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Become A Ship Worker

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Working As A Ship Worker

  • Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Material
  • Operating Vehicles, Mechanized Devices, or Equipment
  • Controlling Machines and Processes
  • Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events
  • Getting Information
  • Stressful

  • $22,581

    Average Salary

What Does A Ship Worker Do

Water transportation workers operate and maintain vessels that take cargo and people over water. The vessels travel to and from foreign ports across the ocean and to domestic ports along the coasts, across the Great Lakes, and along the country’s many inland waterways.


Water transportation workers typically do the following:

  • Operate and maintain nonmilitary vessels
  • Follow their vessel’s strict chain of command
  • Ensure the safety of all people and cargo on board

These workers, sometimes called merchant mariners, work on a variety of ships.

Some operate large deep-sea container ships to transport manufactured goods and refrigerated cargos around the world.

Others work on bulk carriers that move heavy commodities, such as coal or iron ore, across the oceans and over the Great Lakes.

Still others work on both large and small tankers that carry oil and other liquid products around the country and the world. Others work on supply ships that transport equipment and supplies to offshore oil and gas platforms.

Workers on tugboats help barges and other boats maneuver in small harbors and at sea.

Salvage vessels that offer emergency services also employ merchant mariners.

Cruise ships employ a large number of water transportation workers, and some merchant mariners work on ferries to transport passengers along shorter distances.

A typical deep-sea merchant ship, large coastal ship, or Great Lakes merchant ship employs a captain and a chief engineer, along with three mates, three assistant engineers, and a number of sailors and marine oilers. Smaller vessels that operate in harbors or rivers may have a smaller crew. The specific complement of mariners is dependent on U.S. Coast Guard regulations.

Also, there are other workers on ships, such as cooks, electricians, and mechanics. For more information, see the profiles on cooks, electricians, and general maintenance and repair workers.

Captains, sometimes called masters, have overall command of a vessel. They have the final responsibility for the safety of the crew, cargo, and passengers. Captains typically do the following:

  • Supervise the work of the crew, including other officers
  • Ensure that proper safety procedures are followed
  • Prepare a maintenance and repair budget
  • Oversee the loading and unloading of cargo or passengers
  • Keep logs and other records that track the ship’s movements and activities
  • Interact with passengers on cruise ships

Mates, or deck officers, direct the operation of a vessel while the captain is off duty. Large ships have three officers, called first, second, and third mates. The first mate has the highest authority and takes command of the ship if the captain is incapacitated. Usually, the first mate is in charge of the cargo and/or passengers, the second mate is in charge of navigation, and the third mate is in charge of safety. On smaller vessels, there may be only one mate who handles all of the responsibilities. Deck officers typically do the following:

  • Alternate watches with the captain and other officers
  • Supervise and coordinate the activities of the deck crew
  • Assist with docking the ship
  • Monitor the ship’s position, using charts and other navigational aides
  • Determine the speed and direction of the vessel
  • Inspect the cargo hold during loading, to ensure that the cargo is stowed according to specifications
  • Make announcements to passengers when needed

Pilots guide ships in harbors, on rivers, and on other confined waterways. They are not part of a ship’s crew but go aboard a ship to guide it through a particular waterway that they are familiar with. They work in places where a high degree of familiarity with local tides, currents, and hazards is needed. Some, called harbor pilots, work for ports and help many ships that come into the harbor during the day. When coming into a commercial port, a captain will often have to turn control of the vessel over to a pilot, who can safely guide it into the harbor. Pilots typically do the following:

  • Board an unfamiliar ship from a small boat in the open water, often using a ladder
  • Confer with a ship’s captain about the vessel’s destination and any special requirements it has
  • Establish a positive working relationship with a vessel’s captain and deck officers
  • Receive mooring instructions from shore dispatchers

Sailors, or deckhands, operate and maintain the vessel and deck equipment. They make up the deck crew and keep all parts of a ship, other than areas related to the engine and motor, in good working order. New deckhands are called ordinary seamen and do the least complicated tasks. Experienced deckhands are called able seamen and usually make up most of a crew. Some large ships have a boatswain, who is the chief of the deck crew. Sailors typically do the following:

