Merchant Mariners


Employment Prospects


Water transportation workers hold 83,400 jobs. The majority of merchant marine jobs are at private companies, although some are employed on government-owned ships. Others work on coastal freighters or on tugboats or barges on inland waterways. Jobs are concentrated in coastal areas.

Starting Out

An inexperienced person usually gets a first job at sea by applying at a union hiring hall in a major port. An applicant is given a shipping card on which is stamped the date of registry. In the hiring hall, dispatchers announce job openings as ordered by shipping companies. The best-qualified worker who is longest out of work gets the job. New applicants may have to wait months to get jobs, and may have to keep in daily contact with the employment center. To become a higher-ranking merchant mariner, such as a captain or an officer, it is best to attend one of the maritime academies.

Advancement Prospects

There are many advancement opportunities in the merchant marines, whether from ordinary seaman to able seaman or from third mate to chief mate. But in almost every rank, promotion depends on length of service, experience, and training, either formal or on the job. Seamen in the deck department advance along well-defined lines; thus, after applying for rating, they take the required examination.

In the engine department, a wiper may advance to any one of many jobs, provided legal qualifications are met. In the steward department, advancement is from messman, to utility man, to assistant cook, to chief cook, and finally to steward. The deck officer must start as third mate; after one year an individual is eligible to take second mate examinations. Second mates gradually work toward more responsible positions, with years of service and experience acquired.

Tips for Entry

Read the Seafarers Log ( and American Maritime Officer ( to learn more about the field.

Visit for job listings.

Land an entry-level job in water transportation to learn about the field and make valuable industry contacts.