Simple things in everyday life, such as commuting to work present a challenge when applied to the offshore industry. Trust us – There are no roads! Reaching your workplace commonly involves flying by helicopter, although a minority are manned by vessel transfer with a crew lift by crane.
Your departure will highly depend on where the installation is located.
The main departure points are:
- Aberdeen – On of two main departure locations on the UK mainland. Aberdeen is home to multiple heliports and operators, all located close to each other at Aberdeen Airport (Dyce). Aberdeen covers the largest offshore area, including near all installations in the Northern and Central North Sea basins.
- Scatsta – Workers are transferred from Aberdeen Airport to Scatsta (Shetland) utilising fixed-wing aircraft. From Scatsta you then board a helicopter to complete your travel offshore. Scatsta is used as a forward operating base for flights to installations mainly in the east, west and southern Shetland basins.
- Norwich – About 23% of the traffic through Norwich Airport is helicopters travelling to/from offshore installations located in the Southern North Sea basins. Like Aberdeen, it is also home to multiple operators.
The use of helicopter travel is strictly regulated and there are many procedures and regulations to follow. These procedures and regulations change slightly depending on the installation operator and the helicopter operator. It is important to check what you can carry onboard and the procedure for checking into your flight.
The helicopters used for offshore travel vary in size and type. The majority being the AgustaWestland AW139 or the larger Sikorsky S-92. The S-92 is also the helicopter of choice for the UK Coast Guard.
To learn more about the helicopters, here are the 2016 brochures:
- Sikorsky S-92
- AgustaWestland AW139
The check-in procedure typically consists of:
- Identification / Valid to travel checks
- Luggage weighed and checked for prohibited goods
- Declaration of any medications
- Introduction to and donning of survival equipment
- Helicopter Safety Video & Instructions
- Boarding of Helicopter
Many offshore positions work a standard 12 hour shift each day. However, this includes a morning break, lunch break and an afternoon break. The typical day offshore in the UKCS is 06:00 – 18:00.
As an offshore worker you would normally work on a rotational basis, spending two or three weeks offshore followed by two or three weeks of onshore leave. Many also work on an ad-hoc basis where they are not on a fixed roster or even the same platform each time.
Holidays for offshore workers normally must be taken during their onshore leave periods, as this avoids constant rota changes and additional flight planning. The majority of employers cater for those events which necessitate time off during your shift (where possible).
For an overview of the offshore platforms and living offshore, we highly recommend the following videos:
- ExxonMobil: Go Inside One of the World’s Largest Oil Platforms
- CNOOC: A Day in the Life Offshore – Golden Eagle
Offshore accommodation in the limited space of an offshore platform can be a challenge, as there is often the need to house a large crew. The accommodation of today has come on greatly from the first offshore platforms thanks to manufacturers conducting a lot of R&D leading to the creation innovative living spaces.
Rooms are normally shared with two persons to a room in a bunk bed configuration or two single beds if space allows. Rooms typically include beds, personal storage a desk area and an en-suite shower room.
Food & Shopping
Offshore operators tend to contract out the running of an onboard galley and bond (small shop). The galley, normally run by a small team, provides free meals for workers. The meal times typically are breakfast, lunch, dinner and a midnight meal to cater for nightshift. Plenty of options and variety are on offer and the food is comparable to that of an onshore hotel.
For smaller snacks, bottle of juice on the go or for anything you did not take offshore, installations normally stock and operate a small shop call the bond. Like any onshore shop – this is not free, so you need to remember to take money with you.
Commonly the bond will have sweets, crisps, snacks, juice, toiletries etc. Depending on the platform, you can also get cigarettes.
Down Time / Recreation
What can you do after work, and after dinner? Recreation time can be spent in a variety of ways with installations often having a communal lounge area and gym. Most include HD satellite television. It is also not unknown for installations to include a cinema room, games room with pool / air hockey, large screen TVs and games consoles.
Keeping in Touch with Home
With new technology, the offshore experience has changed over time. Installations are fitted fit satellite broadband and communication as most are not within mobile phone coverage. Some however are connected by an umbilical cable on the sea floor. WiFi is however becoming common place allowing for offshore workers to communicate by normal social media and communication methods.
Offshore workers are permitted to carry tablets, laptops and phones in their luggage offshore (noting some operators prohibit this so check first!). For safety reasons these devices must only be switched on when they are inside the living quarters.
Clothing / Laundry
Like the galley, laundry is often contracted out by the operators. Installations can have a mix of industrial and commercial sized machines. Bedding etc is normally handled by the service company who will provide cleaning of living quarters and replacing bedding. Offshore workers would typically drop of laundry in the morning and collect again after their shift. It is however recommended that you don’t bring you best clothes.
Medical Care & Medication
All installations within the UKCS must have an offshore medic present. The role of the medic is to provide medical care for personnel offshore and includes maintaining records, medical facilities and keeping onboard medicines in stock and valid.
Medication such as pain killers and antibiotics can be provided by the offshore medic whilst you await transport onshore. The offshore medical will also have access to support from a 24/7 on-call medic onshore.
For any conditions known before travel offshore, you can carry medication offshore by taking (and declaring) it to the check-in desk at the heliport. They will normally place your medication in a sealed bag carried by the crew for the medic with your details attached to it. There is conditions around what can be taken however.
Smoking, Drugs & Alcohol
In short, smoking of tobacco cigarettes and vaping is at the discretion of the installation operator. Non-prescription drugs & Alcohol of any kind are never permitted to be carried offshore or used prior to check-in.
On some installations, smoking in allowed provided it is done in designated areas. An offshore installation is inherently dangerous, any source of heat or ignition could spell disaster. Where permitted, you can normally pack cigarettes for the duration of your trip in your luggage; you will not however be allowed to take a lighter, matches or fire started offshore. A book of matches is normally available at the designated smoking areas.
Most employers, heliports and platform operators have a random drug / alcohol testing policy.