  • Stand watch, looking for other vessels or obstructions in their ship’s path and for navigational aids, such as buoys and lighthouses
  • Steer the ship and measure water depth in shallow water
  • Do routine maintenance, such as painting the deck and chipping away rust
  • Keep the inside of the ship clean
  • Handle lines when docking or departing
  • Tie barges together when they are being towed
  • Load and unload cargo
  • Help passengers when needed

Ship engineers operate and maintain a vessel’s propulsion system, which includes the engine, boilers, generators, pumps, and other machinery. Large vessels usually carry a chief engineer, who has command of the engine room and its crew, and a first, second, and third assistant engineer. The assistant engineer oversees the engine and related machinery when the chief engineer is off duty. Small ships might have only one engineer. Engineers typically do the following:

  • Maintain the electrical, refrigeration, and ventilation systems of a ship
  • Start the engine and regulate the vessel’s speed, following the captain’s orders
  • Record information in an engineering log
  • Keep an inventory of mechanical parts and supplies
  • Do routine maintenance checks throughout the day
  • Calculate refueling requirements

Marine oilers work in the engine room, helping the engineers keep the propulsion system in working order. They are the engine room equivalent of sailors. New oilers usually are called wipers, or pumpmen, on vessels handling liquid cargo. With experience, a wiper can become a Qualified Member of the Engine Department (QMED). Marine oilers typically do the following:

  • Lubricate gears, shafts, bearings, and other parts of the engine or motor
  • Read pressure and temperature gauges and record data
  • Help engineers with repairs to machinery
  • Connect hoses, operate pumps, and clean tanks
  • Assist the deck crew with loading or unloading of cargo, if necessary

Motorboat operators run small, motor-driven boats that carry only a few passengers. They provide a variety of services, such as fishing charters, tours, and harbor patrols. Motorboat operators typically do the following:

  • Check and change the oil and other fluids on their boat
  • Pick up passengers and help them board the boat
  • Act as a tour guide, if necessary

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How To Become A Ship Worker

Education and training requirements vary by the type of job. There are no educational requirements for entry-level sailors and oilers, but officers and engineers usually must have an endorsement certificate from the U.S. Coast Guard. Most water transportation jobs require the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) from the Transportation Security Administration and a Merchant Marine Credential (MMC).


Some deck officers, engineers, and pilots have a bachelor’s degree from a merchant marine academy. The academy programs offer a bachelor’s degree and a Merchant Marine Credential (MMC) with an endorsement as a third mate or third assistant engineer. Graduates of these programs also can choose to receive a commission as an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve, Merchant Marine Reserve, or U.S. Coast Guard Reserve.

Nonofficers, such as sailors or marine oilers, usually do not need a degree.


Ordinary seamen, wipers, and other entry-level mariners get on-the-job training for 6 months to a year. The length of training depends on the size and type of ship and waterway they work on. For example, workers on deep-sea vessels need more complex training than those whose ships travel on a river.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All mariners working on ships with U.S. flags must have a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) from the Transportation Security Administration. This credential states that a person is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and has passed a security screening. The TWIC must be renewed every 5 years.

Mariners who work on ships traveling on the open ocean require the Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STWC) endorsement. Regional U.S. Coast Guard offices provide this training, and it includes topics such as first aid and lifeboat safety. The STWC training must be completed every 5 years. Mariners who work on inland waterways and the Great Lakes are excluded from the STWC endorsement.

Most mariners also must have a Merchant Marine Credential (MMC), which they can apply for at a U.S. Coast Guard regional examination center. Entry-level employees, such as ordinary seamen or wipers, do not have to pass a written exam. However, some have to pass physical, hearing, and vision tests, and all must undergo a drug screening, to get their MMC. They also have to take a class on shipboard safety. The MMC must also be renewed every 5 years. More information on MMCs and endorsements is available from the U.S. Coast Guard National Maritime Center.

Pilots are licensed by the state in which they work. The U.S. Coast Guard licenses pilots on the Great Lakes. The requirements for these licenses vary, depending on where a pilot works.


Crewmembers can apply for endorsements to their MMC that allow them to move into more advanced positions.

Wipers can get an endorsement to become a Qualified Member of the Engine Department (QMED) after 6 months of experience by passing a written test.

