How to Join Merchant Navy?

Frequently asked questions

  1. What is Merchant Navy?
  2. What is the difference between the Indian Navy and Merchant Navy?
  3. Is there a Uniform for Merchant Navy people?
  4. What different types of ships Merchant Navy Seafarers Sail on?
  5. What are the Requirements to join Merchant Navy?
  6. What is the cost of different courses required to join Merchant Navy?
  7. How to select the right course for you to join Merchant Navy?
  8. Ranks hierarchy in Merchant Navy?
  9. Can females join Merchant Navy?
  10. What are different types of the department on ships?
  11. What type of contract do Merchant Navy seafarers have?
  12. What is the pay scale of Seafarers?
  13. What further studies can I appear after merchant navy?
  14. How to get sponsorship in merchant navy?
  15. Is shore leave allowed on every port?
  16. How’s the life of a seafarer?
  17. Current market situation in shipping related to jobs?

Answers to your FAQs

Merchant navy is a business that is completely engaged in commercial activities between transport of cargo and/or passengers by sea routes. Few nations used the term Merchant Marine for this type of navy, the area of Merchant Navy is a valuable part of the global shipping sector and is an integral part of any nation’s economic development. Most of the planet’s commercial trade activities are carried over the seas merchant navy has far more prominence throughout the globe. The term merchant navy means the fleet of commercial ships which aren’t used for military purpose.

The ships and the crew of the merchant are part of country shipping. The experts working on these industrial ships are known as mariners or sailors or seafarers or seamen. Ships have developed over a period of time from wooden structures and sails to riveted steel and thereafter welded steel structure fitted and running with latest technological advanced machinery. This invisible industry and its heroes play a part in the development and progress of the global economy. Merchant navy is a global business with various nationalities working together on various kinds of vessels.

Shipping is a complex business and one of the oldest business mankind has ever known. Ships its crew and cargo suffer the perils of the sea to reach its destination. Without shipping global trade will suffer and many countries will plunge into darkness. Today’s ships not just carry oil but also chemicals, cars, grains, minerals, and much more.

When a seafarer is asked what you do? and answers I am working in Merchant Navy, many people confuse it with the Indian Navy. So what’s the difference in between merchant navy and navy (Indian Navy)?

When we hear the word Navy first thing we visualise is a ship with huge turrets and many other weapons installed on the ship. That’s right because the Navy is a nations line of defence against the security threats from seas/ocean. Often war movies like Navy Seals the U-517 popup in mind with the word Navy. Naval ships are government ships and operated by defence sector of any government. The main aim of the Navy is to protect and guard the territorial boundaries of the nation.

As answered in detail about merchant navy, it involves ships and ship’s crew working to carry either cargo/passengers from one place to another. This is a completely commercial operation of the ships. The ships are owned by either private businessman or big institutions. Containers of Companies like Maersk, MSC, Hapag-Lloyd etc are often visible around us. These are a few of the companies involved in commercial shipping. The main aim of the Merchant Navy is to earn profit from trade through the sea routes.

Merchant navy officers wear a white shirt and black pants, along with epaulettes in accordance with the rank on the ship. The uniform is accompanied by black shoes and pullover or sweatshirt during chilly climate condition. The cap is a black hood with the white top having an anchor with ropes emblem. During working on ships, the crew wears a boiler suit together with personal protective equipment. The personal protective equipment will vary in accordance with the kind of the ship and type of work that’s to be performed.

Officers wear the uniform when on the ship’s bridge, mess room or as asked by the ship’s captain. Engine officers normally wear uniforms as and when requested for everything else the boiler suit is the main uniform. The merchant navy uniform is of significance and pride.

Different types of merchant ships are as follows

  • Dry Cargo Ships / General Cargo Ships.
  • Bulk Carriers
  • Container vessels
  • Refer Vessels
  • RO-RO vessels (Roll On – Roll Off vessels)
  • Tankers
  • Passenger Vessels (Cruise Vessels)

Dry Cargo vessels or general cargo vessels are ships with derricks and carry cargoes in pallets form. Most of these types of vessels are being taken over by Container ships. The Bulk Carriers are ships carrying cargoes like ore, grains, metals etc. This type of ship has several holds where the cargo is stored and the holds are sealed with the hatch covers which are watertight. Container ships are self-explanatory. They carry cargoes stowed in containers. Refer vessels are normally used to carry perishable goods in a controlled environment. RO-RO vessels carry cars, trucks, and other automotive vehicles. Tankers are of 3 kinds Oil tanker, Chemical tanker, Gas tanker. Cruise ships or passenger ships the cargo is humans travelling from one place to another.

