Balance between black seas and giant ships
The Chief mate Kang Hyun-min

Pyeongtaek Harbor in March with a spring breeze. A huge ship is gently pushed through the churning seawater and enters the harbor. It is Chief mate Kang Hyun-min who leads the ship, which is overwhelmed by its enormous size, to land with bold yet cautious judgment. We met with the Chief mate Kang Hyun-min, whose job is made all the more remarkable by the sheer size of the ship.

Was there a particular reason that motivated you to pursue a career as a navigator?

I first became interested in the sea and seafaring when I was in middle school. I saw an advertisement for the Incheon Maritime Academy. I went to that high school and saw the potential for advancement in the profession and decided that it was a perfect fit for me.

Do you remember when you first started working as a navigator?

I became a third mate in 2014 and started on container ships. My first ship was more than 20 years old, so I had the rare experience of decommissioning it myself. My second ship was a car carrier, and I remember being excited about the prospect of a new type of ship when I first came aboard. As a third mate, I was responsible for assisting the captain on the bridge when entering or leaving the port, and for guiding the pilot on board and off the ship. My duties also included managing and inspecting the ship’s safety equipment such as fire extinguishers and life-saving equipment, maintaining the ship’s log and navigational instruments, coordinating the time on board, and managing medical and hygiene.

A year later, I was promoted to second mate, where I managed the communications equipment, plotted the route, and went out to the stern to control the lines that held the ship to the dock when it entered or left port. It’s also the second mate’s job to monitor the position of the stern ramp (the inclined plate that connects the dock to the ship), which plays a big role in loading cars.

Kang left a container ship for scrapping when he was third mate.

you were promoted to the position of chief mate in 2018. what are some of the most important responsibilities and tasks of a chief mate?

I remember preparing hard to become a chief mate, a senior officer with a lot of responsibility for key tasks such as ship stability, cargo management, and hull maintenance, and I was scared and worried that I wouldn’t be able to do a good job because I had a lot of inexperience. I was able to gain a lot of experience and know-how without any major incidents with the help of the people on board.

A hydraulic hose on a lifeboat crane is being repaired among the life-saving equipment of the ship.

We heard that you are now working on boarding support. What exactly does that entail?

I’m in charge of the captain of a boarding support team, effective February 14, 2024. The Boarding Support Team consists of two members: a first mate, who is the captain, and a second mate, who is the assistant. It was created to reduce the workload of the crews of Hyundai Glovis vessels calling at Pyeongtaek and Incheon ports, who often lack rest time due to berth changes and other duties. I am on board the supported vessels to support the work of the chief mate and other navigators. I am responsible for everything that happens on the ship, including cargo operations and overseeing the management of outside repair work on the ship.

Repairing shipyard

What kind of cargo do Hyundai Glovis cargo ships carry, and what ports do they sail from and dock at?

Unlike container ships, Hyundai Glovis car carriers do not have a fixed route. Ships with irregular routes that change from time to time are called irregular ships. They call at ports in Korea and other countries to load automobiles, but they also load large heavy equipment, trains, large equipment accessories, etc., and dock at the destination of each cargo.

How big is it?

A Hyundai Glovis car carrier is about 199-230 meters long, 32-35 meters wide, and about 50 meters high. In terms of cargo, it can carry about 7,300 standard small cars.

Inspecting the inside of the tank

What’s your favorite story from your time as a navigator?

When I was a trainee navigator, it was the first time in my life that I was on a ship. I was about four months into my training. We sailed at dawn from Gwangyang Port, our first port in Korea, and I was sleeping in my room when I heard a loud bang and felt the ship slowly tilt to the side. There’s always vibration and noise on a ship. But there was a terrifying silence, with only the engine room alarm sounding. The passing engineer didn’t know what was going on and jumped down. I wandered around the corridor in fear and asked the foreign helmsman, and he shouted, “Collision! Collision!” and ran along. I ran up to the bridge, the scene of the collision I had heard about right in front of me, wondering if it was really the word I thought it was. I saw a lot of things back then, including accident handling and shipyard repairs. It’s an experience I’ll never forget, even now that I’m a chief mate.

Inspecting a piece of equipment called a winch that controls the athlete’s line.

Once on board, how long does it typically take?

Once on board, you will remain on board for the standard 6 months. Even if you are coming to a domestic port from a port in another country, if your stay is less than 6 months, or if you want to stay longer, you can stay on board. However, starting this year, there is a standard 4-month stint.

After 11 months on board

When you’re at sea, what does a typical day on the ship look like for you?

Basically, you’ll be on a four-hour sailing watch from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m., and then spend the afternoon catching up on any work that has been pushed back due to frequent arrivals and departures, or any other duties assigned to you by your position.

A fire drill in case of a fire

What are some of the biggest challenges you face when working on board or as a navigator, and when do you feel a great sense of accomplishment despite them?

I think the challenges will be different for different people at different levels, but for me, the biggest challenge is when you first start working at that level. It’s always a process of starting with worries and fears and tackling them one by one, but it’s very rewarding when you achieve good results and are recognized by those higher up. Since becoming chief mate, I have found it fulfilling to see not only my own personal growth, but also the growth and development of my second and third mate friends on board with me.

During a safety training session

What qualities does a navigator need?

You’ll be on board a ship for as little as six months and as long as a year. If you’re lucky, you can go out while the ship is in port, but if not, you’re stuck in a narrow, cramped, wide ship for a long period of time, and I think that’s where persistence and patience are the most important qualities you need. I also think that to be a good navigator, you can’t stand still, because you spend so much of the year in a confined space that you can get stuck in a rut. You have to be constantly looking around and trying to move forward to keep up with the times.

Crew at a barbecue

Do you have any advice for aspiring navigators?

As a navigator, you’re often on a ship for long periods of time and you see the same people. It’s important to have a personal stress reliever to combat the frustration of close quarters.

What are you planning and hoping for this year?

I hope that the Onboard Support Team, which is just getting started, will be well established and helpful to Hyundai Glovis auto carrier navigators. I would like to expand and grow it so that no one is left behind.

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Collection of pictures taken during the voyage

What do you dream about and want to achieve as a Navigator?

As a current Chief Mate, my first goal is to study and work hard to get to the next level, which is to become a Captain. In the long run, my ultimate goal is to become a maritime pilot, but that’s a goal that requires a lot of study and hard work, so I’m going to take my time.

By Editorial Department