The Complete Maritime Workers Guide to Starting a Career in the Oil and Gas Industry

Starting an oil and gas career can seem intimidating. Would be maritime workers are often left to parse facts in their search and may even find conflicting information. That’s why we’ve taken the time to create The Complete Maritime Workers Guide to Starting a Career in the Oil and Gas Industry. This guide will cover in detail how to apply for oil rig jobs, and the realities of being an oil and gas maritime worker.


Why Would-be Maritime Workers Struggle to Find Answers Online

Because the oil and gas industry is so vast, putting together varied bits of information can be difficult. Especially when there are regional variances between rigs, let alone countries, and companies. There is a literal ocean of information out there and some of it is dated which can unintentionally mislead those interested in the industry.

Not everyone has the time to work through a fifty page report to find the one piece of information they need. To help make things more convenient, we’ve answered some of the most common questions for those looking to become maritime workers in the oil and gas industry.

While just a few sections will provide great insights, it’s highly recommended that you continue reading this guide until its conclusion. You’ll be gaining a competitive edge and will gain a wealth of knowledge for starting your career in the oil and gas industry.

Table of Contents

From salary expectations to work-life considerations, this complete maritime workers guide will shortcut your fact finding to help jump start your oil and gas career.

Chapter 1: Do You Need Experience to Get Started in the Oil and Gas Industry?
Chapter 2: Salary Expectations for Oil and Gas Maritime Workers (Without Training)
Chapter 3: Salary Expectations for Oil and Gas Maritime Workers (With Training)
Chapter 4: Regional Wage Differences for Oil and Gas Maritime Workers
Chapter 5: Work-Life Considerations for Oil and Gas Maritime Workers
Chapter 6: Roustabout/Roughneck Job-Role Analysis
Chapter 7: Chemical Process Engineer Job-Role Analysis
Chapter 8: How to Land an Interview to Work on an Offshore Oil Rig
Chapter 9: Earnings and Career Expectations Case Study of One Oil and Gas Worker

It’s important to note that everything we share in this guide is to be taken at your own discretion. While we’re determined to provide you the best information and statistics available, only you can know the details of your unique situation.

Chapter 1: Do You Need Experience to Get Started in the Oil and Gas Industry

Historically, it wasn’t uncommon for maritime workers to drag large machinery across platforms in oil-soaked gear. Many positions are still very physical, but changes over the last two decades have shifted the oil and gas industry towards automation. Today more oil and gas jobs are based on monitoring autonomous machinery. These autonomous machines are then controlled remotely by advanced computer systems. Innovations like these may cause you to raise the question of whether you need experience to get hired.

The short answer is no. You do not need experience to get hired for certain entry-level oil and gas positions, provided you meet some basic requirements:

  • To work on an oil rig you must be over 18 years of age.
  • You must be in good physical working condition and able to complete a physical exam.
  • You must be capable of accommodating an irregular work schedule which may require night shifts and extended days on end without weekends off.
  • You must be able to abstain from alcohol during extended 14 to 21 day shifts.
  • You are preferably a non-smoker. (Smoking is not banned on most offshore oil rigs, but failure to smoke in designated areas can result in severe disciplinary action and potentially termination.)
  • You are able to wear safety gear for prolonged shifts and periods of time.
  • You preferably have a high school diploma.

Competition for entry-level positions can be high as the industry’s position availability fluctuates with the price of oil. According to the most recent Hays Oil & Gas Global Salary Guide, global downturn in oil demand made 2015 a difficult year. In 2016, 32 percent of their survey respondents had experienced layoffs. 93 percent of oil and gas industry employers stated they reduced headcount.

Duncan Freer, Managing Director of Oil and Gas Job Search issued a statement on this development, “On a more optimistic note, the industry weathered the last storm during 2009-2010 relatively well and should do so again.”

These facts shouldn’t discourage you if you want to make a career as a maritime worker in oil and gas. Regardless of the hiring climate, it pays to be informed about the realities of your industry. It won’t hurt your job prospects either should you land an interview.

