Seals, locks and car tuning: an insight into apprenticeship as a barge captain

It's an autumn day at the end of October. Leif Haußmann (20) stands expectantly in front of the Rhine Waterways and Shipping Office in Duisburg. Today is finally the day: he receives his skipper's service book. This marks an important milestone for his future career as a barge captain. He officially started his training at Rhenus PartnerShip a few days ago - at the same time as Tom Jonas Zens (28). In their first few days, the two have already received their work clothes and undergone basic safety training on behaviour on the ship. Now they are ready to go and well prepared for the next 3.5 years. The trainees receive the skipper's logbook, just like the other crew members on a ship. This is where the skipper officially enters all their completed journeys on the barge. If all entries have been recorded correctly, Leif and his colleagues will be authorised to obtain the so-called Union patent, the basic skipper's certificate, at the end of their training.

The internship as a guide for the future career

Before starting the apprenticeship, Leif and Tom completed a one-week internship on a barge. "I really enjoyed the week on board," reports Leif. "I was able to directly participate and help guide our ship through the locks. I was also able to ask questions at any time and experience everyday life on the ship - it was a really good insight into the job and I'm really looking forward to the apprenticeship."

Leif has been interested in technology and ships since he was a child. When it came to deciding what he wanted to do after leaving school, he considered going to university, but then decided against it: " That's just not for me. It's too theoretical for me. I'd rather do something practical." After the internship on the barge, he was able to identify very well with the profession and then decided in favour of the apprenticeship at Rhenus PartnerShip. "First and foremost, I'm now looking forward to seeing what technical content I'll be learning. I am sure that I will grow with my new tasks and also develop personally," he says, emphasising his motivation for the apprenticeship.

Tom also found the internship on the barge very interesting - especially because of the variety of tasks. Since he had already worked as a gardener in the family business for 14 years before his apprenticeship at Rhenus PartnerShip, he was already familiar with steel cleaning in particular - an advantage for the coming years. "I really enjoyed the internship. Everyone was super nice to me and I felt very comfortable on the ship. It was a bit like being immersed in a new world. The only thing I still have to get used to is walking on the ship while it's moving," he says with a laugh. "But that will come. I'm sure it will. For now, I'm looking forward to getting as much travelling time as possible and seeing as much of the scenery as possible," says Tom, full of anticipation for the months and years ahead.

Personal responsibility right from the start

Two more colleagues started their training in the summer: Adrian Becker and Oleh Orel. Initially, they had similar thoughts to Leif: "The best moment for me so far was when I went on board for the first time and was greeted by the skipper and my crew. Even though I was excited to start my new journey, I immediately felt welcome. I settled into my cabin, explored the ship and wondered what would await me," says Oleh.

The two of them have now settled in well on the ship. Oleh happily reports on his first assignments on the ship: "Above all, the induction was an important phase to familiarise myself with the apprenticeship. I was also allowed to take on some tasks on my own, such as observing the lock process. I also put together the pushed convoy completely independently, derusted and painted the hull, untied and secured the ship, but also monitored the wires and ropes during loading and unloading."

Adrian has also been given his own tasks. For example, he was allowed to manoeuvre the pushed convoyprecisely into a lock - a rather tricky task, as he explains: "Every centimetre really counts. If the ship doesn't come to a halt in front of the lock wall in time, it becomes problematic. In general, I don't feel like I'm being treated like an apprentice at all, on the contrary: I'm given exactly the same tasks as my colleagues and I have to do them properly, of course. If I have any questions, I can always turn to the ship's crew. That's great!"

Life on the barge

The apprentices often spend time with their colleagues not only during work, but also after work - after all, they share their own four walls! Whether it's over a cup of tea in the communal kitchen, planning the tasks for the day ahead or simply sitting in front of the TV together. "If the opportunity presents itself and the weather is playing ball, I sometimes get off the boat and do something ashore. Even if I just do a quick shop or walk into town," reports Adrian.

Overall, everyday life on the barge is much more versatile than you might think. In addition to their practical activities, the future barge captains also learn about theoretical topics during their training, such as the meaning of water traffic signs, the waterway network and hazard zones of the individual rivers, traffic routing on the water, the legal background, and the Rhine Police Regulations. This knowledge is elementary for the successful completion of the training and for later professional life, so that the crew members of a ship reach their destination safely.


Travelling through wind and weather

Training to become a barge captain particularly suitable for people who enjoy physical work and being out and about - whatever the weather. However, it is precisely this mix that Oleh finds so appealing: "Life on the ship is pretty varied. Not only do we get to see different places, but we also have the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of nature. Yet we also need to be able to deal with the challenges of the weather, which requires a certain degree of adaptability and flexibility." In pouring rain or scorching midday heat, work on deck is often postponed to a time when the weather is more favourable.

The romance of inland waterway shipping

Working on a ship also has its advantages, of course. In contrast to life in the city, you perceive your surroundings and nature much more intensively from the river. "One of the best moments of my training so far was when we travelled from the Ruhr region towards Antwerp and Rotterdam and I saw seals lying on a sandbank. That was pretty overwhelming," Adrian enthuses.

The crew can often experience the typical romance of inland shipping during the early hours of the morning, when the sun rises over the horizon and the first rays of the day tickle their noses as the ship glides calmly and steadily over the water. A luxury that not many jobs offer.


"Shipping is like tuning your car"

"Sometimes we stand at the lock, look at the other ships and see if they are as well maintained as ours. If you put it like that, shipping is actually a bit like tuning up your car - except that nobody wants to admit it," Adrian laughs. You can clearly tell that he enjoys his apprenticeship and loves working on the ship. "Training to become a barge captain has been the best decision I've made in my professional life so far. Like a little kid, I'm looking forward to finally getting back on the ship on Wednesday!"


What does a barge captain actually do?

The tasks of barge captains include steering and navigating ships on inland waterways as well as maintaining the ship and the machinery on board. In this way, they ensure that the ship and its equipment are always ready for use. Captains also supervise the loading and unloading of ships and are responsible for personnel and route planning.

In the coming weeks, the blog will continue to accompany the apprentices on their journey and report regularly on updates and milestones from the apprenticeship.

Are you also interested in an apprenticeship as a barge captain (m/f/d)? Click here for the job advertisement.