If you do decide to embark upon a Cruise Ship career, or even for a contract or two after college it is highly advisable that you get to know the Hierarchy of the ship. One of the most frustrating things will be the forced sense of power and authority that some people have, and also where the real dangers are in terms of messing with the crew. I’ve seen everything from Random Drug Testing (actually happened to me) that wasn’t so Random, to what was claimed to be an arranged ‘hit’ on the ship. Both of these incidents came down to the internal politics of the unique work environment.
Here’s a diagram that roughly outlines the lines of command in a ship. I tried to simplify it, and in reality it is a lot more complex than the figure below. Basically you have the Captain in charge of the Vessel, and below him a Staff Captain that will be responsible for a Key Department, such as Engine Department. Some lines have the Staff Captain coined as Executive Officer (as in the Navy) and they are responsible for other aspects and command lines.
The Executive Team will include: Captain, Staff Captain, Hotel Director, Chief Engineer. These typically are 4 Stripe Officers, below them in the chain at 3 Stripes would be Casino Manager, AC Engineer (Air conditioning is an important job on a ship!) Chief Purser, F&B Manager etc. All of the different routes to management have Entry level roles, from Cadets in the Officers rankings, through to trainee positions in Hotel and Concession operations.
Generally speaking the Entire Crew is divided into Three Distinct Categories:
- Officer – Sub divided into Engineers, Deck Officers and Hotel Operations Officers.
- Staff – Concessions such as Casino, Gift Shop, Spa, Music and Entertainers. Certain senior Staff have a synthetic officer status
- Crew – Support staff such as Cabin Stewards and Cooks. People from Crew can become Officers over time when they rise to management positions.
Got all that? Great, it will take you quite some time to figure out who is who on the ship and what that means to you, and generally being polite and courteous to those above and below you will stand you in good stead. However there are times when a ship becomes very ‘rank’ centric and you need to know where you fit in overall, and who your peers are.
The model breaks down when you compare ranks and time to get into position – for example an Officer Cadet can move to a 2 Stripe Third Engineer within a contract or two, whereas a person working in Housekeeping as a Cabin Steward might work for 15 years before they pick up their 2 Stripe Status as Assistant Housekeeping Manager. So when someone is around that level, and the newly promoted Cadet is throwing their weight around things can get tense between people.
Cruise Ship Mafia
Beyond the Stripes that you see in chains of command there is an unofficial ‘Mafia’ that works along Ethnicity – this was created unofficially to protect the hard working, low paid Crew from being messed around with by dumb Officers and Staff. So basically if you mess with or are mean to a Filipino Cabin Steward, he will talk to his people, and they will take measures to rebalance things. Typically this means getting a message through to the Filipino line supervisor in your department, who will bust your balls for your troubles, and that’s the end of it. An example of how the Cruise Ship Mafia could help set you back in place would be assigning ‘random’ drug and alcohol testing after a night you were seen in the bar late.
Typically though, they are friendly and nice people, and are a great resource if you are looking for anything you need outside of regular hours – they run an unofficial barber shop, have a cabin assigned to storing beer and snacks and can gain you access to the Galley for late night munchies.
There are times though, when Departmental Heads are too far out of line for the likes of the Crew, and things get a little more serious, as was the case when I worked on my first contract. The Food and Beverage Manager from the Cruiseline had been gathering a reputation for being abusive to his people, he was hated in the Kitchen for his punishments (like keeping people on extra shifts to clean the entire place if he found a single speck of dirt).
One evening he was attacked by a member of the Department, it happened away from the Kitchen and the rumor was that he was assigned the task as an arranged hit by the Mafia, though that was never proven. The F&B Manager survived the attack after being airlifted from the vessel whilst at sea, and the Captain decided to skip port in order to reach a different country which imposed the most severe sentence. I never knew what came of that mans fate, but do know that the Captain did what he could to ensure he got the maximum sentence. Quite a scary thing to see on your first time from sea, and a stark reminder that you are living in a hotbed of Rich and Poor, and Privileged and the Not. Best to keep to your good manners at all times.
I mention this story because it is easy to fall into the trap of your own ‘Rank’ on a ship and forget that you need to respect those around you, and those who don’t have your rank either, because they have a right to your respect and every now and then if pushed hard enough they can snap.