Case study

Hydrographic surveyor — Rhys Price

Rhys completed a BSc in Ocean Exploration, an essential degree to launch into the demanding, yet rewarding, career as a hydrographic surveyor

What did you study at university?

I completed a BSc (Hons) degree in Ocean Exploration at Plymouth University. After a few years offshore I completed a PGCE in secondary geography in 2018. I taught for one year before returning to offshore in 2019. My undergraduate degree is truly relevant to my job, in fact it is a requirement for it and enabled to me to land my first job before I had even received my degree in the post.

How did you get your job?

My first job was in Dubai, and after gaining a few years working for survey companies and building connections, I decided to freelance, setting up RP Hydro Survey Consultants. Look for jobs beyond your local area, this will allow you to see different places and meet new people, not to mention increase the likelihood of finding employment. If you intend to go freelance, make sure you are confident and knowledgeable; companies will be hiring you at a high cost and will expect results.

What are your main work activities?

A typical working day offshore as a surveyor normally involves a 12-hour duty. I arrive 15 minutes before duty, and talk with my alternate, discussing events that occurred throughout their shift and propose the plan going forward.

During my shift I could be involved in several roles. One day I might just run lines through the survey software and complete data acquisition. Alternatively, I could be involved with the deployment/recovery of survey gear on the back deck and ensuring that all items are inspected and operating correctly. As a surveyor, I am heavily involved in planning and executing the party chiefs plan, requiring multiple meetings and discussions with senior staff throughout. Finally, and probably most importantly is ensuring high standard data quality. Ensuring the data is within contractual specifications and limits is a surveyor's vital role. This is also tied to ensuring all equipment is operating correctly and fixing any issues that may arise (communications, software, or hardware).

After my shift I go to the mess room and have food before returning to the accommodation for rest, watching movies or using the on-board fitness suite before going to bed. Then I wake up and repeat it all again until crew change.

What do you enjoy about your job and what are the challenges?

I like the opportunity to travel and see different places and meet people from all over. Also, there is nothing quite like being in the middle of the ocean on a clear, starry night. Long hours and periods away from home is the most difficult aspect. It is also very mentally taxing and can be incredibly stressful when things are not working. This job is typically one month on, one month off, so the six months off are a much needed break.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

My role developed rather rapidly which led to me becoming a party chief within three years. Going forward I plan to expand into client representation on-board and potentially starting my own freelance agency.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

Be prepared to learn long after completing your education. This job is too varied and complex to be covered entirely in a classroom. When onsite, continue to learn by talking with colleagues and getting involved in any task you can. This will improve your confidence offshore, and also make you a vital asset within any team.

Get along with everyone if you can. You will be stuck on vessels for extended periods with the same people for potentially weeks at a time. Also, be safe and always follow instruction. It's a very hazardous worksite being offshore, and one must take care of themselves and others while on duty. Offshore companies have very high HSE standards for a reason and you should follow them to the letter.

What are your top tips for choosing a Masters?

Focus on a specific element for offshore survey. For instance, if you already have a hydrography-based degree consider completing a Masters in computer sciences if possible as this will help dramatically with interfacing survey gear and potentially improving them. Geophysics or geology-based Masters may also be beneficial too.

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