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Merchant Navy problems: Life of a Marine Engineer

Merchant Navy problems: Life of a Marine Engineer

Who wants a cynic who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”, I proudly landed Oscar Wilde to my friend’s face. His eyes dilated, seemingly in disbelief that I will frost philosophy over logic. We are childhood chums, did schooling together, graduated together and got employed in shipping sector together and have been living parallel professional lives ever since.

The discussion of the evening by the kebab corner was – “Where is the life of a marine engineer taking us? Are the fat non-taxable pay checks worth our long, arduous personal sacrifices?”

A marine engineer requires a specialized set of skills. We operate, monitor and maintain a 4 storey, 600 tonner engine which produces power almost equivalent to 50 BMWs (III series) combined. There are added auxiliary machineries too that give us clean water, air and fuel onboard ship, the details of which I don’t intend to get into.

So, the conversation goes: This profession is just perfect. You fly in, sail on distant oceans to far off lands, shuffling oil in and out of the ship, working hard for couple of months, free food, free accommodation, get your stash credited in your bank for your time onboard and fly out back home. Simple, he said.

There are no drawbacks like a job ashore, where you have to work late hours, important meetings of Sundays are a normal routine, year round. Moreover, you have to put up with terrible boss/colleagues every day for months or years may be.

My friend had a point. It’s not like that I had not gone over the same thought process before. Moreover, he was happy – he had recently bought a new car, his apartment EMI was running in 2nd year now and he took a foreign trip every vacation. He was, rather is pleased with his job.

I have my qualms about the subject, rather than my profession.


Merchant Navy problems: Life of a Marine Engineer


1. (Im)Balanced life

The most important priority for a content life. A balanced life lets you grow. It lets you set goals, plan tasks, achieve and reflect. This deficiency plagues not just the sea people but people ashore too. The only difference is – they have it a bit easier to turn the tables around for them.

However, for sailors it is an extreme scenario. We toil day or night for months, with ultra-flexible hours of work. It’s like – Work, Eat, Sleep, Repeat. There are days during the span of our contract on board that we make a bit merry, do parties when we get a chance.

But sharing our time with people we are probably never going to see again, is exciting in the beginning but that feeling wears off with time. We want to be surrounded by our loved ones in those joyous moments. Then there are those special occasions- birthdays, anniversaries, Diwali, Holi, Christmas, New Year. We can’t have it all. We have to choose, which ones we want to celebrate back home.


2. No Networking Opportunities

We are born, we connect with people, we die. Networking is the basis of our social existence. For us sailors, it works differently. Each one of us gets to meet roughly 24 different chaps on our every tour of duty on board ship.

However, once we all get off the ship, most of us move on with our lives with memories washed in time and soon enough we are on board again with another combination of 2 dozen folks. This cycle just keeps repeating itself.

Over a period of time, we realize – networking is as good as dead ant to us. The circle of people we surrounded our self during graduation is more or less the last network we are left with.

3. Limited scope for personal / professional growth

The hierarchy starting from deck/engine cadet to Captain/Chief Engineer gives us room to develop and grow in our chosen career. The more we sail and swiftly we clear our competency exams, the easier it becomes to climb up the ladder.

It is a safe to say every deck cadet or engine cadet becomes a Captain or Chief Engineer respectively given he continues his sailing career for an average of 14 years.

How about getting more skilled than merely running a ship? Taking up a short data analyst/foreign language course becomes difficult with all the mandatory government certificate renewals and company sponsored courses that come up during the off time.

All you want to do is a bit of relaxing after coming from a long hefty sail and before you know it, it’s time to fly back again. Even the part time or online programs cannot work for us because that also requires personal attendance at certain intervals or good internet bandwidth for accessing content.

Even if all that is managed somehow, where is the time to apply the acquired knowledge? Thus, diversification in our job profile is difficult.

How the merchant navy industry is trying to tackle the problems


Facilitating Work-life Balance

Shipping companies have recognized and addressed the balanced life issue by letting us decide if we would want to have our family (wife, kids) on board during our tour of duty. Senior and junior officers are being given this opportunity in many good companies.

This is a great step to give us better control of our lives. Another bonus is shorter contracts, though this is available in a few companies for now, it is a welcome move as this lets us plan our on and off time better.