It takes 3 years of experience and the passing of a written test for an ordinary seaman to become an unlimited able seaman. However, several able seaman endorsements below the level of unlimited are available after 6 months to 1 year of experience, depending on the type of ship the seamen work on.

Able seamen can advance to become third mates after at least 3 years of experience in the deck department. This experience must be on a ship similar to the type they hope to serve on as an officer. They also must take several training courses and pass written and onboard exams to receive the third-mate endorsement on their MMC. The difficulty of these requirements increases with the complexity and size of the vessel. Similarly, QMEDs can receive an endorsement as a third assistant engineer after 3 years of experience in the engine room and upon completion of a number of training and testing requirements. Experience and testing requirements increase with the size and complexity of the ship.

Officers who graduate from a maritime academy receive an MMC with an endorsement of third mate or third assistant engineer, depending on which department they are trained in.

To move up each step of the occupation ladder, from third mate/third assistant engineer, to second mate, to first mate, and then to captain or chief engineer, requires 365 days of experience at the previous level. A second mate or second assistant engineer who wants to move to first mate/first assistant engineer also must complete a 12-week training course and pass an exam.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Many pilots have years of experience as a mate on a ship. The ship should be of the type they expect to pilot. For example, if they work at a deep-sea port, they should have experience on an oceangoing vessel.

Similarly, many motorboat operators must have several years of experience working on and driving a boat.

Important Qualities

Customer-service skills. Many motorboat operators interact with passengers and must ensure that the passengers have a pleasant experience.

Hand-eye coordination. Officers and pilots who steer ships have to operate various controls while staying aware of their surroundings.

Hearing ability. Mariners must pass a hearing test to get an MMC.

Manual dexterity. Crewmembers need good balance to maneuver through tight spaces and on wet or uneven surfaces.

Mechanical skills. Members of the engine department keep complex machines working properly.

Physical strength. Sailors on freight ships load and unload cargo. While away at sea, most workers have to do some heavy lifting.

Visual ability. Mariners must pass a vision test to get an MMC.

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Ship Worker Jobs


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Ship Worker Career Paths

Ship Worker
Home Health Aid Security Officer
Account Manager
5 Yearsyrs
Technician Service Manager Office Manager
Administrative Manager
6 Yearsyrs
Material Handler Security Officer Night Auditor
Assistant General Manager
5 Yearsyrs
Case Manager Program Coordinator Assistant Director
Center Director
7 Yearsyrs
Driver Instructor Chairperson
5 Yearsyrs
Counselor Assistant Director Director
Executive Director
10 Yearsyrs
Production Worker Maintenance Technician Maintenance Supervisor
Facilities Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Case Manager Program Manager General Manager
Food Service Director
9 Yearsyrs
Delivery Driver Service Technician Service Manager
General Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Equipment Operator Service Supervisor Manager, Member Services
Membership Director
5 Yearsyrs
Security Guard Police Officer Training Officer
Operations Officer
6 Yearsyrs
Forklift Operator Warehouse Manager General Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Forklift Operator Service Technician General Manager
6 Yearsyrs
Security Officer Technician Project Manager
Program Manager
8 Yearsyrs
Machine Operator Operator Technician
Project Manager
8 Yearsyrs
Technician Account Manager Account Executive
5 Yearsyrs
Machine Operator Technician Service Technician
Service Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Security Officer Dispatcher Operations Manager
Site Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Production Worker Forklift Operator
Warehouse Manager
5 Yearsyrs
Delivery Driver Maintenance Technician Production Supervisor
Warehouse Supervisor
5 Yearsyrs
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Ship Worker Demographics










