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Life Offshore: Getting Started


If you’re thinking about starting a career offshore, the petroleum industry is where you want to be. The demand for offshore oil work is high; however, the supply of skilled workers doesn’t meet the need, so there are plenty of jobs in the industry to go around. Currently, there are well over 900 offshore rigs worldwide, including more than 60 in the U.S. They operate 24/7, and workers generally rotate in eight- to ten-hour shifts. Many workers are on duty for 14 days, then off for as many as 21. The work is demanding, but the salary is often well worth the labor.

In this four-part series, we will discuss what you can expect from a life offshore, how to maximize your paycheck, what positions may be available to you, how to get started, and many other important details in starting your offshore career.

How to get yourself in the door

You don’t necessarily have to have offshore experience to land employment on a rig; however, there are certain necessary requirements you must meet in order to be considered for any position:

  • Age – You must be 18 or older
  • Documentation – You will almost definitely need a valid TWIC card as well as a Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) to begin working offshore; however, it is possible to be hired without these, you just cannot start employment until you acquire them.
  • Education – Though not necessarily a pre-requisite to employment, training is essential to complete the tasks required of anyone working offshore. You’ll want to check out the Coast Guard’s list of approved schools to find a sea school near you. If you’re attending a training school in Louisiana, you might want to check our scholarship site to see if your school is in our MAPS program. If it is, you could apply to our $1000 scholarship we give out to mariners for training.

 

What positions are available?

Below are just a few of the many positions available on an oil rig crew. Some require significant training; others are entry-level.  Getting your start in the offshore industry requires gaining experience, but even if you have to start at the bottom, it likely won’t take long to advance.

  • Greenhands and Roustabouts (entry level) – If you have never worked offshore before, this would be a good place to start.  After a few trips out, you may begin to request to move outside – and will likely move up pretty quickly.  Primary duties include guiding the crane as loads are moved around the deck, supplying equipment to the rig floor and keeping pipe deck and main deck areas clean.
  • Rig welder – They are permanently on one rig and carry out all daily repairs and building of new metalwork. These employees move around wherever their company has a contract.
  • Rig Safety & Training Coordinator (RSTC) – A job for someone who is a good communicator and has good organizational and computer skills. You must also have working knowledge of safety laws and company policies.
  • Crane Operator – Responsible for all crane operations on the rig and to/from the supply boats. Supervisor to the assistant and the Roustabout crew.
  • Offshore Installation Manager (OIM) – In charge of the rig. Sometimes called “Person In Charge” (PIC).
  • Toolpusher Works in the rig offices and the rig floor, and has responsibilities on the main deck. This is usually an experienced driller.
  • Driller – High level of responsibility; in charge of everything happening on and above the rig floor. The employee that actually operates the drilling equipment.
  • Derrickman – Responsible for the maintenance and operation of the mud pumps and mud holding pits (as well as other machines) in the mud pump room. This is the worker who will climb the “derrick” (tall drilling tower) to assist racking drill pipe being pulled from the hole.
  • Subsea Engineer – Responsible for the Blow Out Preventer (BOP) unit and the motion compensation system of the rig.
  • Assistant Subsea Engineer– Can sometimes be promoted from Roughnecks. Usually from a mechanical background.
  • Crane Operator – Responsible for all crane operations on the rig and to/from the supply boats. Supervisor to an assistant and the Roustabout crew.
  • Medic – Rarely doctors, but have a high level of medical training. On small rigs they can double as a Rig Safety & Training Coordinator (RSTC). Responsible for the upkeep of the sick bay and medical stocks.
  • Electrician – Responsible for all electrical equipment onboard the rig.
  • Mechanic – Responsible for all mechanical equipment onboard the rig.
  • Motorman – Engine room duties ensuring smooth running of rig power.
  • Barge Engineer – In charge of control room operations. Often a mariner from the Navy who has crossed over into the oil industry. Responsible for stability of the rig, anchor handling during a rig move and supply vessel operations.
  • Control Room Operator (CRO) – Barge Engineer’s assistant and responsible for keeping the rig afloat. Also involved with anchor operations during rig move as well as a large volume of paperwork.
  • Painter – Responsible for rig painting. Often works at heights with scaffolding safety harness or work basket. May have an assistant, especially if the rig doesn’t have a maintenance roustabout squad.
  • Maintenance Foreman – Responsible for overseeing a maintenance roustabout crew.

 

What is the pay?

Pay in the offshore industry is competitive and based on rank and tenure. The following are some general numbers for offshore worker salaries:

  • Salaries for roustabouts and roughnecks are roughly $300 per day. Annual salaries work out to be approximately $47,000.
  • More specialized jobs like a Driller are likely to make around $56,000 annually.
  • Toolpushers, Drill Leaders and Supervisors bring in around $75,000 – $100,000 annually.
  • Entry-level positions typically make between $50,000 – $80,000 annually.
  • Trades, technical and professional jobs bring in between $70,000 – $220,000 annually.

 

Types of Rigs

  • Jack-Up – A triangular hull supported by three legs. There is a drilling package on top of the hull, and the legs are moved (jacked) up and down with big motors. The legs of the rig touch the bottom of the seabed when the rig is in a fixed location, and when it’s time to move the rig, the legs are jacked back up.
  • Semi-Submersible – This rig is a lot more like a conventional ship than the jack-up. It has a drilling package built in to the top of a barge, which is supported by six to eight legs. There are pontoons at the base that help with moving the rig.
  • Drillship– Like the semi-submersible, this rig is a lot like a conventional ship. The drillship is built around the traditional hull of a ship and even has a bridge. A drilling package is built in. All other equipment is below decks within the hull.
  • Platform- If, following a geological survey and the use of exploration wells, an oil company finds that a particular area is fruitful, they will develop the field and then place a production platform. The platform pumps the oil from the ground, into a pipeline, then to shore.
  • FPSO – “Floating Production Storage & Offloading Vessel, or FPSO”.  Like a platform, but used in smaller fields where it isn’t possible or economically worthwhile to build a platform.
  • DSV – Dive Support Vessels (DSV’s) are support vessels used offshore. DSV’s are used to assist with subsea work on pipelines, wellheads, etc.

 

Big companies to consider

Below is a list of some of the largest companies in the oil and gas industry that will likely have the highest number and variety of available jobs. Please note, this list is just a sample of companies – there are over 5,000 companies in the U.S. alone hiring for offshore work.

  • Atwood Oceanics
  • Diamond Offshore
  • Chevron
  • Edison Chouest Offshore
  • ENSCO Plc
  • ExxonMobil
  • Gulfmark
  • Maersk
  • Noble Corp.
  • Odfjell Drilling
  • Rowan Companies
  • Seadrill
  • Shell
  • Transocean
  • Vantage


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