4 things you need to know before working offshore

Working offshore can be a highly attractive option, offering excellent financial rewards and plenty of down time. According to information published by HSE, there were approximately 29,000 UK offshore workers working the equivalent of full-time hours in 2018, which equates to around 4.8 million working days.

However, before you rush to sign up to an offshore role, there are a few things you need to know. This is not a job for the workshy or for the faint-hearted. The financial rewards can be generous but the shifts are long and the lifestyle isn’t suitable for everyone. So we’ve put together a useful checklist of four points to consider before embarking on a new life working offshore.

1. Long working hours

Choosing to work offshore means an end to the daily commute and 9-5 lifestyle that so many jobs require. Shifts are usually 12 hours long, although these usually veer towards 13-hour working days by the time daily meetings and briefings have been factored in. Individual rigs vary a little in their shift patterns, but since they function 24 hours a day, so too do the workers. So when you work offshore, you can typically expect to be working 12 hours on and 12 hours off duty.

But on the plus side, there are a huge number of benefits to offshore working, one of which is that offshore workers get plenty of down time too. The usual pattern is to work for two weeks offshore, followed by two weeks back at home, which is a major attraction for many workers. 

Some rigs offer three weeks on followed by three weeks off, but there is always a huge amount of time that can be spent back at home, doing whatever you like. Offshore workers are subject to a 21-day limit on the rigs, after which time they are obliged to spend a minimum of 7 days onshore.

2. Helicopter flights and safety training

Travelling by helicopter isn’t for everyone, but it’s the only way of reaching most oil rigs so workers have to be comfortable with this mode of transport. And you can’t just hop on a helicopter and head out to sea. Everyone visiting an offshore site, even just for a few hours, is obliged to undergo a medical examination and complete a course in offshore survival techniques. All personnel travelling offshore wear lifejackets and immersion suits and are subject to a detailed safety briefing before every flight.

All UK offshore workers must complete an induction program, as well as undergoing the Basic Safety Induction and Emergency Training course (BOSIET), including Compressed Air Emergency Breathing System program (CA-EBS). Training covers personal survival, helicopter escape, how to use breathing and safety equipment, firefighting and first aid. 

3. Food, drink and recreation offshore

Most offshore rigs are staffed by between 50-200 workers, who typically share a cabin. Most have private ensuite facilities, but sometimes facilities are shared between two or more cabins. All rooms have a wash hand basin and a TV and wi-fi is available, although the bandwidth is not always good. Some living conditions are exceptionally good and all rigs offer a wide range of entertainment options for workers to enjoy in their time off, including cinemas, gyms and snooker tables.

Fresh food is flown in on a regular basis and all meals are provided free of charge. There are usually excellent self-service options, which are available 24 hours a day. However, if you’re hoping for a beer with your meals, you’ll be disappointed. Alcohol is banned at all offshore facilities and even the smell of alcohol on a worker’s breath will be enough to deny them access to the flight out to the rig.

Smoking is permitted offshore in designated areas but the use of drugs is strictly prohibited. Many rigs conduct random drug tests to make sure this policy is enforced.

4. Understand the financial implications

Choosing to work as a sole trader isn’t a great option for offshore workers, as it fails to make the most of your income. Most offshore contractors choose to either start their own limited company, whilst others use a third-party umbrella company to take charge of the associated administration. 

As an offshore contractor, you’ll be liable for a range of tax relief options, such as travel expenses, the tools and training necessary to undertake your duties, accountancy costs, and VAT on expenses, if you’re registered for VAT. 

But you also need to consider life insurance and business insurance too. Professional indemnity insurance is an absolute must-have, as being sued for negligence, or a potentially costly error, could leave you financially exposed.