Planning a life at sea


Some of us hear the call of the sea from an early age. It’s a romantic idea, to go out to sea for a life of adventure, to visit exotic ports of call. Who is attracted to the life of a sailor?

A few stereotypes come to mind: a tough, independent lone wolf with a weather-worn complexion, a love of drink and salty language. In truth, many jobs fit this stereotype, but even more require skills that are not usually associated with shipping.

However, if you’ve come this far in your thinking, there is one thing you really want to know: Is shipping a good career path?

Let’s take a look at some things you might want to consider.

A career in shipping is not for the faint hearted. Photo: avigatorphotographer / Freepik

What is the appeal of a career in shipping?

Beyond the thrill of the wind in your hair and traveling the world, the appeal of a career in shipping lies in its relatively high salaries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for 2020 in shipping was $ 59,250, higher than the median salary of $ 51,168 nationally.

The great thing about many shipping jobs is that they often don’t require more than a high school diploma or GED for entry level positions.

Another draw is that shipping offers a much wider range of careers than you might think. You might be interested in a career in shipping, but you don’t know how inviting the life of a “salt dog” would be. However, many careers employ a range of skills that allow you to indulge your passion without leaving home. These include engineering, marine architecture, maritime law, maritime journalism, and many more.

Meanwhile, if the thought of a nine-to-five button-down job in a cubicle fills you with dread, grab your boots, blue jeans, and outdoor gear. The dress code and hours for many shipping jobs are anything but standard office work.

It’s probably safe to say that many sailors have a more independent streak than most. If this is your case, shipping might just be a good career choice.

Do you think you have what it takes to be a sea bass on the high seas? If you think you are ready for it, here’s how to get started on a career at sea and what you can expect as you find your way.

What jobs can I find in shipping?

To get started, let’s take a look at classic maritime jobs. First there are the sailors. They help maintain ships, operate deck equipment, load and unload cargo, and provide safety at sea. Then there are the marine lubricators, who work in the engine room to lubricate them. engine parts and to perform maintenance under the supervision of an engineer, monitoring gauges and assisting with repairs.

Other careers include commercial fishing, deep-sea or underwater divers, ship masters and other ship workers, marine welders, senior managers, engineers, rank-mates, commercial shipping and ship workers. ferry workers.

Becoming Navigable: Maritime Transport Education and Training

While there are no degree requirements for entry level jobs in shipping, to qualify for higher paying jobs you will need a college degree. Attending trades school is also a good option to give you a head start in certain careers.

Offshore Shipping: Entering a Marine Shipping Diploma Program

A major in marine science is typically a bachelor’s degree program. However, it may vary depending on the establishment. Maritime transport is a fairly specialized field, delivering 657 degrees in 2018-2019, a number that has remained stable in previous years.

In the United States, 16 schools offer degrees in shipping, public and private. These institutions will allow you to focus on specific topics depending on your career goals. These concentrations may include diving, maritime trade and logistics, commercial fishing, coast guard and navy career preparation, and marine sciences.

In addition to your specialization, you will need to take courses in, for example, mathematics, science, navigation, maritime law, ship safety procedures, and onboard power systems engineering.

To be accepted into a marine transportation program, you will need to have a high school diploma or GED. Each school you apply to will have their own GPA and SAT or ACT test requirements (although many schools have recently dropped the requirement) and can be more or less selective, depending on the institution.

Once you have graduated, you must also obtain the appropriate maritime transport certification to work at sea.

Learning the ropes: types of diplomas for a career in shipping

Shipping is also a great career to grab because of the surprisingly wide range of fields and types of degrees you can study there.

For example, at Maine Maritime Academy there is a wide variety of subjects you can study, from marine engineering and marine biology, logistics management and the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps. While studying for four years seems like an overly commitment, the college also offers a two-year associate’s degree in small vessel operations. There are also a number of graduate programs that you can choose from.

Here’s a breakdown of the educational attainment of shipping workers in 2019.

Level of education Percentage of employees
Baccalaureate 34.9 percent
Post-secondary certificate 43.8%
Some College 7.2 percent
Associate degree 4.5 percent
Licence 5.9 percent

The level of study you choose will depend on the career you are looking for in shipping.

Testing the waters: beginner / on-the-job training

One of the biggest draws of working in shipping is that a large number of jobs do not have formal education requirements. Many of these entry-level careers will provide you with on-the-job training with little or no experience in the field.

For jobs in which you formally work in marine transportation, you will need a certificate such as the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) issued by the Transportation Security Administration or the Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) issued by the US Coast Guard. . About 42% of workers had one in 2019.

A sample of some entry level jobs and their median salaries will give you a better idea of ​​what’s available and how much it pays.

Profession Median salary (2018)
Sailors and tankers $ 40,900
Motor boat operators $ 50,290
Marine engineers and naval architects $ 92,560
Fishermen and related fishworkers $ 28,530 (2017)
Welders, cutters, brazers and brazers $ 41,380
Source: United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

With the exception of naval engineers and naval architects, none of these jobs require more than a high school diploma (sometimes not even that) and will most likely provide on-the-job training.

Sink or swim: what it takes to work in shipping

If this is not already obvious, when wondering if maritime transport is a good career path for you, you should know that life at sea is not all about swashbuckling and swordsmanship and big gains. Many shipping jobs can be tough, cold, dirty, and dangerous, requiring you to be physically strong, work long hours in bad weather, and have a high tolerance for boredom.

You should also have sharp eyesight and hearing, and be good at problem solving and decision making in stressful situations. These qualities are necessary because of the uncertain and sometimes perilous nature of working at sea and with heavy and dangerous equipment.

It probably goes without saying that this is a heavily male dominated field, so you’ll have to decide if this is something that turns you off, male or female.

If you are looking for an upper-level career in shipping, you should expect to take advanced courses in math and science, ideally doing an internship in your chosen area of ​​expertise to see if you have what it takes. it is necessary.

Set sail: embark on your career path in shipping

If you are thinking of going out to sea, the first thing you should do is find a summer job or an internship working as a deckhand on a ferry or fishing boat and talk to people in the maritime business, industry or shipbuilding. Rub shoulders with people working in careers similar to the ones you are considering. A sailing course is also good. If you are considering a more advanced career, make sure your math and science is up to par for a maritime academy.

Most importantly, as you “get your feet wet” at sea, ask yourself how your skills, interests and prospects match up with a maritime career. While the thought of sailing towards the sun may fill your heart with romance, you may find that life is too difficult, or you just don’t have the personality for it.

So, is shipping a good career path? If it matches your personality, goals, and lifestyle you want, yes! Prepare to live at sea!

Frequently Asked Questions About A Career In Shipping

How Much Money Can I Make With A Career In Shipping?

Careers in shipping offer an above average starting salary compared to many other careers. From entry-level careers that pay well above the median for other fields to a six-figure income in the more advanced technical fields of shipping, there is a lot of money to be made in the shipping industry. maritime transport.

What skills do you need for a successful career at sea?

There are several common skills typically required for a career in shipping. Being ‘good with your hands’ is a prerequisite for most careers at sea. So too is some strength, tenacity, ability to work long hours and solid knowledge of mathematics and science for higher level careers.

What are the best jobs in shipping?

Working as a ship’s captain, naval architect, engineer or in logistics management are just a few examples of the best jobs in shipping. These careers generally require college or higher degrees, the highest salaries, and the greatest prestige.


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