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How to start a career in Merchant Navy

How to start a Merchant Navy Career

As of January, 2015 – A fleet of 50,000 merchant vessels are trading in international waters. This includes:

  • Bulk Carriers (the largest of the chunk)
  • General Cargo Ships
  • Crude oil tankers / Chemical Tankers
  • Container ships
  • Passenger / Ro-Ro Ships
  • LNG / LPG ships

Excluding the passenger ships, each ship has a crew of 25-35(mostly) to attend to vessel’s affairs. Each crew member on board a ship has a specialized role to play in the safe and efficient operation of the ship and he/she will find himself to be working in one of the following departments –

  1. Deck / Navigation Department
  2. Engine Department
  3. Catering Department

Any person willing to work on board a merchant ship has to choose a relevant pre-sea course according to his interest in the purview of eligibility for the course.

In both the Deck and Engine Department, there is a further sub division – Officer and Rating. Catering department, however, has all ratings.

A brief on the job of an officer and a rating is as follows –

Officer – He / She has in depth theoretical knowledge of the subject matter of his department’s affairs with good operational, maintenance and troubleshooting skills. He also plays supervisory cum on-hands role in planning, execution of a job and its proper documentation.

Rating – He / She has strong hands-on skills and is generally very good with housekeeping and jugaad maintenance. He/she works under the supervision of an Officer and assists him in the job as required.

Roles in the merchant navy

The hierarchy of ranks in Deck, Engine and Catering Department is as follows-

  Deck Department Engine Department Catering Department
Officers Captain/Master Chief Engineer  
Chief Officer/Mate Second Engineer/

First Assistant Engineer

Electro-technical Officer  
Second Officer/Mate Third Engineer/ Second Assistant Engineer  
Third Officer/Mate Fourth Engineer/ Third Assistant Engineer  
Deck Cadet Engine Cadet/ Junior Engineer  
Ratings Bosun Fitter/No.1 Oiler   Chief Cook
Welder/Fitter or Pump man


Motorman/ Oiler   Second Cook/

Trainee Cook

Able Seaman Wiper   Steward
Ordinary Seaman      
Trainee Ordinary Seaman      

One starts off his career at sea from the bottom of the food chain (as listed above). One must choose the ‘officer’ step or ‘rating’ step to climb up the ladder in either Deck or Engine Department.

Officers and Ratings both have to successfully complete their share of pre sea courses and additional certification/exams to join a merchant ship. Ratings can cross over to the officer ladder after gaining stipulated sea experience, relevant pre sea courses and competency exams. Electrical Officers need to undergo pre-sea course (5-6 months) to join a merchant ship. The galley crew (Catering Department) also requires relevant pre-sea course and competency certificate to join a merchant ship.

How to join Merchant Navy – FAQ


What is the eligibility criteria for joining a pre-sea course?

Deck or Engine, both have their respective array of pre-sea courses.

IMU CET is the umbrella exam for admission to any of the pre sea courses at DG shipping approved institutes. Minimum academic qualification requirement for IMU CET is to have Physics, Chemistry, Maths and English as subjects in the curriculum at (10+2) level or equivalent examination.

There is a minimum percentage criteria too for the above stated subjects and there is a route for Diploma holders (Mechanical / Marine / Electrical / Electronics) to gain admission in pre-sea courses.

Here is a link to the list of specific requirements for Deck or engine entry: link

The link will open a page, where on the left you will find a tab with number of options to choose from. Choose –‘Pre-Sea Maritime Courses with its Eligibility Criteria and Institutes for Entry in Merchant Navy’. A pdf file will open giving all needed details.

If for some reason, the link doesn’t work- browse for – link. On the website under the “Maritime Training” tab in the top row, choose ” Pre-Sea Maritime Courses with its Eligibility Criteria and Institutes for Entry in Merchant Navy” link to get the pdf file.

There is age limit to enrol into one of these courses. The link above gives details on it.

Medical fitness is mandatory for entry into any of these programmes. A complete medical screening will be carried out before you admitted to any of the pre-sea courses.

How to decide which institute to join?

The link above also provides the list of approved Institutes to enrol for the various courses it tabulates. If an institute under your consideration does not appear on the list, it is best to avoid it.

Do the institutes provide any placement assistance?

Once you have successfully completed the pre sea course of your choosing, the institutes do assist for placements in shipping companies. However, don’t just take their word for it. Visit the campus, interact with existing students to find out the existing scenario. The shipping trade is affected by the condition of world economy and its effect ripples down to the bottom level i.e. Institute placements. However, good institutes are mostly able to help students to find a job.

