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So you want to go to sea

The first question I must ask is are you wise ?

You'll have to answer this yourself . Perhaps the questions below may help you decide . In the UK I would strongly recommend that any one who does fall mad enough to go to sea should train as either a deck or engineering officer . While there still are openings for ratings they are becoming few and far between as companies flag out and import cheaper foreign labour.

Are you physically fit ?

You need to be physically fit without any major medical problems to go to sea . You will have to pass a medical exam at regular intervals . With a few exceptions , most ships do not carry any doctors and if you are in mid ocean it can be a long time before any proper medical staff can get to you , possibly weeks . If you want to be a deck officer you need to have very good eyesight with good colour vision . Engineers also need good eyesight but the entry requirements are lower . My advice is get your eyes checked at an opticians first .

Are you aware that working at sea is a highly dangerous job ?

In general working at sea is classed among the most 10 dangerous jobs . Think on it before going any further .

Do you get motion sick ?

If the answer is yes , forget a life at sea . Ships move , roll , pitch , yaw and everything in between . Everyone feels a bit of motion sickness or discomfort in really rough weather but if you can't cope with it don't torture yourself , a life at sea is not for you .

Can you do without sleep ?

Although regulations are coming into force to ensure adequate rest , there are times when sleep is a luxury you only crave . Whether it is due to the weather , ships motion , a hectic schedule or a breakdown , sleep is sometimes at a premium . If you really must have your 8 hours every night without fail forget the about going to sea for a career .

Are you willing to work odd hours ?

Generally onboard ship you have to work a shift system . However at times you will be required to work outside those hours , normally for no extra compensation , it is all part of the job .

Can ladies go to sea ?

Yes , jobs do exist but be warned they are hard to get and there is still a lot of male ego out there . Your journey may not be the easiest .

Can You get on with people ?

Typical deep sea voyages can last from 3 months to 1 year . Depending upon the vessel and its run you may never set foot on land until you leave the ship to come home . Ship crews are shrinking all the time with the progress of automation and the pressure of accountants . I think possibly the people seamen hate the most in all the world are accountants . Anyway back to the question in hand . You HAVE to be able to get on with the people you work with and to tolerate / accept their ideas and cultures . There are very few places on a ship to hide from people that you dislike or have fallen out with . In the event of an emergency the only people in the first instance that can and will help you are your ship mates - it might help if you get on with them .

It is also worth noting that many shipping companies for one reason or another have multi-national crews . You need to be able to understand and accept different races and cultures .

Can you stand extremes in temperature and weather ?

[Rough seas on a bulk carrier]

World-wide shipping does just as it says , it travels the world . From the bitterly freezing conditions of an Alaskan , Canadian and Scandinavian winter to the heat of the Tropics and the Persian Gulf . Temperatures can range from below -40 C to above +40 C . The weather can be anything from sunny and calm to a stormy blizzard and everything in between . Work doesn't stop just because it is hot , cold , sunny or snowing . It is something to think about .

[Cloud front]

[Wake through ice]

Do you mind working in hot , noisy and dirty places ?

It will happen no matter what department or rank you are . You will find that at sometime a nasty dirty job will happen to come your way . It has to be done and you will have to do it .

Can you swim ?

You need to be able to swim about 100 meters .

Are you claustrophobic ?

If you are a job at sea is probably not for you . Accommodation can be cramped and some jobs mean entering small dark enclosed spaces .

Are you willing to do manual labour and be flexible in your job ?

At sea you have to work as a team , there is no one else to call to get the job done. At times that means mucking in , even if it is not technically in your job description .

Do you suffer from home sickness ?

If you do , don't even consider going to sea . It is true that the technological revolution is finally catching up with ships and communications by satellite and the like are more accessible and affordable . However if you suffer from home sickness this won't help you much , do yourself a favour and stay at home .

Are you married or in a steady relationship ?

If you are think carefully before going any further . Talk it over with your partner . Working at sea does cause problems with relationships . Some relationships last but a lot flounder . THINK CAREFULLY .

OK so you have got this far and think you can truthfully come to terms and accept the previous questions what can you expect ?

Well to be honest for most people who work at sea , there is no other job like it and despite the odd grumble they would not change their job for anything . There really is no other job like it in the world . It is a job that regularly brings new challenges and rarely can be compared to a 9 to 5 job .


Going to sea gives the mariner a chance to see mother nature in one of its most unspoilt and raw environments left on earth . Views of the night sky show more stars than most on land will ever see . Northern Lights are more spectacular , Nebulous clouds clearer and comets and shooting stars more visible . Seeing the bioluminescence caused by the ships wake lighting up the sea at night with pale whites and vivid greens that sparkle and twinkle in the dark night sea is truly amazing .
Virtually every sailor with a camera has an album full of beautiful sunrises and sunsets .
The sight of Wandering Albatrosses in the Southern Oceans has made many a person to put pen to paper . Dolphins and Porpoises playing in the wake or bow wave of the ship . Whales blowing , a Humpback protesting at your presence by rising up out of the water before slamming back down again . Seals far off the South African coast , Sharks , Flying Fish , Hugh Jellyfish and Manta Rays gliding in the ocean currents and Turtles basking in the sun . All become a fabulous sight for the mariner and can be counted as one of the benefits of the job .

