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Life on an Oil Rig – Gulf of Mexico

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May 7, 2010

From the gCaptain Offshore Archives – 2008

Life on an Oil Rig in the Gulf of Mexico
“Just Another Day at Work”

By Captain Ben Dinsmore

For the last 5 years I have served as Chief Mate (First Mate) on board an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Similar to ocean going merchant ships, the rig that I work on is self propelled (meaning that it can sail under its own power from location to location without being towed) and is required to have Coast Guard licensed Merchant Mariners on board.

During my undergraduate studies at Maine Maritime Academy, I studied for a more traditional career in the marine industry as a ship’s officer on an ocean going cargo ship.

As graduation day approached, I interviewed with several such companies until a recruiter lured me into a position in the offshore oil and gas industry. 10 years later I still have no regrets.

For those of you not familiar with the management organization on a merchant vessel, the chief mate (sometimes referred to as the first mate, or “mate”) is second in command of the vessel under the captain.

The chief mate is responsible for all lifesaving equipment on board the vessel, and is the chief of both the fire and emergency teams.

The chief mate helps ensures that the rig is operated in a safe and controlled condition, and is compliant with all company and governmental rules and regulations.

In regards to the well drilling operation, the chief mate ensures the position of the rig remains precisely over the oil well that is being drilled thousands of feet below on the ocean floor.

Finally, and the responsibility that I take the most pride in, is helping to ensure that the rig’s impact on the environment is as minimal possible. The company, rig, and it’s crew all take great pride in our environmental record.


My day actually begins in the early afternoon when I wake up from my daily slumber. As I mentioned in the first post in this series, I work the night shift, 12 hours straight, from 6:00pm to 6:00am.

By 2:00pm I am usually out of bed and wandering around the accommodations looking for the freshest pot of coffee. Once I get some caffeine I begin checking my email, or catching up on the latest news headlines.

If I am in the mood, this is the time when I do most of my writing for Trees Full of Money. The few hours before work are split between any overtime opportunities, writing for my blog, the occasional trip to the gym, reading, watching TV, and eating dinner. There is only so much you can do for fun when you are isolated in the middle of the ocean!

After dinner (which is actually breakfast for me), I meet up with the captain in his office to go over the events day and plan any tasks that need to be carried out for the night.

At night the chief mate supervises the night seaman, as well as three to four operators on the vessel’s bridge who control the position of the vessel and monitor the rigs power generation and safety equipment control panels.

My first order of business is a walk around the rig to inspect different areas, double check various pieces of safety equipment, and get an overall sense of what operations are ongoing on the rig. On any given night there is a variety of operations going on including well drilling, machinery maintenance, and the constant movement of deck cranes unloading and repositioning supplies from supply boats.

Between 7:00pm and 9:00pm I either catch up on any maintenance items that may be due or work on any special projects that may have been requested by the captain. There is always work to be done, and each night brings something a little different.

I relieve the control room operators (DPO’s) on the bridge at 9:00pm so that they can get a quick bite to eat or get a fresh cup of coffee. This is the time that I usually call home (yes we have phones out here) and by 10:30 I am heading to the galley for lunch.

After dinner I begin gathering information for the marine report which is review of the day’s activities, operational events, and weather conditions that is then submitted to the corporate computer servers on land.

As part of this report I conduct a survey of all movable equipment on deck which I use to calculate the stability of the rig. If weight is not properly distributed on the rig, there is a chance that it will become unstable and risk capsizing.

Most nights I finish the marine report between 01:00am and 02:00am which allows me an hour or two to catch up on any other paperwork or outstanding projects before I relieve the operators on the bridge for the 3:00 am coffee break.

The final hour of my work day is spent wrapping up any projects or paperwork, and finishes with a morning meeting with the captain to bring him up to speed on the night’s happenings.

By 06:00 am I am ready to call it a day (or night). After a quick shower I am usually fast asleep by 06:30am, resting up for the day that lies ahead. That’s it!

After repeating this schedule 21 times I get to go back home for 21 days of vacation reversing the itinerary outlined in my first post about commuting to the rig!

I hope that you enjoyed a look into the working life of this personal finance blogger, there isn’t much money management insight here, but hopefully I’ve satisfied some of your curiosities on what my day (er..night) job is like!


Capt. Ben Dinsmore is an Master Mariner currently sailing as chief mate on an oil exploration vessel in the Gulf of Mexico.  He is also editor of the personal finance/environmental website Trees Full Of Money.

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