By now I told you a little about the Merchant Navy. So now let’s know more about the ship and its crew and also how you can become one of a crew for the ship. There are 2 main departments on the ship.

  1. Deck Department.
  2. Engine Department.

Requirements to join a ship in any of the above departments vary from country to country. I can elaborate a little about  the requirements for joining the ship in any of the above department either as an officer or as a rating

For Indian students the eligibility criteria are as follows:

Considering you wish to join a ship as an officer the basic requirements are Class 10th with an average of 60% and Class 12th with an average of 60% in PCM (Physics, Chemistry, Maths). English is an additional requirement with a minimum score of 60%.

A thorough medical examination is carried out as per the requirements of D.G shipping you can check the requirements for medical examinations here.

Note: The age criteria for all the courses is between 17-25

Deck Department:
  • DNS – Diploma in Nautical Science

Duration of the course – 1 Year

The minimum requirement is Class 12th with PCM 60% and English 60%

After the 1st year course at the academy, there will be 18 months training on ships as a cadet.

Completing the sea-time the seafarer then appears for the certificate of competency exam for 2nd mate. Prior appearing for this exam a 4-month preparatory course is mandatory along with a few other modular courses.

On clearing the examination, the candidate usually boards the ship as a 3rd officer and is then promoted to 2nd on the basis of performance.

  • BSc in Nautical Science

From any college affiliated with Indian Maritime University, you can do B.Sc. in Nautical Science after completion of your Diploma (DNS). Even with a B.Sc. in either Physics, Chemistry or Mathematics or Electronics, you can apply for a  B.Sc. Nautical Science degree. Even with a BE/B.Tech degree from any AICTE (All Indian Council for Technical Education) approved college you can get B.Sc Nautical Science degree by applying for the course.

  • B.Sc. Nautical Science 3 year course

Requirement :

10+2 with an average 60% in PCM and a minimum of 60% in the English language. The course is complete when you complete 3 years of college with 12 months of sea-time and then appear for the 2nd mate license exam.

  • B.S in Nautical Technology a 4-year course:

Requirements:

Same requirements as that of B.Sc. Nautical science 3-year course. 10+2 with 60% average in PCM and 60% in the English language. The tenure is of 4 years instead of 3 years followed by 12 months sea-time and thereafter the 2nd mate exam for getting Certificate of Competency.

Engine Department:
  • Marine Engineering 4 year course:

Requirement:

Class 10+2 with an average of 60% in PCM and 60% minimum in the English language. The first year of engineering is common with all other engineering branches. If you opted for either mechanical or electrical engineering in the 1st year then you can switch to Marine Engineering for 2nd year. This switch is possible only if you have an average of 60% in 1st year and the college is AICTE approved.

A 3-year Diploma holder with at least 60% score from electrical, mechanical, marine, electrical and electronics from an approved AICTE college can join to 2nd year in Marine Engineering course.

After the 4-year course, you will join as a junior engineer on a ship with a sea-time required of 6 months to become eligible for MEO Class IV exam (Marine Engineer Officer). Clearing the MEO class IV exam will give you a Certificate of Competency (COC) with which you can join a ship as a 4th Engineer.

  • Graduate Marine Engineering Course (GME)

This is a 1-year course followed after completion of your B.E/B.Tech Engineering degree with an average of 60% in mechanical or naval architecture branch.

After the 1-year course, you will join as a junior engineer on a ship with a sea-time required of 6 months to become eligible for MEO Class IV exam (Marine Engineer Officer). Clearing the MEO class IV exam will give you a Certificate of Competency (COC) with which you can join a ship as a 4th Engineer.

  • Marine Engineering Diploma course

After Class 10th with an average of 60% score, you can apply for diploma courses in branches like mechanical, marine, naval architecture, electrical, electrical and electronics. With the diploma, you can enrol directly in Marine Engineering 2nd year also with additional pre-sea training courses you can join a ship

  • Electro Technical Officer (ETO)

For joining a ship as an Electro Technical Officer, a minimum B.E/B.Tech degree or a diploma in a branch of electrical or electronics and communication or instrumentation is required. After the degree or diploma, a pre-sea training course of around 17 weeks followed with 6 months onboard training is essential. With the degree or diploma, and the pre-sea training one will join the ship as a trainee Electro Technical Officer. After successful completion of the onboard training, the promotion to ETO is on the basis of performance judged by the company they work for.

All the above cases cover joining a ship as an officer either on the deck or in the engine room. One can join the ship even as a rating and provide assistance to the officers onboard.

