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  • Writer's pictureSarah Whiteford

What is life like offshore?

Working offshore can involve a grueling schedule, cramped quarters, and being away from home for weeks or even months at a time. Working 13+ hour days can be hard to get used to, but having weeks off to spend with family and good pay are draws for this sometimes dangerous, always interesting job. Today we’re going to take a look at life on an oil rig or platform: commuting to work, long schedules, and staying safe in the middle of the ocean.

A quick overview of offshore oil rigs: according to Investopedia, rigs have an average price tag of $650 million dollars, 15-20 times more than land rigs. There’s more oil under the ocean than there is on land, so energy companies build huge city-like structures on the ocean that drill down hundreds or thousands of feet into the seabed. Running offshore facilities requires a large crew that can be up to 200 people. With so many people offshore, there can be a lot of air traffic. Aberdeen, Scotland is home to the busiest heliport in the world where more than 100 helicopters take off each day to deliver people to the North Sea, a popular area for offshore drilling. According to NES Fircroft, there are almost 1,500 offshore rigs worldwide, so you can imagine how many helicopters and offshore supply vessels are needed to service them. Generally, helicopters transport people, but offshore supply vessels deliver supplies, both for facility and for the crew, delivering everything from huge drilling components to food and cleaning supplies.

A helicopter lands as an offshore supply vessel departs an oil platform. Image from People with Energy.

Since offshore facilities are out on the open seas, some hundreds of miles from shore, a helicopter is usually the best way to get there, although there are crew vessels. Helicopters don’t have to deal with waves and sea conditions, especially important in the areas with rough seas. Either way, there’s no getting stuck in traffic on your hour-long ride across the ocean. Rigs and platforms operate 24 hours a day, all year, and their shifts reflect that. Most workers are offshore for at least two weeks straight, followed by equal time off. Although this can be longer - during COVID some tours were extended to 6 weeks. The extended tours have also been a function of quarantine; it’s much harder to change shifts when you have to quarantine for a week before going to work.

Days are usually 12 hours long, but add in some hand-over time and meetings, then it’s closer to 13 hours on most days. While offshore, workers work every day without a day off until they go home. Shifts sometimes run 0:00-12:00 and 12:00-0:00, but can also run 6:00-18:00 and 18:00-6:00. In fact, one of the strangest parts of offshore drilling is that you could be busy every day for weeks, but this depends on your job. Also, you could work overtime, or even be on standby for weeks just waiting to do your part. Engineers especially have this issue, and one tour could be relatively easy with another filled with work. In the few hours not spent working, workers can spend their time reading, hitting the gym, watching a movie, or playing games. According to Steph Delmont over at Medium, if the crew has too much time, you may end up in a friendly prank war as well. The internet may be slow depending on the vessel, not enough to download big files or stream HD video, but it’s enough to email, surf the web, and maybe video chat with friends and family. At least there is internet: back in the good old days workers received one call per week that was limited to 6 minutes!

Offshore pranks. Image from Medium.

One of the upsides to life offshore is the food. Regular shipments of food are brought in, which means fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, and chefs to prepare it all. Of course, that breakfast of eggs, biscuits and gravy, ham, bacon, and pancakes will get burned off quickly during the 13 hours on the job. Meals are served four times per day, giving people who are about to start a shift or just getting off a shift time to grab some freshly cooked food. It’s standard for there to be no alcohol or drugs permitted, and there’s limited smoking in designated areas. Offshore jobs pay very well, especially for engineers with specialized skill sets. The long hours, time away from home, and danger of life offshore generally means workers are compensated well.

Cabins are normally anywhere from one to four people to a room, and shared bathrooms between cabins. It can be rough when 4 or more people are getting up and around in the same hour before their shift and trying to use the same shower, but it’s something to get used to. Laundry is all done for you, and chefs prepare meals four times a day, so at least the chores are kept to a minimum for workers.

“An offshore oil and gas processing platform. [Oil and Gas Photographer/Shutterstock]”. Image from Euractiv.

Working offshore requires lots of training on how to stay safe around heavy machinery, combustible materials, and other safety lessons you need to know while working 100 feet above the middle of the sea on a small steel city. Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE is a requirement for everyone. According to Medium, “...PPE includes coveralls, steel-toed boots, safety glasses, impact gloves, hearing protection, and a hard hat.” A keen observation of your surroundings is also required. This is one of the most dangerous jobs, and you have to be on the lookout at all times. One of the ways that workers stay safe is by completing safety drills that usually happen around 9:00 am or pm, keeping everyone on their toes and ready for emergencies. Here’s some very important pieces of safety advice: never step backward, always look where you’re going, and if you see anything that doesn’t look right, let someone know. Offshore facilities are under constant maintenance and there may be areas of construction or a problem someone hasn’t seen yet. It’s everyone’s responsibility to keep safety top of mind!

There’s a great 360 degree video from BBC News where you can move the camera around and see what a day on an offshore rig is like. We highly recommend checking it out below. There’s also a great story from Steph Delmont called Life on an Oil Rig on Medium that takes you through an entire day along with travel, prep, and workload.

We hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about life offshore. If you’d like to learn more about how oil rigs work or oil in general, check out some of our other articles below. Happy Friday!


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