What do I pack?


This post is in association with Ian, originally written for when his Son started going to sea, he has kindly let me post his list and rehash it with my experiences and a few ideas of my own. Ian was Second Officer with Maersk back in the 80’s he also sailed on Tankers, Product Carriers and Anchor Handlers in the North Sea. He was on Maersk Mariner when she was launched, Maersk Mariner is now our oldest ship in the fleet so Ian is clearly very experienced. He is very well liked and respected particularly for his input on www.officercadet.com as he gives full and proper advise to all who seek it. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank him for his huge input in this post. His original post can be found here
If any of you can think of anything this list is missing then plus feel free to comment at the end and let us all know the extra bits you take to help you survive at sea.
Please click here for the spreadsheet that is hosted online and will be very useful if printed.
If you disregard some of the more ship specific items on this this it actually forms a very useful list for all you globe trotters out there, when I was backpacking South America last year I packed a great deal of what is included here, its certainly not a definitive list but will certainly help you the more essential items you may not of thought of.
The spreadsheet actually prints out on a single sheet and is split up into 9 separate sections. Below you will find each section separated and added notes as to why some things are on the list.

1) Uniform

1 Jumper
3 Long sleeve shirts
3 Short sleeved shirts
2 Black Trousers
3 White shorts
3 White socks
1 Epaulets
1 Black Tie
1 Black Shoes
1 Shoe Shine Kit
2 Prescription Glasses
1 Sunglasses (cheap, someone sat on one pair of ray bans and stole the other)
50 Glasses Wipes
Check with somebody in the company about whether you will need a Uniform Cap, tropical uniform, Uniform Jacket etc.
Personally I never wore or have seen anyone wear a cap/ uniform jacket as of yet but I’d put money on you needing it if you deliberately leave it behind without asking the company first.
Some companies use grey uniform, and if you get onto anchor handlers many of them have no uniform at all. Do not be afraid to ask someone in the company before you travel to join the ship what you will need for that voyage.
I remember the first trip I did in supply on the Maersk Finder the Secondmate/ DPO nearly wet himself laughing so hard that not only did I bring my uniform away I also had shinny new epaulets.
If you need glasses take a spare pair. You will not have time to have a new pair made if you only have one pair and you break them. If you use contacts take enough to last the trip and a bit longer and don’t forget all your cleaning kit, pots etc if you use anything other than daily disposables.
Sunglasses for watch keeping or looking cool going ashore! Prescription ones if you need to.
Ladies, swap trousers for skirts on the list if you want! Not being sexist here…. lads you can pack a skirt if you want….

2) Casuals

8 Underwear / socks
3 Jeans / Slacks
2 Shorts
5 Tops
1 Shore Shoes
1 Ship comfy shoes
1 Coat
2 Fleece
1 Swimming Trunks
1 Flip flops
1 Sun Hat / Cap
You may not be going somewhere too hot or too cold so make a judgement call on the things you need. Clearly you won’t need a coat if you are always in the tropics.
Some people take slippers with them for slumming around their cabins during down time. Always take a weeks worth of underwear + 1. You may need a reserve pair if you get wet or chuck a cup of coffee all over yourself.
Also remember that you will need light coloured underwear if you are wearing tropicals, as anything dark will show through. Ladies that means white bras! It may sound obvious now but come the day you pack and mum is clucking around you like mother hen, you may forget…
Swimming trunks may not be necessary unless there is a pool on board or you are a “bronzy merchant” and spend every spare moment out on deck catching rays. I don’t take trunks on Anchor Handlers in the North Sea, but instead gym stuff and my climbing gear for specific onboard training, nowadays I get away with a small suitcase as the trips are only 5 weeks long.
Some people wear crocs and swear by them, personally I find them offensive to my eyes.

