How to get a job in the Merchant Navy

Published on 09/12/2019 by DTHACK

Sailing the world, earning great money, meeting amazing people and eating fantastic food. Sounds like your ideal job? Check out this essential guide to a career at sea.

Life is never dull in the Merchant Navy.

Your job is to help get some of the world’s largest vessels from one port to the next, playing an important role in global trade.

Or you might be sailing a cruise ship and thousands of passengers to exotic destinations.

The one guarantee is that it's fast-paced. The rewards can be great. And career opportunities are literally everywhere.

A career in the Merchant Navy can quite literally show you the world.

But how do you get started?


A Merchant Navy career starts with thorough training - which is where Fleetwood Nautical Campus comes in. 

Fleetwood Nautical Campus offers a fantastic place to study, with experienced tutors showing you the ropes on our state-of-the-art facilities.

Our friendly and supportive team knows what it takes to be a great cadet - we've got more than 125 years' experience readying seafarers for careers at sea.

Your cadetship lasts a couple of years on land and vessel.

During that time you'll gain a good grounding in everything you need to get started with your career at sea.

Once you've finished your training you'll have considerable shipping experience, having already been part of a team helping to safely and efficiently transport people and goods across the world.

Once qualified your starting salary could be anything up to £34,000. Chief Officers and Second Engineers can earn up to around £55,000 a year and Masters (Captains) and Chief Engineers can earn up to £75,000 or more a year.

When you work at sea, no day is like another. But you'll always need your wits about you, and be ready to tackle any challenge that comes your way.


  • What's it like working at sea?
  • Is a career at sea for me?
  • Will I get homesick at sea?
  • What jobs are available in the Merchant Navy?
  • Which Merchant Navy role is right for me?
  • How old do I have to be?
  • Which qualifications do I need?
  • Sounds fantastic. How do I get started?

What’s it like working at sea?

Our Head of Maritime, Shajan Lukose, describes his career as 'exciting and adventurous, with lots of clean air and good food, a chance to see the world, meet people from all different cultures and backgrounds, enjoy good wages, much better-than-average annual leave, and to watch the sun rise and set every day!'

Life doesn't get better than that.

Is a career at sea right for me?

If you get on well with people, don’t mind working different shifts, and love putting your hand to pretty much anything, a Merchant Navy career could be ideal.

Will I get homesick at sea?

Everyone misses home to start with. But you’ll have plenty of people around who have been where you are as a new recruit, and will offer support when you need it.

The Merchant Navy is a tight-knit community of friendly, ambitious and determined professionals.

Put in the hours, commit yourself to achieve great things at sea, and you’ll have everything and everyone you need to succeed.

What jobs are available in the Merchant Navy?

When it comes to careers at sea, the Merchant Navy is split into three sections:

  • Deck
  • Engineering
  • Electro-Technical

Which Merchant Navy role is right for me?

Deck officers are responsible for navigation, communications, crew, cargo and overall running of the ship. A Deck Officer is a vital member of the ship’s management team – responsible for making decisions on navigation and communications. So it’s important to be a good team member, decisive, calm and someone who inspires confidence in others. You’ll be interested in technology and have good mathematical, written and verbal skills.

Engineering officers operate and maintain the machinery and support systems on a ship, both above and below deck. You would work with the engines, ventilation systems, navigation and communications equipment, and deck fittings such as cranes, hoists and landing craft. If you’re into science, you might find yourself best suited to a job in the engineering section. You’ll need to be practical, resourceful and have a real interest in mechanical and electrical systems. Good problemsolving ability is key, along with good maths and communication skills. You’ll be decisive, calm and able to inspire confidence in others.

Electro-technical officers (ETO) looks after all the highly advanced electronic and electrical equipment on board the ship. You would be responsible for maintenance and monitoring of all electrical equipment on board (ie engine rooms, communication devices, navigation aids like echo sounders, weather fax, radar system etc). The ETO also assists the Chief Officer in handling routine electrical works and also coordinates work with on-shore technicians.

How old do I have to be?

You can join the Merchant Navy from age 16 as an officer cadet or marine apprentice to train as a deck rating.

Your first step with Fleetwood Nautical Campus towards a career in the Merchant Navy is by applying for one of our Level 3 Diplomas in either Deck Shipping and Maritime Operations, or Engineering Shipping and Maritime Operations.

You can apply for these courses with or without a sponsoring shipping company.

If you're looking to start your career at sea a little later in life you can get up to speed with a sponsored foundation degree or HNC/HND with Fleetwood Nautical Campus. These courses usually include on-board practical training.

Which qualifications do I need?

At least four GCSEs (grades 4-9), or equivalent qualifications. These should include English, maths and physics (or combined science).

You must have good eyesight and be physically fit, as you will have to pass a medical before you can start training.

Sounds fantastic. How do I get started?

Fleetwood Nautical Campus has close relationships with all shipping companies across the UK and hosts careers days throughout the year when you can find out what they’re looking for in their future recruits.

As a school leaver, you have two choices of course depending on whether you want to get into the deck or engineering sections:

With Fleetwood Nautical Campus you can later prepare for your career as an electro-technical officer with a Marine Electrical and Electronics Engineering - Foundation Degree.

Where now?

Explore the College

International students

International students

Welcoming students from around the globe



Fleetwood is conveniently located in northwest England along the scenic Fylde coast



An ideal way to find out how you can develop or pursue your career



Find out how Fleetwood Nautical Campus is making waves

Fleetwood Graduation

Fleetwood Graduation

Celebrating our student success at our annual graduation ceremony

Halls of Residence

Halls of Residence

Our onsite accommodation during your time at FNC

Maritime and coastguard agency
Renewable uk
UK chamber of shipping
Mersey Maritime
Women in Maritime