Careers At Sea


How do I apply?

That depends on whether you’d like to become an  Officer or a Rating.

Once you’ve decided to embark on Officer training, you’ll need to choose a discipline. That could be Navigation (Deck), Engineering or Electro-technical. Then you should apply to a maritime  sponsoring company directly. Each has its own criteria, so be sure to research them. If you meet their initial requirements, they may invite you for an interview.

For Ratings, you can apply to do basic Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping, to work on board a vessel. Or you could opt for an apprenticeship. Decide which route suits before contacting a  shipping company directly.

When should I apply?

Whenever you’re ready. You can apply for an Officer Cadetship, or to become a Deck or Engine Room Rating at any time of year. Catering, Hospitality or Onboard Services roles need some relevant experience and qualifications beforehand.

There are two Officer intakes annually – the main is in September, but there’s a second in January. You don’t need to wait for your academic results before applying, because many maritime  sponsoring company recruit up to a year before training begins.

Some shipping companies offer Ratings apprenticeships. And you should apply directly to them. The following may have vacancies:

How long will I spend training?

Officer training varies by discipline and course type (e.g. HNC or degree). Navigation (Deck) Officer training takes between three and three-and-a-half years. While Engineering and Electro-technical Officer training is usually for three years. That involves around 12 months at sea in the deck department, or eight to nine months in the engineering division – with voyages lasting two to three months.

Ratings training depends on the shipping company. But it always involves sea time. Typically courses are between six and nine months. While apprenticeships take around two years.

What qualifications do I need?

Officer training involves a three-year course leading to the international regulatory seafarer certification (Officer of the Watch Certificate of Competency)and a Foundation Degree (FD), Professional Diploma in Scotland (SPD) – or an HNC/HND. To embark on the FD/SPD, you’ll need at least 48 UCAS points in A levels or Scottish Highers, plus good GCSE or Standard grades in English, Maths and Physics/Combined Science. For an HNC/HND, you should have GCSEs (A-C) or Scottish Standard Grades (levels 1-3) in English, Maths, a Science-based subject plus at least one other discipline. This will vary depending on the college and sponsor, so do some research before applying.

Ratings applicants need to demonstrate the potential to achieve the relevant qualifications. So GCSEs or Scottish Standards in at least English and Maths are expected.

Find out more about entry qualifications on this page

Do I have to meet academic requirements?

To enrol as an Officer Trainee, you will be expected to meet certain academic standards. That’s because Merchant Navy courses involve maths and science – so prior knowledge will stand you in good stead. Some sponsors may consider other qualifications or expertise. But you’d need to make a strong case in your letter of application.

To train as a Rating, there aren’t specific academic requirements. But you’ll need to show a sponsoring company you’ve got the potential to achieve their qualifications.

What if I don’t qualify for an Officer Trainee course?

Have a think about your options. You could re-take the exams. Or choose to train instead as a Rating. Bear in mind that, at the moment, there are just a few companies taking on a handful of Ratings candidates. They are:

Am I too old to join?

Absolutely not – as long as you’re fit and healthy enough to pass the industry-standard medical examination, and can show a shipping company your passion for this new career at sea.

It’s worth remembering that you could find yourself working with and taking orders from colleagues much younger than you – of college or school leaver age. And the wages may be different to what you’ve previously been used to.

What if I've already got a degree?

It’s unlikely your qualifications will be transferable – unless you’ve taken a Mechanical Engineering degree (or similar) and want to become an Engineering Officer. But your skills and knowledge will be useful. So mention them in your application.

I’m a newly qualified Officer – what’s next for me?

For information on securing your first role as an Officer, visit the Careers at Sea and Beyond  website.

Will I be accepted if I’m in the Royal Navy, a mechanical engineer or have similar expertise?

Your experience will certainly help. However, you’ll still need to arrange sponsorship from a shipping company to complete the training needed.

Start by letting the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) know what qualifications you have – including copies – and the role you’re keen to apply for. They’ll be able to let you know what’s transferable, and the qualifications and sea time you need to pick up. You should also ask them for a Letter of Initial Assessment (LIA) to support your application.

You can call the Seafarer Standards and Certification Branch of the MCA on 02380 329231. Or download the application for a LIA here.

What are the medical requirements?

Many maritime  sponsoring companies will arrange a medical – known as ENG1 – before making you an offer. For details of the examination, contact the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). If you’re considering taking the test before applying, they can also direct you towards approved doctors.

You can reach the MCA by calling 02380 329247 and asking for the Seafarer Standards and Certification Branch. Or read the medical certification guidance here.

Can I apply for Officer Training sponsorship if I’m from Europe?

If you’re an EU citizen ordinarily resident in this country, you can apply for sponsorship from UK companies. They’ll ask you to provide your UK address – somewhere you’ve lived for about a year. And you’ll need to have certain levels of English, Maths and Physics/Combined Science/Dual Science. For more details on academic requirements, have a look at the information under ‘What qualifications do i need’.

Can I apply if I'm not from Europe?

Officer training sponsorship is usually only available to EU citizens living in the UK. Why not investigate Merchant Navy training in your own country?