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Chapter 2: Salary Expectations for Oil and Gas Maritime Workers (Without Training)

There is a significant amount of career mobility for maritime workers in the oil and gas industry. But for many, one of the most compelling reasons to become a maritime worker is the salary compensation and benefits. This is understandable as it’s one of the few industries that provides great wages even with minimal training.

One of the most common entry-level positions available to new oil and gas maritime workers is the roustabout position. A more detailed analysis of this job will follow later on in the guide.

From a wages and salary perspective, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists sizeable compensation for the position. According to the BLS, roustabout median salaries in 2016 sat at $40,480. Roustabouts who qualified in the 90th percentile for earnings averaged roughly $60,600. Those in the 10th percentile substantially less at $26,060 .

As with any industry, compensation varies depending on where you happen to fall on the spectrum. Roustabout jobs generally don’t have educational requirements outside of a high school diploma. Earning relevant certifications and continuing education can often help increase one’s wage.

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Chapter 3: Salary Expectations for Oil and Gas Maritime Workers (With Training)

Compensation varies widely depending on your chosen field. But if you have the appropriate prerequisite training, you can expect to make a healthy salary as a maritime worker in the oil and gas industry.

The following data for the infographic below was sourced from the Hays Oil & Gas Global Salary Survey 2015 (the most recent year available).

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Chapter 4: Regional Wage Differences for Oil and Gas Maritime Workers

The region a maritime worker operates out of can also significantly affect earnings. According to the Hays Oil & Gas Global Salary Survey 2015, earnings in Australasia were the highest.

Australasia is a region of Oceania which is comprised of Australia, New Zealand, and the island of New Guinea. Close neighboring islands in the Pacific Ocean also fall within this region.

North and South America followed respectively in their average compensation. With that said, high earnings aren’t necessarily the best indicator to choose who you should work for. The previously mentioned Hays Oil & Gas Survey shared that Australasian employers have been decreasing benefits on offer to cut workforce expense. This is in sharp contrast to European employers who have consistently increased their benefits packages for the past half-decade.

Ultimately, when starting a career in the oil and gas industry, more has to go into the decision than regional compensation. Geographical location, familial ties, time off, benefits, required certifications, and much more are often critical factors.

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Chapter 5: Work-Life Considerations for Oil and Gas Maritime Workers

Maritime workers in the oil and gas industry have extremely demanding jobs. To aid them in their roles, offshore oil platforms are built like self contained cities on the ocean. Auxiliary support staff are there to keep everyone healthy and productive. Whether you need a doctor for a checkup, a dentist for a sore tooth, a chef to cook your meals, or a launderer to wash your clothes; most offshore facilities have put painstaking effort into their workforce support systems.

Some have described the facilities being on par with 4 and 5 star hotels. It is important however to manage expectations as employers often try to make their rigs seem as welcoming as possible. Accommodations can be small, and sharing a room with up to four bunkmates is not uncommon.

Workplace stressors contribute to a higher than average turnover rate compared to other industries. It takes a hearty constitution to put up with the rigors of maritime life aboard an offshore oil rig.

This shouldn’t deter candidates, but should bring more awareness to the work-life considerations when working in the oil and gas industry. Despite the hardships, many still find the work quite rewarding.

Expect to Work 14 Day Stretches and Beyond

Schedules vary between rigs, maritime discipline and work responsibilities. With this in mind, it’s not uncommon for maritime workers on oil installations to work upwards of 14 days in a row. During these stretches, shifts range between 12 to 16 hours. Clocking in from 80 to 100 hours per week is standard.
For positions of higher responsibility where there are no backups, expect that this 16 hour restriction will be lifted potentially exposing you to 24 hour shifts and beyond. One oil worker provided a window into this reality in an interview with online publication Vice:

“I’m a lot tougher after doing it all. I’ve worked 32 hours straight so I can handle hard work and pressure a lot better now. There aren’t many people who’ve had that sort of experience, so it’s definitely something I don’t regret.”

During emergencies you can be pressed into action far longer than what you are used to. But as the maritime oil worker mentioned above, you may find it a great test of your abilities.

