Career Development

Sailor Job Description: Salary, Duties, & More

Sailors navigate and steer ships. They can be found onboard cargo ships, military vessels, tugs, ferries, fishing boats, cruise ships, tugboats, yachts, and other types of watercraft. Sailors are usually trained in marine navigation.

Sailors navigate and steer ships. They can be found onboard cargo ships, military vessels, tugs, ferries, fishing boats, cruise ships, tugboats, yachts, and other types of watercraft. Sailors are usually trained in marine navigation.

The work is physical. Most sailors must be able to perform tasks that require strength and stamina. Sailors must have excellent eyesight and hearing so they can spot approaching hazards. They also need good judgment skills as they are responsible for keeping their vessel safe from collisions with other vessels or obstacles in the water.

Sailors may specialize in a particular area of seafaring work, such as navigation or deck operations. They also may be required to attend training sessions in seamanship and maritime law.

Sailor Job Duties

A sailor’s job duties vary based on his or her rank and ship, but can include the following:

  • Maintaining equipment and making repairs to ensure that ships are seaworthy at all times
  • Navigating the ship in accordance with international maritime laws and regulations
  • Taking water samples, measuring temperatures, and other tasks to monitor the quality of drinking water supplied by the Navy
  • Observing environmental conditions for signs of weather changes or natural events that could affect navigation safety
  • Following safety procedures for fire drills, damage control, and abandon ship scenarios
  • Operating machinery such as boilers and diesel engines to maintain shipboard systems such as electricity generators and freshwater production units
  • Handling cargo operations, such as unloading and loading cargo crates or bales of various materials
  • Manning watch stations, including lookout positions, helmsman, conning tower, fire control, radar operator, radio operator, chartroom officer

Sailor Salary & Outlook

The median annual wage for sailors is $36,453. Those earning higher wages tend to work for the government, and the highest earners are bringing home more than $58,000 per year.

Jobs for sailors are expected to decline over the next decade as a result of advances in technology and improvements in ship design that allow more cargo to be carried with fewer crew members.

Sailor Job Requirements

To become a sailor, you’ll need to meet the following qualifications:

Education: Sailors are required to have at least a high school diploma or GED. Some employers may require applicants to have at least some college education. 

Training: Before beginning work as a sailor, applicants should be prepared for hands-on training. This training can last from a few weeks to a few months depending on their assigned job. During training, they learn the ship’s layout and how to perform their job roles. They also become familiar with the ship’s mission and the organization’s policies and procedures.

Certifications & Licenses: Depending on the ship, sailors are required to have a merchant mariner credential.

Sailor Skills

To be a sailor, you need to have the following skills:

Interpersonal skills: You will work with people from all over the world. It is important that you are able to communicate effectively and build relationships with others.

Physical strength: You will need to be physically fit in order to perform the physical tasks required of sailors.

Time management: Being able to manage time well will help you complete your tasks on time and meet deadlines.

Ability to remain calm under pressure: This is especially important for sailors who must make quick decisions during storms or other emergencies. 

Technical skills: Sailors must have the ability to maintain their vessel’s engine and electrical systems. They also need to understand marine electronics and navigation systems.

Ability to swim: This is a necessity for sailors. You must be able to swim well enough to rescue yourself and others in case of an emergency.

Sailor Work Environment

A sailor’s job can be both physically and mentally demanding. Sailors work at sea, which means they often have to spend long periods of time away from their families. They may work on private cruise ships, a merchant ship, or for the Navy. Sailors may have to work in bad weather, and they are prone to back injuries when onboard ships. The job may require them to navigate through dangerous waters and respond quickly to emergencies such as storms and enemy attacks.

Sailor Career Advancement

There are many paths that sailors can take once they have a few years of experience. Some become ship’s officers, serving as chief mates, second mates, and third mates. Others become licensed mariners or licensed shipmasters. In any case, a sailor who wants to advance should focus on furthering his skills and knowledge.

Sailor Trends

Here are three trends influencing how sailors work. Sailors will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

Big Data in Sailor Decision-Making

While sailors are often able to make quick decisions, they can sometimes miss important details in their haste. This is where big data analytics comes into play. 

A recent study found that when sailors rely on gut instinct alone, they miss up to 60% of the data related to their environment. With big data analysis, however, it’s possible for them to avoid this pitfall and make more informed decisions.

Technological Advances and Mobile Network at Sea

Sailors and other maritime workers are increasingly able to keep in touch with colleagues, friends, and family while at sea, as technology continues to improve. 

For example, many ships now have a satellite phone, which allows sailors to communicate with people on land through a simple phone call. In addition, smartphones can be used to connect to the internet or make calls via a mobile hotspot from the ship. This has been particularly beneficial for those serving aboard cargo ships.

Navigation Software and Automation Increase Safety at Sea

The continued improvement of navigation software, GPS, and charts will make navigation safer and more accurate for mariners. This includes advances in charting methods, chart data quality, system connectivity between vessels and shore-based networks (e.g., Internet) along with improvements in user interfaces. 

The increase in technology has also enabled the creation of smart ship concept systems that integrate automated decision-making capabilities into maritime operations.

How to Become a Sailor

1. Planning Your Career Path

If you’re thinking about a career as a sailor, it’s important to know what type of vessel you want to work on. Large cargo ships and oil tankers require years of experience and training; smaller yachts and fishing vessels may not require as much specialized knowledge but will still expect you to adhere to specific safety procedures.

Sailors often deal with challenging weather conditions at sea, so sailors need to be calm and have the ability to think on their feet. Aspiring sailors should be physically fit as the job requires physical labor. It is also helpful to be mechanically inclined as boats require regular maintenance. If you decide to go ahead with this career, you should learn how to swim well.

2. Writing a Resume

The best resumes for sailors emphasize their experience and training, as well as skills that will help them work well with a group.

Other skills which employers look for in a sailor include leadership abilities and teaching/training capabilities, so be sure to list any experience you have with leading groups or teaching new employees. If you have taken an advanced course in maritime sciences or navigation, be sure to list those details as well. You can also include any certifications that are relevant to this position.

3. Applying for Jobs

If you’re interested in working on a ship, start by researching what companies are hiring. If you know someone who works on a ship, ask for an introduction to the captain or hiring manager. You can also research companies online and see if they list job openings. Attend boat shows and open houses at marinas and attend any meetups related to the field that you can find to hear about more openings.

4. Ace the Interview

When interviewing for a sailing job, you will need to demonstrate the right mix of skills and abilities. Be sure to research the company or organization so that you can be familiar with what they do and the challenges they face. Prepare for the interview by practicing your responses to common questions about your background, strengths, weaknesses, and work style. Make sure to have a professional appearance when entering the office.

Be prepared to go over potential roadblocks or problems that might present themselves during your workday. This will help demonstrate your ability to problem-solve, stay positive, and remain focused despite any challenges you may face.


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