You can also apply for placement externally, however they are hard to come by owing to the recent growth in the number of enrolments in pre sea courses.

Is there any additional fee charged for placement?

There is a nominal placement fee (which is generally part of course fee itself) charged by the institute as per AICTE rules and regulations. It only accounts for administrative work. Nobody will ask you for money for ‘setting’ or ‘procuring’ a job for you. It is illegal. Shipping industry has seen a recent growth of such touts. Beware!

Are there any additional courses, documentation?

Yes. Towards the end of your pre sea course or after its completion, and before join a ship, you will need to have STCW certifications. There are 4 basic courses to complete. Each of them lasts only a couple of days and the training institute will help you through it. A CDC (Continuous Discharge Certificate) can also be applied for thereafter. A CDC becomes your identity document as a seafarer.

You are issued a training book, which you will need to complete during your time on board ship. It helps you understand and learn the ship board arrangements, equipment and safe working practices on board a ship. And of course, if there is a training, there is an exam for it. Exams which will help you climb up the food chain.

Then here is – Indian National Database Of Seafarers (INDOS) registration, Complete medical check up, vaccinations – yellow fever, cholera, hepatitis- A,B.

Don’t worry at this point for all of the above. Either your training institute or the shipping company you are placed with will help you through it.

How to decide if a shipping company is good or bad?

As wonderful and exciting it may seem to be at sea. It is an equally dangerous scenario. A ship is a safest place to be at sea and the shipping company which entails a safety culture for ship upkeep and ship operation is a good company.

A company that asks you for money to put you on board and pushes you to do a job that is hazardous to you, to the environment or illegal is not a good company. Never get on board on such a company’s ship, however difficult your personal situation might be because you might not come back home in one piece or worse may not even return.

As ironical as it may sound, money should not be the motive, safety should be. Money will come. Trust this from a seafarer who belongs to a middle class background and has been at sea for 8 years.

Having said that, here is a link to the list of companies registered with Government of India: link

Select the link – ‘RPS Licenses Issued as on date’ from the page to get the full list companies and their contact details.

If the link above does not work. Browse for – and click on ‘RPS Agencies’ in the left tab column. You will be directed to the page where you can find the link – ‘RPS Licenses Issued as on date’ .

Companies with valid RPSL numbers should be pursued for employment. This is for your own safety.

Note: The website – <> is the official website of Government of India and can be trusted for all the information it provides.
PS : I will cover more details on what to expect and how to prepare oneself before joining your first ship in the next article. Stay put. Cheers!

Till then, read these related posts:
Life on board a Merchant Navy ship: Benefits and Risks
What do Merchant Navy officers do?
Merchant Navy problems: Life of a Marine Engineer
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Shubham Somani
About Shubham Somani
Shubham has been to the shores of 24 countries and worked with 14 nationalities. He enjoys fixing things and reading Oscar Wilde. He loves mountains and works as marine engineer on board merchant ships.

22 thoughts on “How to start a career in Merchant Navy”

  1. Hi….good info…..but I think it is not applicable to the current and future scenario.
    Gone are those days when merchant navy was one the highest paid and one of the easiest job enrolling industry.
    Things have drastically change especially in the last 5 years because of numerous factors. I will like to point some factors which has caused the greatest damage.

    1) High competition in the job market especially from the far East countries. Why a ship owner will hire you if he can get the same guy at a quarter of your’s salary.
    2) Global recession which has led to a reduction in jobs overall. Many heavy weight companies are laying ships every year at a higher rate in the last 5 years than ever before. Freight rates for most of the type of ships are at the lowest of all time. Furthermore with the current anti globalisation notion throughout the world will make things worse for the future.
    3) Increase in automation on board ships has reduced the manpower available on board from 40 to 10-20 in the last 10 years. Industry experts believe it will reduce more in the coming years.
    4)In India 5 years back it was quite easy to get in to merchant navy but it is not the case now. The number of people joining merchant navy in a year has increased more than 10 times with the number of jobs available limited.
    5) I think this would be one of the few careers in the world in which the salary instead of increasing is reducing. Jobs are now paid at half of the salary then it was 10 years back. Additionally, to some of the ranks the reduction is much more drastic.
    6) If you are reading news related to Merchant navy you can know there are numerous job aspirants who are getting fooled every day. You might be thinking it is their responsibility to check for authenticity of the job but the ugly truth is that there are very few jobs available for low rank workers leading them to take risks. Even if a guy gets a job most probably it would be a very small company with safety standards on board very low. Numerous seafarers are stranded at various ports through out middle east because of working in such small companies.