Tackling Information/Growth Barrier

We owe this change to internet and Steve Jobs. In the last 5 years, many shipping companies have been prompt to install decent, limited, satellite run internet on board their ships.

This gives us access to people and information back home. Seafarers’ online community forums on Facebook, Whatsapp, telegram and more have come alive.

From sharing information about competency exams to discussions about ships, shipping companies, new breakthroughs in the shipping world all happen in these group forums. It has become a strong virtual community.

In 2007, Steve jobs announced the arrival of first multi-touch smart phone to the world. By 2011, most of us had one. Smart phones have really worked in favour of merchant shipping community. Now, we can chat, video call, do news, attend online courses, right from the palm of our hands. Because of limited megabytes of data to access on board, smartphones are an economical choice.

These changes are still in their nascent stage and might not be applicable to the whole merchant shipping community. It’s the lucky few, who have these welcomes changes knocking on their doorstep. In coming years, the benefits are expected to spread.

Merchant shipping is the life line of the world economy, carrying 90% of the world’s trade with more than 100,000 commercial ships worldwide. Being an important asset to this trade chain, we do pride ourselves in what we do. It only feels like a generous personal sacrifice on our part for the world trade to prosper.
Image: source

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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.

33 thoughts on “Merchant Navy problems: Life of a Marine Engineer”

    • @Navin – Once you complete your 4 year marine engg. graduation/ higher national Diploma/ training course post B Tech. In mechanical engineering , the starting wages can vary anywhere from INR 10k to INR 40K on contractual basis.

        • @Kumar – there is no such criteria. Starting off from scratch(12th pass), you will need 3-5 yrs yrs (avg.) of theoretical (at training institute) and practical (on board ship) training depending on you chosen nautical or engineering division. During on board training period you get anywhere between INR 10K to INR 40K on contractual basis.
          On completing the necessary training you have to appear for Competency Exams conducted by Indian government ( or for that matter UK, Singapore, New Zealand are other popular choices). Once you clear them, You become eligible for bigger responsibility and its accompanying perks. Competency exams are mandatory requirement and there are 3 such levels on competency exams for nautical or engineering division for you to climb up to the rank of Captain or Chief Engineer on foreign going ships.

      • Hello sir
        I also willing to join merchant navy, but I’m bit confused about some points:
        1) I’m completing my BE in mechanical engineering this year, but unfortunately I got a drop at last year, so does it affect by any means choosing this career ?
        2)What should be my agreegate at last year ?
        3)and what is the actual admission procedure after filling the form? Does it takes any test or interview ?

  1. @Navin
    No offence buddy, but this is the problem with the world. In the above post, there was hardly a mention of any pay. But the world only see and places the value on money. You close your eyes on the demands of the job. It’s very easy to say “I want this in life” but are people willing to “sacrifice” to achieve that?
    Ask any MBA aspirant in India, and I bet you he would have Management Consulting or Investment Banking on his radar but ask him what does it require to be one.. Blank.
    People join professions just on their face value and fail to recognise the demands of the job.
    Anyway, excuse me if I went beyond my scope, just felt like speaking my heart out.
    And BTW, to answer your question, in my company, it is about 3K USD.

  2. Hi shubham
    i read ur article and its knowledgable
    i had complted btech computer in 2014 AND I WANT TO JOIN MERCHANT NAVY ..CAN I DO THAT ? PLEASE guide me.It wud be really helpful coming from a experienced person like u.
    Waiting for reply s:)

    • @Kumar – If you wish to join merchant navy you can enroll in Diploma in Nautical Science program offered by training institutes approved by Directorate General of Shipping, Govt. of India. Opt for the one which comes with a ( Indian government registered) shipping company’s sponsorship beforehand itself. You can find the list of approved institutes on .
      Please note that you will not be eligible to join Engineering division in merchant navy rather nautical division. Refer to the government circular-
      Frankly, Your Computer Science engineering degree will not give you any leverage whatsoever and you will be climbing up the ladder at par with 12th pass applicant.
      Good Luck!

  3. @ Shubbham
    what u think i better in my cadse dns or 3 year bsc

    and what after bsc corse if i pick that
    will there be too competetion to enter for experience

    • @Kumar – Getting in late on this.
      B. Sc. Or DNS , it will be better if you start either of these courses with sponsorship from a shipping company ( registered with D.G. shipping). You are already an engineering graduate, DNS will make more sense, but again, depends on what opportunity you are getting after the course.
      Good luck!