However you also get to see the other side of mother nature , her unrivalled power . Mountainous seas and wind in excess of 100 knots that cause ships to bend , twist and contort under the extreme forces , all in front of your very eyes . I have seen deck machinery weighing several tonnes that was welded and bolted to the main deck be washed away with just one wave . Most ships survive this kind of weather , but is worth remembering that some don't .


As a world traveller you will get the chance to see foreign and exotic places , enough to make all your friends envious . Be warned however , the time in port is getting less and less and you may not always dock near any known civilisation . That said , there are some wonderful sights and experiences to be had .

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Entrance Requirements - Officer


You normally require a minimum of 5 GCSE (or equivalent) and 2 A Levels (or equivalent) exams , preferably one being either maths or physics . This will get you entrance as a n officer cadet .

Normally most companies will sponsor a cadet through their training and require that once you pass your exams you work for them for a period of time . Pay as a cadet is poor until you pass your exams . The training can take from 3 years to 5 years depending upon your entrance qualifications and what you are training to be . Don't count on seeing much of home either during your cadetship . Voyages will typically last between 3 to 6 months with 1 to 2 months leave . There will also be periods when you will attend college . You need to pass the exams ( and there are a lot ) to remain employed . Not all the exams and training is academic , some is practicable such as fire fighting and basic sea survival .

There are 3 main types of cadet

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Command Structure

This is based on a typical UK ship , although it is similar all around the world .

Master or Captain

Chief Engineer or The Chief
Chief Officer or The Mate2nd Engineer or The Second
2nd Officer or 2nd Mate3rd Engineer
3rd Officer or 3rd Mate4th Engineer
Deck CadetEngineering Cadet
Dual Cadet

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Job Description

This is only a brief and general description based on UK deep sea operated ships . Different companies and countries do have a slightly different job description .


Captain or Master

In overall charge of vessel and the companies representative onboard . He / She insures that the vessel is legal and makes sure that local , international and company regulations are followed and complied with . It is the Captain who usually deals with all shore and port officials . The Captain also makes sure that proper logs and official paper work is maintained and completed . He / She is also responsible for the well being of the crew and the safety of the ship.

Chief Officer / The Mate

Overall responsibility for the maintenance of the deck , deck machinery and accommodation . It is normally the Mate that delegates what deck jobs are to be done to the ratings . He / She is also responsible for the safe loading and discharging of the vessel . Generally the Chief Officer is the ships Safety Officer . The Mate normally stands a navigational watch ( 4 - 8 ) and a cargo watch .

2nd Officer / 2nd Mate

Responsible for the upkeep of onboard publications and charts . Passage planning and daily run figures are normally in his / her job description . Generally he / she is also the designated Medical Officer and the designated GMDSS operator . The 2nd Mate also has responsibility for certain areas of storing and normally stands a navigational watch ( 12 - 4 ) and a cargo watch . The 2nd mate is expected to understudy the mate .

3rd Officer / 3rd Mate

Responsible for the upkeep of all Life Saving Appliances and Fire Fighting Equipment onboard. Normally also in charge of the flag locker . Generally also designated as the Meteorological Officer the 3rd Mate normally stands a navigational watch ( 8 -12 ) and a cargo watch . The 3rd mate is expected to understudy the 2nd Mate and the Mate .

Chief Engineer

In overall charge of all the engine room and machinery spaces and answerable onboard to ship to only the Captain . Generally the Chief ensures that all correct and safe procedures are followed and that all the appropriate paper work is completed . Sometimes the Chief may also be known as the Frosty and be responsible for the refrigeration plant ( Reefer Ships and Container Ships )

2nd Engineer

Very much like the Mates job only in the engine spaces . He / she is in overall charge of the engine room . The 2nd normally consults with the Chief to organise the planned maintenance in the engine room .

3rd Engineer

Normally in charge of electrical systems and generation as well as system checks .

4th Engineer

Normally responsible for the purifiers and with another engineer normally does the bunkering of the ship .

Engineers normally are on day work with a night on board roster to answer alarms . Most engine rooms today are equipped with sensors and alarms to allow for an unmanned machinery space (UMS) . Unless something goes wrong engineers do not work shifts .

All officers are responsible for the training of cadets .

To become a cadet write directly to the shipping companies such as Shell , BP , P&O , Cunard , Blue Star and Lowline . You might also get more information from the Marine Society .



Note - AB's and OS's have been replaced on some ships by GP's ( General Purpose Seamen ) who work in all departments although their main area of work is on deck .

Engine room Rating

Normally only one per watch. The title of the job changes but the job is normally the same i.e. cleaning , oiling and greasing engine equipment and aiding engineers with bigger jobs .

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Other Links to sites that may help you are ;

For more links to other maritime related sites go to my links page.

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this page last updated 23rd October 1999