Chief Officer Stirling Mason
Stirling Mason is a husband and father of three with his Masters Unlimited. After his mother adamantly introduced him to the marine industry, he created a fantastic career at sea with many more successful years to come. Stirling is among the rising generation of leadership in the industry, advocating for open and honest communication and honing his leadership skills to set an example for his team and fellow crew members.
You started in the commercial sector, could you tell us what that was like?
I actually didn’t want to come to sea originally, my mum took me to a maritime open day at the Dover docks in the UK and tried to palm me off onto chemical tankers at 16 years old. Of course, I was having none of it at this point. Then 2 years later, she took me back to this maritime open day where shipping companies were advertising for cadet deck and engine officers. This time I had completed my A-levels but still didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, this was an opportunity to travel and not end up in a ton of student debt. So I applied to be both an engineer and a deck officer and the deck officer application was successful so I was given an interview with the training company and placed on P&O ferries.
I loved my time as a cadet on ferries, I would shadow the ABs (able seaman) and do all mooring ops, loading and unloading of vehicles, anchor ops, and planned maintenance. As a very young and inexperienced 18year old it was a real eye-opener, deck crew was over 40 and so had a lot of job and life experience, the time was always interesting and some of my funniest moments came from the ferry days. After qualifying as a 3rd officer I had the opportunity to remain with P&O, which I did as it’s always good to get experience in your discharge book plus the lessons I learned from navigating the some of busiest shipping lanes in the world has given me so much confidence in my collision avoidance decision making abilities and a firm grasp of the rules of the road.
After about 6 months I really did want to travel and so I took a step over to cruise ships. This was an amazing experience, I really did get to travel all over the Mediterranean and we did a great cruise through Panama, into the Pacific and all the small islands, for me it’s been a once-in-a-lifetime that I took away from the cruise ships was the bridge team management skills. The operation procedures are so well written, the closed loop communication is ingrained into all the team, and there are constant training sessions onboard for all aspects of safety, but it’s done in a way that isn’t a drag but a positive learning opportunity. This was also around the time the Costa Concordia capsized and so all cruise ships were really hot on all regulations, cross-checking each other and safety areas. It has been very beneficial to me and I would recommend it to any junior officer to try it out, not only the social aspect of it because cruise ships are great fun but the professional aspect, as they really do put a lot of money into training their officers and the transition from cruise ships to large yachts has been very streamlined.
How did you find your way to the yachting world?
After cruise ships, I went back to the ferries for a few years as I was enjoying the time for time rotation (week on week off/ 2 weeks on 2 weeks off) we had also had our first child so I was happy to be at home. However, while on the cruise ships I had always seen the yachts and was interested in what they did and wondered what it would be like to work on one. I tried through various agencies to get a job and only had 1 strict criterion, it had to be time for a time as I had a young family. Finally, I was given the opportunity to take a temp role with the prospect of going permanent which would have been time for time. It was a big decision because I was definitely in a comfort zone on the ferries and I had heard of all the horror stories from yachts. I absolutely landed a great boat, however, and have been there for the last 5 years.
What was the most difficult transition period in your career at sea?
Definitely having children. It makes going away so much more difficult, I have often questioned whether it’s a good idea to be going away, and what it does to the kids, I know it puts a lot of stress on my wife. I always try to justify it by saying I get quality time with the kids when I’m home and not a lot of dads get that.
Onboard, my most difficult transition was going from 2/O to C/O. It’s a whole different ball game, and communication is king. I’ve also struggled with the leadership aspect of the role. I’ve sailed with so many C/O and captains and tried to take their best bits and make a conscious effort to avoid certain styles. I had a tendency to try to please everyone but I’ve learned that simply can’t work. I’ve undertaken a really good leadership course and putting those elements into practice has been rewarding I believe I can see a difference in how the vessel runs.
When hiring a new crew member, what do you value most?
Again due to this leadership course, my perception of recruitment has improved a lot, it’s not just about what’s on someone’s CV. It’s so important to build up a background on the person, whether they will work well in the ship’s environment and whether they will get on with everyone. Are they hands-on or happy to stand back?
We just hired a new deckhand, with no experience in yachting but his attitude is what sold it for me, he came across as a guy that would get stuck in and not complain, he was very hands-on and mature. He knows how to handle himself in a social situation and is easy to work with, he’s been a great hire for the boat.
You completed an Iron Man in 2020, that’s quite a feat! How did you manage to train whilst onboard?
Haha, I wouldn’t recommend doing it how I did it! I gave myself a year to go from gym meathead to Ironman, so I’d not run anywhere close to a marathon before, I don’t even really like cycling but I’m a decent swimmer so I entered the comp. Fortunately, we have a well-equipped gym onboard with a treadmill but we only had a spin bike at the time and that was soul-destroying trying to keep the resistance the same and HR steady. I was 2/O at the time and I’m pretty sure my C/O had enough of me constantly in the gym training! It was a lot of hours of cardio and I’d have to sacrifice shore leave to get the training in but it was worth it to hear the words ‘you are an Ironman.
What advice do you have for anyone in the industry at the moment?
It’s all about attitude, that will get you far. Hard work doesn’t go unnoticed, putting yourself forward or always being available to assist puts you head and shoulders over everyone else
Showing interest in your job role is as important as being curious, don’t just sit on the bridge at night and play games, look around, explore the equipment, go into settings come up with procedures, you want to improve what you have all the time. If you’re a deckhand, don’t just turn up, see what you think can be done more efficiently, on a well-established boat, they might have seen it all but there’s always room for improvements and a good boat will always trial it.
What would your ideal itinerary be?
I would love to go back to the Pacific Islands again and hopefully get more time ashore. I remember we went to 1 atoll in the Pacific and it didn’t have ECDIS for the area so we were literally using a hand-drawn chart from when Captain Cook visited, the cruise ship was anchored over a mile away as the sounding couldn’t be relied upon. It was incredible.
And finally, are there any specific goals you have for the year ahead?
I’m still doing my leadership course with the crew academy at the moment, I’m learning a lot about my style of leadership, how to implement certain techniques and how to motivate my team. I find the psychology of leadership and people fascinating so I’m really enjoying the course.
Otherwise, I’m focusing on building the foundation to step up as captain one day, learning from those around me. I don’t have a specific timeline to become captain, I’m still trying to become the best C/O I can be.
Thank you, Stirling! Fantastic advice and insights, and great work to your mum for giving you the push to start your incredible career.