3) Work wear

2 Boiler Suits
1 Rig Boots (Safety)
5 T shirts
2 Leather work gloves
1 Woolly hat
1 Torch 2AA (Maglite)/ head torch
1 Torch with red filter
1 Lock Knife / Multitool
Some companies issue PPE on board, some supply it to you beforehand, some make you supply your own boiler suits but provide everything else. Check before you pack.
Leather work gloves for Deckies are a good idea as gloves onboard may not be good quality. If you always have to wear a hard hat get a woolly hat that is microfleece type, that way you can put it on under your hard hat. Again, if you are not going anywhere cold then don’t bother.
For engineers the 2AA Torch needs to be swapped for a bigger C or D torch. The reason a 2nd small AAA torch for deckies is included is because you can put a little red filter over the lens (A Quality Street wrapper!) and use it on the bridge. That way you do not destroy your night vision when you put on the chart table lamp if you just want to check something quickly. Don’t forget spare batteries.
The Lock Knife needs to be a good quality stainless Steel one of a decent size or good quality multitool, I have a Leatherman Wave and it is spectacular.
Do you want your own ear defenders? Not really necessary as a deckie but a must for engineers.
Just remember all knives and tools need to be packed into your hold luggage, otherwise you will lose them at the airport.

4) College work

2 Notebook
2 Biro
2 Pencil & Rubber
1 Colour pencils
2 A4 Paper pads
1 Folder
1 Calculator
30 Envelopes
2 Writing Paper pad
1 Ruler
You will need to take away any work you need to do, and whilst it may be possible to rob the Office of the odd rubber and pen the ship is not there to provide a full shop of things, so take it with you (and don’t get caught by the C/O nicking stuff!)
You may not always have access to email or the Internet, depending on your employers’ policy, so get writing letters! Also, whilst getting email is great, letters from loved ones are still appreciated. Get anyone who writes to you to either write the date on the back of the envelope or number them. There is nothing worse than reading your mail in the wrong order when 5 letters turn up at the same time. Whilst you may be thinking this is a bit soppy just wait until you are on the other side of the world on your Birthday or Christmas and then you will be picking up you letters and reading them again.
This year will see my first Christmas home in 6 years and I can’t wait but it’s such a great feeling to get anything sent to you, my friends spent over £50 to send me 2 of my favourite beers (tusker) one year for christmas it was fantastic, but it does make you feel a little like you miss home.
Your college work and ALL documentation MUST travel with you in your hand luggage, you will be devastated if the airline loose your baggage and subsequently your entire trips work.

5) Cabin

1 Laptop & Charger
1 Speakers & Power
1 External Hard drive
2 USB Memory Stick
1 Camera/Video & Charger
1 Ebook/iPad & Charger
1 Mp3 player & Charger
2 Earphones
1 Alarm clock
1 SW Radio
1 Multi gang socket
3 Multi Adaptor plugs
1 Mug/tea/ coffee
1 Playing Cards
First of all very few ships have UK sockets, so get a travel adaptor or few. Secondly the electricity is 60Hz, whereas UK is 50Hz. Why is this important? Because most mains alarm clock works on the frequency of the power source so you will find your alarm clock gains 12 minutes per hour! Get a battery alarm clock and take some spare batteries or just use your phone. Thirdly, the electricity on a ship is not as clean as at home, so get a 4 or 6 gang surge protected socket. It will not stop anything really nasty but will go a long way to protecting your sensitive electronics.
Taking 6 films on DVD will seem a bad idea after the first week so get an external drive and rip all your films to the hard drive using free software off the internet. If people want to blag a film copy it to a memory stick for them. The last thing you want is them destroying a 300 film collection. Remember that some countries will allow you to travel with a laptop but not external drives, so check before you travel what is allowed. Also on the subject of what is allowed… If you have a ‘blue’ folder it needs to be deleted or very well hidden if you are going certain parts of the world.
I will take this opportunity to tell you to BACK UP EVERYTHING, High capacity USB stick are inexpensive these day and creating back ups of all the important reports etc you have done seems to be common sene but you wouldn’t believe how often people don’t!
Take enough of your favourite tea bags as there is little guarantee you will get anything other than liptons or if you are a coffee drinker don’t forget your trusty Starbucks Via instant coffee. It might sound ridiculous but take your own mug, it becomes a but of a love affair and it generally means it won’t go missing.

