This page will provide you with all the information that you will need to join the merchant navy. We have tried to answer all the questions a person willing to join merchant navy will have. If you still have any specific question regarding joining this field, please send us a mail at



What is Merchant Navy? 

Merchant navy is a specialized industry that is fully engaged in commercial activities involving the transportation of cargo and passengers through sea routes. Also termed as “Merchant Marine” in some countries, the field of the Merchant Navy is an important part of the global shipping sector and is an integral component of any nation’s economical development. As the majority of the world’s commercial activities are carried out through the sea routes, the field of merchant navy has far more prominence across the globe.

The term “merchant navy” means a fleet of commercial ships that are not used for military purposes. The ships and the crew of the merchant navy are a part of the country’s commercial shipping.

The professionals working on these commercial ships are called mariners or sailors or seafarers or seamen.

The modern shipping industry has come a long way from the olden days of ships with sails. The modern cargo ships are massive in size and are equipped with the latest and highly advanced technology systems. This invisible industry and its unsung heroes play a great role in the development and progress of the global economy.

The merchant navy is a global industry with several nationalities working together on different types of vessels. The industry offers excellent career opportunities both at sea and onshore.

What Are Different Careers in Merchant Navy?

Merchant Navy is a global industry that provides some of the best career opportunities on different types of ships (and on land as well). Unlike any other field, Merchant Navy offers jobs that not only require specialized knowledge and training but also require a great amount of mental and physical strength.

If you want to know what a career in the merchant navy is like, then read:

10 Reasons Career In Merchant Navy In Unlike Any Other

Merchant navy jobs mainly involve working on a variety of ships as officers, engineers, or ratings. These are the main three departments on almost all types of ships and they work in coordination to ensure a smooth running of the ship and its operations.

If you are looking forward to a career in the merchant navy, you will be required to choose from any of these three departments:

1. Deck Department

2. Engine Department

3. Crew Ratings

A course in any of the above departments will be the “stepping stone” to a successful career at sea.

Every country will have its own entrance exam for joining the merchant navy; for e.g. in India, it is the IMU CET Exam.

To join the engine department, you will need to take up a course in marine engineering, which is a 4-year degree course or a diploma course (as provided in your country). If you are a mechanical engineer, you can become a marine engineer after doing the necessary course and training (Graduate Mechanical Engineering or GME course).

You can also join a marine engineering course after doing one year of mechanical engineering or equivalent. (This facility will depend on the country you belong to)

On completion of marine engineering degree, you will join a ship as a Trainee/Fifth engineer and then move ahead in the ranking system as = the fourth engineer -> third engineer -> second engineer -> chief engineer.

To join the deck department, you will have to take up a course in BSc. in nautical science, which is basically a 3/4 years course. A course in nautical science will pave the road for becoming a deck officer on a ship.

On completion of the nautical science course, you will join a ship as a trainee/deck cadet and then move ahead in the ranking system as =  third officer/mate -> second officer/mate -> chief officer/mate ->> captain.

You can also join a ship as ETO (electro-technical officer) if you have a background of electrical or electronics. You will be required to take up pre-sea training followed by mandatory onboard training.

Apart from deck officers and marine engineers, a ship also requires a supporting staff that would assist the officers and carries out various other important tasks. Such job opportunities fall under ratings.

To join a ship as ratings, various job opportunities are:

In Engine Department 

  • Fitter
  • Motorman
  • Wiper

In Deck Department

  • Able Seaman (AB)
  • Bosun
  • Ordinary Seaman (OS)
  • Fitter

You can also join the saloon department as

  • Steward
  • Chief cook

The number of positions/ranks available on a ship depends on the type of the ship, the size of the ship, and company policy.

What Are Different Ranks In Merchant Navy?

As mentioned earlier, there are three main departments onboard ships:

  1. Deck department
  2. Engine department
  3. Rating

Professionals from each of these departments are classed into a hierarchy system.

For the Deck department, a general overview of the ranking system is:

  • Chief officer/ mate
  • 2nd officer/mate
  • 3rd officer/mate
  • Deck cadet

Apart from officers, each depart also has ratings (also called deck ratings). Their ranking is as below:

  • Bosun (head of the rating staff)
  • Welder/Fitter (this rank renders his services to both the deck and engine department)
  • Able-Bodied Seaman (AB)
  • Ordinary Seaman (OS)
  • Trainee OS

Deck Department rank

For the Engine department, a general overview of the ranking system is:

  • Chief / First engineer
  • 2nd engineer / First assistant engineer
  • 3rd engineer / Second assistant engineer
  • 4th engineer / Thirst assistant engineer
  • 5th engineer / Engine Cadet
  • Electrical officer (ETO)

Engine Department rank

Just like the deck department, the engine department also has ratings. Their ranking is as below:

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

Saloon department:

  • Steward
  • Trainee cook
  • Chief cook

Note: Though Captain comes at the top of the ranking system of the deck department, technically, the Ship Captain is above everyone on board.

