Career Info

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 and Ratings. Officers are operational level staff who carry great responsibility for making decisions and possessing the competencies required to execute safe operations, whilst ratings are semi-skilled workers, often possessing vast experience, who’s role it is to act as the vessel’s labour force and to offer support to the watchkeeping officers. 

The following are the most common career paths followed: 


  • Navigating Officer is in charge of holding a watch and maintaining the safe navigation of the vessel for approximately 8 to 12 hours per day, as well as associated functions. They also have responsibility for cargo operations and the operation and maintenance of the deck equipment of the vessel. This path leads all the way up to Master (captain of the ship) but not everyone progresses that far for a variety of reasons. 
  • Deck Rating carries out general maintenance, including the cleaning, polishing and painting of all surfaces in the deck area, checking and maintaining equipment such as deck machinery, loading winches and fire fighting equipment, operating lifting gear, such as winches and cranes, to load and unload cargo, assisting the officer of the watch with navigation duties and acting as lookout or steersman.  


  • Engineer Officer depending on their rank, is responsible for various repair and maintenance functions with respect to the vessel’s machinery, including the main engine and generators. This path leads to Chief Engineer. It is not possible to become the captain as an engineer, one would need to go the route of deck officer if that was what one wanted.  
  • Engine Rating makes sure all shipboard machinery, including the engine room, is kept in good order, carrying out routine cleaning, greasing, oiling and servicing of machinery, looking after electrical and safety systems, such as fire alarms and air conditioning, assisting the engineering officer of the watch by monitoring the safe running of the engineering plant and related equipment. 

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.

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.


Information for:

School Learners

If you want to be an Officer of the Watch at sea, you have to complete Grade 12 and have passed Mathematics, Physics and English.  

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.  

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


School Leavers

There are various institutions in South Africa offering maritime studies. Check their websites for the curricula and entry level requirements:

SAMTRA – see academic programs


DUT   –   


Institutions offering Mechanical Engineering. This will allow conversion to Marine Engineering after S4 is attained.

The typical entry level requirements: 

Grade 12 with 60% pass mark achieved for maths & physical science & english

S1 & S2 in maritime National Diploma Level Studies

Medically fit for seagoing duties and pass SAMSA eyesight test 


College Graduates 

Once you have successfully completed your tertiary studies, you will need to obtain a berth with a shipping company so you can go on board a vessel and do your cadetship (experiential training).You should be aware that this is quite a competitive scene and it takes dedication to distinguish yourself as an employable candidate.

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 International Maritime Institution (SAIMI) which SAMTRA manages on their behalf. 

  • For enrolment in the National Cadet Training Program, SAMTRA visits various universities during the second semester each year. It is important that you look out for notice of our visit as it is during this visit that we will do evaluations from which we will select students for interview. Students who fall out of the woodwork later having missed the session might be asked to attend the session the following year.
  • If you do not fit into the above category and are perhaps unsure about your standing or how to apply or even advance an existing application, you can contact us at and we will provide feedback as appropriate.
  • If you have an enquiry about a technicality of a training program and/or are seeking advice about how to go about improving your prospects, please also contact us at and your query will be redirected to someone that can assist.
Please unsure you meet the requirements before applying

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