    It is not that I am being negative of the career in merchant navy, I myself have spent around 10 years in Merchant Navy. It pains me a lot to see how things have changed in the last 1o years. However, those people who are more than 5 years old in Merchant Navy are generally doing very well in regards with job security and salary. The bad times are for those who have joined recently or planning to join.

    At the end I will like to say that this is my personal opinion and analysis which might cause some people to differ with me. However, they can’t deny the authenticity of the points which I have mentioned above.

    Chief Officer in Merchant Navy

    • Hi Farhan,
      Glad you put in your word of advice for the incoming lot. True, the scenario you have described has been dangling around for last couple of years, however, it is not all that gloomy, aye?
      The write-up does not have the intention to lure people to join Merchant Navy. It’s aim is to help people make well informed decision. Guys and girls who have just finished their 12th standard and are looking for genuine channel to join the field or the ones who have completed degree and diploma and struggling with the job, passing on the right information will save them the regret afterwards.I am replying to almost every question here at Careerizma. I have saved 3 people in my circle, who were about to join unrecognized, well marketed institutes giving them false promises of a well paying job. Hope this article and this channel increases that circle and help more people.
      A deserving candidate will get his way around. Who know he/she may become the next Capt. Radhika Menon, Capt. Siddharth Chakravarty , or Chesley Sullenberger of the sea.
      Cheers !

  2. I would like to offer a small correction if I may. In the rank structure you have put the master in the deck department at par with the chief engineer. I am sure you as a fellow sailor realize that it is not strictly correct. However, for the purposes of this article who’s target audience aims to be non – seafarers, it is acceptable.

    • Hello Mr. Banerjee,
      True, Master has the over-riding authority over everyone, including the company as far the matter of the safety of ship, its people and environment is concerned. However, both Master and Chief Engineer are top bosses in the their department, with Master being wholesole of the ship. and it is correct that for the purpose of this article, it is important that the reader understands the hierarchy as per department.
      PS: On a light note – wages earned by both are almost the same. hence the liberty undertaken.

    • Hi Atal,
      It really depends on the company you are employed with. There are ’round the year’ wages or contractual wages which varies from employer to employer. However, the money that comes into your pocket remains more or less the same in both cases. That being said, I personally prefer ’round the year’ wages as it has some intangible benefits .
      PS: Its the end of ‘Boss Mania’. Every ship you will have a new face to listen and deliver to.

  3. I sailed as a marine engg, about to complete my sea time for class 2, then suddenly everything in my life changed, couldn’t completed my sea time, as family issue, it took a yr to come over from this situation, then when i got a opportunity to sailed back in a good company , i met an accident and broke my leg, after that my father passed away due to cancer, that moment was hardest part of life, everytime i was thinking what to do what not to do… As all my friends were sailing and achieving their dreams. My life was stuck in a same place, any way in between i was offered to join in psu in my father place in compensation ground.. Good thing by the rime i joined psu iwas recovered enough since accidents. I haven’t joined the psu but due to my condition and family pressure made me to take this decision.
    Now telling u the main reason behind this story, after joining this psu which is largest organization making iron/steel in india, i thought its ok to be part of this company as my life is sailing without any rudder and got the shore of my life. Quite happy for 2 – 3months but feels awkward after the working culture is totally opposite to marine field, in 8hrs work people need how to get more time for relaxation, only work for 3-4hrs work and start complaining about the workload, other half of the time they usually spend in sleeping, teabreak, chitchat or if they get a chance then run to their home, i tried myself to adjust with this life.. But my instinct never supported me..
    Sometimes i feel like run away from here and go back to merchant again but already i reached half of life i.e.32 yrs and running from post to pillar getting certificate renewed,which makes me think twice then exams but all these will come with rewards as salary,.
    Life is ok in psu but but my experience is useless here, salary is one 10th what i used to get there, life in psu is hell for Me but for others its like a kings life,….
    Still confused should i go back or not,…. As for my opinion me whatever hurdles u face in marine field even i faced it, its the best job…

    • Hi Bikash,
      Apologies for replying back this late and thank you for sharing your story here.
      Truely, life unfolds in its own way and most of the time not as we expect it to be. You have been through a lot and it is commendable that you have taken it with such grit. I strongly believe that a seafarer gets not just physically but emotionally honed to take up the most difficult of situations. Kudos to you.
      Now i have not been through your situation but had i been – i would tried to find the lost balance in my life. At psu or at sea or something else. To start with. You could try something what i do. Make a pros and cons list for both situations and weigh the odds vs. evens and proceed forward.

