Are you a certified fan of traveling? Have you always wanted to explore new places and see the world? Do you also want to make money while doing all of these? Then, why not become a seafarer?
Working as a seafarer gives you a one-of-a-kind chance to earn a living and travel the world simultaneously. But the million-dollar question now is, how do you even become a seaman in the first place?
Back then, anyone could go to the sea to sail on ships. Anyone with a seaman’s book was considered a seafarer during that time. Today, however, things already started to change. A maritime career has become more complex because of the different qualifications and requirements.
Read on below to get a step-by-step guide to starting your career as a seafarer:
1. Earn a High School Diploma or Something Equivalent
A seafarer is required to carry a high school diploma or something equivalent. Several merchant marine training programs and academies offer classes where students can earn a high school equivalency diploma.
If enrolling in these programs is out of the question, you can also take college courses to help you prepare for your maritime career. It can also help if you accept English, science, and math classes to understand maritime law and study navigation better.
2. Be Part of the Merchant Marine and Finish Your Basic Training
You can apply to the United States Merchant Marine after earning your high school diploma or anything equivalent. You should be aged 18 to 62 to become a part of this military branch. Candidates should also pass a background check and physical exam before getting accepted to the program.
After your acceptance into the Merchant Marine, the next step is to go to New York City to attend basic training at the United States Maritime Academy. This training often lasts eight weeks, covering shipboard procedures, navigation, and maritime law.
3. Obtain Your License from the US Coast Guard
Seafarers who meet all the requirements can obtain their United States Coast Guard license. You must finish the basic training with the Merchant Marine and be at least 18 to obtain a permit. You should also pass the exam that will test your knowledge of navigation, maritime law, first aid, and other relevant topics.
The specific requirements for licensing may vary according to the particular type of vessel where you plan to work. For example, you should apply for a third mate unlimited tonnage license if you like to work as a container ship’s deck officer. On the other hand, you should have a master unlimited tonnage license if you wish to work on a bulk carrier as a deck officer.
4. Work as a Seasoned Seafarer’s Apprentice
After you’ve finished your basic training, it’s now time for you to serve a more experienced seafarer as an apprentice. Apprenticeships can last three years to get hands-on experience in maritime life’s different aspects and areas. A seafarer working as an apprentice usually earns around 50% to 75% of the standard wage, depending on their experience level.
5. Advance Through the Ranks in the Merchant Marine
Gaining more experience as a seafarer will allow you to work your way up through the different Merchant Marine ranks. Working as a deck officer gives you the responsibility of unloading and loading cargo, communicating with other sea vessels, and navigating the ship. You can also work as a watch officer, monitoring the ship’s instruments to ensure that it stays on course.
Meanwhile, an engine officer or engineer maintains the vessel’s engines and ensures their safe operation. You can become a captain or master after you’ve advanced in rank. Although the role carries more responsibilities, it is similar to a deck officer. A captain or master navigates the ship and ensures adherence to maritime laws.
6. Become a Union Member
Seafarers working on vessels with the US flag are qualified to join the SIU or Seafarer’s International Union. The SIU is a labor union representing seafarers as well as other maritime workers across the globe.
SIU membership offers you and your whole family access to health insurance, legal assistance, and training. Being a part of the SIU also allows you to send your job applications to shipping companies that are part of the union.
7. Keep Up with Changes in Maritime Regulations and Laws
Seafarers are expected to be knowledgeable and familiar with the industry’s regulations and laws. Since the United States Coast Guard constantly updates its guidelines and rules, seafarers must keep updated with the latest changes. A seafarer must also stay on top of international maritime law and the labor laws in the specific countries where they work.
Other Tips for Starting Your Seafarer Career
Now that you’ve got an idea of how to get started with your career as a seafarer, here are other tips to help you out:
Document your progress
A comprehensive and complete CV is necessary for your advancement as a seafarer. Ensure you always write down the specifics of your activities and explain your onboard responsibilities.
Documenting your progress regularly ensures that all details will remain fresh on your mind so you can include firsthand significant data in your CV.
Polish your English
English fluency is one of the top signs of competency among seafarers. Familiarity with the language is a stepping stone to reaching the peak of the professional hierarchy in the maritime field. You’re lucky if English is your native tongue, but if not, it is still not yet too late for you to hone your skills and get a good command of the language.
Plan your career
You can’t just dive into a seafarer’s career and expect it to go according to what you have dreamed of. This is why careful planning is necessary in this industry. Since working environments and compensation may differ depending on the category of your chosen vessel, you have to plan things to ensure that your voyage will be pleasant.
Many seafarers agree that conventional cargo vessels and commercial ships are the best options to get started with your seafarer career. They usually follow specific routes, don’t transfer dangerous items or sophisticated gear, and don’t go beyond the usual operations. However, wages might not be that high.
So far, the highest paying jobs are those in offshore ships, LNG or LPG boats, and oil item ships. However, the qualification standards and training for these vessels are more stringent.
Be consistent and efficient
Efficiency and consistency are two top traits that ensure success in any job, and being a seafarer is no exception. You have to be consistent and efficient with your efforts to advance and reach the top of the ranks. Of course, you should still be ready to render physical labor and become familiar with ship technology.
It’s never simple and easy to start a career as a seafarer. Even though the sector undoubtedly offers some of the world’s highest-paying job positions, it also involves ongoing training, tremendous effort, and sacrifice. Whether it has always been your dream to become a seafarer or it is a recently discovered career path you wish to take, we hope that the information above can be of great help to you. Make sure you refer back to this guide once you’re ready to embark on your seafarer journey.