Career Development

What Does a Seaman Do?

Find out what a Seaman does, how to get this job, salary information, and what it takes to succeed as a Seaman.

Embarking on a career as a Seaman involves joining the crew of a ship to ensure its smooth operation and maintenance. This role encompasses a broad range of responsibilities, from handling deck operations and assisting in the navigation of the ship to performing routine maintenance tasks and ensuring the safety of all on board. Seamanship is not just about physical labor; it requires a keen understanding of maritime protocols, a strong sense of teamwork, and the ability to adapt to the unique challenges presented by life at sea. Whether part of a commercial vessel, a cruise ship, or a naval fleet, a Seaman plays an integral role in the maritime industry, contributing to the efficient and safe passage of goods and passengers across the world’s oceans.

Seaman Job Duties

  • Perform regular maintenance and cleaning tasks on deck, including painting, sweeping, and rust removal to ensure the vessel’s condition is preserved.
  • Operate deck machinery such as winches and cranes for loading and unloading cargo, ensuring safe and efficient handling of goods.
  • Stand watch during specified periods, monitoring the ship’s position, navigational equipment, and safety to ensure a secure voyage.
  • Assist in mooring and unmooring operations by handling ropes and cables, securing the ship safely at docks or when anchoring.
  • Participate in emergency drills and real-life emergency situations, including man overboard, fire fighting, and abandoning ship, to ensure preparedness and safety of all aboard.
  • Engage in navigation duties under the guidance of senior officers, including steering the ship and plotting courses, to contribute to safe and efficient voyage planning.
  • Perform basic engine room tasks under the supervision of the engineering staff, such as monitoring equipment, assisting with repairs, and ensuring machinery operates efficiently.
  • Conduct marine wildlife observation and reporting as part of environmental compliance and conservation efforts, documenting sightings and ensuring the vessel’s activities do not harm ecosystems.

Seaman Salary & Outlook

A seaman’s salary is influenced by vessel type (cargo, tanker, cruise), rank (ordinary seaman, able seaman, officer), experience level, and the duration of contracts. Specialized roles (e.g., handling hazardous materials) also command higher pay. Additionally, the shipping company’s size and the economic demand for maritime transport impact earnings.

  • Median Annual Salary: $49,350 ($23.73/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $89,500 ($43.03/hour)

The employment of seamans is expected to grow slower than average over the next decade.

Advancements in automation and technology aboard ships, leading to more efficient operations with fewer crew members, and the increasing use of unmanned vessels for cargo transport, are primary reasons for the slower-than-average growth in seaman employment. Global shipping trends and environmental regulations also influence demand for traditional seafaring roles.

Seaman Job Requirements

Education: A seaman typically holds a high school diploma, with a significant portion also possessing post-secondary certificates. Education in maritime studies, navigation, or marine engineering is advantageous. Courses in physical sciences, mathematics, and mechanics support the role’s demands. Additionally, classes in communication and teamwork are beneficial, reflecting the collaborative nature of maritime operations. While specific majors are not mandatory, studies aligned with marine operations or mechanical skills are preferred to navigate the complexities of the job.

Experience: For the role of Seaman, many candidates enter with no prior experience, while a significant portion have some experience, typically gained through on-the-job training or specific training programs. Experience in maritime operations, safety procedures, and basic seamanship skills are valuable. Hands-on training aboard vessels is common, allowing newcomers to learn directly from seasoned professionals. This blend of formal and informal training environments prepares individuals for the diverse challenges faced at sea.

Certifications & Licenses: Seamen typically require a Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) issued by the United States Coast Guard for U.S. waters. Additionally, a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) is necessary for access to secure maritime facilities. Depending on the vessel and waters navigated, an STCW (Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers) certification may also be required for international duties. No certifications or licenses are recommended, beneficial, or sometimes needed beyond these.

Seaman Skills

Navigation: Seamanship involves the precise use of navigational instruments, charts, and celestial bodies to determine a vessel’s position, course, and speed. Safe passage from port to port relies on this skill, ensuring the well-being of crew, cargo, and vessel.

Knot Tying: Securing vessels, cargo, and equipment with various intricate knots enhances operational efficiency and safety at sea. Proficiency in knot tying is vital for smooth sailing and emergency preparedness.

Safety Procedures: Adhering to strict safety protocols helps prevent accidents and ensures the safety of the crew and vessel. Knowledge of emergency procedures, including man-overboard situations and firefighting, along with regular drills and equipment checks, is essential.

Deck Operations: Coordination and execution of tasks on a ship’s deck involve safe mooring, unmooring, and anchoring, as well as overseeing cargo loading and unloading. Effective communication with the bridge and engine room is crucial, along with a comprehensive understanding of safety procedures and deck maintenance practices.

Emergency Response: Swift and effective execution of safety protocols during emergencies, such as fires or hull breaches, is critical. A calm demeanor, quick decision-making, and familiarity with the ship’s emergency equipment and escape routes are necessary to ensure everyone’s safety.

Weather Forecasting: Predicting atmospheric conditions accurately is integral to navigation and safety. Interpreting meteorological data and satellite imagery aids in route planning and identifying potential weather hazards.

Seaman Work Environment

A seaman’s work environment is predominantly aboard ships, where space is both a workplace and living quarters, demanding adaptability to confined areas. The deck or engine room serves as the primary workspace, equipped with specialized maritime tools and machinery, necessitating strict adherence to safety protocols to mitigate the inherent risks of maritime operations.

Uniforms are standard, reflecting the practical and safety requirements of sea life. The culture aboard is shaped by the necessity for teamwork and discipline, with a hierarchy that defines roles and responsibilities clearly. Work hours are irregular, governed by watchkeeping duties that ensure the vessel’s continuous operation, leading to unique challenges in maintaining work-life balance.

Noise levels can be high, especially in the engine room, and the pace of work varies with the ship’s operations. Interaction with others is constant and crucial for safety and efficiency. Despite the challenges, the opportunity for travel and the camaraderie among crew members create a unique and rewarding professional environment.

Advancement Prospects

A seaman’s career advancement is largely determined by accumulating sea time and passing competency exams. Starting as an Ordinary Seaman, the first step up is to Able Seaman, requiring specific sea time and a professional exam. Further progression to a Deck Officer or Engineer position involves more sea time, rigorous training, and passing additional licensing exams.

For those aiming at command positions, such as Captain or Chief Engineer, extensive experience, leadership skills, and a deep understanding of maritime laws are essential. These roles demand years of sea time and passing a series of advanced examinations.

Specialization also offers advancement paths. Seamen can pursue careers in areas like safety, navigation, environmental protection, or technical operations on board. Each specialty may require additional certifications and proven expertise in the field.

Ultimately, a seaman’s advancement hinges on practical experience, professional exams, and specialization, leading to higher responsibilities and roles on board.


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