      My best to you for this new year. Wish you good times ahead

      • Hi Shubham,
        Glad that we have you guiding us. I have done Electronics & Communication Engineering, and now i’m planning to take up Electro Technical Officer course. But the only thing i’m worried is about the Promotions, from a couple of articles i learned that getting into a higher position is a very tough job and more over the Salary becomes stagnant without any sort of Improvements. Now this has put me into fear, where as to become an ETO, but most importantly its my passion. Please do suggest me.
        Thank you.

  4. sir, let me know some details..i m selected for pre training course for engine rating and it cost 105000 for admissions in sea lanes maritime plc tel I need to join the academy for training.

    • Every DG approved Maritime Institute gets an ID no. from DG shipping, called – INDOS ID no.
      Please check with your concerned institute for the same. Refer to Google to check list of DG shipping approved Maritime institutes for more information.

      Job prospects have been a major concern since influx of a number of institutes in recent years. Please speak to concerned institute you intend to join for clear and relevant clarification.
      Similarly as it is for institutes , the companies providing employment in India have an ID no. given by DG shipping called RPSL number. It is absolutely necessary that you take up employment in companies which have valid RPSL number.
      Please be aware that no shipping company is suppose to charge you for providing employment.
      Good Luck !

  5. @shubham shomani
    Sir, i was failed twice in class 12 and doing marine engineering

    Kya mere aage job yakhi kuch v problem face krna padega???

    • Hi Aman,
      I hope you have taken admission for marine engineering after you have cleared your 10+2 and met the basic eligibility criteria required for admission. You should take up questions regarding job opportunities with your institute’s placement committee. Also, keep yourself active on maritime job portals to get opportunities outside of campus placement drives.

  6. Sir, Is merchant navy a good career because everyone is saying that the salaries of mariners are drastically decreasing.

    • Hi Simon,
      This is a very open question. It depends on the rank, employer and personal situation.
      You could join back in 15-20 days or stay hime for 6 or more months

  7. Thank you for the nice article@shubham.i
    have done in mechanical engineering and want to join GME query is about medical fitness as my left hand had a fracture two years back and got operated and everything is normal now .will it be a medical disqualification in joining GME?

    • Hi Nabadeep,
      Once you apply, A medical professional will evaluate the situation and should give a clear picture. However, please note that if your operated leg does not have any metal support on the inside or outside, or your movement has not changed in any way, you could run, swim, climb like an average adult, there shouldn’t be a problem.

      Hope that helps

  8. Sir I had been doing my best tech in marine engg at MERI Kolkata …….would there be any placement and i have heard that placements are very much low in merchant Navy and how do I go for promotion…..plz guide me sir

    • Dear Vishal,

      Glad to know you are a MERI graduate. Placements have been indeed hit by weak demand. But don”t you worry. Be proactive to reach out to shipping companies yourself, visit their offices and meet HR in person if you have to. You should get something to start with. Promotions are not tricky as long as you do the sea time and clear your exams.

      Hope it helps!

  9. thanks for such a nice and informative article@ dada,mota bhai, sir etc……..
    Presently I am working in a private firm, I have completed my master and graduation in Journalism…….. But this profession is completely gone out of my interest and I want to shift …… Recently I had done lot of research about merchant navy. I am 30 right now and can not able to pursue GRP ratimg or Saloon…I have decided to do STCW course from a dg approved institute…… I want to know what is the career prospects of a STCW passed fresh candidate….Whether he get promotion after earning experience? He can reach up to which rank? If god almighty bless him with good health and if he put his all effort.

    • Dear Sujoy,

      Honestly, I have been always fascinated by Journalism. and the limelight it brings It is like a flipside of being a merchant navy which is a more obscure profession.
      I would not advise you to take the route of a GP rating. Considering your educational credentials you are overqualified for the job. STCW is a basic requirement, You become eligible but work prospects don’t arise or increase after it.
      Reach out to people who are already working in your target role. You will get a better picture of what should expect.

      Hope it helps!


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