What is merchant navy uniform like? Do they have to wear the uniform all the time? 

Merchant navy officers mainly wear a white shirt and black trousers, along with epaulettes according to the rank on the ship. The uniform is accompanied by black formal shoes and a pullover or sweatshirt during cold climate conditions. The cap (P-cap) is a black hood with a white top having an anchor symbol.

However, while working on ships, the crew usually wears a boiler suit along with personal protective equipment (PPE). The personal protective equipment will change according to the type of ship and the kind of work that is to be performed.

Officers are supposed to wear the uniform when on the ship’s bridge, mess room or as asked by the ship’s captain.

Needless to say, the merchant navy uniform is of great importance and pride and maritime professionals are required to keep the uniform up-to-date and clean at all times.

You can read a detailed explanation of merchant navy uniform here. 

What Type of Ships Merchant Navy Professionals Work On?

Merchant navy professionals mainly work on cargo ships or commercial vessels. Some of the main types of ships they work on are:

  1. Container ships
  2. Bulk carriers / Bulkers
  3. Tanker ships
  4. Passenger ships/cruise ships
  5. Ro-R0 ships (Roll-On Roll-Off vessels)
  6. Ferries
  7. Offshore vessels

Do note that there are different types of each of the ships mentioned above.

Types of Ships

The type of work, schedule, and life on board will vary according to the kind of ship one sails on.

What Is Lifestyle In Merchant Navy Like?

Considering the nature of work, maritime professionals have a lifestyle that is quite different from those of landlubbers.

This is not the usual 9-to-5 kind of job. As a maritime professional, you would be usually working in 4-hours shifts, twice a day, in addition to extra hours.

Maritime professionals usually have a contract with a shipping company. The contract period can last from 4 – 9 months depending on the rank and type of ship.

After you sign a contract with a shipping company, you will be asked to board the ship from a convenient port on the ship’s sailing route. Most of the time you will take a flight (all expenses are borne by the shipping company) to the concerned port to board the vessel. While signing off as well, most of the time, you will be taking a flight back to your home country from the sign-off port.

Some of the main aspects of a merchant navy professional are:

  1. Travel the world – Though a lot of restrictions are there as far as shore leaves are concerned, the fact remains that maritime professionals do get a chance to see the world, no matter to what extent and way it would be
  2. Major savings of income – Most of the time, the income seafarers earn is tax-free. Also, as food, accommodation, and transfers are taken care of by the companies, seafarers can save a lot of their hard-earned money
  3. Adventurous life – As mentioned earlier, this job is not like any other out there in the world. No doubt it is tough, but at the same time, it is highly challenging and adventurous. There is a lot to learn at sea, both professionally and personally.

Having said that, there are also certain other things you should know about life at sea:

  1. Limited Social Life – As maritime professionals work onboard ships at sea, they have to stay away from their families for an extended period of time. Though the internet and connectivity have made communication much easier and frequent, the distance from loved ones often takes a toll on seafarers. Working among a limited number of people and in a confined environment means limited social life.
  2. Harsh Working Conditions – Working at sea in a hostile environment is not only difficult but dangerous as well. You are expected to work during rough weather conditions, extreme weather and temperature, around heavy machinery and toxic substances. Most of the jobs need to be done manually. During an emergency, one would be required to work for long hours with less or sleep. Also, there are other hazards such as piracy, war-torn countries etc.
  3. Regular examinations and upgrades – After completing the required sea time, maritime professionals have to give examinations at regular intervals of time to attain promotion and move ahead in their careers. They are also required to do several upgrades and supplementary courses as required by the company and the type of ship are they work on.

These are some of the main factors you should consider before joining the merchant navy.

What Are The Requirements for Joining Merchant Navy?

Not everyone can join the merchant navy. You need to have the minimum qualifications required for a particular job onboard ship. You also need to be physically fit and fulfil the basic medical requirements to join the merchant navy. However, do note that the requirements will differ according to the country you belong to.

For e.g. in India, in order to become an officer in the deck or engine department, you will need Physicals, Chemistry, Maths (PCM) as your main subjects. You will also be required to have the English language as a separate subject.

Some important points:

  • Merchant navy is a physically and mentally challenging job. Make sure you are prepared for it. Try to do as much research as possible about life at sea. Try asking people who are sailing and have a good amount of experience. You can go through several articles in our life at sea category or ask questions at the forums
  • Don’t join just for the money. No doubt the merchant navy is famous for offering the best salaries but that is because of the nature of the job. Don’t fall for the money trap. Join only if you are genuinely interested in learning and ready to work with your bare hands. This is not a desk job and it might require you to “get dirty” from time to time. If you think this is not something you can do for a long time, then rethink your decision
  • Be ready to struggle in the start. The number of jobs available for fresh maritime graduates is limited. Be ready to take up whatever opportunity you get at the start and complete your training period. Don’t fall for fake promises of agents.

