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graduate jobs

Transport & Logistics

Merchant Navy Officer

Job Description

Are you a wannabe sea dog? Do you want to spend your professional life aboard a boat? Are you looking for an alternative to joining the Royal Navy? Well then, you’re in the right place.

Merchant navy officers are employed by commercial shipping companies to work on all kinds of seagoing vessels, such as cruise liners, cargo ships, tankers and hovercraft.

These guys typically adopt a deck officer or engineering officer role in a team leading capacity. However, they also do their fair share of hands-on practical work.

As a deck officer, you will be responsible for navigating the ship using state-of-the-art radar and GPS systems, monitoring weather reports, listening to broadcasts given by Her Majesty’s Coastguard, and using on-board communication systems to liaise with other crew members.

Furthermore, you will oversee the operational responsibilities of your crew, such as the loading of cargo and the use of machinery. Consequently, you will also be responsible for making sure everyone complies with rigorous health and safety policies.

Finally, you will have a range of administrative and managerial duties, such as maintaining the ship’s log (kind of like Captain Kirk), training junior staff and monitoring budgets.

As an engineering officer, you will lead of team of on-board marine engineers who are responsible for maintaining the ship’s machinery, making repairs and overseeing the operation of propulsion, fuel and waste systems. You will also conduct inspections on a regular basis to make sure everything on the ship is functioning effectively (or, indeed, “shipshape”).

Salary & benefits

During training, Merchant Navy cadets are usually paid between £8,000 and £16,000 per annum.  However, accommodation, food and tuition costs are also covered.

Junior Merchant Navy officers tend to earn between £24,000 and £28,000 per annum. Once you have progressed into a captain or senior engineer position, your salary will increase to anywhere between £35,000 and £65,000 per annum.

If you work on a ship which is abroad for at least 183 days of the year, you will not be taxed.

Working hours

Understandably, Merchant Navy officers spend a large part of their professional life on ships in the middle of the ocean. Therefore, becoming a Merchant Navy officer is a lifestyle choice as much as it is a career path.

Merchant Navy officers usually work away from home for months on end. However, in order to compensate, many companies provide a generous holiday allowance for their employees.

Shift work is the norm. Consequently, you will be required to work evenings and weekends on a regular basis.

Aspiring Merchant Navy officers should also be prepared to work in adverse weather conditions from time to time.


Merchant Navy officers are usually recruited as part of a training scheme, which involves studying at a nautical college and gaining hands-on experience aboard a commercial vessel. During this process, trainees work towards the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) Certificate of Competency.

Some large shipping organisations also support trainees through the Merchant Navy Foundation Degree, which takes three years to complete and also leads to the MCA Officer of the Watch Certificate of Competency.

If you have a relevant degree or HND (higher national diploma), you may be exempt from certain stages of officer training. For instance, if you have a degree in mechanical, civil, electrical or marine engineering, you might be able to take advantage of a fast-track route to becoming an engineering officer.

By the same token, if you enter this line of work after working as deep sea fisherman or in the Royal Navy, you may also be able to skip certain aspects of the training required to become a Merchant Navy officer.

Another way to boost your employability is to demonstrate your interest in boats at a young age by joining the Sea Cadets or a local sailing club.

Finally, you will need a decent level of health and fitness, and strong eyesight if you want to become a deck officer.

Training & progression

Once you have completed your officer training and have obtained the MCA Certificate of Competency, the majority of your additional training will be done ‘on-the-job’.

As you progress in your career and gain more experience, however, you will be given the opportunity to complete further MCA qualifications, which will facilitate your progression into more senior roles.

It may also be advisable to become an accredited member of the Nautical Institute or the Institute of Marine, Engineering, Science and Technology. This will enhance your reputation and give you access to a range of additional training and networking opportunities.

From your position as a junior officer, you will progress into a chief mate or second engineer role. Eventually, you may even become the captain of a merchant ship or a chief engineer.

Many experienced officers choose to explore opportunities with shipping companies that are based abroad.

Some Merchant Navy officers eventually decide to explore opportunities in other areas of the shipping industry, such as logistics management, maritime law or naval architecture.

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