Why can't Drillship companies hold onto good Engineers?

What is is about working on drillship, as an engineer, that makes it so unappealing? My ship can not seem to hold onto any engineers with most running to blue water ships. For awhile we had some weird situation where the 2nd Engineers were unable to acquire the required time as 1st to get a CE license. We are a Liberian flagged ship and the 2nd Engineer is essentially the 1st but on the sea time letters no one was getting 1st Engineer titles. This is just one little (or big depending on your perspective) that has rubbed these guys the wrong way which was rectified within the past 2 years. Another issue is we are constantly having to stop them from starting PMs and other jobs that the engineers get into because when we are conducted Critical Operations we are required to not to any maintenance on DP Critical equipment such as Thrusters, Engines, PMEs, etc…

We have approached the Client and OIM and CE about having the WSOG changed in the future to allow for the engineers to plan their business but it only led to long drawn out meetings and risk assessment requirements that create more of a headache then a solution and the engineers just give up on trying to make things better and have just accepted the situation. During these Critical operation it also requires a license engineer to be manning the ECR at all times so there are some 1sts that don’t mind just sitting in the ECR, watching tv, buying stuff for the house, and hanging out until the operations are done and I don’t blame them at times.

Looking for respsones from Engineers that have worked on Drillship. What were some of the things that you disliked about the job that made you leave or want to leave. And what changes do you think could be made in order to make the job more satisfying?

Just wanted to add that one good thing that has come from this is we have Roustabouts and Floorhands now very interested in transitioning into the Engineering Department and my company is willing to invest and put these guys into the classes they need to get QMED and then continue helping by paying for their courses to become 3 A/Es. I applaud my company in their willingness to invest in continued education and give guys opportunities that they would otherwise not know is available to them.

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Also, if anybody is looking to get onto a Drillship as a 3 A/E please feel free to PM me.

  • 4 week on/off schedule.
  • Travel paid for.
  • Pay comes out to about 120k/yr. Any time worked over will be overtime at 1.5x hourly rate.
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Liberia doesn’t have 1st engineers. The 2nd is III/2 on MSMC.and seatime should reflect that, same as National 1st Eng.

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Yeah that’s what I was talking about it my post. We only had 2nd Engineers and a Chief. For whatever reason they wouldn’t write up your Sea time Letter as a 1st Assistant Engineer so unless you came to the company with a Chief License you weren’t able to get your CE license without having a Captain who wasn’t difficult and understood the situation.

It was very vessel specific whether you would get your sea time as 1st assistant or not. Very dumb and frusterating for a lot of people.

The USCG knows that what the US calls the First Assistant Engineer is internationally known as the Second Engineer. It should be an easy explanation to the NMC at application time.

I was thinking the same thing. A 1st assistants stcw endorsement reads as ‘second engineer.’ It only says 1st on the national side.

And have the letter use the magic words from the definition of First Assistant Engineer in 46 CFR 10.107 to describe your duties. If the letter won’t say 1st AE, at least describe your duties as Second Engineer to match how the USCG defines First Assistant Engineer.

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Working in GOM or overseas?

Yeah I’m curious about the location as well, and whether your company has a US office, which assuming you are dealing with a USCG license I’m guessing yes. If that’s the case then talk to the office about the sea time letter wording. (and/or pay attention to what was already posted in reply). I spent 10 years on foreign flag drillships and never had an issue upgrading. I’d hope you have a marine superintendent ashore who can standardize the sea time letter issue.

What I found unappealing at the start was the general lack of understanding or respect for any engineer besides the C/E and 1st, and generally all engineers besides C/E were underpaid relative to mechanics, electricians, ETs, etc. A Chief Electrician made about what the 1st A/E made when I started, and the EE Supervisor at night was over the 1st A/E. Coming from blue water ships that rubbed me the wrong way, until I accepted that the oil patch is a different animal. Eventually I got used to enjoying the fact that someone else was responsible for the electrical nightmare that many drillships are, and over time the 1st seemed to rise in status to the other supervisors.

For critical systems, engines, thrusters, etc, a couple things come to mind. First, you do need to plan your shit in advance around drilling operations. “Long drawn out meetings and risk assessment requirements” are the norm now in the oil field. Initially I hated the 24-hr/5 day lookahead daily meetings and permit approvals, because I actually had to plan. But once planned, risk assessed, and approved, it was much more likely my guys would be able to do the work on time and un-interrupted.