For more about the requirements for joining each department on ships, scroll down to the “frequently asked question” section.

How to identify fake maritime agents and institutes?

How to do marine engineering after doing mechanical engineering 

What Are The Different Courses To Join Merchant Navy?

One can join merchant navy by taking up courses by –

  1. Becoming a marine engineer by pursuing a degree course in marine engineering

You can opt for a marine engineering degree or diploma course from one of the DG shipping approved colleges in India (Check the official website of your country for necessary details).

You can also do B.Tech./B.E in marine engineering after doing mechanical engineering or equivalent. (Check FAQ section below for more details)

2. Become a deck officer by pursuing a degree in Nautical science

You can become a deck officer either by doing DNS (Diploma in nautical science) or by doing BSc. in Nautical science from DG shipping approved college (Check the official website of your country for necessary details).

3. Join as GP rating or Saloon rating

You can join a pre-sea GP rating course after the 10th or 12th (In India) in order to join as a rating. This is a one year course followed by mandatory training on ships.

What Is the Fees Structure In Merchant Navy Course?

The fees would depend on the course you are planning to take, the college and the country where you plan to take it in. No matter what maritime training institute you choose it is important to note that that college is recognised by the government of that country (e.g. in India, it needs to be recognised by the DG shipping of India and the IMU or Indian Maritime University).

The fees of government maritime colleges will differ from that of private colleges and therefore it is important to go through the website of each individual college.

According to the DG shipping website/IMU of India, the course fees of maritime courses for governmental institutes are as followed:

  1. 4 year BE/B.Tech Marine Engineering course – Approx. INR 225,000 / year ; i.e. INR 10,00,000 for 4 years course
  2. 3 year BSc. Nautical Science course                   –  Approx. INR 225,000 / year ; i.e. INR 600,000 for 3 years course
  3. 1 year Diploma in Nautical Science                    –  Approx. INR 225,000 – 300,000  / year
  4. 1 year Graduate Mechanical Eng. GME Course  – Approx  INR 200,000 / year
  5. 6 months GP Rating / Saloon course                   – Approx INR 150,000
  6. ETO course                                                               –  Approx INR 150,000 – 300,000

However, the fees of private colleges vary greatly as there are no guidelines on the same.

The range of fees for different maritime courses in private colleges ranges in:

  1. 4 year BE/B.Tech Marine Engineering course – Approx. INR 17,00,000 – 20,00,000 (Total)
  2. 3 year BSc. Nautical Science course                   –  Approx. INR 14,00,000 – 17,00,000  (Total)
  3. 1 year Diploma in Nautical Science                    –  Approx. INR 400,000- 600,000  / year
  4. 1 year Graduate Mechanical Eng. GME Course  – Approx  INR 300,000 – 500,000 / year
  5. 6 months GP Rating/ Saloon Rating course        – Approx INR 200,000 – 300,000
  6. ETO course                                                                – Approx INR 300,000 – 500,000

Please do note that the information provided above is just for educational purposes. The fees may vary according to a lot of factors and it is prudent to make a thorough enquiry from the institute you plan to join, along with seeking information about placement history.

How Much Salary Does One Earn in Merchant Navy?

There is no one answer to how much a maritime professional will earn as it depends on several factors such as nationality, company, type of vessel, rank, qualification, experience etc.

The merchant navy is famous for offering attractive salaries to professionals, however, a lot differs from country to country and company to company.

However, to give a general overview of how much on average a seafarer earns, we will consider the average salaries of Indian seafarers across various departments and ranks.

Below is a very general range of salaries in USD ($):

Junior engineer or deck cadet –  350- 1000 USD

4th Engineer / 3rd officer – 2400 – 4200 USD

3rd Engineer/ 2nd officer – 4000-5000 USD

2nd Engineer/Chief officer – 5500-11000 USD

Chief engineer/ Captain – 8000 – 15000 USD

Electrical Officer – 2500 – 4000 USD

Pumpman – 1000-2400 USD

Bosun – 1350 – 1800 USD

Ordinary Seaman – 800-1100 USD

Able Seamn – 1000-1400 USD

Fitter – 1000 – 1500 USD

Oiler – 800 – 1300 USD

Engine Rating/ Wiper – 600-1000 USD

Chief Cook – 1400-2500 USD

Steward – 600-1500 USD

Note: This is just a rough estimate of the salaries that are earned in the merchant navy. The salaries would change according to the company, the type of ship, seniority, loyalty, experience, skills etc.

