How to Make a Career in Merchant Navy?

The merchant navy is the backbone of international trade because it transports freight and carries cargo to different parts. The job requires extensive travelling and allows you to explore exotic places around the world. If you want to pursue a career in this field, it is important to understand the skills, qualification and eligibility criteria required to join the merchant navy.

In this article, we will discuss how the merchant navy differs from other navy entities, know if it is a government job and why it is a promising career, explore the average salary and skills required and understand how to join the merchant navy.

What is Merchant Navy? 

Merchant navy is a specialized industry that is fully engaged in commercial activities involving the transportation of cargo and passengers through sea routes. As the majority of the world’s commercial activities are carried out through the sea routes, the field of merchant navy has far more prominence across the globe.

The term “merchant navy” means a fleet of commercial ships that are not used for military purposes. The ships and the crew of the merchant navy are a part of the country’s commercial shipping.

  • The professionals working on these commercial ships are called mariners or sailors or seafarers or seamen.
  • Cargo ships are massive in size and are equipped with the latest and highly advanced technology systems.
  • Merchant Navy Officers, Crew play a great role in the development and progress of the global economy.

The merchant navy is a global industry with several nationalities working together on different types of vessels. The industry offers excellent career opportunities both at sea and onshore.

What Are Different Careers in Merchant Navy?

Merchant navy jobs mainly involve working on a variety of ships as Navigating officers, engineers, or ratings. These are the main three departments on almost all types of ships and they work in coordination to ensure a smooth running of the ship and its operations.

Different Careers in Merchant Navy
Different Careers in Merchant Navy

You can Join Merchant Navy in one of the 3 Departments onboard Ship:

1. Deck Department

2. Engine Department

3. Crew Ratings and Saloon Department

A course in any of the above departments will be the “stepping stone” to a successful career at sea.

How to Join the Deck Department in Merchant Navy

To join the deck department, you will have to take up a DNS course of 1 yr leading to BSc Degree or BSc. in Nautical science, which is basically a 3/4 years course. A course in nautical science will pave the road for becoming a deck officer on a ship.

On completion of the nautical science course, you will join a ship as a trainee/deck cadet and then move ahead in the ranking system as =  third officer/mate -> second officer/mate -> chief officer/mate ->> captain

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How to Join the Engine Department in Merchant Navy

To join the engine department, you will need to take up a course in marine engineering, which is a 4-year degree course or a diploma course (as provided in your country). If you are a mechanical engineer, you can become a marine engineer after doing the necessary course and training (Graduate Mechanical Engineering or GME course).

You can also join a marine engineering course after doing one year of mechanical engineering or equivalent. (This facility will depend on the country you belong to)

On completion of marine engineering degree, you will join a ship as a Trainee/Fifth engineer and then move ahead in the ranking system as = the fourth engineer -> third engineer -> second engineer -> chief engineer.


You can also join a ship as ETO (electro-technical officer) if you have a background of electrical or electronics. You will be required to take up pre-sea training followed by mandatory onboard training.

Apart from deck officers and marine engineers, a ship also requires a supporting staff that would assist the officers and carries out various other important tasks. Such job opportunities fall under ratings.

How to Join as Engine, Deck Ratings in Merchant Navy

To join a ship as ratings, various job opportunities are:

In Engine Department 

  • Fitter
  • Motorman
  • Wiper

In Deck Department

  • Able Seaman (AB)
  • Bosun
  • Ordinary Seaman (OS)
  • Fitter

You can also join the saloon department as

  • Steward
  • Chief cook

The number of positions/ranks available on a ship depends on the type of the ship, the size of the ship, and company policy.

How is the merchant navy different from other Indian Navy?

Merchant navy is commercial marine services responsible for shipping cargo from one place to another. Merchant navy is the backbone of international trade because it transports freight and carries cargo to different parts. The job requires extensive travelling and allows you to explore exotic places around the world.

It is a commercial form of sea career and governed both by government and private shipping companies. Furthermore, defence or the Indian navy refers to the nation’s maritime military wing. It is the unit of the country’s armed forces and is in charge of the nation’s sea security.

Is the merchant navy a promising career?

Yes, it can be a good career option because of the following reasons:

  • Higher salary: a job in this field is lucrative because of the higher salary and growth potential. Also, most of these jobs offer other perks along with the salary.
  • Chance to travel: as you transport goods from one place to another, you may get a chance to travel to different parts of the world.
  • Exposure to different cultures: a professional working in this field often meets people from different cultures and nationalities. It helps them learn nuances of other cultures and increases their adaptability to work with individuals from different countries.
  • Extensive work exposure: as you may spend most of your work hours on the ship, you are likely to face unprecedented situations and emergencies. Therefore, the exposure and learning you receive from this job profile is extensive and unmatched.

Is merchant navy a government job?

Merchant navy is both a government and private job. If you work for the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI), you work as a government employee. Apart from SCI, the majority of other companies in this field are private entities.

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