Merchant Marine | How to become a Mariner

You might be wondering what merchant marine do. Its is very important we know what this is because of its benefits to every country and economy.

Let us start from a lay man’s way of understanding things and which most times are the best and sometimes too accurate. By lay man i mean the words we can see from what we want to understand hich here is “Merchant Marine

From the first word there “Merchant” according to Cambridge dictionary “a person whose job is to buy and sell products in large amountsespecially by trading with other countries”. So the buying or selling of goods involving two or more countries by a person or company is Merchant.

The second word “Marine” also from Cambridge dictionary ” is related to sea or sea transport”.

So now what is Merchant Marine

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What Is Merchant Marine?

The Merchant Marine is a ship that provids the transportation services of goods and products using the sea. Sometimes to they transport people too but must be through the sea or oceans. So Merchant Marine handles imports and exports. Service members in the Merchant Marine are called mariners (not Marines).

There are other things too they do. Like in war time, the Merchant Marine is an auxiliary naval service can be used to move troops, equipment and supplies if the Nevy or military.

Job Description

Merchant mariners serve in different areas and capacities when on-board and on land too. Let us look at some works they do.

Merchant Mariners work on land

  • Maritime Instructor: Server as a teacher at a merchant marine academy or other mariner training programs.
  • Dispatcher: Schedule and coordinate workflow for a fleet of vessels.
  • Environmental Protection Specialist: they work with government agencies to provide guidance for environmental protections associated with vessels and port facilities.
  • Inspector: Ensures compliance with established standards and procedures.

Merchant Mariners work on-board

  • Ferry Captain: Pilots ferries passengers and cargo safely and according to schedule. Depending on geographic location, the work may be seasonal.
  • Mechanic: Services, adjusts and maintains machinery.
  • Manager: Oversees the safe operations and activities of a fleet of vessels.
  • Seaman: Performs routine ship maintenance, assists in navigation and other duties as assigned by vessel captain.
  • Tugboat Engineer: Supervises maintenance and operations of mechanical and electrical systems.
  • Yacht Captain: Pilots cruise vessel for passenger trips and events.

They are other functions too they carry out both on land and on-board.

This is a good job and is a well paying job too. So how much does a merchant mariner gets.

How much can i get as a merchant mariner

From the report gotten from an employment website ZipRecruiter, the average salary for merchant marine jobs is $53,395 per year.

It is also of important to note that the number of years you have served and experience gathered throughout this years also affect your pay. It might go through the range of $18,000 to $111,500  annually.

Some people still get confused if merchant marine is part of the military, since they handle ships and seal on water.

Is merchant marine part of military?

No is the answer. Even though they might help the military during war time in shipment of or officers to the needed place, merchant marines are not part of the military. they serve as captains, mates, pilots and seaman serve on ships sailing on oceans, lakes and inland rivers.

How to become a merchant mariner

cadets photo:

There are about seven (7) stages to pass before you become a merchant mariner in th United States.

Let us consider those stages one after the other.

Stage 1: The Merchant Marine Academy

High school graduate who want to be a Mariner have to be admitted into the Merchant Marine Academy.

For applications, you require three latters of recommendation, a medical exam and nomination from a U.S. Senator or Representative, a biographical essay, the Candidate Fitness Assessment.

Students in Academy Majors in different areas such as Marine Engineering, Maritime Technologyand operations and Marine Transportation. Students at Academy also receive hands-on training at seas for 13 weeks as part of it curriculum.

On graduation, Academy students will receive MMCs, Bachelor of Science degrees and the rating of officers and merchant marine officer licenses.

Stage 2: Application for Transportation Workers Identification Credential

Transportation Workers Identification Credentials (TWIC) is needed by mariners to show operators of secure facilities and vessels that you are free from any security threats.

The TWIC application takes about 6-8 weeks to process and the credential is valid for five years. Applicants will undergo security check being conducted by the Department of Homeland security and the FBI before you receive the certificate.

Stage 3: Field of specialization (department)

There are different department in merchant marine, so before submitting our applications for MMC, you have to choose which carrier to focus either Engineering, deck or steward’s department.

While Mariners in the deck such as seamean helps in navigation and operating the ship. The Engineers, mechanics and electricians maintain the ship’s machinery. The steward’s department is responsible for providing food on board the ship.

Stage 4: Rating and Endorsement

Mariners working in the Department need to have sea experience to have MMCs. So its important to have or qualify for rating.

While an engineer need to have at least six months experience working in ships machines and equipments, the lifeboat man need one year. Also an engineering and deck exam is required for mariners working in those departments.

To receive an officer endorsement,s such as chief mate, first class pilot and chief engineer on an MMC, applicants need three letters of recommendation in addition to experience

Stage 5: MMC Application

In MMCs applications, mariners need to submit medical reports showing they pass drug and other health related tests. This might include physical ability, hearing and vision tests.

Note that health conditions such as heart disease, psychiatric illnesses, diabetes and sleep apnea may cause ineligibility.

Applicants must also provide proof of American citizenship and sea service experience.

Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) requirements must be meet by mariners willing to travel in foreign waters.

Training programs, such as the five-day Basic Safety Training course must be completed ti get STCW Certificate.