How much does an Indian seafarer earn?

Deck Department Or Engine Department – What To Choose?

A common confusion among students wanting to join the merchant navy is to choose between the deck department and the engine department. Technically, it is a very subjective thing as a lot depends on the liking of an individual.

Difference between nautical science and marine engineering

As an engineer on board, be ready to do a lot of work using your hands, no matter what rank you are. Don’t be hesitant to “get dirty” and use a lot of physical strength. Unlike engineers in other fields who always have people to assign jobs to, marine engineers on board have to perform a lot of jobs on their own, many times without any assistance, as the manpower on board is limited. Maritime professionals belonging to the engine department are responsible for maintaining and operating machinery on ships, both in the engine room and on deck. Engine personnel will be in “boiler suit” most of the time.

As a deck officer, one will be responsible for navigation, cargo operations and other deck jobs on ships. As the main jobs of a deck officer will be navigating the ship and handling cargo operations, be ready for long hours of work both at sea and onshore (Someone joining the engine department should also be ready for the same). A deck officer will be in uniform most of the time.

However, needless to say, both deck and engine departments need to work as a team for the safe and smooth operation of the ship.

Read here to read a more detailed article on choosing between deck department and engine department.

10 Common Questions Aspiring Merchant Navy Professionals Ask

What is the difference between the merchant navy and defence navy

How To Join As Rating In Merchant Navy?

In case you want to join the merchant navy as a rating, then you can do so by joining as a GP (general purpose) rating or Saloon rating.

The requirements to join as a rating is pretty basic. For e.g. in India, you can join after the 10th or 12th, provided you pass the medical examination.

You are required to do a GP rating course in order to be eligible to join any foreign going vessel.

After joining a GP rating course, you will have to sail on a foreign going vessel for minimum of 36 months to become eligible to apply for a watch-keeping certificate, after which, you can join a ship as a third officer.

After doing a GP rating course, you will join a ship as a trainee in the deck or engine department.

If you belong to the deck department, you will be responsible for deck maintenance jobs such as chipping, painting,  etc. You will also be required to assist in watchkeeping along with the duty navigation officer.

If you belong to the engine department, you will mainly assist the duty engineer office in watchkeeping and maintenance jobs or work during daytime in unmanned ships or as asked by the chief engineer/2nd engineer.

So technically in the start, you will join as an ordinary seaman. After nine months (or depending on the company), you will be promoted as Able Seaman, whose main job is to manage OS.

Most of the companies have a 9-month contract for ratings and it can take about 6-7 years to become an officer.

What Are the Duties Of A Marine Engineer?

If you join a ship as an engineer, your job will mainly deal with the operation and maintenance of various machinery systems on board. The jobs will differ according to the rank but it will involve taking care of some form of machinery, either in the engine room or on the deck. Each engineer is designated with one or more machinery systems and is responsible for the overall working and maintenance of them. However, all engineers and crew of the engine department work as one solid team to keep the ship and cargo operations running at all times.

The duties and responsibilities in the engine room are distributed according to rank and experience. The main ranks and their common duties are:

  1. Chief Engineer – He is the head of the ship’s engine department. Being the overall in charge of the engine room, the chief engineer decides and allocates jobs to the 2nd engineer, who further distributes them among the lower ranks. He is at par with the rank of Captain but technically comes under him according to the ship’s hierarchy system.
  2. 2nd Engineer  – The second engineer delegates duties to other engineers and crew. He is the one responsible for allocating daily jobs and monitoring the work performance of everyone in the engine room department. Everyone reports to the 2nd engineer and he is responsible for addressing their concerns and complaints. The second engineer is also responsible for the operation and maintenance of the main engine, boilers and steam system, steering gear, ship safety systems and equipment, deck crane, lifeboat and lifeboat engine etc. The second engineer usually has the knowledge and skills equivalent to that of the Chief Engineer and is capable of handling any situations without him. Apart from being in a managerial position, the second engineer is also a watch-keeper.
  3. 3rd Engineer – The 3rd engineer is mainly responsible for auxiliary engines, pumps, freshwater generators, air conditioning and refrigeration system etc. He/she is also a watch-keeping engineer.
  4. 4th Engineer – He/she is responsible for fuel and lube oil purifiers, air compressors, bunkering operations, etc. He is also a watchkeeping engineer.
  5. TME (Trainee marine engineer) or 5th engineer – As the name suggests, he/she is not a licensed watch-keeping engineer and is on board as a trainee. His/her main job is to learn as much as possible from everyone in the engine room. Usually, the fifth engineer is required to assist 2nd engineer at all times, however, he/she can be asked to assist anyone in the engine room. The fifth engineer is the “jack of all trades” and sometimes know more about the engine room than any other rank.

