Making waves – meet the Deck Officer cadets ready to take to the seas

March 29, 2024

Two students from North East Scotland College (NESCol) are preparing to embark on their dream careers at sea as they approach the end of their three-year Merchant Navy Cadetship.

Ewan May from Peterhead and Finlay Buchanan from Stornoway have been learning the ropes as Deck Officer cadets since 2021. The programme is delivered by NESCol’s Scottish Maritime Academy (SMA), ideally located at Peterhead Port.

Both young cadets had clear aspirations about their future careers aboard Merchant Navy vessels.

20-year-old Ewan said: “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, after speaking to friends and family in the Merchant Navy.”

Finlay, 21, said: “I could never picture myself having a normal office job. With the help of family in the industry, it was an easy decision to make.”

The Deck Officer Cadet programme alternates between three phases of training at SMA’s dedicated nautical centre and two phases of training on vessels. Upon successful completion of the programme, the cadets will be awarded an MCA Officer of the Watch Certificate of Competency (STCW) and an HNC in Nautical Science.

Ewan highlighted how lecturers at the SMA gave him a real insight into working at sea.

He said: “Having lecturers who previously worked in the industry is beneficial, as they have been able to pass on their experiences aboard different types of ships. The college theory has really helped me understand the practical aspects of the job at sea.”

Finlay added: “The training I received at college has been fantastic in more ways than one. When I first went to sea, I was nervous that I didn’t know much, but it became clear that all the preparation I had been doing at college was coming into use and I knew a lot more than I thought.

“The lecturers are ex-sea goers so they are great at explaining how the classwork translates to the working environment.”

The cadetship is fully sponsored, with all course fees paid, and the cadets can earn up to £900 a month for the duration of their course.

Deck Officer cadet Finlay on the bridge of a ship.

Ewan and Finlay are classmates and ship mates, both sponsored by international shipping company, Vroon. The opportunity to explore the world is just one of the key draws to a life at sea for the cadets.

Finlay said: “The benefits that stand out the most for me are the stunning views you get to wake up to every day, travelling to different places around the world, having the responsibility to carry out complex jobs, and the well-deserved time off after trips.

“The aspect I enjoy most about working at sea is the responsibility and how I’m trusted to carry out my duties safely.”

Ewan said: “There are lots of opportunities on lots of different types of vessels all over the world – getting to see different places is a great benefit. Since I’ve started, I’ve been to Norway and the Netherlands, which I’ve never visited before.

“However, my favourite part of the job is being up on the bridge, steering the ship!”

Deck Officers are responsible for the day-to-day running and navigation of ships, as well as the safety of the crew, ship, cargo and environment. Types of Merchant Navy vessels that Deck Officers can work on include energy sector vessels, container ships and cruise liners.

Deck Officer cadet Finlay in cadet uniform with Vroon logo, charting a course on a map.   Deck Officer cadet Ewan in graduation robes standing next to SMA Centre Manager, Chris.

Chris Bell, SMA Centre Manager, said: “It’s great being able to witness the incredible journey our cadets go through, from when they first arrive with us on day one not knowing a great deal and being quite shy and reserved, to confident seafarers a few months later – the transformation is quite remarkable.

“As a former cadet myself it brings back a lot of great memories, and the staff often get jealous hearing stories from their latest seafaring adventures!”

As their experience and skills grow, Deck Officers can work their way through the ranks. Ewan and Finlay are both looking forward to the potential opportunities that await them in the future.

Ewan said: “Once qualified, I’d like to gain experience on different vessels and eventually work my way up to Captain one day.”

Finlay said: “On completion of the course, I would like to go into diving support vessels and work towards the title of Master.

“There is so much opportunity in this career, and I’m not sure what the future holds, but I can confidently say that I’m really looking forward to a career in the Merchant Navy.”

How to apply

Applications for the SMA Deck Officer Cadet programme starting 26 August 2024 are open now.

Places are sponsored by shipping companies and applications are made through one of SMA’s training agents, whom we work closely with to approve each candidate’s suitability.

To register your interest or find out more information, please email SMA Centre Manager, Chris Bell: