What exactly does an offshore electrician do, how dangerous is the job, and, most importantly, is the pay worth it? These are some of the topics I’ll go over in this article for those of you who are thinking about becoming an offshore electrician. An offshore electrician has many responsibilities, but the job also has some aspects that appeal to individuals who want to try something entirely different than being an ordinary “onshore” electrician. But what is the job description of an electrician working offshore, and what are the daily responsibilities?
An offshore electrician is hired to do general maintenance of electrical installations, communication systems, and specialized equipment on offshore rigs and in the water transportation industry. They may work in dangerous environments, but many choose the job due to the oftentimes rewarding paycheck.
If you are considering becoming an offshore electrician, there are some things you’ll need to know before making the decision. As mentioned, many people choose this career due to the paycheck. But with it comes also a very different work schedule and a work environment that involves some risk due to dangerous and hazardous working conditions. What offshore electricians are required to do on the job, and what you should be prepared for, are some of the important details I’m going to cover in this article.
What Is an Offshore Electrician?
I remember, roughly 5 years ago, before I chose to become an electrician myself, I fell into a conversation with a guy in a jiu-jitsu class I was attending at the time. In the locker room after practice, he told me about his current employment working on a transportation ship. This guy worked as an offshore technician one month on – one month off, meaning; for 30 days he worked full time, and for the next 30 days, he was off duty.
With this type of work schedule, he was free to do virtually anything he wanted to during his free time. And as he said, in his free time he did primarily two things: Attended self-defense classes and hit the clubs at night. Oh, and did I mention, that he was also receiving a full-time paycheck during his time off? This is exactly just one of those benefits, you, in some cases, could expect by working as an offshore electrician or any type of offshore worker in general. Although he didn’t inspire me to become an offshore worker at the time, the rather unusual work schedule of having that much free time intrigued me, I must admit.
Definition: An offshore electrician is a broad term covering electrical workers who are hired to primarily maintain and repair electrical infrastructure on either oil/gas platforms or in the water transportation industry.
Although now is not the time for me to work overseas as an electrician, I won’t deny the possibility of working offshore in the future. However, if you are considering this career path, the following are some of the primary job responsibilities, you should expect as an offshore electrician.
What Do Offshore Electricians Do?
Electricians are primarily employed in two industries in the offshore sector: the oil and gas industry and water transportation. Both of these workers are in charge of supplying constant electricity to the ship or rig in order to power the machinery and other electrical components. Offshore electricians are also responsible for the following tasks:
- Maintaining the electrical infrastructure.
- Repair existing electrical installations, machines, and components.
- Monitoring and preventing power outages due to electrical issues.
- Assembly of incoming machines and electrical equipment.
Offshore rigs are typically powered by diesel engines that are providing electricity throughout the platform. Some rigs are also powered by gas generators, but are less efficient and therefore not as common. Some rigs use gas generators as well, but they are less efficient and thus less common. Offshore rigs require a lot of energy to operate, with 20-30 square meters of diesel fuel burned every day. The power is primarily stored in the form of large and heavy batteries.
Electricians are required to maintain the electrical power distribution system as well as monitor and repair the power supply required to keep the platform running smoothly. Electricians working on offshore platforms are specifically hired as professionals to maintain the power supply while preventing any power outages.
This is an especially important task, as any sort of work stoppage due to power outages can be very expensive. This is also one of the reasons why oil and gas rigs pay electricians the way they do.
Will Offshore Electricians Be in Future Demand?
Although offshore platforms are mostly powered by diesel or gas, it is not the only option available. Currently, electrical innovations are being developed making it possible for offshore platforms to be powered by subsea cables from an onshore power supply. This is the case in Norway, specifically in the North Sea, where the operations are being supplied with power from subsea cables as long as 200km. On top of that, alternative energy solutions are also being tested, such as energy coming from wind farms and wave power.
This all points to the fact that electricians are an integral part of the operations on offshore rigs; And will be in the future when installing new electrical innovations on especially oil rigs and gas platforms. There are also numerous other tasks that electricians do both on platforms and in the water transportation industry. These include responsibilities such as installing and repairing electrical infrastructure and the assembly of electrical equipment and components.
Is Being an Offshore Electrician Dangerous?
As I have mentioned earlier in this article, the duties of an ordinary electrician contain some potentially dangerous aspects. These dangers are even more prevalent for workers who are employed on especially oil and gas rigs.
In 2020, there were 6 fatalities and 160 serious injuries among offshore workers, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSSE). Since 2007, an average of 3.5 workers have died as a result of offshore-related accidents, while the number of injuries has steadily declined.