The above-mentioned description and duties are for educational purposes only. Do note that the duties and machinery assigned to each rank can vary according to the type of the ship, experience and knowledge of the person, company policy, decision of the 2nd/chief engineer etc.

What Are the Duties Of A Deck Officer?

If you are planning to join a ship as a deck officer, then you will be responsible for ship navigation, deck operations, and cargo operations. Just like in the engine department, the job distribution in the deck department also depends on the rank of the personnel.

The duties and responsibilities of each rank in the deck department are:

  1. The Captain (Master) – The captain is the final authority and the head of the ship. He/she holds command of the ship and oversees all operations. The total responsibility of the ship, cargo and the crew is on his/her shoulders. The decisions made by the captain are final and are to be obeyed by everyone on the ship. The captain keeps an eye on all operations on a ship and ensures all crew members are carrying out their duties responsibly. In case the captain is not present on the ship, the Chief Officer is assumed to be in charge of the ship.
  2. Chief Officer – The chief officer is the one responsible for assigning duties and jobs (as directed by the captain)  to other ranks in the deck department. He /she overlooks all deck operations and supervises the crew in a smooth and efficient workflow. He/she also takes care of cargo operations when the ship is at the port and ensures the overall safety of the ship and its crew.
  3. Second Officer – The second officer is a watchkeeping officer responsible for navigational charts and publications onboard. He/ she is also assigned the responsibility of the ship’s medical officer and services related to the same. He keeps watches both at sea and at the port.
  4. Third officer – The third officer is responsible for upkeep and maintenance of all firefighting appliances (FFA) and life-saving appliances (LSA) on a ship. As a watchkeeping officer and safety officer of the ship, the third officer keeps watches, both at sea and at a port. He/she is also responsible for all port documents required by the master and managing of the bond store.
  5. Deck Cadet – Deck cadet is not a licensed professional on board. He/she is a trainee who is there on the ship to learn as much as possible. Usually, the deck cadet has to assist the chief officer at all times, however, the chief can assign him/her according to the situation. The cadet can be asked to perform jobs such as taking sounding, painting, ballasting/de-ballasting, cargo watches, navigational watch, paperwork, maintenance jobs etc. Technically, the deck cadet is the “jack of all trades” and sometimes know more about the ship than the rest of the crew members.

The above-mentioned description and duties are for educational purposes only. Do note that the duties and responsibilities assigned to each rank can vary according to the type of the ship, experience and knowledge of the person, company policy, decision of the chief officer/captain.

What are the duties of different positions in the ship’s rating/crew members?

Both deck and engine departments are comprised of important crew members who work along with the officers to ensure smooth and efficient sailing. They are a vital part of the team and their contribution is highly important.

Let’s take a look briefly at the duties and responsibilities of each of these:

Bosun – Bosun is the head of the deck crew and performs various deck operations/jobs along with the rest of the crew and as directed by the chief officer. He is also the spokesperson of the crew department and is responsible for supervising the crew and bringing their concerns and complaints to the chief officer.

Able-Bodied Seaman (AB) – Able-bodied seaman performs deck jobs such as chipping, painting, cleaning etc. He also assists the duty officer in ship navigation watch. Able-bodied seaman, after gaining the necessary experience, becomes Bosun.

Ordinary Seaman (OS) – The ordinary seaman assists the AB and Bosun in deck jobs such as chipping, painting, cleaning etc. He cannot keep a watch with the watch-keeping officer on the bridge as he doesn’t have a watch-keeping certificate. With proper experience and after gaining a watch-keeping certificate, he/she become AB.

Motorman – The motorman assists the duty officer is watch-keeping by taking readings of various machinery and systems and keep a contact watch on them. He also assists the engineering officer during maintenance and overhauling jobs.

Oiler – The oiler works in the engine room with the engine officers and helps in overhauling and maintenance of machinery. He also helps in cleaning, painting, etc. and as directed by the 2nd officer. An oiler goes ahead to become a motorman.

Fitter – Fitter, as the name suggests, is someone who is an expert in welding, gas cutting, grinding, operating lathe machines etc. He/she assists the 2nd engineer in the engine room and performs tasks assigned by the latter. Depending on the job requirement, he/she might be sometimes called by the deck department to carry out certain tasks. Fitter is an important rank on board ships.

Wiper – Wiper helps the engine room crew during maintenance jobs and as directed by the second engineer. He/she also keeps the engine room cook and assist during overhauling jobs. With experience, a wiper becomes an oiler.

Chief Cook – Chief is a man/woman of great importance as he/she prepares food for all the people on board.  The chief cook also assists the master in planning and ordering provisions on a ship. Depending on the size of the ship and the number of crew members, the chief cook will have an assistant cook to help in duties. The job of a chief cook is a tough one as he/she has to ensure that crew members from different nationalities are liking the food prepared on board.