Hispanic or Latino


Black or African American





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Ship Worker Education


University of Phoenix


Liberty University


Kaplan University


Grand Canyon University


Iowa State University


Michigan State University


Ashford University


Southern New Hampshire University


Temple University


Pennsylvania State University


Brigham Young University


Grand Valley State University


Mississippi State University


Kirkwood Community College


Middle Tennessee State University


Capella University


Central Michigan University


Indiana University of Pennsylvania


Texas A&M University


West Virginia University

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Criminal Justice


Social Work




General Studies




Health Care Administration






Medical Assisting Services


Computer Science


Liberal Arts








Graphic Design


Human Services





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Real Ship Worker Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Religious Worker Saint Lucy's Church New York, NY Sep 17, 2010 $62,610
Religious Worker (Missionary Scholar-In-Residence) Houghton College Houghton, NY Aug 01, 2009 $62,485
Religious Workers, All Other Jesus for Life Church CA Jan 28, 2013 $43,285
Religious Workers, All Other The First Evangelical Church of New Jersey Bogota, NJ Jul 07, 2010 $43,000
Religious Workers, All Other First Korean Presbyterian Church In America Little Ferry, NJ Dec 01, 2010 $41,823
Religious Workers, All Other Joyful Church of New York NY Jan 04, 2011 $39,862
Religious Workers, All Other Emmanuel Mission Church of Ny NY Feb 08, 2011 $39,862
Religious Worker, All Other Il-Kwan-Do Hong-In Bub-Dan NY Aug 25, 2010 $39,048
Religious Workers, All Other New York Mission Church of C & Ma NY Apr 18, 2011 $37,921
Religious Workers, All Other Lord Jesus Love Presbyterian Church Ridgefield, NJ Apr 29, 2011 $37,921
Religious Worker Saint Lucy's Church New York, NY Jul 27, 2011 $37,921
Religious Workers, All Other Green Pastures Presbyterian Church Paramus, NJ May 06, 2011 $37,921
Religious Worker Saint Lucy's Church New York, NY Jan 07, 2011 $37,921
Religious Worker Saint Lucy's Church New York, NY Jun 08, 2010 $37,921
Pact Worker I Vinfen Corporation MA Apr 26, 2010 $36,828
Pact Worker I Vinfen Corporation MA Jan 05, 2010 $36,828
Supervised Independent Living Worker Boysville of Michigan, Inc. Redford, MI Sep 01, 2015 $35,131
Religious Workers, All Other New Life Fellowship Church, Inc. Deerfield Beach, FL Oct 23, 2012 $34,091
Religious Workers America SEVA International Schenectady, NY Mar 24, 2009 $32,724
Religious Workers, All Other BUL Kwang Sa, Inc. Tappan, NY Feb 25, 2010 $32,724
Religious Workers, All Others First Assembly of God Garland, TX Apr 21, 2011 $30,701
Religious Workers, All Other The Gate of Heaven Church Palisades Park, NJ Sep 21, 2009 $29,093
Religious Workers, All Other Manhattan Korean Presbyterian Church New York, NY Dec 05, 2007 $29,093
Religious Workers, All Other Il-Kwan-Do Hong-In Bub-Dan NY Jan 22, 2009 $29,093
Religious Worker Evergreen Church of New York NY Aug 21, 2009 $29,093
Clubhouse Worker Bay Cove Human Services, Inc. Boston, MA Sep 10, 2012 $27,423
Religious Workers, All Other Victory Church of Jesus Christ, Inc. NY Nov 02, 2012 $27,290
Religious Workers, All Other The Eunhae Presbyterian Church NY Jan 03, 2011 $26,755
Religious Workers, All Other Full Gospel Zion Church Spring Lake, NC Mar 04, 2011 $26,333

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Top Skills for A Ship Worker

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  1. Temp Worker
  2. Safety Standards
  3. Customer Service
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Worked for various companies as a temp worker while taking classes on line to get his Personal Trainer Certificate.
  • Demonstrated knowledge and compliance of health and safety standards through daily/weekly on-site inspections according to agency guidelines.
  • Maintained high standards of customer service during high-volume, fast-paced operations.
  • Provided child care supervision and activates for one year old children throughout the day at a daycare facility.
  • Provide information or refer individuals to public or private agencies or community services for assistance.

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Average Salary:

Top 10 Best States for Ship Workers

  1. Oregon
  2. South Dakota
  3. Louisiana
  4. Iowa
  5. Alaska
  6. Alabama
  7. Pennsylvania
  8. Washington
  9. Montana
  10. North Dakota
  • (53 jobs)
  • (17 jobs)
  • (25 jobs)
  • (36 jobs)
  • (14 jobs)
  • (33 jobs)
  • (151 jobs)
  • (55 jobs)
  • (28 jobs)
  • (7 jobs)

Top Ship Worker Employers

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Ship Worker Videos

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