It can be difficult to choose the right career at sea can as there are so many possibilities. Career options vary greatly on ships; generally, the smaller the vessel the more hands-on the career is likely to be, while on larger ships there are many more managerial career choices.
The merchant navy has numerous career opportunities for graduates as officer trainees, offering training and career development leading to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) certificate, which is the Certificate of Competency in Maritime Vessel Operations for deck officers – or Marine Engineering Operations for engineering officers.
The UK shipping industry has careers on many types of vessels – ferries, cruise ships, cargo container ships; gas, oil and chemical tankers. Support and rescue careers are also prevalent. As well as the Royal Navy the industry encompasses many individual companies each responsible for their individual recruitment and career training programmes.
Training includes a university or a residential course at a nautical college and supervised periods of career training at sea. Science graduates are preferred but a Bachelor of Science is not mandatory, a good Bachelor of Arts is acceptable, for instance a Bachelor of Law (Honours).
When your degree includes some engineering subjects you can fast track the career path by applying for individual exemption from some of the training, such subjects include marine engineering; mechanical engineering; electrical engineering etc.
Specialist career opportunities also occur on cruise ships and passenger ferries for graduates in the catering, hospitality, performance, entertainment and business career sectors. Some shipping companies sponsor candidates to study and some accept a Higher National Diploma (HND) in a relevant subject, or alternatively, Royal Navy career experience.
The next MCA level of competency is a promotion to the chief mate or second engineer certificate. The highest level of competency is a Master’s or Chief Engineer’s Certificate. The Marine Society and Sea Cadets provides a range of courses, which enable you to combine work and study to reach a good career level.
Qualification as a merchant navy officer can lead to career opportunities throughout the UK merchant navy fleet or working on private cruise ships. As a qualified deck or engineering officer you can, with more training, sail as a ships captain or as Chief Engineering Officer. Typically, six years’ experience is required. Some merchant navy officers remain at sea for their entire careers, but because of the diverse nature of employment within the growing marine sector, there are an increasing number of onshore careers including:
- Working for government or international maritime agencies
- Ship surveying
- Lecturing or teaching
- Marine conservation careers
- Ports management
- Maritime law
At sea, merchant navy officers are employed in an engineering or navigation capacity on the following major types of vessels:
- Ferries and cruise ships
- Cargo container ships
- Oil, gas and chemical tankers, and other bulk cargo carriers
- Offshore support vessels designed for specialised roles
Merchant navy officers can also gain similar career opportunities with overseas-based shipping companies.