These rigs never sleep, and activity continues around the clock.

The Food Is Often Outstanding

To make life and extended stays on oil rigs more comfortable, employers place a premium on outfitting their facilities with round the clock catering staff. It’s not uncommon for large meals to be prepared every six hours.

Keeping quality food on hand allows oil and gas employers to keep morale up in a high-stress environment. Workers have often described their work as revolving around food. Expect to eat your fill with a large spread and variety of options.

A full complement of catering staff is typical for most offshore installations. Food is normally provided at no additional cost to maritime workers on the oil rig.

Safety for Maritime Workers on Offshore Oil Rigs

Given the combustible nature of the raw materials being harvested, the long hours worked, and the method of transport to and from offshore oil rigs, maintaining a safe environment is essential for these facilities. With that said, accidents do happen and the work can be dangerous. In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that offshore oil rig workers were seven times more likely to die on the job than normal workers.

Deaths on the job are a tragic (but infrequent) reality of offshore work and shouldn’t be taken lightly. According to the CDC, from 2003 to 2010, 128 offshore workers died while on the job in the United States. Explosions such as the one that occurred with 2010’s Deepwater Horizon contributed to this total. A large portion of deaths were due to transportation failures. Helicopter crashes because of poor weather or mechanical issues had a part in 49 of the 128 fatalities in that time period.

Those who fear heights or being surrounded by water may struggle with the realities of working on an offshore oil rig. The largest rigs can be upwards of forty stories, with outside walkways stretching high up off the ocean. The walkways are a blunt reminder of the elevations, though inside the facilities it is not as apparent.

To keep maritime workers safe, management enforces the practice of safety drills with regularity.

Connection to the Outside World Can Be Limited

Some offshore oil rig installations will have satellite internet, but the connection can be restricted and choppy. In the past employers would restrict cell phone use heavily, though in recent years some platforms have started to become more lax. Even with these lighter restrictions, the odds of getting a serviceable signal offshore are quite low.

You’ll have to check with your placement agency or information representative on what specific services are available for your rig.

Isolation is commonly reported by those who don’t adjust well to the lifestyle aboard an installation. Maritime workers often have to work through family events and celebrations. Even in the extreme case of family illness, one isn’t always able to leave for an extended period without risking their employment.

If you work in a position critical to the operation, in a time of need they are known to force action in the interest of the installation.

Romantic Relationships Can Be Tough

Maritime workers on occasion find their eventual marital partners on oil rigs. It’s uncommon as the ratio of men to women is often skewed heavily towards being male dominated.

There can be significant hurdles in maintaining a relationship with someone who doesn’t live an offshore lifestyle. Being away from your significant other for weeks if not many months is common, but varies across personal circumstances.

Sexual relations are explicitly prohibited on offshore installations and can result in disciplinary action. Measures are often taken to put romantic partners on opposite shifts.

Certain Positions Require Regular Relocation

Depending on which position you work in, some maritime workers find themselves moving with extreme regularity. Mobile Offshore Drilling Units or MOBUs often work on a per site basis, rotating between locales and job sites.

This arrangement can be taxing for families and is worth factoring in when deciding which position to pursue within this industry.

Healthcare Is a High Priority

Medical support staff are available 24 hours a day. Paramedics are on hand for serious medical emergencies, but platform nurses are often on site as well for examinations and health screenings. Significant medical and healthcare support are kept on site.

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Chapter 6: Roustabout/Roughneck Job-Role Analysis

Most who are starting a career in the oil and gas industry without experience will begin as a roustabout. This role is sometimes referred to as being a “roughneck” due to the physical nature of the work involved and their place within the working hierarchy.

Roustabout Work Responsibilities

Roustabouts are charged with taking care of routine tasks. Sweeping, painting, mopping, equipment installation, drill repairs, hauling, work area maintenance, and more comprise some of the responsibilities involved. As a roustabout you will also be required to service machinery, connect piping sections, rig loads to be moved by crane, pour concrete, and additional tasks that require basic equipment knowledge.

