Meet Chris Berkley, a product manager at the UK Hydrographic Office.
What does the company do?
The UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) is a leading centre for hydrography, providing marine geospatial data to inform maritime decisions. The organisation works with a wide range of data suppliers and partners to support maritime navigation, safety, security and marine development around the UK and worldwide.
The UKHO makes location-based information available through ADMIRALTY Maritime Data Solutions, including world-leading and widely adopted charts, publications and custom data sets.
The UKHO also gathers, processes and provides access to data, ranging from seabed to surface, enabling partner organisations to make critical maritime decisions – informing the sustainable use and management of the marine environment and supporting the development of the blue economy.
What does your job involve?
As the product manager for the world’s leading digital maritime chart service for professional mariners, the ADMIRALTY Vector Chart Service, I am responsible for making sure that the charts we distribute are fully functional, accurate, and delivered to ships in a timely manner.
At the very core of my role is the safety of our users, who operate in both UK and international waters. I oversee the continual development of our charts, and ensure we always are at the forefront of current issues in the marine sector.
As a Master Mariner, I have relied on navigational charts for 16 years of my career and now, working for the UKHO, I have gained a much greater appreciation for the work being done here to support the industry. I have first-hand experience of the challenges mariners face; although the space in which they operate has changed considerably, many of the issues they face are perennial – every mariner understands the spectre of being in the middle of the ocean with intermittent physical contact with the outside world.
It has always been my belief that once you know what the problem is, you’re already half way there to dealing with it and coming up with an effective solution. In this way, my experience as a mariner has set me up well for the continuation of my career at UKHO.
For the best part of 16 years I travelled around the world, sailing to places I didn’t even know existed
How did you get into this position? What led to this job/career?
Looking back at my career, it’s clear to me now that there have been many distinct chapters.
After completing my A-Levels in the mid 70s, and inspired by a friend who worked in the maritime industry at the time, I decided to join the Merchant Navy as a navigating cadet. Three years later I became a junior officer. After that I worked my way up the company ladder until finally, around ten years later, I took command of my own vessel and became Captain. Being in my twenties, this was a huge achievement for me and one that I will never forget.
For the best part of 16 years I travelled around the world, sailing to places I didn’t even know existed. These were some of the best years of my life, and I look back on this period of my life with great fondness. In the early 90s I decided to leave the Merchant Navy to be closer to my wife and young family, and joined my wife in her retail business.
Together we managed to build a hugely successful business, expanding her existing shop to three branches and several fully transactional websites which, in the late 1990s, was a big achievement. We enjoyed a great deal of success during this period, but after about 20 years we both decided it was time for a change.
When an opportunity came up to work at UKHO I knew it was the right time for me to go back into the maritime industry.
What do you love about working in maritime?
I have known ever since I was five years old that I wanted to work at sea. It’s always had a huge draw for me, and even when I was running my own business I remained connected – I was still getting the industry magazines and keeping up with former colleagues. I was out sailing my boat any time I had the chance. I know others in the industry who have developed their passion for the sea later on in life, but for me it’s always been about the maritime life.
What makes your job interesting?
The UKHO is one of the most stimulating working environments I have ever been in. Never before have I seen such a group of dedicated and knowledgeable individuals. The knowledge and experience that has been built up over the years is truly thrilling; there are experts here in things I hadn’t even heard of before joining the team.
The collective insight we have at our fingertips means that whenever I’m stuck with a problem, I have access to some of the most experienced professionals in the industry.
What’s been the most exciting thing about your careers?
Two of my greatest achievements have been taking command of my own vessel at the age of 29 and winning the awards for Best Independent Retailer in South West England, and Best Retail Initiatives for our website.
In my current role with the UKHO, one of my proudest moments was my involvement in the launch and development of ADMIRALTY e-Navigator. The e-Navigator Planning Station integrates route planning, purchasing and management of publications on board a vessel, and provides facilities for superintendents to better manage their vessels.
As the mariner advisor on the team, I helped maximise the system’s potential and turn it into a powerful voyage planning tool that added genuine value. Before this advancement, the mariner could wait many weeks to receive a chart updates CD in the post. Now they could order what they need directly with the new software and download it within seconds.
What advice would you give a young person thinking about a similar career?
I was recently speaking to a friend of my daughter who said he wanted to find a job that involved working near the sea but didn’t know if it was right for him.
I shared my view that working at sea means being a part of the worldwide economy. Ships of the world are physical enablers of world trade, and virtually everything we have in our homes has travelled at some point on board a ship. From iron ore for cars to energy for electricity, and as a seafarer I am proud to have played my part in the worldwide economy.
People at home don’t realise that sometimes. Working at sea gives you a genuine perspective of how the world works, and fosters a deep connection with everything around you. It also provides you with a fantastic opportunity to see the world and visit places you would normally never of dream of going to.
I’m happy to say that young man is now working as an engineer cadet.
Click here to download further information about a career in the UK maritime sector.