Merchant mariner and maritime careers will land you work on ocean-going freighters. Opportunities exist on the deck, in the engine room and in the galley. Once you set your sights on a particular career path, get started through union apprenticeship programs, or contact a maritime company directly. A crucial step is to obtain credentials that will allow you to enter ports around the world.
Entry-level positions on deck are classified as ordinary seamen, while entry-level jobs in the engine room are called wipers. In the galley, get started in a utility position, washing dishes, cleaning and performing similar tasks. For these jobs, contact maritime unions or freight companies directly to find out about openings and required qualifications.
An ordinary seaman can qualify to become an able-bodied seaman after six months to one year on the job by passing a written exam. After three years on deck, an able-bodied seaman willing to undergo more training and testing can rise to the ranks of leadership as a third mate. In the engine room, the first rung of the leadership ladder is the position of third-assistant engineer.
Transportation Worker Identification Credentials
The Transportation Security Administration requires mariners on U.S. registered ships entering U.S. ports to hold transportation worker identification, or TWIC, credentials. This credential helps ensure that mariners bringing cargo into the U.S. have passed security screenings. To apply, visit a TSA enrollment center -- locate the closest one from the TSA's website. Prepare to provide evidence of citizenship and a government-issued photo ID, such as a valid passport, or other U.S. entry documentation, such as a NEXUS or SENTRI card. Applicants who aren't U.S. citizens must provide additional documentation, such as work visas.
Merchant Marine Credentials
Most maritime companies also require applicants to obtain the merchant marine credential, or MMC, from the U.S. Coast Guard. To quality for an MMC, applicants must be 18 years old or at least 16 and able to present a notarized statement of consent from a parent or legal guardian. Applicants must also provide evidence of a valid TWIC or evidence that they have applied for the TWIC. Get an application online from the U.S. Coast Guard's website, then submit it in person or by mail to the Coast Guard's nearest regional exam center. Expect to undergo security and medical checks, including a physical exam.
As an alternative to tracking down the right job and applying for maritime credentials directly, contact a maritime union to explore apprenticeship opportunities. The Seafarer's International Union, or SIU, offers an apprenticeship program in Maryland that includes full training, takes students through the application process for both the TWIC and MMC, and guarantees jobs to qualified students. The program is one year in duration and students pay nothing for tuition or room and board. Students must cover the costs of uniforms, TWIC and MMC applications, drug and other tests, physical exams and transportation.
- Crowley: Careers -- I'm New to the Marine Industry
- Seafarers International Union: The Seafarers Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship
- U.S. Coast Guard: Obtaining a Merchant Mariner Credential
- U.S. Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration: Information Concerning Employment in the U.S. Merchant Marine
- U.S. Transportation Security Administration: Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC®)
- Seafarers International Union: Entry Program
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Water Transportation Worker
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