legal matters. Today a major part of the officer’s work involves adhering to conventions and standard regulations of various maritime organizations and flag states. Their name is legion, and if you don’t deal with it every day then trying to remember all this is like learning Chinese with a Teach Yourself book. And navigation, of course. It is a big responsibility and a very serious problem for a novice mate. Actually, it is a problem for many experienced officers as well. In any case, if you have doubts, always call the master of the ship.
Professional Seafarer: What qualities should one have to be successful in this industry?
Bogdan Bagdasaryan: Well, I won’t say anything new in this regard. One should be able to think, make decisions and work hard whenever necessary. Life at sea means living in confined spaces with a limited circle of contacts. In such an environment, one should know how to respect, if not love, oneself, and be fairly tolerant towards others in order to avoid conflicts that might arise due to educational and cultural differences. The rest is the same as in any other part of life.
Professional Seafarer: What is your advice to present-day cadets?
Bogdan Bagdasaryan: My advice is to study well. First of all, learn the language. You may not know some aspects of maritime practices, but you can learn those on the job. Learning languages on the job is more difficult. Without good English skills, your interview won’t be successful and you won’t get a job.
And don’t cherish the illusion that your studies will finish as soon as you get your degree. In our field, learning is an ongoing process which varies only in intensity. For instance, now I am learning the work of a Chief Officer. And I can tell you that getting a degree as a straight-A student was much simpler.
Of course, you can always take it easy and settle for less. But why would you do that when you are capable of achieving more? So my advice to present-day cadets is: don’t waste your time partying and don’t lose faith in yourself in the face of academic difficulties. Your efforts will pay off in the future.