A report states that the most common reason behind seafarers quitting very early in their careers is the lack of knowledge they have about seafaring before joining merchant navy
At Marine Insight, we receive a dozens of emails everyday from aspiring seafarers who have big dreams of shipping careers but lack basic understanding of the life at sea and the job requirements of a maritime professional.
But we cannot blame them!
The commercialisation of maritime academies and training institutes, who entice these aspirants with fake advertisements/ claims, promising 100% placements and thousands of dollars as salary, are to be blamed.
In the materialistic world we live in, it is very easy for a young aspirant candidate to fall for such misleading advertisements.
When we ask students, who are about to join merchant navy, their main motive behind taking up this career, we only get answers such as below:
“Because I want to wear smart uniforms and travel the world”
“Merchant mariners get a lot of respect and so I want to take up this career”
“I want me and my family to travel around the world”
“I want to become rich quickly”
“I want to earn loads of money without having a 9-to-5 lifestyle”
Though it’s great to see young professionals aiming high and aspiring big, it is disappointing to find that not a single one know about the realities of the profession or the kind of life they are getting into.
To add more to this dilemma, most of them have wrong notions and half knowledge about the colleges and companies they are about to join.
Considering the most common questions that are asked to us about merchant navy careers, we have listed down famous myths and misinformation that is prominent among those who are looking forward to a career in the merchant navy.
1. Sailing is a Permanent Job
Most of the shipping companies, to be more precise approximately 70% of them manage their ships on contract basis. Even the rest 30% of the companies do not have any clause on permanent employment in their contracts; rather they man ships on round-the-year contracts.
Under fixed contracts, you go on ships after signing a contract for “X” months (Depending on the company policy). Once the “X” term period is over, the company is not liable to provide you with another job/contract. You only get paid for “X” period of work and you might be required to look for a new company once your contract is over.
In round the year contract, company will provide you job for “X” months ON and “Y” months OFF. This means that you serve for “X” months on any of the company’s ship followed by “Y” months of leave. You will get paid during both “X” and “Y” periods; though the salary will usually be less than what is offered in fixed contracts. Technically, almost all shipping companies give more or less the same salary, irrespective of the type of the contract, by distributing the same amount of money over On and OFF periods.
Fact: Sailing for companies is not a permanent job – The job is either in fixed contracts or round-the-year basis.
2. As “Advertisement” says, I Will Earn $10000 in Only Few Months
Everyone of us has seen advertisements of maritime academies exaggerating the amount of money seafarers earn at sea. In the past couple of years, merchant navy has gone through a drastic change in areas from examination structure to internal company promotions. All reputed shipping companies now have “Promotion Matrix” which requires minimum time of sailing for next promotion. Today, even the STCW examinations have become difficult to clear. To earn the highest salary, you would have to be in the top most position and for that it would need at least 7-10 years.
Moreover, the type of salary one earns greatly depends on the company and type of ships he/she is working on. Just like in any other field, in merchant navy as well every professional has to gain experience and rise in ranks in order to become eligible to earn a handsome salary. If you think you would earn thousands of dollars as soon as you start sailing, then you are highly mistaken.
Fact: You do not get big money in initial years; it will take at least 3-4 years to reach good salary package, and 7-10 years to reach the top management and draw the highest salary.
3. They say 100% Placement, I Will Surely Get the Job
The fact is, in today’s shipping industry, only few shipping companies, who also manage a ship management firm, can be relied upon. A private or even a government institute claiming 100% placement actually means that they will provide “100% placement assistance” on successful completion of the course. A lot can be figured out on the basis of the acute dearth of job opportunities in the shipping sector. Please don’t be fooled by “100% placement” advertisements, act wise and do your research before joining such institutes.
Fact: Most of the institutes are struggling to provide good placements due to less demand of maritime professionals, especially at the starting level.
4. I Will Get Salary Even When I’m On Leave
Not all company provide such facilities. As said in the first point, approximately 70% of the companies opt for fixed contract periods. This means that once you are OFF contract, you will not be getting any salary. The rest 30 % of the shipping companies, who do provide such facilities, will pay you the wages as per round-the- year contract terms, i.e. if the contract says 4 months ON and 2 months OFF, you will get only 2 months to enjoy the paid leave. In such cases, the companies have full command on your holiday period.
Fact: You don’t get any salary once you are on leave after completing your contract. If you are on round -the-year wages, you will get salary during leave only for specific period.
5. I Am Sponsored, I Do Not Pay My Fees
This is one of the most misused terms. Actually, the term “sponsored” is very differently used in the shipping industry. “Sponsored” does not always mean that the full tuition fees of a course is taken care of by the college. Instead most mean that they will sponsor a place for you on a ship to complete your initial training onboard ships which makes you eligible to sit for exams and get promotion. Before you take up such opportunity, please ensure that you read the terms and conditions of the company/institute properly.
Fact: Most of the times, you get a sponsored seat on a ship as a trainee and not a sponsored course with fees waiver.
6. I Can Take My Family on Board Ships Once I Become An Officer
No and Yes – No, you cannot take your entire family on ship immediately after you join as an officer. You can only take your immediate family onboard and that too only after sailing at a management rank with a shipping company. Though few companies allows operational level officers to bring their immediate family onboard once they complete a good amount of time with them, such privileges are diminishing as every company today is looking for cost cutting.
Fact: You can only take immediate family once you are at management position or sailed for comfortable period of time with a particular company at operational level.
7. I Wear Spectacles, I Cannot Join
You can join merchant navy with specs provided you meet the following requirement: 6/6 vision in both eyes (with visual aids); no colour-blindness for Nautical Officer’s and for Engineering Officers use of corrective lenses permitted but the maximum permissible limits at entry are 6/12 in each eye or 6/9 in the better eye and 6/18 in the other eye, for Distant Unaided Vision. It will be an individual’s decision to do whatever is required to meet the requirements and as long as one meets the above requirement, he/she will be eligible for joining the Merchant Navy. (The rules may vary across different countries)
*Color blindness of any type is not eligible for merchant navy
Fact: You can join merchant navy even if you wear specs. ( T & C Applied)
8. Plenty of Shore Jobs Are Available, I Can Shift to Land Anytime
Most of the shore opportunities in shipping companies will require managerial experience of at least 2nd engineer/ chief officer rank. To become one of these an average person will take at least 7-10 years. There are not many opportunities on shore for seafarers who want to make a shift early in their careers. If you are doing marine engineering or nautical science to get a job on shore, it’s not a very good idea.
It’s always advisable to shift to shore job, after taking decent managerial experience, to get a decent salary package (Of course, not as good as what you get at sea). Additional qualification such as MBA and advanced courses are always helpful for better salary and higher options.
Fact: It is not easy to get a decent job on land at start of a merchant navy career.
This is not an exhaustive list of questions that are asked to by aspiring merchant navy candidates, but these are some of the most misleading myths that needs to be cleared up before a person is planning is join merchant navy.
Do you any other famous myths that young students joining merchant navy have? Let’s know in the comments below.
Note: Please do note that the employment opportunities, company policies and market condition would differ from country to country. The aim of this article, by no means, is to discourage young aspirants from joining merchant navy but to make them aware of the realities of a career at sea.
An ardent sailor and a techie, Anish Wankhede has voyaged on a number of ships as a marine engineer officer. He loves multitasking, networking, and troubleshooting. He is the one behind the unique creativity and aesthetics at Marine Insight.