Life Onboard a Merchant Vessel

Living and working conditions, experiences, requirements, particularities and opportunities for people working onboard a merchant vessels.

Life Onboard a Merchant Vessel
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The life aboard a merchant ship is really a unique and unforgettable experience, very difficult to compare to a land job.

Few jobs offer the chance to see so many places in the world, exotic views and meet so many people from so different countries. Obviously, after such experience, you´ll become a well-rounded and worldly person, and get a better understanding about global problems, people from around the world and their culture and way of life.

Nevertheless, it must be considered that this activity connotes some problems and difficulties, to which applicants must pay attention, and requires doubtless a genuine interest.

In this way, if one gets sea-sick on board, a career in the merchant navy wouldn´t be a good option. Applicants have to be calm and composed persons and not disposed to panic in the case of engine failure, adverse climatological conditions or even severe storms. Likewise, working days are very extensive (8-14 hours a day and 7 days a week) and shifts can be irregular. Finally, this sort of job means long periods in extreme confinement and away from home, friends and relationships.

These conditions can be really stressing.

In order to prevent possible doubts and uncertainties, we are going to expose some essential aspects of the life on board.

Day-to-Day Routine on a Merchant Vessel

First of all, living and working onboard a merchant vessel presents a series of particularities that must to be taken into account by any person interested in this labour sector.

The Cabins of the Crew

These cabins are usually small. The beds are bunk style. The sheets, blankets and pillow are provided by the shipping company, although the crew are responsible for the care, cleanness and proper maintenance of the cabins, and they must keep it in due order as well. The authorities of the ship regularly inspect the cabins to check them and make sure of the respect for the rules.

Privacy limitation is commonplace. There are posts that allow to have a private cabin, new employees who are heading into an entry-level position must share a cabin with somebody. On some ships, you´ll enjoy a cabin with a bathroom inside; but on other ones you´ll have to content with communal bathrooms, shared by several members of the crew.

The human relationships between the roommates are an important issue. The small places increase possible personal differences. The successful operation of the ship depends on cooperation of all the members of the crew. The possible individual differences require changes in the lifestyles and a high team spirit. Issues such as order and cleanness, being smoker or non-smoker, nightlife, etc, must be solved friendly.

Only if this system fails, the persons involved have to go to the officer in charge.

The confrontations and grudges must be avoided.

Chances are you won´t be spending too much time in your cabin. Just the time to sleep. And, finally, after some time working aboard, you could be promoted and get your own cabin.

International Working Environment

The personnel come from dozens of countries around the world, so it is necessary for them to speak some English.

Possible Expenses

Except for the money you could expend when you go ashore, everything is free.


They are not tolerated on the ship. Any drug will be confiscated and the crewmember who was using it will be discharged, disembarked and surrendered to the local police authorities.

Time Off

During the time off, the members of the crew can go ashore, if the ship is on port.

Safety and General Emergency Training and Drills

Due to government and fleet regulations, crewmembers are expected to take part in constant safety and general emergency drills.

Communcations with Land

On a ship, almost everything is free. But, there are certain aspects that may be complicated and quite different from anything you have known on land.

Communications are more expensive, save traditional mail, which is very easy.

Other systems, such as telephone, fax or telex, are more expensive than on land.

Electronic mail is not always available for the crewmembers.

Personal Aspects of Working on Board

The correct operation of the ship demands a perfect coordination of all the crewmembers. Everybody must know each other and cooperate to solve any personal problems. And it is a responsibility that belongs to each member of the company, because the proper maintenance of personal relationship is as important as the maintenance of the vessel. The companionship and the team spirit must be a priority for everybody on board.

Access to the Vessel

Before embarking as a crewmember onboard a cruise ship, there are a series of requirements and economic costs to be considered.

Documentation Needed to Work On Board a Merchant Vessel

Depending on the shipping company and the country the employee lives in. In case the person should work on a ship operating around USA or Canada, it is necessary a VISA (except American and Canadian citizens), which can be obtained in any American Consulate. It is recommended to make it after the shipping company has sent you the contract.

Any other place around the world will depend on the local legal system.

Passport is needed and it is recommended that you bring a birth certificate.

Possible Expenses

Depending on the company and the contract, the air ticket may be paid for by the shipping company or the employment agency, but usually it is not that way and the new employee is demanded to pay these expenses.

Functional Structure in a Vessel

Absolute order and discipline must preside over the life and work on a ship, if the safety, which is indispensable in this kind of business, and the proper comfort are to be guaranteed.

There is a ranking presided over by the Captain or Master of the ship who is the supreme authority. Everybody must fulfil all of his orders and instructions.

The new employees will be well informed about it during their training period so as to get familiar with the different ranks of the officers, such as deck officers, engine officers, etc.

Most In-Demand Jobs On Board Merchant Vessels

There is a large diversity of positions and jobs to be filled aboard merchant vessels.

We would like to offer you a listing of the most in-demand positions in this segment of the maritime sector.

Job and Career Advice

Leaving aside professional maritime personnel, working in the merchant marine may offer a unique opportunity to develop more professionalism and skills than in a land-based position.

Job and Career Advice

Please do not hesitate to contact us.


In any case, we would like to offer our contact section to anybody interested in obtaining information about any aspect related to available positions and their requirements to work aboard merchant vessels.

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Life Onboard a Merchant Vessel