  4. @shubham

    sir how about job prospects after doing bsc nautical
    is there 100% placement and all.,,?
    waiting for reply

    • @ Abhishek – I cannot comment on the placement scenario as it varies from institute to institute. B Sc. Nautical Science does not guarantee placement but if you join the course with sponsorship from a shipping company( registered with D.G. shipping) beforehand, you will absorbed right away after completion of class room training (provided you maintain your grades in the class curriculum).
      From the start of the year you will find ads. for company sponsorship in national/local daily newspapers, try following up from there.
      There are few reputed institutes that offer reliable placement assistance after BSc. , Tolani Maritime Institute, Pune(my alma mater), R.L. Institute, Madurai, SCI, Mumbai to name a few. Check out Indian Maritime University for more institutes and relevant information.
      Moreover, Refer to D.G. shipping of India website for genuine list of institutes offering the course.

    • I have completed a four year marine engineering course followed by placement interviews at institute itself. For cross field gentlemen like yourself, the approach will be different. In your situation I would suggest for DNS course. You will have less capital investment and quick and relevant hands on experience. I will cover more details soon in the coming articles.

  5. @ shubham sir how is job market these days, after ,if i think of doing bsc nautical at age 24
    I read somewhere many graduated in this area dont find job and switch to sectors like mba

    Ultimately all one needs is a job after degree right , so
    if i completed my bsc degree at age 27 ..what are chances of getting job, ?
    what is real scenario :(!

    • Job market is tough. Hence, as I mentioned in my previous comments, sponsorship saves the day. There have been quite a lot stories of cadets after completing their DNS/ B Sc. had to pay an agent to get onboard. This is strictly illegal and should not be done .
      So the best way forward is – either you join a reputed college for DNS/B Sc. Or get sponsorship before hand

  6. Now a days(2017) … for how many months do chief engineer and 2nd officer sail??
    At what post u r now?? And just want to ask for how many months u take off before another sailing and how u spend ur vaccations??

    • Hi Rohit,
      I am guessing you were willing to compare the sailing time for deck and engine officers. Chief Engineers sail anywhere between 3-4 months. 2nd officers anywhere 4-6 months. The top four(as we call them) – Captain, Chief Engineer, Chief Officer and 2nd Engineer have shorter contracts. I am saying this with reference to reputed companies.

      I am sailing as Second Assistant Engineer / Third Engineer right now. I get paid holidays depending on duration of on-board time. Over the last couple of years it has happened that i have ended up taking longer holidays than usual.
      How i spend my vacations? – That is a personal question. There are ashore marine career based up-gradations like – certification and course up gradations, and more that come during off time. Plus, I try to spend as much time as possible in personal development through travel, reading and engaging in short courses.

  7. Hey Shubham great informative article. But i just had a doubt which required clarification. I am doing BE in Automobile Engg from Mumbai University. Mumbai University provides equivalence certificate for Automobile Engg equivalent to Mechanical Engg for various post grad courses which is under the norms from AICTE. So i wanted to enquire if i am eligible for the GME course using this equvalence certificate of BE in Automobile equivalent to BE in mechanical.?
    Thank you for your help

  8. hello sir, I’ve completed my be in mechanical engineering this year and is planning to have a career in marine engineering. I’ve also applied to some colleges like vmi pune and geims lonavla for gme. but I’m thinking to do the same from any foreign country. I’ve also heard of hnd course. I got confused what should I do gme or hnd.

    • Hi Rehan,
      This link ahould help you to make a informed decision regarding gme courses in India.
      Talk to the admission team to clarify about job opportunities post course completion. Regarding foreign alternatives, they are expensive and you have to consider work visa issues(if you take up course there). UK has good reputation for maritime studies, you could check options there.

  9. @shubham, sir, what is the process and eligibility for getting a sponsorship by a company for dns??? And what is the difficulty level of the interview? Is there job security and plzz suggest me a few sponsoring companies. I’m planning to join T S RAHAMAN, Mumbai, please do tell me its performance and placement records. Regards. Will be waiting sir.


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