Steward – Steward mainly helps the chief cook for preparing and cooking food for the people on board. He/she is also responsible for cleaning the mess and the accommodation area. He/she also cleans officer cabins, washes linen, dishes etc. He/she serves food to the officers and is always present in the officer’s mess during meal hours. Steward gains experience and progresses to become the chief cook.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q) Are merchant navy professionals allowed to go out on every port? Or what is shore leave? 

It depends on several factors. As a maritime professional, you will surely be travelling to a lot of new countries around the world. However, if you will be allowed to go on shore by granting “shore leave” will depend on factors such as the type of ship, the country you are visiting, the ship’s captain/chief engineer etc.

Because of technological advancements, the amount of time a ship stays at the port has reduced greatly, and therefore the chances of getting a decent shore leave.

For e.g. most of the container ships usually stay at ports for max 6-10 hours, leaving no time for the crew to go out whereas the bulker ships will stay at a port for 2-4 days so there is some time to go out.

Crude oil or chemical tanker might go to a port depending on the route and schedule. However, the time they stay onshore is also very limited.

A Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) might not even come to port because of their huge size, and therefore won’t even get a chance to go out for shore-leave in your full contract.

Though most of the ports around the world are welcoming for seafarers, several countries have become a bit cautious in giving shore leave because of threats from terrorism.

Thus, as a merchant navy professional, you will surely have a chance to go out onshore, but do understand that a lot has changed because of the increase in competition, rising costs and security concerns around the world.

Q) How does a ship’s engine room look like? 

A ship is like a floating city with several machinery systems supporting it. These machinery and systems are located in the ship’s engine room, which is located on the lowermost decks. The engine room is a complex place with a matrix of pipelines and systems located on every level with the main engine sitting in the centre. The engine room also has a control room from where all systems are monitored and controlled.

Q) Is it difficult to get a job in the merchant navy? 

Just like any other industry, the maritime industry also has its own share of ups and downs. It might be a bit difficult to get a job during the early phase of one’s career because of the rising competition, thanks to the dozens of new maritime institutes that have come up in the last few years, producing more maritime professionals than required. This huge gap between supply and demand has been the main reason for fresh maritime professionals to get a job.

Having said that, if you are good in your academics and display the necessary skills, landing a job with a decent shipping company won’t be that difficult. Always try and grab whatever opportunity you get at the start of your career, but never fall into the trap of fraudulent agents who would promise you jobs in return for the hefty sum of money.

Note: This answer is by no means an attempt to demotivate students who want to pursue a career in the merchant navy. There is always a demand for qualified maritime professionals around the world. The opportunities a career in the merchant navy offers are unlike any other. 

Q) How many people are there on a merchant navy ship?

The number of people on a merchant navy ship mainly depends on the type, size and category. The crew is divided mainly into two groups – operational and safety.

The operational crew is required to carry out normal operations of a ship.

The safety crew is necessary to meet the manning requirements for a ship’s muster list.

Normally, a general cargo ship will consist of:

Deck Department


Chief Mate

2nd Officer

3rd Officer

Deck cadet

Engine department

Chief engineer

2nd engineer

3rd engineer

4th engineer

5th engineer/ engine cadet

Electrical Officer

Trainee Electrical Officer


Trainee OS

Ordinary seaman (OS)

Able seaman



Chief Cook


Generally, there are 18-24 crew members on a ship. Sometimes there will be more than one crew member of the same rank depending on the size and requirement of the ship.

Today, most shipping companies are cutting down the size of the crew in order to reduce operating costs. So there are chances that you might not see some of the lower ranks on a few vessels.

The number of crew members totally depends on any particular type of ship totally depends on the company.

Q) What are eligibility criteria for the merchant navy?

The eligibility criteria vary according to the course you want to join and the country you belong to.

For students in India who want to join the merchant navy, the eligibility criteria are as follows:

Note: If you want to join as an officer, you will be requiring a minimum PCM average (Physics, Chemistry, and Maths) of 60%.

You will also require to have English as a separate language no matter what course you join.

The medical requirements needed to join any of the courses are mentioned in MS Medical examination rules 2000, which can be found on the DG Shipping website.

For joining deck department:

  1. DNS – Diploma in Nautical Science

Duration of the course – 1 Year

You will need to have passed 12th with an average PCM score of 60% and 50% in the English language.

