Do a nice job, be respecful and have a nice sense of humor. Listen to people with experience and make some friends along the way. You will gain some good professional experience and see some interesting stuff.
Leave the semi-significant other, leave the car, take a job that none of the long-serving slugs like, such as WestPac or the Middle East. Bank the money, learn your job and then the Second Mate's job, ask lots of questions, and stay out for a minimum of six months for your first two tours. After just over a year with MSC, you will be ready to get the Second Mate license and actually do the Second Mate's job.
Come back after vacation and upgrade, repeat, get them to fund your upgrade classes to Chief Mate. Once you have your Chief Mate's license and have paid them back in time served for the training, figure out what you want to do.
A good friend of mine has been with MSC since he graduated around 15 years ago. He's had nothing but problems with reliefs. Twice he's been onboard for over a year without a relief. To answer your inevitable question, he stays because of the money. Each day you don't get a relief MSC pays an extra amount of money (I'm not sure of the exact amount).
Basically if you want to knock out sea time quickly and are willing to give up a personal life for a while than MSC is the way to go.
Is it overwhelming first going to the ship and reporting onboard?
Well, it has probably changed since I sailed with MSC back in the 80's, or maybe it hasn't. Don't know.
As I was in the chief mate's room handing over a sheaf of papers before I turned to aboard USNS Pawcatuck in Souda Bay, the mate had to excuse himself for a moment as there was some commotion outside in the passageway.
Seems there was an AB running for his life as an oiler chased after him while brandishing a fire axe.
Something about cheating while playing cards...I never got the full story and didn't ask any questions.
I worked for MSC as 3/m after graduation on a couple of different ships over the course of a year. Overall it was a good expierance and a good way to learn the ropes and cut your teeth as a brand new third.
But I saw the writing on the wall and got out and moved to greener pastures. Get in, make some good money, get some good exp., do a quick upgrade,and move on before you get sucked into the system. Learn as much as you can.
It might be a little overwhelming at first getting used to the way the capt wants things done, learning the navy jargon, and kinda diving head first into things. Try to learn quick, learn from yor mistakes and get into a routine and you'll be just fine
I had a fair amount of experience when I first joined as third mate. The first 24 hrs were tough, the next 24 hrs were tough but not as bad. After thatI it was ok. I did have a hard time with the log as was mentioned, a lot more writing then the commercial side, I can type, but I can't hand write for shit.
I did catch some grief about my uniform, (or the lack of it) with one captain but the other captains were ok.
There's a lot of people - other 3rd mate, 2nd mate, cargo mate, chief mate, captain - from whom to get advice. One of the biggest things is asking questions if you don't understand something or need clarification. MSC is an interesting mix of Navy and merchant marine - a fun job, but not great on family life. You'll make a bag of money, see some interesting (and some not-so-interesting) places and upgrade quickly. And as Kennebec Captain commented, the uniforms are interesting - collar devices and khakis.
You should be. It sounds like you are a new mate and going to any ship the first time will make everyone nervous. If someone tells you they're not, they are lying. Best advise I can offer as a shipmate would be to listen and learn. Dont be quick to give your input until you have seen how things are done and know the people your working with. When it comes time to give your input dont be cocky about it. If you think your way is better, but the mate doesn't agree just smile and do it his way. Also listen to your unlicensed and dont shrug them off because they dont have that license. You can learn a lot about seamanship from them. As a 1AE, I can tell you that when I get knew 3rds I dont expect a a whole lot out of them. If they perform higher than I expect then that makes my job a little easier. Most C/M and Captains are the same. You will always run into the occasional asshole but dont let it get to you, thats just how we can be out here at times. Good luck. If I am wrong and your an experienced mate then I apologize.