Choosing a maritime education to prepare you for a maritime career is a very smart decision. The demand for qualified merchant mariners is high and there are many different maritime sectors to work in. Your professional merchant license does not restrict you to one type of vessel or one sector of the industry. You can choose to work in one of the many sectors of the maritime industry and from different kinds of vessels, and ships. For example, the U.S. inland river industry is made up of commercial towboats and tugs, ferries and small cruise vessels.
The maritime industry covers a broad range of geographic areas, from ocean-going trading between countries and offshore locations to coastal transportation, inland rivers and lakes. Among these various areas a large number of maritime sectors operate:
- Passenger transportation
- Cargo transportation
- Offshore industry
- Tug and barge transportation
- Marine construction and salvage
The passenger vessel industry covers a range of vessel types and experiences. The cruise industry alone covers large, ocean-going cruise ships to smaller river cruise ships. Passenger ferries transport passengers, goods and possibly vehicles from one place to another supporting both tourism and the economies of isolated populations. Yachts are vessels that can be used by people privately for leisure or commercial charters. Superyachts generally refer to expensive, privately owned yachts that are professionally crewed and travel around the world. The Tall Ship sector is comprised of traditionally-rigged sailing vessels which may offer educational programs, private-owner cruises, day-sails for passengers or charters.
Cargo ships such as tankers, container vessels, bulk carriers, heavy cargo vessels, car carriers and many other ships make sure that goods are transported across the oceans, seas, lakes and rivers. Tankers may carry petroleum products, other liquids or gases. Container vessels carry many of the daily products we rely upon as consumers.
The offshore industry is another great maritime sector to find work in. It encompasses both the oil and gas sector and renewable energy sector. Drillships, diving support vessels, supply vessels, research vessels, and oil semi-submersible offshore platforms are all vessels that operate in that sector. The offshore sector also uses a lot of passenger vessels, mainly to transport people to and from their platforms or to accommodate people as living environments.
Tugs are vessels that carry out many different kinds of work. They to transport barges, platforms, and assist larger vessels with maneuvering. Tugs may be designed for ocean-going, coastal or inland work.
Goods such as grain, coal, chemicals and petroleum are transported by tug and barge on inland and coastal waterways.
The ocean research sector of the industry is comprised of vessels of various designs and sizes that perform important ocean-based research and surveying in a variety of locations and climates.
The marine construction and salvage sector of the industry is made up of a variety of vessel types that perform different work. Especially with the growth of the offshore wind industry, there has been a greater need for these vessels for their construction.
Ranks and Positions
How do you get started?
You will need to obtain your Merchant Mariner Credential and get certified as an Ordinary Seaman if you don’t have any sea time experience OR you can choose Northeast Maritime Institute’s 2 year Nautical Science degree program to expedite to a licensed officer (LINK HERE).
You can choose to work in either the Deck Department or the Engineering Department, depending upon your interest in navigation or mechanical work. There are licensing pathways available for both departments.
Below are diagrams of career advancement opportunities as a certified merchant mariner for both the Deck and Engineer Departments. (Please note these are a snapshot of positions and licenses and do not provide a complete list of all possible license levels and required sea-time and training).
DECK DEPARTMENT OFFICERS
A ship’s deck department consists of the licensed deck officers and the unlicensed-but-documented seamen who engage in navigation and general maintenance. Licensed officers include the master and the mates. The master has the overall responsibility for a voyage. First mates serve as a ship’s cargo officer. Second mates are navigation officers and third mates attend to the safe navigation when they are on duty. All mates are in charge of a “navigational watch,” the shift on which they work and oversee fuel and liquid cargo transfers.
DECK DEPARTMENT RATINGS
Merchant mariners in the deck department are either ordinary seamen or able seamen. They assist the officers in a ship’s navigation, and steer ships as directed by the watch officer. The deck supervisor, who makes daily work assignments for unlicensed personnel is the boatswain — pronounced “bosun.” Duties include cleaning and painting the areas of the ship outside the engine department. They also set up and secure the lines that moor the ship to wharfs and piers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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 until he has a watch-keeping certificate. With proper experience and after gaining a watch-keeping certificate, he/she become AB.
ENGINE DEPARTMENT OFFICERS
A chief engineer is the licensed merchant mariner in charge of the engine department. The department is responsible for the operation and maintenance of a ship’s engines, generators and electrical systems, plumbing, fuel systems and liquid cargo transfers. Licensed officers in the engine department include first, second and third assistant engineers. During their individual watches, they supervise the unlicensed engine department personnel.
ENGINE DEPARTMENT RATINGS
Depending on the type of ship, qualified members of the engine department may include electricians and refrigeration technicians, doing the same work they do ashore. Oilers and junior engineers assist with plumbing repairs, generator-engine oil changes and general maintenance in the engine department. Deck engine mechanics maintain lifeboats and rescue vessels. Fireman-watertenders control the flow of fuel and pumpmen assist in transferring fuel into a ship’s fuel tanks and loading and unloading liquid cargoes.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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 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.