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

On completion of the sea-time, one can give the 2nd mate examination – certificate of competency. (This will also require 4 months preparatory course and other modular courses)

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

2. BSc in Nautical Science

a. You can do BSc in Nautical Science after completion of DNS (Diploma in Nautical Science) affiliated to Indian maritime university

b. You can do BSc in Nautical Science if you have BSc in either Physics, chemistry, mathematics or electronics.

c. If you have a BE/BTech degree from a college recognized by AICTE

3. 3 year – BSc Nautical Science

You will need an average PCM in (10+2) of 60% with a 50% minimum in the English language.

After completing the 3-year degree course, 12 months of onboard training and modular courses, one can appear for second mate exams.

4. 4 year BS in Nautical Technology

There is also a four-year course in nautical technology for those interested. This also requires a minimum PCM average of 60% and 50% minimum in the English language

For Joining Engine Department

  1.  4 Year Marine Engineering

The course duration is of 4 years with a minimum PCM average required 60% with 50% in the English language.

If a candidate has done 1st of degree engineering course of mechanical or electrical engineering from an AICTE approved college, he/she can directly join 2nd year of the marine engineering course with a minimum of 60% average marks.

Those who have passed 3 years diploma course in electrical, mechanical, marine, or electrical and electronics, from an AICTE (or any government) approved college with 55% average marks can also join the 2nd year of the marine engineering course.

Candidates who have passed 4 years diploma in shipbuilding engineering from AICTE approved college can also join the 2nd year of marine engineering course with a minimum of 55% average marks.

2.  Graduate Marine Engineering Course (GME)

This is a 1-year duration course for engineering graduates with a Bachelors degree in mechanical engineering/ naval architecture

A minimum average of 50% in PCM is required along with 50% in the English Language.

3. 2 years marine engineering for diploma holders

This course is for diploma holders from mechanical, marine, naval architecture, electrical, electrical and electronics.

For Joining As Electro-Technical Officer

The pre-sea certification course for an electrotechnical officer if of 17 weeks followed by mandatory onboard training of 6 months.

You can join the course if:

  1. You have passed 10+2 with physics, chemistry, maths, and English (minimum 50%)
  2. Passed 3 years diploma with 60% marks
  3. Passed 4 years degree in either electrical, electronics, electrical and electronics, electronics and telecommunication, electronics and instrumentation or equivalent

Q) Can you bring your wife or family on a ship in the merchant navy?

It depends on the company. Generally, most of the companies allow only the top four ranks ( 2nd engineer, chief officer, chief engineer and captain) to bring wife/family onboard, i.e. on the company expenses. However, if are of a lower rank and wish to take your wife/family along with you, you can do so at your own expense. You can ask your shipping company about its policy regarding the same.

It is also to note that the number of people allowed on board ships also depends on the number of lifeboats and their capacities. This means that there might be a restriction to bring the family of all four ranks simultaneously onboard the ship. The captain will inform the same company and then a decision will be taken mutually.

The decision to bring a wife on board also depends a lot on the captain. He/she assesses the situation, the route (most of the companies do not allow family on board if the ship’s route includes piracy areas), etc. Depending on that he/she will make a decision.

You will not be able to take your girlfriend along with you as there is no legal proof of your relationship.

Q) Is merchant navy a good career option for girls?

The merchant navy is traditionally viewed as a male-dominated industry. However, a lot has changed in the last decade with many female students not only joining the industry but also reaching greater heights and having successful careers.

Technically, there is no distinction between genders while enrolling for any merchant navy course provided you meet the educational and medical standards required by the course.

However, do keep in mind that a career at sea is a highly challenging job both physically and mentally and you must be prepared for the same.

We highly encourage female students to join the merchant navy and explore the different opportunities provided by the industry.

Q) Can a person with spectacles join the merchant navy?

Yes, you can join the merchant navy with spectacles but then there are some limitations (which will depend on the country you reside in).

For e.g., in India,  you cannot join the merchant navy if you have colour blindness.

For deck department personnel –  Distance form vision (unaided 1.0 *(6/6) in better eye and 0.67*(6/9)  in another eye

For engine department personnel – Distance form vision (unaided 0.5 *(6/12) in each eye or 0.67*(6/9)  in better eye and 0.33 *(6/18) in other eye

For saloon and GP rating (Not assisting in navigation) –  Distance from vision (unaided 0.33 *(6/18) in each eye or 0.5*(6/12)     in better eye and 0.25*(6/24) in another eye

For radio officer/ ETO – Distance form vision (unaided 0.5 *(6/12) in each eye or 0.67*(6/9)  in better eye and 0.33*(6/18) in other eye

Many students go for LASIK eye surgery to correct their vision; which is accepted for joining a ship.

Q) How can I join the merchant navy after the 10th and 12th?

The requirements to join the merchant navy will vary from country to country.

For e.g. in India, if you want to join a ship as an officer ( i.e. you want to pursue nautical science or marine engineering) then you must have a PCM score i.e. physics, chemistry and maths. Therefore you will have to do the 12th.