Also, look at the wording in your WSOC/WSOG, and the actual list of what is “Critical Equipment” in your risk management plan. We were able to work on one engine, or one thruster, during most drilling operations that weren’t well control operations, without going to a degraded status or requiring manned ECR. Obviously not during latch/unlatch, cementing, or well-testing. But on most any given regular drilling day, while Propulsion Control and Power Management are critical systems, there is enough redundancy that a single thruster for instance is not in and of itself a critical system. And likewise for engines, a single engine is not a critical system. If it was we would have been in DP Alert status for a full month during every 18k-hr engine overhaul.


It’s three ships worth of shit crammed into one, but one ship’s worth of pay.


That’s far lower pay than a box ship and it’s been easy to get box ship jobs for almost a decade now if you’re willing to deal with a union hall. Then you get into the union ecosystem of pension and benefits and why would you ever leave unless the total comp and timeline for advancement were significantly better on a stable basis elsewhere.

I’m speaking from my own experience but I’m sure there are plenty of other parts of the industry where you can make $125k out of school as well, it’s not a lofty figure anymore.

Made this much as 3ae ten years ago. Maybe that’s a fucking hint?


Yeah the one guy recently went to Polar Tankers I believe and he was making $130k plus a bonus as a 3 AE and I think another guy left to go to an OSV company and was going to make the same amount or a little bit more. Same pay and 1/3 size vessel. Sounds like a win for both of them.

I always wondered who is making more money offshore: The drilling contractors or the supply/mpsv companies. I always thought the Drilling companies made more due to the rates being so much higher when I got out of school in 2014, but nowadays im not sure.

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Great choice of adjectives to explain that hint. I approve.

Looking to hear from a current or previous drillship engineer on this one…What do you think that a 3rd Engineer should be making on a drillship in todays economy? Also, what do you think a Chief Engineer should be making on a drillship? I believe my CE is making about $200k and does not receive any bonuses. To me he/she is the most underpaid and under appreciated person on the ship. They are making about the same wages as OSV/MPSV chiefs. I would think they should be at about $240k and the Master OIM should be at $250-260k plus bonuses.

Edit: And add 10% premium if working overseas and another 10% on top of that if its in a dangerous area (West Africa).

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Shipengr - Thank you for your post. This is what I was looking for when making this thread.

I’ve worked a variety of jobs and vessels throughout my career both union and non-union. While most of my time was on tankers, I spent time on MPSV’s and worked for a drilling company. My offshore and drilling time was towards the end of the boom 2013-2015 when the big money was slowly being tapered off (401k and pay cuts, lay-offs etc). I went back Union in 2016 because I was laid off and the tanker boom was still in full swing.

From what I saw, Drilling companies tend to treat engineers almost as second class citizens. They are there because they have to be there. Everything we presented for improvements, upgrades, even planning work was always scrutinized. Meanwhile the drilling side could do no wrong. Now that might be a rig-by-rig basis depending on what the crew is like, but that is what I experienced.

Another reason I think its hard for drilling companies to retain engineers is from the last boom/bust cycle. The companies were quick to cut pay, benefits, and lay off. That left a really sour taste in a lot of people’s mouths. In the meantime, Union jobs caught up pay wise and are typically more stable. The downside is the longer rotations. When I went back to the union in 2016, there was a plethora of engineers coming back to the union (AMO) because the jobs were there (tanker boom) and stable. Today it seems offshore and deep sea are struggling to find people in general. I think people would rather suck up the longer hitches and have stable pay versus riding that boom/bust wave again.

Thats my two cents


I’m interested. Can you shoot me a message?

I’ll echo what others have said: treated like a second class citizen on drillships, where as on a tanker you’re generally better respected by your peers, and while you’re the MSD tank guy, you’re still also appreciated for what you do. It’s also pretty easy to get crucified for permits/safety by people that really have no idea what the job takes. I’m all for permits, but when your day is running back and forth for 2 hours to open a permit on the bridge, and the fear of castigation is in the back of your mind because maybe you didn’t check the right box, even though you isolated everything correctly and safely… well, that’s exhausting.

Atop all of this, you’re paid less than the people that you know do very little. So like everyone else we tend to look for better pay. Parity with DPO’s would certainly be welcome, but somewhere along the way it was decided that our responsibility is significantly less than that of our mates (I like most mates, and think most deserve what they’re paid).

The only thing that really appeals to me about drillships is the rotation, and that it’s easier than hoping the union dispatcher likes you or going to the hall every day and not getting a job.

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When I was going to sea, I never had any work in the oil patch, either on supply vessels or drilling units of any kind. That all changed when I came “ashore” and started working as a Class surveyor. I don’t have to say that on a drilling vessel, the marine crew in general and the engineers seem to be almost second class citizens. Of course the priorities are different, too. A lot of it comes from the mind set of onshore drilling operations that migrated onto offshore units.