Much of their work is physically intensive involving long hours. Working 12 hours on for up to three weeks at a time is not uncommon as a roustabout. After a working stretch they typically have two weeks off before beginning the next working cycle.

As with any offshore position, some dangers come with the position. Ocean storms, extreme weather conditions, explosions, and even attacks in unstable regions are all potential work-related hazards.

Roustabout Educational Requirements

A roustabout job is one of the few within the oil and gas industry that doesn’t normally have educational requirements. Some employers will prefer a high school diploma, but the preference doesn’t automatically disqualify those who don’t have one.

Roustabout Job Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics placed the median salary for roustabouts at $37,340 in 2016. Those in the 90th percentile did substantially better at $60,600, while those in the 10th percentile made less at $26,060. Those who pursue formal training courses often earn higher salaries.

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Chapter 7: Chemical Process Engineer Job-Role Analysis

Chemical Process Engineers have a wide range of responsibilities that vary between offshore and onshore oil and gas facilities. They are largely responsible for the operation, design, control and optimization of chemical processes. Oil and gas industry process engineers are typically placed in the downstream portion of operations. Despite this, they can be utilized in upstream and midstream operations. Their primary focus is process for converting raw materials into useable productions, and optimizing the process for doing so.

Chemical Process Engineer Work Responsibilities

Chemical process engineers typically work cooperatively with the operations and maintenance departments. Their process expertise helps to support the start-up, commissioning, operation and shutting down of process units. When they aren’t monitoring daily plant operations, chemical process engineers are troubleshooting and working on process optimization.

Safety and environmental compliance are also areas of focus to ensure they are adhering to guidelines by regulatory authorities. Computer simulation work is also routine to support daily plant operations.

Chemical Process Engineer Educational Requirements

It’s often a non-negotiable requirement for chemical process engineers to have at least a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. Liquified natural gas (LNG) engineering knowledge is typically preferred by oil and gas employers for this position. A deep understanding of fluid flow, heat transfer, hydrocarbon process chemistry, and thermodynamics is also a necessity.

Familiarity with safety precautions as well as the hazards of hydrocarbon processes are also a requirement.

Chemical Process Engineer Job Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the median annual wage of chemical engineers was $98,340 in 2016. Of those employed in this field, the lowest 10 percent earned under $60,770 whereas the highest 10 percent earned over $158,800.

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Chapter 8: How to Land an Interview to Work on an Offshore Oil Rig

Getting your foot in the door can be the hardest part of the process. It’s not easy to get your first job in the oil and gas industry. Even for entry-level positions, past experience is often preferred. One of the quickest ways to land an interview is by tapping your personal network. Identifying friends, family members, or past associates who are actively working on an oil rig.

If you don’t know anyone who qualifies under these criteria, you may have to expand your search to 2nd or 3rd degree connections. Friends of friends, or friends of relatives who work within the industry. Knowing someone “on the inside” can be invaluable, and can serve as a vote of confidence to your prospective employer.

For those who don’t have a personal network to tap, there are still many routes to get an interview for an oil and gas related job.

While you could simply begin the application process to any appropriate listings you find online, it would be prudent to do some research ahead of time.


Marine Safety Certifications Can Help Show Your Interest

Before applying, you can show an active interest in the oil and gas industry by pursuing the appropriate safety certifications. This will vary depending on your country of residence and the country within which you are seeking to work.


Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC)

For those who want to work in offshore drilling within the United States, getting your Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) can show your earnest intent to work within the oil and gas industry. For US maritime workers, a TWIC is a required credential per the Maritime Transportation Security Act. It’s a standard document that determines one’s eligibility to access US maritime facilities and vessels.

Applicants can start the process online or in person at an appropriate TWIC application facility. You’ll need identification documents to prove your eligibility. You will also be required to take photos and give fingerprints. New applicant fees range between a reduced rate of $105.25 up to the standard fee of $125.25.

To learn more about TWIC you can visit the official TSA website which documents the entire process.


