Careers
at Sea

The maritime industry includes all enterprises engaged in the business of designing, constructing, manufacturing, acquiring, operating, supplying, repairing and/or maintaining ships, or component parts thereof: of managing and/or operating shipping lines, stevedoring , customs brokerage services, shipyards, dry docks, marine railways, marine repair shops, shipping and freight forwarding services and similar enterprises.

The following information is aimed particularly at individuals interested in a Career at Sea and more particularly as part of the Merchant Navy serving onboard merchant vessels, such as Container ships  or Tankers.

If you are interested in a career as a seafarer on a ship, which is commonly referred to as the Merchant Navy, a number of requirements have to be met before you can start your career.  There are also a number of disciplines or departments on every ship , the most significant ones being Navigation and Engineering and  you need to decide which you prefer before you start. There are also different levels of  employment within each department the most significant being the  role of Officers (who mainly manage and are the decision makers) and Ratings (who are semi skilled and whose work is more labour intensive)

Seafaring is a demanding occupation that, like many careers , has advantages and disadvantages and you must  be sure that these are acceptable to you  otherwise you will not  find the career fulfilling.

Here are some that you should consider;

Advantages
  • Long leave (can be as much as 183 days per year worked)
  • Travel the world (Ships trading routes are global)
  • Internationally Recognised Qualification (global employment market)
  • Ample work and promotional prospects (Global shortages in many ranks)
Disadvantages
  • Long leave (can be as much as 183 days per year worked)
  • Travel the world (Ships trading routes are global)
  • Internationally Recognised Qualification (global employment market)
  • Ample work and promotional prospects (Global shortages in many ranks)

A career at sea is a tough career but it also holds many positive experiences, it does however require certain characteristics such as;

  • Willingness to obey orders
  • Strong sense of responsibility
  • Integrity and initiative
  • Reliability – able to work without supervision
  • Ability to work in a group / team
  • Ability to interact with others (different cultures)
  • Ability to work long hours
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Attention to detail
  • Good leadership capabilities

 

The following are the most common career paths followed:

NAVIGATION
  • Navigating Officer (that leads to the Rank of Captain of  the ship, commonly known as the Master)
  • Deck Rating
MARINE ENGINEER
  • Engineer Officer (that leads to the Rank of Chief Engineer of the ship)
  • Engine Rating

There is a specific course of study and career path for each of these which have been set by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) whose regulations have been set out in the Standards for Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW). All countries that adopt these regulations, like South Africa, can recognise and accept qualifications of seafarers from these countries which makes this career a global one.

IMO also requires that seafarers do a number of safety related training and courses before they can work on a ship, which includes the following;

  • First Aid at Sea Certificate (FAAS)
  • Marine Fire Fighting Certificate
  • Basic Security Awareness Certificate
  • Personal Safety and Social Responsibility Certificate (PSSR)
  • Personal Survival Techniques (PST)
  • Medical Clearance Certificate – obtained from a SAMSA approved medical practitioner
  • Letter of Employment from Shipping Company
  • Apply to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) for a Seaman’s Book

School Learners

Do I have to complete Grade 12?

Yes, if you want to enter at Officer candidate level.

If I do not have matric can I still get a job ‘at sea’?

Yes, but it will be at Ratings level.

Which Matric subjects do I have to take so that I can enroll at a maritime college?

Maths and physical science.

What can I do to get a head start in my career at sea?

It is never too early to prepare and plan for your career. School learners can apply to maritime schools which offer the usual school subjects but also include one or two marine related subjects such as Nautical Studies or Maritime Economics. This will help you to understand the industry better and therefore to make a more informed decision on the career.
It is also good to always know what is next for example: What are the steps to qualify as an Officer?

Steps For School Leaver to Join A Maritime Career

I have a physical disability or medical condition. Can I pursue a career at sea?

Some medical conditions and physical disabilities are not permitted at sea.  Suggest that you contact your nearest SAMSA office to find out whether your particular disability or medical condition is acceptable for a career at sea.

School Leavers

Where can I apply for maritime studies?

If you are still in school and below grade 10 it is advised to enroll at a maritime school where marine related subjects are offered. Although this is not essential it provides you with a better understanding of the industry and your decision to study maritime subjects will be made with a better knowledge of what to expect.
After school you should apply to a maritime college.

What does OOW mean?

OOW is the abbreviation for Officer of the Watch and is the first level of qualification obtained for Navigation or Engineer officers. To obtain this qualification requires one year of maritime studies at the National Diploma Level, at least twelve months sea service on ships as a trainee (referred to as a Deck or Engine Cadet) and the above mentioned safety courses. Engineer Cadets are required to under go practical workshops training as well, the timeframes of which are dependent upon individual competencies and ranges from 7 to 9 months.

How long is does it take to obtain an OOW qualification?

The National Diploma Level Studies (S1 & S2 theory studies) take two semesters, but part of this study path is to obtain mandatory sea time (12 – 24 months dependent upon individual competence and completion of an onboard Training Record Book) with relevant experience in order to apply for the final oral examination with the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA). The entire process, if a berth is immediately obtained upon completion of theory studies, can take up to three years for a Navigating Cadet and 4 years for an engineer Cadet.

What other careers at sea are there besides following Officer of the Watch National Diploma Level studies?

Fishing Industry, “Super” Yacht Industry, Coastguard, Port Operators / Tug Masters etc.

What are the requirements for Navigation Officer?
  1.  Matric with 60% pass mark achieved for maths & physical science
  2.  S1 & S2 in maritime National Diploma Level Studies
  3.  Medically fit for seagoing duties and pass SAMSA eyesight test
What are the requirements for Engineer officer?
  1.  Matric with 60% pass mark achieved for maths & physical science
  2.  S1 & S2 in maritime National Dimploma Level Studies – Marine Engineering
  3.  Medically fit for seagoing duties and pass SAMSA eyesight test

College Graduates

Matric with 60% pass mark achieved for maths & physical science S1 & S2 in maritime National Dimploma Level Studies – Marine Engineering Medically fit for seagoing duties and pass SAMSA eyesight test

You need to obtain a berth with a shipping company either directly through the shipping company or through a sponsored training programme.

Are there any programmes in place to assist me in achieving my Officer of the Watch Qualification?

Yes. Some companies have their own ‘in service’ training programmes and there are a few bursary and training programmes available such as the National Cadet Training Programme headed by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) which SAMTRA manages on their behalf.

How can I enroll at SAMTRA for the National Cadet Training Programme?

You may send your CV and results to date to recruitment@samtra.co.za

Is this opportunity open to foreigners?

The National Cadet Training Programme is a South African Government  initiative open to South African Citizens only.

How does SAMTRA service the maritime industry?

SAMTRA offers management of cadet & rating training on behalf of shipping companies and offers various mandatory maritime short courses and other training and custom solutions to the industry.