Stage 6: Get ship job

The graduate officers of Merchant Marine Academy are offered job opportunities by the academy. Also for entry level jobs, consider joining union for job placement services.

Stage 7: Advance your Career with experience

Merchant Marine or Mariners get promotion within the command structure with experience and this is the best. You can also add to yourself by enrolling for advanced skills in mechanical maintenance, navigation or health services.

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Hierarchy in Merchant Marine

Seafarers holds different ranks on ships and this hierarchy helps the the smooth running of on board operations and professionalism in management. It also helps in the coordination of shipboard operations and a shore based support framework

This ranking in merchant navy ranking system is accepted worldwide by shipping companies and commercial vessels. The job responsibilities that comes with this ranking are almost the same across the industry with with small different with some shipping companies.

Generally, Ranking in Merchant Marine are classified into three (3) main categories namely;

  • Deck Department
  • Engine Department
  • Stewards Department

Now lets look at each of the hierarchy in the categories of seafarers

Deck Department in Merchant Marine

Deck Department in Merchant Marine
Deck officers photo:
  • Chief Officer/Mate
  • Second Officer/Mate
  • Third Officer/Mate
  • Deck Cadets

Non-officers on Deck

  • Bosun 
  • Welder/Fitter
  • Able Bodied Seaman (AB)
  • Ordinary Seaman (OS)

1. Chief Officer / First Mate

Chief officer is the executive head of the deck department and carries out the order of the Master at the operational level. He supervises the vessel’s crew and looks after the various deck operations which include the daily ongoings of the deck as per the work schedule as well as the cargo operations to be carried out while in port.

2. Second Officer/ Mate

The second officer is an OOW responsible for the charts & publications on board and their maintenance. Mate is also the medical officer onboard who takes care of the upkeep and administering of all medically related services onboard.

3. Third Officer/ Mate

The third Mate takes charge of all the LSA and FFA onboard and responsible to upkeep and maintain them onboard. All the port documents for use by the Master is handled by hime along with handling the bond store onboard.

4. Deck Cadet

Deck cadet is a fresh graduate out of the Merchant Marine Academy. He is seen as tranee officer on-board and he will be given rolls to help him learn as he work on deck. This will help him in the examination for the “Certificate of Competency” which after he will be OOW.

5. Bosun

Bosun is the head of the ratings division on deck and carries out the scheduled work on deck with the help of the Chief Mate

6. Able seaman

Able seaman (AB) possesses a merchant mariner’s document and he assists the deck department. 

7. Ordinary seaman (OS)

Ordinary Sea man is responsible for buffing, scaling, cleaning the deck and occasionally painting the superstructure, overhauling, splicing ropes, wiring, rigging, etc and conduct repair work on the deck. A trainee OS is like a cadet but for the ratings section.

The Engine Department in Merchant Marine

  • Chief Engineer
  • Second Engineer/First Assistant Engineer
  • Third Engineer/ Second Assistant Engineer
  • Fourth Engineer/ Third Assistant Engineer
  • Fifth Engineer/ Engine Cadet
  • Electrical Officer

Engine Room Rating

  • Fitter
  • Motorman
  • Wiper
  • Trainee Fitter / Trainee Wiper

1. Chief Engineer

The Chief Engineer is the head of the engineering department on a vessel. The Chief engineer gives orders for operation and maintenance of ship’s machinery system and is responsible for the engine room department. The “Chief’s Ticket” is the ticket required for this position on ship.

2. Second Engineer/ First Assistant Engineer

His responsibility include constantly supervising the proper functioning of all engine room machinery systems and the 2nd Enginer also assigns jobs to the other engine officers and crew. The activities under the engine room is coordinated by the second Engineer.

3. Third engineer/ Second Assistant Engineer

The third Engineer looks after machinery and equipment as ordered by the chief engineer. He reports to the second engineer and on daily basis watch after the machines.

4. Fourth Engineer/ Third Assistant Engineer

This is the least rank in the engineering department. The Fourth Engineer is focused on the correct working of the machines assigned to him and also carry our watch keeping. He also reports to the second engineer.

Fifth Engineer/ Engineering Cadet

Fifth engineer is not yet competent but a fresh engineer undergoing training so he is a trainee under the Second Engineer officer. He learns as he assists in carrying out activities in the engine room. He would accompany a senior officer during the watch duty.

The Steward Department in Merchant Marine

  • Chief Cook
  • Trainee Cook

1. Chief Cook

The chief cook prepares meals for all the crew members always. He is in charge of the food store in the ship. The Chief Cook assists the Third Mate/Cadet in preparing the requisition for every food items to be forwarded to the company Head quarter to be procured on-board.

2. Trainee Cook

The trainee cook helps the chief cook in the preparation of meals for crew members and managing provision.

Highest rank in Merchant Marine

The Captain

Captain or master
Captain photo:

The Captain who might also be referred to as the Master of the ship is the highest authority of the ship and is the highest rank that one can achieve on-board.

The captain has the total responsibility and coordinates all shipboard operations. The Captain is in command of a merchant ship at all times and regulates the proper daily transactions and handles the legal affairs on maritime issues.

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