New or Transitioning to a Career at Sea
Career at sea: Are you new to the maritime industry or transitioning out of the military?
The maritime industry is growing, providing opportunities for a rewarding career at sea working on deck, in the engine room, or the steward’s department for motivated individuals.
One of the most difficult tasks an individual has is getting started in this industry. The first step that you can take is to learn about the different requirements for various operations and career paths. From there, it is easier to make an educated decision regarding where you wish to go. See below for the minimum requirements to become a Merchant Mariner:
Engine vs. Deck – Ratings for Seagoing Individuals
One decision an individual needs to make when they are looking to start a career at sea is whether they want to work on deck, in the wheelhouse, in the engine room, or the galley. No decision is incorrect but it depends upon what you enjoy and what you are hoping to achieve from your career at sea. Below is a short listing of ratings and a description of what they do on a ship or boat.
- Ordinary Seaman (OS) – The entry-level deck position aboard any vessel. Mainly a training position to learn basic seamanship.
- Wiper – The entry-level engine position.
- Able Bodied Seaman (AB) – A deckhand responsible for lookout watches and security rounds while underway; an AB also handles lines and assists with all operations on deck, including docking/undocking, making and breaking of tows, and deck maintenance.
- Qualified Man of the Engine Department (QMED) – An unlicensed position in the engine room, the responsibilities of a QMED vary significantly from one job to another and often vary depending upon the abilities of the individual. Will assist engineers on ships with making rounds and engine maintenance. A QMED may also be the sole engineer on some towing vessels.
- Steward Utility, Cook, and Steward – Galley ratings, on ships individuals will work their way up from a utility position, responsible for dishwashing, cleaning the house, etc., to cook and then to steward who needs to order food and supervise the rest of the galley department. On towing vessels, the cook will often assist as a deckhand if capable.
- Mate – A deck officer who is responsible for the safe navigation of the vessel. Responsibilities increase from 3rd Mate up to Chief Mate.
- Engineer – An engine officer responsible for safely operating the ship’s propulsion and auxiliary systems. Responsibilities increase from 3rd Assistant Engineer up to First Assistant Engineer aboard ships. Aboard tugboats, often there is only one engineer.
- Chief Engineer – The head of the engine department aboard ships.
- Master/Captain – The leader of the entire ship/tugboat who holds ultimate responsibility for the vessel’s people and operations.
Knowing what each position does, you can tailor your decision based on your career at sea goals. If you like working in a kitchen environment, the stewards’ department is for you. If you desire to become a Captain or Mate, you would best be suited to go into the deck department. If you are a “gearhead” or enjoy working in an engine room, you should take an engine route.
Career Development Programs
In recent years, as the need for qualified seamen at all levels has increased, so have the number of available programs that an individual has available to them for reaching their goals. Below is a brief listing of programs that you may want to look into for their suitability to meet your goals:
Seafarer’s International Union (SIU) Apprentice Programs
This program will help you go from entry-level to Able Seaman or QMED in a year. For more information, visit the SIU’s website: https://mymaritimecareer.org/
A program geared towards the towing and supply boat industry, a motivated individual can go from entry-level to Mate in 2 years with intensive on-the-job (at sea) and classroom training.
If you only hold an MMD, the unions may be able to provide you with advice and opportunities for job placement. For more information, visit these union websites:
- Inland Boatman’s Union – www.ibu.org
- Seafarers International Union – www.seafarers.org
- Master’s, Mate’s, and Pilot’s – www.bridgedeck.org
- American Maritime Officers – http://www.amo-union.org/
- Marine Engineers Beneficiary Association – www.d1meba.org
Four-year academies in Maine, Massachusetts, California, Texas and two in New York provide individuals with a Bachelor of Science degree and a Third Mate or Third Assistant Engineer license.
- Maine Maritime Academy – www.mma.edu
- Massachusetts Maritime Academy – www.maritime.edu
- California Maritime Academy – www.csum.edu
- Texas A&M University at Galveston – www.tamug.edu
- State University of New York Maritime Academy – www.sunymaritime.edu
- United States Merchant Marine Academy – www.usmma.edu