The Merchant Navy is a non-combatant commercial fleet, which deals with transporting cargo and occasionally, passengers, by sea. Its fleet is therefore composed of passenger vessels, cargo liners, tankers, carriers, as well as other special types of vehicles. A career in this field is full of adventure and long voyages to exotic places. Above all this, the excellent pay and promising promotional opportunities make the career lucrative and exciting in spite of all the hard work life and long absence from family and home.
The main positions open in the merchant navy are for navigating officers, radio officers and marine engineers. They are usually employed by shipping companies on a contractual basis, which is generally of six to nine months' duration. Earlier a career in this field was considered purely for men. Women were not generally known to take up jobs in merchant navy but the past few years have seen a positive change with many women taking up jobs as ship doctors and radio officers.
In Merchant Navy, major tasks performed are in three basic areas of a ship. The Deck, the Engine and the Service Department. There are thus, many career options that are available for any youngster who has dreams to join the merchant navy. The deck officers include the captain, chief officer, second officer, third officer and other junior officers. The engine department consists of the chief engineer, radio officer, electrical officer and junior engineers. The service department manages the kitchen, laundry, medical and other services. Jobs are available with shipping companies in India and other countries.
Prominent institutes conducting courses in this field are TS Chanakya, Mumbai and Marine Engineering Research Institute (MERI), in Kolkata and Mumbai.
Educational qualification: The minimum eligibility for courses in Nautical science and Marine engineering is 10+2 or an equivalent examination with physics, chemistry and mathematics. He should also pass a medical fitness test for sea service under standard norms and with eyesight 6/6 with no colour blindness.
Candidates wishing to enter the navigational and engineering fields of Merchant Navy need to complete a Bachelors degree in Nautical Science or Marine engineering, before they can gain admission to the field.
Selection: Candidates are selected for the B.Sc. Nautical Science degree of TS Chanakya, Mumbai; and the four-year Marine Engineering degree course at Marine Engineering Research Institute, in Calcutta and Mumbai, known as DMET, through the Joint Entrance Examination conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), which assesses the candidate’s knowledge of physics, chemistry and mathematics. The examination is followed by personal interviews/counseling, where the interviewers assess the degree of alertness, and awareness of the external environment, in the candidates and their suitability for a career in the Merchant Navy.
The entry level for a fresh Marine Engineer (ME) is at the rank of fifth engineer or junior engineer and a Nautical Science graduate is as a Deck Cadet. Promotions depend on further examinations conducted by the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS), the quality of experience and personal merit. On successfully completing these examinations the candidate receives the 'Certificates of Competency' needed for promotion to the respective classes. This examination is conducted by the Ministry of Surface Transport, in association with the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) Mumbai, for determining the promotion prospects for the officers.
Direct entry to Merchant Navy is also possible - students who have completed their 12th with PCM (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics) are eligible to join as Deck Cadets and a student holding a bachelor's degree in Mechanical/ Electrical/ Technology Engineering could also join the Merchant navy as a Engine Cadet/ Fifth Engineer/ Junior Engineer. Direct entry Deck Cadets are required to undergo basic pre-sea training arranged by the recruiting company itself and the direct entry Engineering cadets are preferred to do a Pre-sea course of 9 months duration in Marine Engineering conducted by the MERI.
Personal attributes: A career in the merchant navy requires people with strong inner self and tough physical form, along with a sporting, adaptive and adjustable attitude. Willing to take on responsibility, love for adventure and challenges; have the urge to strive for higher positions; be able to work as well as study for examinations in between. Candidates need to be intelligent, intuitive, willing to work as a team, flexible, patient; have a liking for solitude, willing to live apart from loves ones for long stretches of time. Those opting for a career should not be sea sick.
Engineers need to be resourceful and practical; skilled at Maths and Physics; have in-depth knowledge about the workings of the different machines. Manual dexterity is a must; one should be willing to learn new ways and work with modern technology; and able to work in the deck department as well if need arises.
Merchant Navy is the backbone of international trade, carrying cargo across the globe. Without the merchant navy, much of the import-export business would grind to a halt. Therefore trained personnel is required for various departments of the ship and this widens the scope for employment in this field.
They are offered jobs in the following major areas :
The Deck Officers: Deck officer or navigation officer as the name suggests is in charge of the navigation of the ship. That particular department is called Deck department. The captain or the master of the ship is in charge of the ship. He is not only responsible for the safe navigation of the vessel but also for the discipline on the ship and safety of passengers, crew and the cargo. He must ensure the observance of national and international codes of conduct guiding sea transportation. The captain of the ship is further assisted by first mate, second mate and third mates. The First Mate / Chief officer is the right-hand man to the Captain; the second in-command. He overseers all the cargo planning, assists during navigation, allocates duties and work for the maintenance and upkeep of the ship to the Deck Cadets and deck crew, ensures that discipline and order are maintained. The Second Mate / Second officer, assistant to the First Mate is in-charge of checking all mails and keeping the navigational equipment and charts in good condition and also assists in navigational watches at sea and cargo watches at port. The Third Mate / Third officer is responsible for keeping safety equipments -the lifeboats, firefighting and signaling equipment in top condition; acts in the capacity of signal officer and assists with cargo work.
The deck department also has other staff with specific duties called 'ratings'. They act as look outs and helmsmen, assist with the securing of the ship as it docks at ports and help clean tanks and holds before the cargo is placed in them.
Marine Engineers: Marine Engineers have the complete responsibility of the ship's engine room. The main personnel in this department is the Ship engineer/chief engineer who ensures safe and economic running of all engines, boilers, electrical, refrigerating and sanitary equipment, deck machinery and steam connections aboard the ship. He supervises the work of the engine-room crew and is assisted in his duties by the Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Engineers and other junior personnel.
Second engineer looks after the day to day work in the engine room. Third engineer is in charge of the main engine, spare parts for the main engine, all purifiers, boilers, compressors etc. Fourth and fifth engineers are in charge of the numerous generators onboard ship as well as certain small pumps.
Besides the officers of the navigation and engineering teams most ships have a Radio Officer and an Electrical officer. The Radio Officer is in charge of the radio room and handles the operation of the wireless and transmitting of signals. Electrical Officer is responsible for the functioning and handling of all electrical equipment onboard the vessel. There is another one named seaconny, who ensures that the ship is on course and that the gangway at port is well-guarded.
The work undertaken here revolves around the living and catering services for all the crew on board. A chief steward heads a large team of stewards, bakers, messmen etc. Apart from this, the department also has other services such as the services of Divers for underwater examination of the heel of the ship, propellers, pipes etc. Light Keepers, who operate light house signaling equipment to guide incoming and passing ships, and Nautical surveyors, who prepare charts of particular regions of the seas, with regard to topography and conditions of the sea.
The starting salary varies between Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 a month. A person gets a variety of benefits such as free food, accommodation, paid leave, two-way free passage and facilities for families. In other words, the salary can be saved totally while one is on ship. The perquisites include bonus, holiday travel and other annual benefits. Foreign companies pay higher, and a starting salary of $ 1,500 to $ 2,500 can be expected.