  • Join as a Rating:

G.P. rating course: (General Purpose Rating)

If you wish to join a ship as a rating to assist the officers onboard a G.P. rating course is mandatory. It is a 6-months course after passing Class 10th or 12th with Science field and with a score of a minimum of 40% and with a minimum of 40% in the English language.

With the G.P. Rating course, the first rank onboard will be that of a trainee either on engine side or deck. The hierarchy of the ranks amongst ratings are as follows

  • Deck department

Bosun (Boatswain)

Able-bodied Seaman (AB)

Ordinary Seaman (OS)

Trainee Ordinary Seaman (Trainee OS)

  • Engine Department:

Fitter

Motorman/Oiler

Wiper

Trainee Wiper

  • Saloon Staff:

General Steward

In order to join the Saloon staff (Galley department), there are Saloon rating courses. Class 10th or 12th with a minimum of 40% score with a minimum of 40% in the English language. This course is for a duration of 6-months. One can join the ship as a Steward at the start and thereafter be promoted to Chief cook depending on the performance basis of the company.

In the previous question, I covered the different courses required to join the Merchant Navy. In this, I try to answer the approximate cost of the courses described above.

Note: The course fees may vary with different colleges. I have extracted the fee structure from the colleges known to me

  • 1-year Diploma in Nautical Science — Approx 2,25,000₹ – 3,00,000₹ / year.
  • B.Sc. Nautical course — Approx 2,25,000₹ – 3,00,000₹ / year . About 6,00,000₹ – 9,00,000₹ (3-year course)
  • Mariner Engineering — Approx 2,00,000₹-3,00,000₹ / year . About 8,00,000₹ – 12,00,000 (4-year course)
  • Graduate Mariner Engineering — Approx 2,00,000₹ – 3,00,000₹
  • ETO course — Approx 1,50,000₹ – 3,00,000₹
  • G.P. Rating Course — Approx 1,50,000₹ – 2,25,000₹
  • Saloon Rating Course — Approx 1,50,000₹ – 2,25,000₹

Make sure which ever course you enrol for it is a D.G. Shipping approved course. Here is a list of D.G. Shipping approved colleges all over India

Well, no one can decide what’s better for you engine or deck it’s a matter of choice that you will have to make it for yourself. The first thing to decide is which department you willing to join. You want to be an officer or to be a Rating. I have shared an approximate fee structure to know if you can afford the field of your choice.

Deck and engine both the departments have their field related pros and cons and most of the people in those fields may say the other field is better but finally, it comes down to where your interest lies in

If you are technically sound and like to fix broken stuff engineering may be the best option for you, if you like managing stuff and handling persons then the deck will be more preferable to you.

Just for your info nowadays shipping market is very bad fewer jobs for the junior officer or engineers also salaries are reducing than what was before. Before joining merchant navy do your thorough research and if you have decided which field to join then make sure the institute you going to join is a DG shipping approved one. Don’t get fooled around as there are many institutions without approval giving you false promises.

As previously explained there are 2 departments on the ship, each department have officers and ratings

  • Deck Department
  • Engine Department

Deck Department:

The Deck department hierarchy is as follows. Master/Captain of the ship is the topmost rank on the ship and he belongs from the deck department. But Captain is responsible for the whole ship so all ranks come under him. Rank hierarchy as on ship is as follows

  • Captain (Master)
  • Chief Officer (Chief Mate)
  • 2nd Officer (Second Mate)
  • 3rd Officer (Third Mate)
  • Deck Cadet

Engine Department:

  • Chief Engineer
  • 2nd Engineer (1st Assistant Engineer)
  • 3rd Engineer (2nd Assistant Engineer)
  • 4th Engineer (3rd Assistant Engineer)
  • 5th Engineer (Junior Engineer)
  • Trainee Marine Engineer (T.M.E)
  • Electro Technical Officer (ETO)
  • Trainee Electro Technical Officer (Trainee ETO)
  • Electrical Engineer (with recent requirements as per regulations this rank is replaced by ETO)

This rank hierarchy is of the officers on the ship. The ratings onboard ship either have different posts as follows

Deck Ratings:

  • Bosun (Boatswain)
  • Pumpman (in case of tankers)
  • Able-bodied seaman (A.B this post is shared by about 2 or 3 guys depending on size of the ship)
  • Ordinary Seaman (O.S)
  • Trainee Ordinary Seaman (Trainee O.S)
  • Chief Cook
  • 2nd Cook (sometimes G.S is the 2nd cook)
  • General Steward (G.S)

Engine Ratings:

  • Fitter
  • Motorman
  • Oiler (sometimes also called Motorman)
  • Wiper
  • Trainee Wiper

Yes, girls can join. Currently, there are many female officers serving. Recently a female captain was awarded by the IMO. She is an inspiration to rest. It’s just you have to be hard working and committed to your job.

