By Jenny Nakai

Tom, marine engineer

Portrait of a marine engineer.

Tom is an interesting person. You almost have to be for a job on a ship, where your schedule is one month on, one month off. Keeping yourself busy and alert on long voyages must be very difficult, and it takes a laid-back attitude to handle those long, broad stretches of time on the water. Tom grew up in Auckland, New Zealand, where he played in the ocean since he was a child, and following his love of the ocean, went to maritime school for marine engineering. His classes included fundamental engineering topics like thermodynamics, physics, math, and more uniquely, ship construction and stability.


To fulfill the requirements of the three-year program, he got to do three internships. One was on the ferry from Picton, on the North Island of New Zealand, to Nelson, on the South Island of New Zealand. He ran the three-hour trip countless times during his month-long work shifts and decided to set his sights on more than the narrow strip of water between the two islands. He worked on a tugboat towing barges, although he commented, “If you get sick on this boat, you would not be happy on the tugboat.” His next adventure landed him in Mauritius on a fishing boat. During his three-month internship on the ship, he never saw land, but he did see icebergs and snow. The fishermen were fishing for toothfish, and were willing to go a long way out to get it. Although that was a good job, Tom finally found his place on the research vessel Tangaroa, which is a government research ship dedicated to scientific research in mostly New Zealand waters, occasionally going out as far as Antarctica and Australia.

clouds and sea

Clouds and sea.

When asked about his most memorable experience at sea, his eyes light up as he describes calm seas and sunny days, the scenery, and even the rough storms which the Tangaroa endures. This afternoon is one of the calm days, with its marshmallow-smoothie skies, and water shining like glass. So what does this engineer do on the boat when he’s not busy keeping the engines running, assisting the chief and second engineer, or maintaining the drinking water supply? Occasionally repairing scientists’ equipment, watching the news, reading, leatherworking, or eating lots of food. It is clear that he likes his job when he describes the variation in his work between days, and engaging his mind with problems to solve.

One comment on “Portrait of a marine engineer

  • Jenny, might want to look at NZ map. Picton is also on the South Island–it is the main passenger ferry terminal to Wellington. I doubt there is much shipping from Picton to Nelson. There is (or at least used to be) a commercial ferry from Wellington to Nelson along with the main ferry route from Wellington to Picton.

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