The sixth annual National Ferry Fortnight got under way on Saturday, March 15. Organised by Discover Ferries under the auspices of the UK Chamber of Shipping, it is a celebration of the ferry travel industry from and around the British Isles, which each year serves some 38 million passengers.
To mark the fortnight, Isle of Man Newspapers is speaking to six members of the Isle of Man Steam Packet team, who are integral to the daily operation of the oldest continually operating passenger shipping company in the world.
Name: Jimmy Maher
Job: Passenger services
Originally from Liverpool, Jimmy has fond childhood memories of going down to Pier Head to see the Steam Packet vessels berthed there, back in the era of Lady of Mann, Mona’s Queen and Ben-my-Chree (V). With a father who served in the merchant navy, it was perhaps inevitable that he would be lured by a career at sea.
‘Being from Liverpool, with its historical connection with the sea, it seemed like a natural path to take,’ says Jimmy, who has been with the company for 24 years.
‘I joined the Steam Packet in 1990, on a summer contract, serving on Mona’s Queen as an assistant grill room steward. From there I progressed through to my current position, and it’s something which the company does very well, promoting from within, and I’m proud to have been able to achieve so much.’
Jimmy’s main responsibility is for passenger safety, an area which has changed a lot over the last quarter of a century.
‘Passenger safety is at the forefront of the industry today,’ the father-of-three said. ‘There is so much more focus on it now. Ferry travel isn’t purely a mode of transport, but an “experience”. Passenger expectations have risen greatly over the years, compared with what they used to be.’
Jimmy’s first task when coming on duty is to check with the Bridge that the muster list is up to date.
‘Every crew member has designated duties in the case of an incident or emergency, and that can change daily due to passenger numbers,’ he said.
‘I have to check that the list is up to date and that the crew in position have the relevant certification for that duty. Then I inspect the passenger areas to ensure everything is up to standard and the outlets are ready for passengers to embark. Then I speak to the passenger services supervisor and the chief cook, and brief the crew.
‘By the time loading starts, I’ll be at the passenger information desk for cabin check-ins, and I’m there as point of contact for all passengers or anyone else who needs to get hold of me.
‘It’s about maintaining a visual presence around the passenger areas, and overseeing company standards and ensuring service levels are being met.’
The varied nature of the job keeps Jimmy on his toes, and he believes the company and the island – and its people – are inextricably linked.
‘No two sailings, or two passengers, or two crew members are the same,’ said Jimmy. ‘Everything changes day-to-day. I’m a people person, and enjoy meeting people and helping them in any way I can, and while our routes may generally stay the same, no one day is the same, and that brings with it different challenges.
‘You get a really good sense of achievement when someone leaves the vessel and says “thanks, I’ve enjoyed the trip”.
‘From the company’s perspective, if we can get our product right on board, then for those people who are visiting the Isle of Man, we are their first impression, their introduction to the island and its people.
‘I also feel that the people of the island have a real affinity for the Steam Packet Company, and it’s a responsibility we understand and something of which we are proud.’