Personally, I have never sailed with a female colleague onboard. In my company, there are no females employed yet. It does not mean my company do not hire women. The procedure and requirements to join the merchant navy are same as that for the boys.

The government encourages females to join this field. Just a word of caution though from my end, if you are scared of rides on theme parks, giant wheel etc then you may face a hard time on the ship due to seasickness.

Previously, I covered various requirements to join the Merchant Navy. I covered the 2 departments in shipping.

  • Deck Department
  • Engine Department

 Deck Department:

This department is responsible for handling the ship’s commercial aspects. Deck guys are more into Navigation of the ship, handling of the cargoes, and maintenance of the deck. Master/Captain of the ship is overall in charge of the ship is from the deck department. Chief Mate handles the cargo loading and discharging operations, also give daily duties to the Ratings below him. 2nd mate is mostly responsible for handling passage plans and calculations related to ships routes and all. 3rd mate is the junior most officer and he looks after the Firefighting equipment, Life-saving equipment and other such duties. The rating report to the Chief officer who instructs them about the daily job to be carried out to Bosun who then allocates the job amongst the AB.

I will describe the Deck department to a layman as a driver of a car, I mean no disrespect to the department as I belong to Engine though. Like a driver, they navigate the ship to the desired location through the rough seas.

Engine Department:

This department is responsible for maintaining the ship’s machinery and equipment. Unlike engineers on shore who hardly gets their hands dirty with the work on a ship let it be an engineer or engine ratings, they have to get their hands dirty to make the machinery work. Chief Engineer is responsible for the smooth operation of the ship. 2nd Engineer assists the chief engineer by delegating daily duties to other engineers and ratings. He is also responsible for the whole Engine room. 3rd Engineer mostly on foreign ships handles Generators and Boilers on the ship. 4th engineer handles air compressors and purifiers. Motorman/oiler assists engineers with their work.

I will describe the Engine department is like a mechanic of a car, for a layman, I mean no disrespect to this department as I am one of the member of this department. Like a mechanic, engine department has to make sure the ship’s machinery run without giving any troubles.

Merchant Navy crew contracts differ for different nationalities and for different companies. Shipping is a complex business model, there are mainly two different types of companies employing crew for their ships.

  • Ownership Companies
  • Management Companies.

Ownership Companies are those companies where the shipowner hires competent crew on its own. The Ownership companies may have a separate crew recruitment team which manages the crew recruitment and their repatriation. The crew hired first are sent on probation basis for first 1-3 contracts after which they are made permanent. The employment and payment is similar to shore people i.e. round the year payment as long as employed with the company. The salary is divided into 2 parts normally that is basic and leave wages

Management Companies are those companies where the shipowner hires a different company altogether for the recruitment of its crew. In such cases, the management companies manage crew recruitment and their repatriation. In such companies, the crew is hired for a contract for a short duration and payment is only for the duration till the crew is onboard the ship. The salary received when onboard is inclusive of basic and leave wages.

Tenure onboard ships

For Officers                      Ownership Companies            Management Companies

Top 4 Management              3 on / 3 off                                 3 – 4 ±1 months

Operational officers              3 on / 2 off                                 5 – 6 ±1 months

For Crew Ratings                   5 – 6 ± 1 month                          6 – 9 ±1 months

Seafarers wages are based on various factors like his nationalities, rank, qualification, experience, type of vessel, and company.

The starting wages in the Merchant navy are lucrative than that on shore. The main reason for high wages is a hazardous sea environment, away from family, almost none social life when onboard.

Range of Salaries in USD ($) per month on contract basis:

Junior engineer or deck cadet –  350- 1000 USD

4th Engineer / 3rd officer – 2200 – 4300 USD

3rd Engineer/ 2nd officer – 4000-5500 USD

2nd Engineer/Chief officer – 6000-11000 USD

Chief engineer/ Captain – 8000 – 15000 USD

Electrical Officer – 3000 – 6000 USD

Pumpman – 1000 – 2400 USD

Bosun – 1250 – 1900 USD

Ordinary Seaman – 800 – 1100 USD

Able-bodied Seaman – 1000-1400 USD

Fitter – 1200 – 1600 USD

Oiler – 800 – 1300 USD

Engine Rating/ Wiper – 600-1000 USD

Chief Cook – 1200-1800 USD

Steward – 600-1500 USD

Note:

The above salaries are paid to the seafarer until he serves onboard or as mentioned in the contract. When a seafarer is on leave, he is unpaid as the leave wages are already included in the above-mentioned wages. A seafarer does not have an annual income. Only ownership companies pay round the year wages but that applies only to the officers the crew are paid in lumpsum.

