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Job Description and Salary of a Merchant Seaman

Job Description and Salary of a Merchant Seaman

A merchant seaman works on seagoing vessels like ships and tankers. CareerStint delves deeper into the job description and salary of a merchant seaman.
Buzzle Staff
"To the spread of our trade in peace and the defense of our flag in war a great and prosperous merchant marine is indispensable. We should have ships of our own and seamen of our own to convey our goods to neutral markets, and in case of need, to reinforce our battle line."
― President Theodore Roosevelt

"What does a merchant seaman do" is a question that confuses many, since this word encompasses several designations within the maritime industry. Seamen can be sailors, engineers, deck officers, naval officers, etc. All of them work on water vessels like cargo ships, tankers, cruise liners, etc. They help with the working and maintenance of these vessels. In the paragraphs below, you will get an idea of the job profile and paycheck of merchant seamen.
Under this broad category, you will find a variety of seaman positions, and they are encompassed into departments.
Deck Department
  • This category includes the positions of deckmen, deck cadets, mates (first mate, second mate, and third mate), deck officer, ordinary seaman (OS), able seaman (AS), welder, bosun, etc.
  • Everyone begins as a trainee, and works their way up. Most of the duties are learned through on-the-job training.
  • They are responsible for all the loading and unloading activities, packing and unpacking of goods, and a host of other responsibilities.
Engine Department
  • People working in the engine department are the ones who have to take care of the technical aspects of the vessel.
  • This category includes marine engineers (first, second, third engineers, assistant engineers), marine workers, electricians, oilers, wipers, fitters, etc.
  • They ensure that the ship runs smoothly. They are in charge of maintaining the secondary machines and equipment (air conditioning, water supply, electricity, etc.) on the vessel and cleaning and maintaining them (oilers, wipers, etc.).
Catering Department
  • This category is more prominent in large ships, it includes a host of ranks; otherwise it comprises a couple of chefs and the steward.
  • They ensure that all meals are properly cooked and served.
  • They also make sure the kitchen and surrounding premises are kept clean.
  • On smaller ships and tugboats, the cooking and serving functions are handled by the deckman himself.

Also called the ship master, the captain is responsible for the ship and supervises the entire operations of the vessel.
Job Description and Responsibilities
Based on the role, merchant seamen have a host of responsibilities.
  • To load and unload cargo.
  • To take care of towing and tying vessels, and chart courses and handle maps.
  • Cleaning is an important part of the job―it includes sweeping and mopping the deck and other areas to get rid of any oil stains, dust, dirt, debris, etc. Special brushes and other cleaning equipment are to be used for the purpose.
  • Repairing essential equipment, like ropes, cables, cranes, etc.
  • To ensure that the lifeboats are sufficient and in proper working condition, lowering and raising them.
  • As a seaman, you are supposed providing assistance to senior engineers regarding complex machinery, etc.
  • Steering the ship in the proper direction, verifying the right course while the ship is on auto-pilot mode.
  • To paint and varnish the ship and its components (lifeboats, structures, etc.).
  • Maintaining all the machinery and their components―this is specifically for marine oilers, electricians, welders, fitters, who have to repair and maintain the components of the vessel, and conduct oiling, lubrication, fixing, etc., as and when required.
  • Stand and watch on the ship's bridge wings and look out for navigational aids and other obstructions. This job is carried out in shifts.
  • To prevent unauthorized people from entering the ship area.
  • While working with tankers, the hoses need to be attached properly so that the pumps can be efficiently utilized for transfer.
  • To read pressure gauges and related equipment and accordingly document data.
  • To take note of the weather conditions and take corresponding action.
  • To send signals to other ships using high-tech signaling devices.
  • To inspect barges during a voyage and disconnect them when not necessary.
  • To ensure proper health and safety policies are followed.
  • To cook, clean, serve, and maintain the kitchen.
  • To remain calm in case of emergencies.
  • To calculate the water depth in unknown waters, and relay the accurate information.
  • Give instructions to other staff regarding cleaning metal parts and other components.
  • Provide able assistance to seniors.
  • Physically fit
  • Hardworking
  • Team Player
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • Flexibility
  • The educational qualification for a merchant seaman is ideally a bachelor's degree in marine technology or any other related degree. This, however, is mandatory mainly for engineers.
  • A merchant seaman's career profile will start from a trainee designation, and then grow with experience.
  • Even engineers begin as third level engineers and then work their way up.
  • As for the legal requirements, to begin with, you have to get all the required forms and an application for the Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) from the Coast Guard Regional Examination Center (nearest to your residence).
  • You have to pass the physical examination, drug, and alcohol tests as well.
  • An extensive background research will be conducted; answer the questions truthfully.
  • Apply for a TWIC (Transportation Worker Identification Card) and submit all the documents to the regional examination center. You will get your credential in a few weeks.
  • The required training for the job of merchant seaman is also provided at many marine academies, including the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
  • Getting through to these academies can be tough, and clearing the licensing test is said to be really difficult.
  • When hired to work on a ship, a formal apprenticeship is provided, and sometimes, special private training.
  • The licensing requirements vary from one state to another.
  • The salary range of a merchant seaman varies according to the designation, employer, and experience.
  • A trainee may not earn substantially in the beginning, and deckhands usually earn between USD 20,000 to USD 25,000 annually, excluding accommodation.
  • Captains and mates may earn anywhere between USD 30,000 to USD 100,000.
  • Marine engineers and high-ranking naval officers may earn anywhere between USD 40,000 to USD 110,000.
  • Again, please keep in mind that the salaries vary heavily according to the employer and the designation.
Work Environment
  • Merchant seamen have to get used to the presence of the sea.
  • They will be working away from home for a few months at a stretch. This is the reason why they need to gel well with their teammates.
  • This long duration may have a significant effect on their personal life―as regard to spending time with family, pursuing other interests, etc.
  • The work is not easy and stress-free, irrespective of whether you are a deckman or engineer, you have to work long hours, and sometimes, you have to do your colleague's share of work as well, if he is unwell or is unable to complete the job.
  • Working in engine rooms can be hot, stuffy and very uncomfortable.
  • While working on a ship, your accommodation is completely taken care of, and you are given generous holiday allowances after each tour. Of course, the duration of the tour varies from one company to the other.
  • Other perks are also provided, depending on the employer, your skills, and your work experience.

If you enjoy the sea life and love to travel, this is a wonderful career opportunity for you. Of course, your job is not going to be easy, you have to work very hard, for long hours, yet, spending your professional life aboard a ship is a rather attractive prospect, I am sure you can ignore some discomfort, right?