How Container Ships Work
How to Work on a Container Ship
Container ships play a vital role in global commerce, helping companies move cargo on major waterways throughout the world. The continuing expansion of international trade is putting increased demand on the global container fleet and its seamen. Many jobs aboard container vessels are physically demanding and require personnel to remain at sea for extended periods of time, but entry-level merchant mariners are well-paid, have ample opportunity for advancement, and have the opportunity to travel to major cities throughout the world.
Preparing Yourself for a Job
Be physically fit.Jobs on container ships are extremely physically demanding, so you must be prepared to be on your feet for long hours, lift and carry heavy items, and perform various other physical tasks, depending on the kind of job you accept.
Be prepared to be at sea for an extended period of time.In addition to being physically strong, you should be mentally prepared to work long hours, spend most of your time in confined quarters with the other crew members, and be away from your family for weeks or even months at a time.
- You may end up at sea for longer than expected if there is bad weather, a mechanical problem, or even a strike at one of your ports.
Get a passport.A job on a container ship will likely require you to travel all over the world. It's best to have your passport well in advance of your job search so you don't have to worry about it.
Understand the roles on the ship.Most jobs on a container ship fall into three departments: the engine room, the deck, and the galley. Crewmen in the engine department are responsible for repairing and maintaining all mechanical and electrical components of the ship. Crewmen on the deck are responsible for navigation, security, and maintenance, depending on their rank. Crewmen in the galley are responsible for preparing and serving meals and cleaning.
- If you have experience as a cook, engineer, mechanic, firefighter, nurse, or doctor, you may be able to transition into the maritime industry without first performing entry-level jobs.
Decide which entry-level job is right for you.If you don't have any experience working at sea or any special training, you will need to start your career in an entry-level position. All of these positions offer the opportunity to advance to higher level positions once you have the appropriate level of experience. Some of the most common entry-level container-ship jobs include:
- Ordinary seaman (OS): This is an entry-level deck job. An OS will learn fundamental seamanship during a specified training period. Ordinary seamen will grease lashing gear, chip rust, and paint fixtures. As they gain experience, new deckhands are given additional responsibilities. Eventually, an OS can expect to be designated as an Able Bodied Seaman, or AB. AB duties include lookout watches, handling tow lines, and making security rounds.
- Wiper: New engine room personnel start as wipers and perform a wide range of functions, including basic maintenance, cleaning, and inventory. A wiper usually moves into a position as a qualified man of the engine department, or QMED. QMEDs perform a range of functions, including maintaining and repairing the engine and auxiliary-power systems.
- Steward utility: New galley hands start their maritime careers in utility roles, which include dish washing, laundry, and housekeeping. These crewmen often later become stewards, which involves helping with meal preparation and supervising other galley personnel.
Getting the Proper Credentials
Apply for a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC).The first step towards attaining the credentials that you will need to work on a U.S. container ship is to apply for a TWIC, which is issued by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). You must submit an online application and then visit a TSA office to present identification and immigration documents, get fingerprinted, and have your picture taken.
- You will have to pay a fee of 8 when you submit your application. Discounts are available for individuals with a hazardous materials endorsement on their license or with a Free and Secure Trade card.
- You will not be granted a TWIC if you have been convicted of certain crimes, including espionage, treason, terrorism, and murder.
Obtain a Merchant Mariner's Credential (MMC).Everyone working on a U.S. container ship must receive an MMC, which is issued by the U.S. Coast Guard. The MMC is a photo ID that lists a crewman's qualifications, grade, and endorsements, which will dictate what kind of jobs you are allowed to hold on a container ship. Depending on the endorsements you apply for, you will have to pay a fee of -0 for your MMC. To apply for a Merchant Mariner's Credential, you must do the following:
- Submit proof of U.S. citizenship, permanent resident status, or foreign citizenship. Foreign citizens are only granted MMCs by the United States Coast Guard if they are enrolled in the United States Merchant Marine Academy.
- Be at least 16 (with parental consent for minors).
- Pass a background check. If you have a criminal record, the Coast Guard will consider your eligibility on a case-by-case basis.
- Either currently hold or be in the process of applying for a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC).
- Pass a physical exam. Requirements are different for entry-level and qualified individuals, so make sure you submit the appropriate form.
- Pass a drug test.
- Submit proof of previous experience at sea and successful completion of the appropriate examinations for your desired endorsement and grade. This is not necessary for entry-level endorsements.
Earn your STCW credentials.A certificate in Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) will allow you to work on vessels that operate in the oceans worldwide. If you have an MMC but not your STCW credentials, you will only be permitted to work on inland waters in the United States or in the Gulf of Mexico within 12 miles of the shore.
- Entry-level crewmen must complete a five-day Basic Safety Training class that covers basic firefighting techniques, survival skills. basic first aid, and personal safety and social responsibilities. Higher level positions will require additional training.
- The cost of the complete five-day program is 25 at New England Maritime, but the cost may be different at other institutions.
Consider a bachelor's degree.If you would like to start working in a higher level position, consider attending a four-year maritime academy. When you graduate, you will hold a bachelor's degree and a license to serve as a Third Mate or Third Assistant Engineer.
Getting a Job
Do an apprenticeship.There are apprenticeship programs available for individuals who want to work their way up from entry-level positions to qualified positions quickly. This is a great option if you are hard-working and career-driven, but have no experience working at sea.
- Check Seafarer's International Union and Workboat Academy for opportunities. You may be able to find other organizations that offer apprenticeship programs as well.
Join a union.Once you have the proper credentials, you might want to consider joining one of the many shipping unions in the United States. Your union can help you with job placement, and can also be a great way to network with other people in your industry.
- You do not need to be a member of a union to get a job on a container ship. If you encounter long waiting lists, you may be better off looking for a non-union job.
Apply with shipping companies.If you decide not to do an apprenticeship or join a union, look for your first job on a container ship by searching through online job boards and classified ads. Apply for positions by submitting a resume that outlines your skills and experience, as well as a cover letter that explains why you would be a good fit for the job.
- With a quick online search you will find a variety of job boards that are devoted to maritime positions.Also check major job boards like Monster and CareerBuilder.
- You should also visit the websites of all of the shipping companies you can think of. They may have job openings posted on their websites that you did not see on job boards.
Try asking around.If you are in a busy port city, you might be able to find a job simply by visiting the ports and asking captains if they have any job openings. Have your credentials with you in case one of them says yes.
Work your way up.Once you have a job on a container ship, you will need to decide if you want to advance in your maritime career. If you enjoy the work and would like increased responsibilities, you will need to gain experience and fulfill the necessary requirements to obtain additional licenses and endorsements to your credentials.
- The precise requirements for licensing and endorsement will depend on the kind of job you want to hold. Check with the U.S. Coast Guard to find out what examinations and other requirements you will have to fulfill in order to meet your career goals.
QuestionWhat is the age restriction to work on a container ship?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt depends on your country. For most it is age 18, but you may be able to apply earlier with parental consent or by obtaining a special court order granting permission.Thanks!
QuestionCan they see if you have juvenile record?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThese days nothing is secret, everything is in a database. While they may not be able to see the exact crime a person was charged with, they will know of the arrest and conviction for a crime was recorded with a simple search.Thanks!
Is there requirements for height and weight to be seaman?
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- New deckhands who complete apprenticeship programs often become ABs or QMEDs within a year.
- Fill out all of your applications carefully. An incomplete application will cause delays in your approval for your STCW or MMC.
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