Many options are open in case you are interested in studying further. There are many advanced courses available like maritime law, ship brokering & chartering, maritime surveyor, maritime instructors etc. You can also pursue a degree in Masters in Business Administration (MBA) or M.Sc in shipping logistics and finance. If you are fond of the design field then naval architecture is one available option for you.

These are the courses I am aware as of now. Well on shore there are many opportunities for maritime professionals. Deckside can land a job as DPA( Designated Persons Ashore ), Qualified Individual (QI) etc. Engine side can get placed in any companies involving powerplant operations, become superintendent of ships etc.

Shipping companies offer sponsorship to interested students. Sponsorship is available for both departments of the ship i.e. Deck and Engine. With Sponsorship, the shipping companies would pay for your training and assure a job in return after signing a contract. Some shipping companies have their own institutes or have affiliated institutes. They conduct examinations for candidates prior giving them sponsorships if and when they are selected. The condition of sponsorship is that you will have to serve the company after pre-sea training for a certain amount of time, if the contract is broken you may have to pay the fees as mentioned in the signed contract.

Here are a few companies that I am aware of which provide sponsorship to fresh candidates.

  • Anglo Eastern
  • BSM
  • Wilhelmsen
  • ESM
  • Maersk
  • VR Maritime Services Pvt Ltd
  • SCI
  • GESCO
  • Selandia
  • Synergy
  • V Ships
  • Wallem

Shore leave is dependant on several factors. Seafarers surely travel to a lot of new places around the globe. However, shore leave is dependant on factors like the type of ship, the country you visit, ship’s captain, chief engineer etc.

Nowadays ships halt in port is very brief, container ships halt at a port for about 6-10 hours, the bulk carrier may berth for 2-4 days depending on the port, Oil tankers halt is about 12-24 hours. In the case of VLCC the ships may never see shore as the loading or discharging takes away from the land through submerged hoses. VLCC due to its massive size may not be able to reach port as the depth is limited, on such vessels, the crew may not get shore leave at all.

Due to the 9/11 attacks the port security has increased. Many ports welcome seafarers for shore leave but some ports may deny for security purposes. ILO and MLC has regulations regarding shore leave and is striving for the right to shore leave for seafarer

As a seafarer, you roam around the whole world and see many new places, but the time is very limited for the seafarers to enjoy the shore leave.

Since childhood you see your parents working. They leave the house early morning and return by evening. You dine together and the next day again the cycle repeats. Seafarers life is way different than a typical 9 to 5 job. A seafarer normally works in shifts twice a day, some days while long sailing few people enjoy a 7 – 6 work culture while others work in shifts of 4 hours 2 times a day with about 2 hours overtime in the daytime. When the ship is in port the duties changes shifts changes sometimes instead of 4 hours it becomes 6 hours shift twice a day. Every day is different in life at sea.

You sign a contract with the company, she assists you to join the ship and relieve you from the ship. The contract tenure may last from 3 months to 9 months depending on your rank and experience. The company takes good care of you when onboard. Major expenses of a seafarer like housing and food are borne by the company. This results in a lot of savings for the seafarer.

Sea life is not for everyone. Sea life is rough, the working and living conditions are harsh. Not a life for everyone. If you love social media then imagine a life without the internet. Only in recent years, we have seen the dawn of the internet on the ships. The data is costly and little.

When a seafarer is back home he is to stay updated and do a lot of courses. If you are an officer you need to stay updated with all the regulations and constantly give exams and get certified in their competency. These exams are essential for officers to rank higher on ships.

Consider all aspects before joining shipping. It’s not a simple life, its full of adventure, fun and hardships.

Future of shipping is heading towards automation. So the main thing for future marine engineers is to stay updated with technological advances. Know your machinery basics and working thoroughly. Especially Indians lack knowledge of the electrical side, that’s what I have noticed it includes me, make sure you don’t skip it. Do not limit your knowledge to ship related machinery. Competition is going to increase in future and jobs for engineering will reduce. Just remember Front part of the ship where the cargo is handled is the main asset of the ship while the Engine room (an essential part of the ship) is where the main expenditure occurs, So to increase profits every one likes to cut off the losses in expenditure keep that in mind. When Fresh out of training or waiting for your next ship and it is taking too long don’t hesitate to apply for a shore job at start pay scale may be less but the growth prospects are more.

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