However, if you are planning to join the merchant navy after the 10th, then you have the following options to join as Rating on the ship:

6 months pre-sea course for General Purpose Rating

6 months pre-sea course for Saloon Rating

6 Month Pre-Sea Course for General Purpose Rating for Fitters/Petty Officers.

Do note that each of these above courses will also have its own basic requirements in order to qualify.

Q) How can I join the merchant navy as Electro-Technical Officer?

As an electro-technical officer onboard ships, you need to have a thorough knowledge of electrical circuits and systems onboard ships. This job is suitable for those with electrical or electronics background and who want to join the merchant navy.

The requirements might vary from country to country. For e.g. in India, those with a diploma or degree in electrical engineering, electronics engineering, electrical and electronics engineering, electronics and telecommunication, or electronics and instrumentation engineering etc. are eligible to take up ETO courses from institutes approved by the Directorate General Of Shipping.

The Electro-Technical Officer course is a four-month Pre-sea course, completing which, you can join a ship as a trainee ETO officer. According to company policy, one can then join as an assistant Electro-technical officer and then get promoted to senior ETO after gaining sufficient experience.

Do note that, as an electro-technical officer on ships you cannot become a chief engineer or captain.

Q) Are Tattoos allowed in the merchant navy?

Technically, there is no rule in the merchant navy against tattoos. In fact, historically nautical tattoos have been a cultural thing among sailors since the start of sailing. Even today, you will find several seafarers flaunting tattoos without any problem.

However, sometimes it might not be perceived in the right way especially during placement or academic interviews. Though no one is going to deny you a job or admission for having a tattoo, it is recommended to get in such places that can be easily hidden when required.

Q) How to get sponsorship in the merchant navy?

Yes, there are always shipping companies that offer sponsorship to interested students. Sponsorship can be for courses such as Diploma in Nautical Science (DNS) or Graduate Marine Engineering (GME).

Sponsorship would mean that a shipping company would pay for your course and assure you of the training and job in return for signing a contract.

Some companies also conduct GME courses of their own and would guarantee you a job placement if you take up the course at their institute.

After the pre-sea training, you will be required to join their ship and complete the necessary sea time in order to appear for the competitive exams.

Q) What Are The Basic STCW Courses Required For Maritime professionals?

STCW stands for Standards of Training and Certification of Watchkeeping. This training program is one of the basic requirements needed to begin a career aboard a ship. The basic STCW training course consists of 5 modules:

  • Personal Survival Techniques
  • Fire Fighting and Fire Prevention
  • Elementary First Aid
  • Personal Safety and Social Responsibility
  • Proficiency in Security Awareness

Out of the above STCW courses, except Proficiency in Security Awareness, the rest all have an expiry date of 5 years, i.e. candidates need to do a refresher course. Proficiency in Security Awareness certificate has lifetime validity.

Once a candidate completes the five basic courses, he/she may go for other types of “ship specific” technical courses like:

  • Passenger Ship Familiarization course (for joining passenger or RORO ships)
  • Oil tanker familiarisation course (OTFC)
  • Gas Tanker Familiarization Course (GTFC)
  • Chemical Tanker Familiarization Course (CTFC)

After doing all the relevant safety courses for ships carrying dangerous cargo, the candidate needs to apply for the endorsement of the certificate at a particular country’s marine regulatory department (for India- MMD); post that, a level 1 Dangerous Cargo (DC) endorsement will be issued, which is valid for five years.

Q) What Are Future career prospects in the merchant navy?

Future career prospects in the merchant navy will depend on what department you belong to i.e. – deck, engine or rating.

Maritime professionals with a degree (BSc in Nautical Science or B.Tech/BE in Marine Engineering) can opt for further studies by doing masters in their desired subject.

If you have certain years of experience, you can do a master in business administration (MBA).

You can also choose to pursue maritime law and naval architecture if that interests you.

One can also become a surveyor or shipbroker.

Many maritime professionals after working at sea for certain years decide to settle onshore by positions offered by shipping companies.

Certain seafarers have also become successful entrepreneurs in different fields.

Q) What options do I have if I want to study further after merchant navy?

There are a variety of options in case you want to study further.

You can do courses to explore areas such as maritime law, ship brokering and chartering, maritime surveyor, maritime instructor etc.

If you have gathered a good amount of experience at a managerial level, you can pursue a degree in masters in business administration (MBA) or MSc in shipping, logistics and finance.

You can also pursue courses in ship design and naval architecture.

You may also like to read – How To Become a Cruise Ship Captain: Qualification, Lifestyle & Responsibilities

Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendation on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

The article or images cannot be reproduced, copied, shared or used in any form without the permission of the author and Marine Insight.

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