Working on an oil rig is a great way to escape the 9-5 grind and build financial freedom.
Ever since I published How to get work on the rigs on my blog, guys have been emailing me asking how they can get into this much coveted line of work.
While I’ve covered most of the “how to” in that article, in this one I’ll tell you a little bit more about what it’s actually like and the various pros and cons of working on an oil rig, so that guys thinking about a different way of life can consider this lucrative business as an option.
One thing is for sure: life on an oil rig isn’t for everyone. But if six months off per year, 100k+ annually and a pretty exciting, ever changing lifestyle strike you as rewards worth the challenges you’ll face, maybe life on the rigs is a good way to go.
It isn’t all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, but it sure beats the office cubicle and the 9-5 grind.
How I got started on the rigs
I moved to Indonesia in 2007 and for the first few years I taught English. Slowly, through socializing and getting to know other expats, I got to know some people involved in the oil and gas indistry. I also learned Bahasa Indonesia, the local language, to near fluency.
I was going through a little bit of a hard time financially when one of the people I’d grown close to asked me if I’d be interested in trying out for a position. I’d meet his buddy who ran the company and see what he thought. It would be low pay, hard work, and I’d have to go to West Papua for up to eight weeks at a time.
It sounded hellish, but figuring a man has nothing to lose if he tries, I said why not. I met the guy at his bar, talked to him about the work and he hired me on the spot.
I’m not going to lie to you, getting into oil and gas isn’t easy. There’s a catch-22 scenario whereby you need experience to get a job and you need a job to get experience. The only ways around this I know are to either have highly sought after skills, have previous experience in your field in a non-rig environment, or know somebody in the field who can bring you in.
The good side of working in oil and gas.
There are a lot of good things about working in the oil and gas industry.
First, you don’t need to have a higher education to make good money. While there are people on the rig with mechanical engineering degrees and other kinds of education, most guys just have technical qualifications or high school level education. Even at the low end you can expect to make $300-$400 a day and move up from there, which can pretty much allow you to live like a mac-fucking-daddy anywhere, especially if living in Asia.
Secondly the holidays are immense. You get a full six months off per year so if you like to travel and explore this can be an ideal career. Exploring is pretty much what I live for, so this suited me down to the ground. Having this amount of time off gives you the necessary time to build a side business if that’s what you want to do, which I’ve used to build this blog and another little side business.
Lastly, the work environment is pretty exciting. I get to go to work by chopper, meaning I don’t have to deal with a bullshit daily commute. I can also change location often as projects tend to last a year or two then you have to move on to another, and possibly then another country. Some guys I know have worked all over the world from South America to the Middle East to Asia. I’ve personally worked in Papua, Indonesia and Australia in the last two and a bit years.
If astronomy is your thing (I’m into it), you’ll never see a better night sky than from the middle of the jungle or 500 miles out in the ocean. You also catch some of the best sunrises and sunsets on earth every day.
Overall I’d say these rewards are worth the downsides of the industry, which I’ll get into next.
The bad side of working on the rigs
The first downside of working on the rigs is the loneliness and isolation you can experience by being away from friends and family for a full six months a year. If you’re a family man who has children, sometimes you’ll miss out on Christmas, birthdays, and the like. This is hard on guys who have kids, but not so hard on younger guys without commitments.
I’ve been thinking about this point a lot since learning I’m going to be a father, but I’m not worried – I’ll be able to spend immense quality time with my kid when I’m off. I can take him or her on vacation or exploring some cool reefs and mountains instead of coming home tired every day and watching mindless TV. To every cloud is a silver lining, if you just look for it.
Secondly, the work is manual and can be hard and dirty. I don’t mind getting a sweat on and quite enjoy the manual aspect of the labour, but for some guys they were born to do this kind of work while others just weren’t. I’m Irish, most of us are descended from some sort of viking or slave, so manual work doesn’t bother me.
Lastly, working on the rigs can be dangerous, even deadly. Lots of guys get themselves killed every single year despite all the tools being in place to prevent this from happening. If you’re careless, absent minded, or reckless, forget about working on oil rigs – you’ll get yourself or your mates killed quickly.
On the rig itself
Being on the rig itself is a unique lifestyle. You’re basically on board a floating (or jungle bound) prison for a month at a time. You’ll have to go without sex and will basically be living a reading, writing, and gym lifestyle while you’re there.
This can be tough both mentally and physically as you work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 28 days straight. You need a routine to survive, but it is a unique chance to live the disciplined life. Some guys simply can’t hack it and quit after a short time or end up as miserable whinebags bringing everyone down. I quite enjoy the solitude and time to reflect and plan my next escapade into the real world. I use the time to work on myself and my projects.