Basic Offshore Safety Instruction and Emergency Training (BOSIET)

Overseas employers in the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands require a different credential called a Basic Offshore Safety Instruction and Emergency Training (BOSIET) certification. The BOSIET certification covers the potential hazards you may encounter while working on an offshore oil and gas installation. Additional parts of the curriculum cover the safety regime as well as the safety management systems designed to mitigate said hazards.

Costs vary between providers of the BOSIET certification, but typically range between $750 up to $1200. You’ll have to use your discretion on which provider to go with, but many maritime colleges provide this training such as the Texas A&M Maritime Academy.

You can speak with a course coordinator to learn more, or locate a private BOSIET certification provider near you.
Having Past Mechanical Experience Is a Resume Booster
Entry-level positions often require some level of mechanical knowhow. Those without prior experience or training often start their careers in a roustabout or roughneck position.

Past experience as a mechanic can make you an appealing candidate for hire. The position you’re after will largely determine the credentials and certifications you pursue.


Rig Technician Apprenticeship Trade Programs

Certain colleges offer courses which allow prospective hires to earn as they learn. This would happen via an apprenticeship trade program, and can provide a clear path to becoming a motorhand, derrickhand and/or driller. Positions available for rig technician apprenticeship will vary depending on which institution you go through.

Pursuing an accredited program to become a rig technician can get your foot in the door as mentioned previously. Though you’ll have to speak with a college course coordinator to find the right fit based on your budget and time constraints.

If you decide to get rig technician certified, it would be a good idea to vet your prospective college by getting in touch with alumni of their program.


How to Apply for Oil Rig Jobs

Outside of apprenticeship trade programs or tapping your personal network, another tactic to get a job in the oil and gas industry is to reach out to a Recruitment Agency that specializes in oil rig placements.

Direct recruitment without a personal recommendation and no experience can be very difficult. By using a Recruitment Agency you shortcut the line in exchange for a portion of your wages. This garnishment is typically revoked upon attaining a direct hire status with your prospective oil and gas employer. That said, the “vetting period” can vary widely from months to years.

Working with a Recruitment Agency isn’t a guarantee of your placement, and it’s recommended that you explore additional options.


Prior Research Serves You and Your Prospective Oil and Gas Employer

Offshore oil rigs are essentially self-contained ecosystems filled with numerous job roles and auxiliary support staff. Opportunities range from the ground level as a roustabout all the way to a highly specialized senior subsea engineer. Doing prior research is critical to determine which position you should be applying for.

Before sending out your application you can call ahead to your targeted oil and gas employer’s Human Resources Department. Build a friendly rapport with the HR staffer and explain the reasoning for your call. You can share that you’d like to know more about what they search for in prospective hires.

As a prospective maritime worker you can also ask for tips to make your application stand out. They could provide insights such as upcoming openings for specific rig certifications, and give you tips which are transferrable to other applications.

Reading industry related publications can also show your earnest desire to do well in this field. The Hays Oil & Gas Global Salary Guide is a great place to start.
How Prospective Maritime Workers Can Prep Their Oil and Gas Resume
Once you have a clear understanding of the work you’re applying for, the certifications required, and a list of oil and gas companies you’d like to send your resume to, standard resume preparation applies.

Clear spelling and grammar, proper formatting and alterations per the desired position should be implemented. Be sure to list your qualifications, relevant experience, certifications, and even appropriate medical vaccinations depending on which country you’re seeking to work out of.

Fast learning capability, dependability, and an appreciation of teamwork are all traits worth mentioning for this line of work (if you genuinely possess them).

It’s imperative that you provide yourself with multiple options. In a field this competitive, it’s not unusual for their Human Resources Department to be overwhelmed with resumes and interview requests. Expect that you’ll have to send out numerous resumes to solicit a response.

Standard follow-up also applies. Unless specified against by the hiring company, be sure to call your prospective employer to show your interest on a regular basis.

Beyond your qualifications, enthusiasm and zest for the industry can go a long way. Try to show in every aspect of your application how committed you are to working within the oil and gas industry.

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Chapter 9: Earnings and Career Expectations Case Study of One Oil and Gas Worker

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