There are several reasons why offshore work is considered to be one of the most dangerous jobs out there. First of all, difficult weather conditions increase the risk of accidents especially related to falls, slips, and trips. The rather complex environment of a drilling platform also poses more risk for workers to be crushed, caught, or struck by machinery and objects. The following is a list of the possible dangers for offshore workers.
- Slips, trips, and falls.
- Explosion and fire-related injuries.
- Transportation to and from the offshore rig.
- Dangerous weather conditions.
- Injuries due to fatigue and overworked employees
- Outdated or poorly maintained equipment
- Noncompliance with proper safety-procedures
If you are thinking about becoming an offshore electrician, the dangers of working on oil and gas rigs should be a major consideration. This is one of the main reasons I’m hesitant to pursue this career in the future. However, not all offshore work is as dangerous as the work performed on oil and gas rigs.
Offshore work also includes electricians who are hired to maintain the electrical infrastructure in commercial, military, and industrial shipping. These electricians are not subjected to the same dangers as workers on oil rigs. Electricians are typically hired in the water transportation industry to maintain the ships’ electrical and mechanical systems and equipment. Although the dangers will be less prevalent, you will always be on call in the event of any electrical issues that may arise. Electricians in this industry must therefore be prepared for long workdays. This may increase the risk of injuries caused by overworked individuals and general fatigue.
How Much Do Offshore Electricians Get Paid?
The salary to expect will be vastly dependent on the type of offshore work you’re considering as an electrician. It is a rather difficult question to answer, as offshore electricians and offshore workers, in general, receive salaries that are totally dependent on their employer and experience. There are no reliable official statistics regarding the average salary for electricians specifically working offshore. However, after reaching this topic extensively, the following are some of the statistics and numbers available. It is however important to mention, that these numbers are mostly a collection calculated by self-reported salaries.
In the United States, the estimated and average salary for offshore electricians is around $90.000. This includes the base salary of $69.000 with an estimated additional bonus of $21.000. These numbers are estimated as an average across employers and employees in the category of offshore workers.
I’d like to emphasize once more that the average wage of these workers is based on self-reported figures and is not supported by official government statistics. For example, according to this source, offshore electricians can expect to earn anywhere between $65.000 and $86.000 per year, depending on their experience and responsibilities. However, it is well known, that offshore employees compensate their workers quite well. This is particularly due to the risks involved and the need for specialized workers willing to do the work.
In determining the salary of offshore workers, it is also important to make a clear distinction between rig electricians and electricians who are employed in the water transportation industry.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, water transportation workers make an average of $59,250 across all professions while shipping engineers (corresponding to the skills of an electrician) make an average of around $76.000.
What Is the Work Schedule of an Offshore Electrician?
One of the factors that attract many electricians is the work schedule of offshore workers. Ship crews are known to have a physically demanding job that requires them to work long hours and be constantly on call. Offshore electricians are often on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This can last anywhere from a week to a month.
The great thing about this is that many employers will pay their employees full-time wages during the periods when they are not working offshore. For many people, this work schedule is a lifestyle choice that suits their work-life balance. However, this on-and-off schedule of offshore work will be difficult to implement in the daily lives of most electricians who also have spouses and children.
How Do You Become an Offshore Electrician?
Some, but not all employees require you to have experience working offshore. But similar to the dilemma of recent graduates not being able to find a job due to lack of experience, how is it then possible to get your foot in to do offshore work? If you can’t find any jobs with no requirements of experience, there are some options to get certification around the essential knowledge concerning offshore work.
To become an offshore electrician, you must be a certified electrician with a nationally accredited and recognized apprenticeship and diploma. In some cases, employers will also require a minimum of a higher degree in engineering or a diploma in the fundamentals of offshore safety.
There are several ways to obtain the certifications required to work offshore. CompEx.org provides a variety of courses designed specifically for people who want to obtain the qualifications required to work as offshore electricians. This institution has training centers all over the world, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and many others. Using this link, you can find out if there is a training center near you.
Is It Worth It to Become an Offshore Electrician?
Working offshore is a great choice for electricians who likes a challenge and wants to explore a different line of work. However, I wouldn’t suggest choosing to become an offshore electrician exclusively because of the higher paycheck. There’s a reason why these workers get paid the way they do. Working offshore on either an oil rig or on a transportation ship is known to be stressful, physically demanding, and potentially dangerous.
Anyone considering this career should also be prepared to work with the same group of people over an extended period of time. And there isn’t exactly any way to leave the job site, if you suddenly decide, that this type of work or your colleagues doesn’t suit you.
If the salary appeals to you but the schedule and type of work do not, there are a number of other opportunities for electricians to earn more than the average wage. Although ordinary electricians already earn a decent living, there are numerous career options for electricians with a higher salary to consider. If you want to look into those options, I’ve included a list of the highest-paid electricians in this article.