6) Documents

1 Passport
1 Discharge book
1 ENG 1
1 MNTB Record Book
1 Certificates
1 Driving Licence
1 Glasses prescription
1 Medicine prescriptions
2 Credit Card / Debit Card
1 Electronic copies of all Documents
4 Spare passport photos
Home Photos
Never pack any of these into your hold luggage, if it gets lost, you lose it all.
If you have prescription medication or glasses take a spare prescription with you. It is easier to get stuff from a prescription than it is to start from scratch.
Scan all of your documents, print copies but put digital copies on your memory stick. You will then have more information to hand if you ever lose any documents. Also leave a copy at home with next of kin.
Take your driving licence, a few trips ago we were alongside for a week and I was able to rent a car and explore the Scottish Highlands and it would be a great shame for you to get stuck somewhere and not be able to rent a car should you want to explore.
Always take a copy of the pages of your discharge book after every voyage as well as your Watchkeeping certificates. If you ever lose it you WILL need the proof.
It is advisable that you have more than one way to pay for things, keep one card on the ship and one with you when you go ashore, if you get pick pocketed you could end up pretty shafted (figuratively speaking). Also don’t forget to tell your bank you are going away and where or they WILL block your card, this has happened to me countless times despite telling the bank. VERY annoying if your phone doesn’t have a roaming plan to ring them and sort it out.
Photos from home, digital or framed help to personalise your cabin.

7) Washkit

1 Shaving Kit/Spare foil
5 Soap
3 Shower gel
3 Toothpaste
1 Toothbrush
2 Deodorant
2 Shampoo/Conditioner
1 After Shave
1 Suncream
1 Nail Clippers
1 Sewing Kit
50 Cotton Buds
Some ships provide soap, always Lux, the only thing it’s good for is bartering with the bum boats in Suez. So unless you want to smell like your Auntie’s linen drawer then take your own.
Ships always have small stocks of stuff but don’t bet on them having your particular choice. More likely on cruise ships though, but you will pay over the odds!
Wear sunscreen!!
If you have an electric toothbrush take the charger, if you have an electric razor take a spare foil and the lead. Nothing worse than a split foil 1 month into the voyage and scratching yourself to death for weeks!
Ladies, you know all the other things you need. Take enough. You may never get the chance to go ashore and top up.
A sewing kit can be bought for as little as a couple of quid off Amazon or at your local tesco.
Remember brushes and makeup and beard trimmers if you use them. Same goes for you ladies!

8) First Aid

Prescription medicines 1
Paracetamol 100
Ibuprofen 100
Sturgeron 15 60
Plasters 20
Vaseline 1
E45 / Skin cream 1
Mosquito spray 1
Antibiotic ointment 1
If you have any prescription medications make sure you have enough for your voyage. Unless you are on a cruise ship the nearest you will get to a doctor is a “Pan Pan Medico” in the middle of the ocean.
Tablets, whatever your poison for a headache or backache take them. The last thing the designated medical officer needs is paperwork and running to the medical locker for 2 paracetamol. Some people may need Sturgeron 15 for seasickness, but some others keep a packet if the weather is really rough so you can get a nights sleep, as they are slightly sedative. Pitching up and down in a force 10 in the North Sea on an Anchor Handler means nobody gets any sleep and even a damp towel across your bunk will not stop you falling out of your bunk so forget Sturgeron then.
Remember the only guaranteed cure for seasickness is to sit under an apple tree.
Vaseline for protecting split skin (despite the scare stories about needing it for visiting the Bosun!).
E45 cream is pretty essential as the air conditioning on a ship can be pretty devastating to your skin.
Remember if you do feel seasick, eat a spoonful of Jam. It does not stop you being sick but does make everything taste much better when it comes back up!