I read and write a lot on the rig to keep myself entertained and go to the gym several times per week to blow off some steam. Without that outlet I think I would probably snap.
With regard to food, on the rig I work on currently the food is great quality and plentiful – usually fish, chicken breast, or steak with vegetables and potatoes, so it’s easy to live a life dedicated to fitness and strength building. We get five feeds a day and can eat as much as we want, so calorie increases while bulking are never an issue.
Some guys on the rig are actual beasts, benching within the 400-500lb range and eating 6-8 times a day. However, I’ve been on some rigs in Papua and Indonesia were the food is shitty and you’re surviving on rice, eggs, fish and chilli sauce. It all depends on the location.
Overall I enjoy life on the rig. It’s challenging and it’s ever changing. It forces you to grow and affords you the time away from home to really enjoy your real life when you get back to it and appreciate the small things. A simple thing like your own bed and intimate time with your lover gets amplified by 1000x when you haven’t enjoyed it for a month.
Despite enjoying it, when that chopper rolls around and it’s time to go home to my family and life, I’m a happy man. The work is done and you can just forget about it, which is another good side of working on the rig – you get to completely switch off from the job when you’re off.
The kind of people you meet on rigs
One of the best things about working offshore is the people you meet. They come from all walks of life and always have insane back stories, but the one thing they all have in common is that they’re determined, successful and disciplined individuals. This is good because it’s like surrounding yourself with a wolfpack of dedicated winners.
All the guys have investment properties, nice cars, vacation often and some of the older ones are millionaires with a whole history of success. These are the kind of people I want to surround myself with. I’m not into material things as such, but being surrounded by hardcore, disciplined winners helps keep me in the right mindset.
This of course also leads to valuable connections. In this industry, as in the rest of life, it’s not what you know but who you know. As you work offshore for a while and get to know the right people, further opportunities will open up to you.
As an example of this, one day on a normal working day I went to do a rig survey at another site to get ready for a gear-up (equipment installation). I was having a coffee and started speaking Bahasa Indonesia to an old man who was sitting there having a smoke next to me (I don’t smoke by the way).
Within a few minutes he gave me three phone numbers of people I should call – one of whom gave me my current job at three times more pay than I was earning at the time. Bingo! It’s all about connections and oil rigs are one place to meet successful, driven, well off guys.
As far as friendships go it is possible to meet some people you stay in touch with in the real world, but my experience has been that work is one world and life is another. Guys I know on the rigs I don’t see in the real world. That’s just the way it is.
How does working on a rig help you develop as a man?
For all of the above reasons working on a rig will force you to grow, and fast.
This is a cutthroat business were mistakes are not tolerated and can have dire consequences. You’ll get away with little errors but any major screw ups and you are gone.
You’ll learn to be better with people. You’re forced to work, live, and socialize with people you wouldn’t necessarily gravitate towards in the real world so your people skills improve. You learn how to talk to almost anyone from any background.
You also will develop self discipline to a massive degree. I wake every morning at 5am, shower, read, and then eat and attend the safety meetings before a days work. Afterwards I go to the gym or write (on alternate days) before hitting the sack for eight hours sleep. I found this routine way of life carries over into my real life to some extent, although of course the day to day activities are different.
Working offshore will also teach you how to cope with isoation and being alone. One of the worst qualities a man can have in my opinion is being needy emotionally and not being able to stand on his own two feet. Working on the rig will quickly sort this out as you will have to learn to enjoy your own company, be indepedent of mind and able to both entertain and think for yourself. It’s literally like having a “time out” from the real world.
Lastly, the work itself is physical, challenging and can at times be fast paced and urgent. This causes you to grow in many ways such as learning to stay cool under pressure, learning to think clearly, learning to lead a team and communicate effectively, as well as learning how to cope with failure and try again a different way, which carries over a millionfold into the real world where things are much less intense and mistakes don’t have such dire consequences.
Life on the rigs demands a certain kind of individual. If you are super social and can’t survive without going out and partying three times a week and meeting girls every night, if you can’t cope with a month without sex, or if you don’t like to sweat and get your hands dirty, forget about working on the rigs.
If you can cope with the bads i’ve mentioned in this article and you want the money, the time, and the life, then go for it. It’s probably the best decision I have ever made and while I sometimes tell myself I’ll “quit soon” while having a shitty day, I probably never will until I’m fully loaded and ready to retire and live the good life.
It’s been fun writing this. I hope you’ve enjoyed it too. If you’re considering a life on the rigs and have further questions feel free to ask.
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