Wonderful life on the ocean waves

It is said a Shetlander is a fisherman with a croft, an Orcadian a farmer with a boat. Well, my Orcadian family didn’t have a farm, so it is no wonder that I ended up on the sea. As a master with NorthLink Ferries I have the wonderful privilege of leading a fantastic team.

I always loved sailing. One of my grandfathers was a harbour master. The other a farmer who would take me out to the creels in his boat to catch lobsters. Two of my uncles were fishermen, another was master of a gas tanker, while my dad ran the local sea cadets.


I learnt the ropes on my uncle’s fishing boat and completed my Fishing Class two and one certificates. Eventually I transferred to the Merchant Navy, where I began accruing sea time and working my way up the ranks from second mate on a standby vessel to chief officer and then master.

There were, of course, more certificates to complete which I studied at Warsash Maritime Academy in Hampshire. We spend a lot of time keeping our skills up to date and I still undertake courses on a regular basis.


I spent a year on a mercy ship that was providing free medical aid to islanders in the Pacific Ocean. We travelled from New Zealand to the Philippines, Fiji, Tonga, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea – an amazing trip during which I met the woman who would become my wife. I eventually moved home to Orkney, joining NorthLink Ferries as a master a decade ago.

Alan orkney

I have worked on supply vessels and tugs but operating a passenger ferry is something special. One of the great joys of my job is watching the faces of holidaymakers discovering the Northern Isles for the first time, particularly when we sail on the really scenic eastern side of Fair Isle. The Nosshead route takes us past the world’s largest gannet population – an amazing sight.

Conditions in winter can be tougher but, as a lifeline ferry service, we always try and sail. When the volcano erupted in Iceland we provided double the number of runs ensuring islanders stayed connected while flights were grounded. Operating flat out for days highlighted the importance of the service.

Alan orkney

I love this job and would really encourage others to consider following a similar path. Of course you have to keep studying, but there is a tremendous range of opportunities both on and offshore for those who are prepared to make a commitment.

The favourite part of my job has to be doing tours for local children.

To mark the Year of Young People we introduced safety briefing announcements onboard that are narrated by primary school pupils from Shetland and Orkney. It was great fun having them come onboard to see the Bridge for themselves, they were so full of questions and wonder – it reminded me of what a special job I have.

Back to listing