Mark Stewart – A Day in the Life Offshore

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work offshore?

Mark Stewart
Mark Stewart

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work offshore? To work 12-hours a day for three-four weeks straight? For your commute to include catching a helicopter to the middle of the sea? ConocoPhillips Bayu-Undan Field Manager, Mark Stewart, gives us his insight into the unusual life of an offshore fly in fly out (FIFO) worker.

Mark started his career in 1987 as an Instrumentation apprentice working for BP Oil at their Grangemouth Refinery in Scotland. He joined ConocoPhillips in April 2003 and has worked the rosters at Bayu-Undan for the last 15 years.

Q: What is it like to work offshore?  

What I value the most about working offshore with ConocoPhillips is the people and culture we have. We have a highly skilled, diverse workforce who all work together to create one team. Our number one priority is safety as we deal with one of the most complex offshore facilities in the world.     There are two myths I hear regularly about life offshore. One is that it’s a glamorous lifestyle, and the other is that we don’t do any work (though it might just be our partners that think this).

Q: How do you get to work?

My journey starts the day before I mobilise offshore, with a taxi to the airport and a flight to Darwin from Perth. The next day I wake up at 3.30am to catch the hour-long flight to Dili, which departs Darwin at 5.45am.

This is followed by a 1-hour, 10 min helicopter flight out to the facilities. Those on day-shift go straight into their shift so it’s important to be well-rested when you arrive offshore. For those commencing on night shift, they get a couple hours of sleep before starting work. Fatigue management is a critical factor when working offshore. If you need to move between the facilities when no helicopters are available, you get frog lifted from the platforms into an Infield Support Vessel (ISV) which transports you.

Q: What do you on a typical day?

Bayu-Undan operates 24-hours a day in two 12-hour shifts. A swing duration will vary between 3 and 4 weeks. For most people on-shift, they put on their orange overalls, start work at the same time, take breaks at the same time, and eat at the same time (three meals a day).

My own working day is more flexible and typically begins at 5.15am when I get to my desk. We have a pre-shift meeting for the management team, followed by a morning toolbox meeting for all other employees before work for the day begins. I try to get out into the field as much as possible throughout the day but my ability to do this will be dictated by the number of meetings I have. We have a daily permit meeting at the end of dayshift where work for the next day is assessed and planned. If I haven’t managed to get to the gym during the day then I’ll try to go after our permit meeting. Once I’ve had dinner I go back to my office to plan the next day’s schedule, and also to meet with the nightshift team to address any issues and make sure there’s alignment with the shift plan.

As the Field Manager, I am responsible for managing the Bayu Offshore facilities in line with the Safety Case, JPDA regulations, relevant Maritime Legislation, and ConocoPhillips procedures and policies. My role is to ensure the safe operation of the facilities, to provide overall leadership, direction, and control of the field facilities during multi-disciplined activities relating to Process Operations and Maintenance.

Q: What is the accommodation like?

 On the Central Production and Processing (CPP) complex, the cabins consist of bunk-beds with a small work desk and an ensuite bathroom.

The rooms on the Floating Storage and Offloading Vessel (FSO) are the same configuration but have a bit more room.


Q: What is the food like?

 We have fantastic catering and accommodation staff that keep everything running smoothly. They do all meal prep and cooking, cleaning of the kitchens and cafeteria, laundry and room cleaning during shift change.

The food is great, the catering crew are fantastic, and we are very well looked after. Food is always available although meal times are from 5.30-7am for breakfast, 12pm-2pm for lunch, and 5-7.30pm for dinner. Sometimes people might be working overtime or a split shift, and the catering crew are very accommodating to this.

Q: What do you to unwind – do you have any free time?

 As there is no alcohol offshore, lots of people use their swing as a time to detox, eat healthy and exercise. There are very good gymnasium facilities offshore, exercising on the helipad is also very popular. There is a cinema, a pool table, table tennis, music, also satellite TV is available in the rooms and rec areas. When I first began working offshore back in the early 90’s, everybody used to go to the rec room at night to socialise, but now we have Wi-Fi, people can much more freely contact their families and loved ones, or go to their rooms and watch a movie, so I find there’s not as much social interaction as there used to be. The Timorese love to play music and sing generally, so there’s usually lots of happy sounds coming from the rec areas of an evening. Some people are studying and use their spare time to complete education online.

Q: What is the culture like offshore?

Creating a one team culture is critical when working offshore.  We put a huge focus on onboarding new people offshore, we make sure all are made to feel welcome and the importance of our safety procedures is fully understood.  We spend a lot of time explaining basic safety expectations, ensuring there is awareness around the tropical climate and the need to drink lots of water.  Every action a person takes can have an indirect impact on another person, group or part of the operations, so we reiterate awareness at all levels. Most importantly, we promote respect for each other and an inclusive working culture. 

Q: What sort of training do you need to work offshore?

 There are many different roles required offshore to ensure safe and efficient operations.  Everyone that works offshore is required to successfully complete a HUET (underwater escape) and Safety Induction. For our Operations Technicians, the following training is required to work offshore:

Statutory training: ·        

Emergency response

Workplace training:

  • Permit to Work training
  • HSE training including confined space
  • Competency framework – chemicals, hydrocarbon and refining training package
  • On-site assessment/TRO
  • Successful completion – issue of certificate in process plant technology

Vocational training:

  • Technical training – control systems, turbines
  • Workplace assessment and training Project management

Q: What does the emergency response training involve?

Emergency training involves the crew carrying out group exercises and training for various emergency scenarios to embed and hone the skills learned during the onshore training courses. We carry out lots of training and a weekly emergency drill as a minimum requirement – ‘fire in the galley’ and ‘man overboard’ are common drills we use for practice, but the scenarios vary according to a matrix of required exercises as well as being based around ongoing work on the facilities at the time. When the GPA (general purpose alarm) sounds offshore, all personnel must stop work, make their worksites safe and proceed directly to their primary muster areas, unless directed otherwise.

Q: What if you fall ill offshore?

There is a medical centre with a trained medic always on call if people get sick. Hydration is a major focus for us offshore, for the guys that work on-deck (on the FSO in particular), it can be an extremely harsh working environment with temperatures getting up to 65 degrees celsius, so we constantly reiterate the need to stay hydrated. We do have emergency procedures in place in the unlikely circumstance that someone falls very ill and requires evacuation to a medical centre. This would be normally be via helicopter.

Q: What advice do you have for someone looking to start a career working offshore?

  • If you enjoy working in a high paced, technical environment...
  • If you can escape an upside-down helicopter underwater in training...
  • If you can sleep in close quarters to other people...
  • If you can share a bathroom/toilet/shower with other people...
  • If you enjoy fine food in the company of great people...
  • If you can miss the odd birthday, wedding, Christmas, graduation and in law visit...
  • If you can handle working 12 hours a day...
  • If you would rather get to work 7-9 times a year instead of traffic 223 days a year...
  • If your fashion sense leans towards a certain shade of orange...
  • If you can communicate on radio to someone you can’t see from a place they can’t see...

You will love working offshore!