9) Luggage

1 Main Bag
1 Hand luggage bag
1 Washbag
2 Bag Locks / Cable ties
1 Laundry Bag
Luggage always causes trouble! Decide on what you’d prefer to travel with but bare in mind trying to lug a traditional suitcase up a 40 degree narrow gangway can be hard work, my opinion is buy decent and high quality. Buy cheap and perhaps end up stood watching the contents of your suitcase travel around baggage reclaim with your mankini on top – without any sign of your suitcase. Of course the advantage of buying cheap is that you can throw it out when it’s no good but if you go decent and pricey it could last several years or even come with a life time warranty.
Hand luggage should be airline max size, big enough to take your laptop, all your documents and MNTB folder and a small amount of clothes. That way if your main bag goes walkies you are not stood on the bridge feeling like a pillock in jeans and a t-shirt for however many days because your luggage has not caught up with you. Put a small selection in your hand luggage, enough to last a couple of days.
Things like boiler suits soap and shampoo you can borrow for a few days, but personal stuff – nah!
Remember your washbag needs to be in your hold luggage for the liquids, make sure your nail clippers, scissors and sewing kit are in there as well.
A laundry bag, pillowcase size, means you don’t leave a trail of dirty undies down the passageway when you go to wash your kit on a Sunday. Ladies, trust me you do not want someone handing you your favourite pink thong later in the day, or find them pinned to a bulkhead or even better… Up the mast. You can also hang it on your door to put the dirty stuff in. The bag – not the thong! Stops the Captain pulling you up on cabin inspection as well.
Always check with your company what your baggage allowance is for each flight. Most companies ensure you will have 35 or 40 kg.
Don’t forget, the above list is for a trip of 3 to 4 months, modify your lists for the length of trip, and ladies, if you have long hair you might want to pack more shampoo and conditioner.
You will get to know what you need after your first couple of trips. In the meantime use a list, any list, and make it work for you.
Lastly, DO NOT LOOSE YOUR PASSPORT and trust me on the sunscreen!
Many thanks again to Ian for such a huge input to this post.
Don’t forget to print off that spreadsheet!
Happy travels,
This entry was posted on Friday, November 23rd, 2012 at 2:10 pm by The Mariner. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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Comments (2)
  1. Anonymous says:

    A very comprehensive list indeed! However personally I would make a few changes. First I would recommend taking a multi pin adapter, not all ships use EU sockets some use US. Nothing worse than getting caught out not being able to charge your gear. I would also be very careful about taking Paracetamol and Ibuprofen in any large quantities, some countries can be quite funny about it. You can never have enough body wash / shampoo. Remember you will get ashore at somepoint but you need to be prepared. Also if you burn easily take plenty of suncream. Your baggage locks need to be TSA type locks otherwise Customs will just cut through them. You’ll not need tea and coffee, the ship will have that along with cups. And take plenty of stuff to keep yourself entertained, games, books DVD’s etc. Also why are you taking 3x toothpaste but only 2x deodorant? A wee tip for packing your case. Fill your boots up with socks and stuff. When packing for deep sea every inch of space counts so use up the wasted space inside shoes and boots. But mainly just make sure you enjoy yourself! D Howie, Chief Officer

  2. Anonymous says:

    Of section five I only took playing cards (two packs) and a short wave radio. Oh, plus a cribbage board. Teaching filipino’s crib can be a lengthy process! I relied on the library onboard for reading. I took three books on my second trip – Thomas Stowage, Nicholls Concise guide & Collisions at Sea – how? When I got my Ticket I took nothing other than the colregs.
    Now, I was lucky to sail on a couple of ex P & O deep sea gas ships when I was a cadet, and traditions were observed i.e. Sunday curry (I don’t eat the stuff so would have a solitary lunch of rice. Fraternising with the flip flops was forbidden). Uniform on watch, for the wardroom (after 1900h), Saloon and for dinner, but never for breakfast.
    Having done two trips South (Falklands/South Sandwich/South Georgia) and met and sailed with BAS officers and Scientists, I felt the Officers were insular and the Scientists aloof.
    Aside of that, encourage yourself and others to join the RNR. The RN always need professional navigators 😉

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