Internet connectivity has proven to be a godsend for many people, particularly seafarers on board a ship who often feel isolated due to many miles away from land. With the aid of this modern technology, seafarers have not only expanded their horizons but also embraced new opportunities.
At sea, many seafarers are now getting into video blogging, also known as vlogging, as a means to stay in touch with their loved ones and engage with a wider audience. It has become one of their favorite hobbies on board which connects them with family and friends and be virtually present.
Vlogging is the act of creating a video blog (vlog) that includes video clips and allows individuals to share thoughts, opinions, or ideas on different topics and post them online at no cost, reaching a greater audience —to influence, motivate, and educate others.
One who gave it a try was 38-year-old Filipino ship captain, John Michael Lechugas, who is now a famous vlogger/influencer in the maritime industry.
Lechugas launched his official Facebook page in 2022, ‘Capt. JM PH’, which now has 52,000 followers and 19,000 likes to date.
“In the maritime industry, I am recognized as Capt. JM PH. I am a seafarer, vlogger, and the most followed Filipino ship captain in TikTok,” Lechugas told Maritime Fairtrade in an interview.
Captain John Michael Lechugas.
Vlogging in the maritime world
“I started vlogging last year. I was inspired to start this hobby to help individuals who are overcoming challenges to join the maritime industry. The aim is to share personal experiences, give advice, and inspire hope during their application journey,” he said.
Lechugas said vlogging has become his outlet amidst the high-stress levels that life on board a ship inevitably brings.
“I choose to engage in vlogging when I have either completed my work or when I have spare time. As a captain, my utmost priority is always the safety of the ship and the well-being of the crew. Vlogging not only serves as a means of personal expression but also allows me to bond with my crew, as they sometimes make appearances in my vlogs,” he said.
Born in Iloilo in Central Philippines, Lechugas encountered multiple challenges in his early years. While in college, he navigated being a working student, balancing his daytime role as a student with nighttime shifts as a waiter.
But Lechugas, a graduate of the John B. Larson Maritime Foundation University in Iloilo City, was not hindered by these challenges.
Despite his reserved nature, he possessed a strong sense of responsibility as a provider, which he harnessed as a motivating factor propelling his pursuit of a brighter future.
Commanding a ship at young age
Lechugas began sailing the seven seas at 20 and reached the highest rank on board as a ship captain, commanded his first ship at the age of 33.
In 2017, Lechugas took charge of his first vessel and navigated the high seas aboard bulk carriers.
During his early maritime career, Lechugas faced numerous challenges at sea, but he overcame them with relentless perseverance and determination, ultimately earning his current role on the ship.
“Being separated from home presents a significant hardship for individuals working as seafarers,” he said.
Holding the highest position on a ship entails a significant responsibility. However, during his five-year tenure as a vessel commander, Lechugas acquired the skills to effectively navigate life at sea.
“When faced with challenges such as ship malfunctions or crew health issues while on board, I ensure that I address them effectively by making informed decisions and fostering a culture of accountability rather than blame. By demonstrating competence and cooperation, I can rely on the support of my colleagues to resolve onboard problems smoothly,” he said.
As captain vlogger
Beyond just staying connected with loved ones online, many seafarers now are harnessing the power of the internet to expand their reach.
Lechugas, for instance, tries to make vlogs that motivate and inspire seafarers not to give up and to keep going until they reach their goals.
Vlogging at sea, however, is considerably more challenging than on land. It only works with improved technology to capture high-resolution videos and photos, and editing tools are limited.
Lechugas said: “The internet provided by the ship owner has a capacity of 50MB. We primarily use it for communication purposes through Facebook Messenger. While at sea, I am only able to post photos.
“However, when we are in port, we have the option to purchase SIM cards, which allows me to post videos on my Facebook page and TikTok. I solely rely on my phone for vlogging purposes.”
Despite the difficulty in internet connection, Lechugas is grateful for the positive feedback he receives from his followers which according to him motivates him even more to create more content that is both meaningful and inspiring.
“I have bashers also, but I continue to post good vibes and turn my basher to followers,” he said.
He said vlogging gives him a platform to showcase the experiences and perspectives of Filipino captains, challenging stereotypes and breaking down barriers.
“Through my videos, I highlight their skills, achievements, and contributions, ultimately helping to change the narrative and promote a more inclusive and diverse representation,” said the captain.
Among the common questions he gets from his followers are about the salary range of seafarers, job openings for those who are looking, and the application process for cadets. He said the most common question he gets is: “Are seafarers really cheaters in relationships?”
He noted that by staying true to himself, his vlogs will remain both captivating and educational for his audience.
Lechugas said: “Being genuine and captivating is crucial for attracting and keeping my audience engaged. I showcase my true personality, share authentic experiences, and actively interact with my viewers.
“This can be achieved by responding to comments, seeking suggestions, and involving them in my vlogging journey. By doing so, I can establish a loyal community of followers.”
The ship captain said one of the unforgettable vlogs he made at sea was about a heartfelt conversation he had with a cadet.
He narrated: “When I visited his room, I saw two photos hanging on his wall, his family and the crew. I realized that they are the most important persons in his life. Initially, I had difficulty understanding his personality because he was quiet and often misunderstood.
“But upon seeing the photos, I realized that he is an introvert and a loving son. One of his photos was during his eight birthday, with his mom who died from cancer.”
Lechugas said this helped him gain a better understanding of the cadet’s character and background.
“It reminded me of the importance of approaching people with empathy and understanding, as their behavior can be influenced by personal experiences and emotions.”
“After we met in our office for our next vessel assignment, he expressed his gratitude and said, Thank you, sir. You saved me,” Lechugas added.
Asked what advice he would give to aspiring seafarers who are also into vlogging, the captain vlogger said, “Starting a career at sea and vlogging about our experiences can be an exciting and rewarding endeavor.
“Remember that starting a career at sea and vlogging simultaneously can be challenging due to the demanding nature of maritime work. Balancing our responsibilities on board with content creation requires proper time management and dedication.
“Make sure that your vlogging activities do not interfere with your primary duties and do not compromise safety or professionalism.”
“Always remember that you’re pursuing this for your loved ones,” he emphasized.
Captain John Michael Lechugas (center) with crew members.
Vlogging helps seafarers’ mental health
According to Lechugas, vlogging contributes significantly to the mental health of seafarers while at sea as it becomes an outlet for self-expression.
“Sharing their experiences and thoughts through videos allows them to communicate with others, both within the maritime community and beyond. It can help combat feelings of isolation and loneliness often experienced during long periods at sea.”
He said creating vlogs gives seafarers a sense of purpose and accomplishment. “It allows them to document their journeys, highlight their skills, and showcase their work. Having a creative project like vlogging can enhance motivation and boost morale.”
He added that this provides them with an opportunity to contemplate their experiences, overcome challenges, and nurture a deeper understanding of their own selves and mental health.
For Lechugas, vlogging influenced his personal growth and sense of purpose as a seafarer.
“It gives me happiness connecting with people, and that my stories are resonating with them. I will keep sharing my unique experiences and perspective, and continue to inspire and motivate my viewers,” he said.
“My vlogs can be a powerful catalyst for positive change, both within the seafaring community and beyond,” the captain concluded.
All photos credit: John Michael Lechugas