Ship Purser

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Ship Purser


Once a ship sets sail, it becomes its own little land. Out there in international waters, the crew, officers, and passengers are responsible for their own experiences. There are people with special jobs: the captain oversees the craft's course, the crew keeps the vessel in "ship shape", and on cruises, the cruise director ensures that everyone is having a good time. Ship pursers look after all the financial transactions and the paperwork that goes into creating this world within the world .

Ship pursers are ship's officers who work as the managers of the on-board shops, casinos, and liquor stores. They monitor the passenger accounts, and they arrange for currency exchange. They are also the people who manage the crew's payroll.

Along with the financial aspect of the job, the ship pursers are responsible for the ship's documentation, customs declarations, and arrange for ship and document inspection by immigration authorities. They ensure the ship's clearance by foreign ports, and they arrange for passenger and crew lists to be prepared and presented to appropriate governmental authorities.

Finally, ship pursers work closely with passengers on cruise ships. They staff the front desk and arrange for room changes, banking, and luggage transport. They answer questions, field complaints, and take suggestions. As well, they sometimes arrange for activities on board the ship, as well as tours and sightseeing trips off the boat at ports of call. They also look after the health of the crew and passengers, and arrange for compensation, first aid, and other comforts in case of an accident or emergency.

No matter what kind of ship is sailing on the sea, a purser must be on board. This is the person who is responsible for the legal papers, finances, and comfort of those on the vessel. Without these hard workers, ships might never be allowed into domestic waters, the crews might never be paid, and the luggage might be lost at sea. Luckily, ships have pursers and their assistants, who ensure none of those things ever happen.
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  Interests and Skills  
Ship pursers must be poised, patient, efficient, adaptable and organized. They should be accepting of all people from varying backgrounds and cultures, and be able to work within a team, yet be self-sufficient enough to work on their own. Ship pursers tend to have excellent communication skills and are skilled with numbers.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Monitor the front desk
  • Help passengers fill out customs, cabin request, and lost luggage forms
  • Complete payroll for all ship staff
  • Meet with customs agents at each port of call
  • Oversee on-board shops, casinos, liquor stores
  • Make passenger and crew lists, submit list to government officials
  • Prepare ship's official papers
  • Arranging for currency exchange
  • May plan activities and tours for passengers
  • Interact with passengers
  • Assist during emergencies
  • A typical day for a ship purser is long, and involves a lot of interaction with passengers and crew. The pursers are the representatives of the ship who meet with the customs officers at ports of call, arrange for inspections of the ship, and ensure that the passengers are all ready with passports, and that the ship's paperwork is in order. Pursers work with all the ship's money, and complete payroll, passenger accounts, and oversee the casinos and other on-board money-making ventures. They also find themselves in constant contact with crew members and passengers, as well as visiting officials. They travel a lot, but they are working during the travels, so there may not be many opportunities for sightseeing.
  • The hours can be long, and irregular. Often, they work in shifts, as the purser office is often open 24 hours a day. They are often gone for months at a time. On cruises, though they spend their time working, they are surrounded by excellent food, swimming facilities, nightly entertainment, and interesting ports to visit on the odd day off. They work alongside a staff of pursers, crew members, and hospitality workers.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Ship pursers are employed by cruise lines and shipping companies. Ship pursers travel around the world, but don't always get to see much of the places they sail to. They travel aboard cruise ships, merchant and cargo ships, and other seafaring vessels.

  Long Term Career Potential  
As new pursers gather more experience, they can advance to supervisory positions or chief pursers. They can also leave the marine life to work as flight attendants, hotel and restaurant managers, cruise directors or may choose to manage a cargo shipping company.

  Educational Paths  
In general, people interested in becoming ship pursers must be citizens or have landed immigrant status, be fluent in English, and have had some previous experience working with people or have some postsecondary education, preferably in hospitality or tourism management. Additional languages are definitely an asset in this career.

Often, pursers are hired as assistant pursers, and work their way to chief purser over time.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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