What is the Difference between Merchant Navy and Defence Navy?

Those who want to have a career at sea often have one question in mind – Merchant Navy or Navy? Though careers at both these fields have almost the same base, there are several differences that are to be known before choosing a career at sea.

Both merchant navy and navy have their pros and cons, but ultimately it’s the individual who has to decide according to his or her interest and inclination before choosing one.

In this article, we will try to explain the main differences between the merchant navy and navy and what can one expect from a career in each one of them. Let’s start from the basics!

Getting into the maritime workforce can be done in two ways – either through the naval services of the respective country or through merchant marine services. But while both are marine services, the differences between them are many and need to be clarified in order to decide a career path.

navy sailor

 Differences Between Merchant Navy &  Defence Navy

1. The Basic Difference

Merchant Navy, as the name suggests, is the term for commercial marine services. Such commercial activities include both shipping of cargo and people across various destinations in the world. In other words, it can also be said that merchant marine activities are not indigenous or native to any one country but are spread across nations, worldwide.

Merchant marine as it is known synonymously, however has to adhere to certain rules and regulations framed by governing bodies to ensure stability in the activities carried out. To sum it all Merchant navy is a purely commercial form of sea career and is governed by both private and governmental shipping companies.

Defence Navy, on the other hand, refers to nation’s maritime military wing. Naval ships are those which are used at times of international crises to protect the water boundaries of a nation from getting infiltrated or attacked unduly.

Every nation with a waterline has its own navy service with its code of rules and stipulations. Thus, a career in the defence navy would involve services for the respective country through duty on warships.

Both merchant navy and defence have deals with ships. While the first one is purely commercial, the second one involves careers of high respect and skills.

2.   Eligibility

 Both merchant navy and navy have their own set of eligibility criteria for entering the maritime services. Individuals interested in enrolling for a career in merchant marines need a basic high school certification in subjects like physics, chemistry and math. Alternatively, individuals interested in applying for higher hierarchical positions need to have a graduate certification in science.

The most important requirement of joining a country’s naval services is that the individual applying needs to be a citizen of that country. This factor forms the most important difference between the merchant navy and the navy in terms of eligibility criteria.

Most of the navies of the world have their own entrance and screening exams for choosing the right candidates. However, both merchant and defence navy have the same requirements as far as the fitness and medical condition of the person is concerned.

3.   Pay Scale

 This is one of the most talked-about topics among candidates planning a career at sea. In the merchant marines, the pay scales depend on the standards set by international institutions like the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).

The pay-scales are set as per the hierarchy of the jobs in merchant marines and each individual is entitled to receive the same.  The merchant marine is already famous for high salary packages and a glamorous life on ships.

By contrast in the navy, the pay scale depends on the position of an individual and his total work experience. The pay scale is set as per a nation’s laws and differs from country to country.

It is to be noted that though the salary of merchant navy officers is always a talk of the town, a career in the defence navy is something that comes with the highest level of respect and pride.

4.  Ranking structure

Both merchant marine and navy have their hierarchical systems. Jobs in the merchant navy can be in the technical department, pertaining to the deck zone or in the servicing area.

Individuals with the right aptitude and skill set can join any of the three specialised criteria.  Moreover, sometimes, the ranks of professionals also depend on the company and the type of ship. But the basic structure remains the same.

Sea jobs in the Navy, on the other hand, start at the lieutenant level – which is the lowest rung in terms of ranking. The rankings assigned to navy servicemen differ in each country, thus making them singular in their own right. Just like in the Merchant Navy, each rank in the Defence Navy comes with great responsibility and honour.

Jobs in the Navy and the merchant marine require a huge level of commitment and dedication on the part of individuals as both have extended service periods.

In the case of the former, the threat of infiltrators looms large while in the case of the latter, the requirement of commercialisation makes shorter trips impossible.

Despite their differences, however, the most common similarity between the two maritime services is that they offer high levels of satisfaction to the individuals engaged in the professions.

Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendation on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

The article or images cannot be reproduced, copied, shared or used in any form without the permission of the author and Marine Insight.

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About Author

Raunek Kantharia is a marine engineer turned maritime writer and entrepreneur. After a brief stint at the sea, he founded Marine Insight in 2010. Apart from managing Marine Insight, he also writes for a number of maritime magazines and websites.

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  1. Merchant sailors & officer as well as navy people on ships have specific skills that make the difference. From the begining the future target is also a big difference for young people: salary and patriot feeling should be an item to think.

  2. I am 12 passed but now I want to make career in psychology so is there any chance for me after my degree..

  3. Respected Sir….. At Present I am studying in Class 11 and i had taken subjects PCM and i am intrusted in joining Indian Navy Or Merchent Navy……. I please request you to Instruct me…… You Can Also contact me …. No. 7073813371

  4. there is a few different department in merchant navy that i know, viz, deck department(different position known as mates or officer OR master or captain) , engine department(engine cadet, 5th engineer , 4th engineer , 3rd engineer 2nd engineer AND 1st engineer or chief engineer), maintenance department(both deck & engine; for deck known as ordinary seamen(OS), able bodied seamen(AB) & bosun & for engine department : oiler, wiper and may be more) , cooking department(2nd cook & chief cook) & electrical department(electrical cadet & elecky) .AND MIGHT BE MORE.

  5. Hello, sir
    Please you people should do something about this Merchant Navy because is like they don’t have say in this our country and not recognize, please you people should do something about it, must guys , after finishing there education, they go out of the country looking for job and respect because we don’t value them pleeeeeeeeeeeease

  6. I want to know for certificate of competency ranks/Course (Engineering) Naval forces sea service is counts or not ? if count what is the regulation/Instruction ?

  7. @Md. Mahabubul: If I understand correctly, you meant if a person serving sea time in defense navy will be counted for merchant navy? In India, The sea time will be counted if performed on foreign going trading vessels or coastal trading vessels of 3000 GT and above engaged on voyages of 500 miles or more.

  8. The website looks very sketchy with no “About us” or “Team” details. My honest opinion – Avoid it.

  9. This is a really good summary, thank you. I don’t know a lot about any of this and I am having trouble deciding between the two. I suppose one question that I have that I’m very curious to know is whether there’s a path to join the U.S. Navy if you go into Merchant Marines (for Americans). If you have any knowledge about this it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  10. hello sir. Today i got an appointment letter from seafarer satisfaction shipping services for pre -sea training of Deck department in merchant navy in india.Is it genuine?

  11. Respected sir at present i m studing in bsc who can i join marchant navy or indian navy plz i need your help i m totally confused

  12. @Pranjul: Defense Navy and Merchant Navy are two different streams having their own eligibility requirements.

  13. HELLO,NIGERIANS…..i am COMMANDO GBENGA ADE, from the nigeria navy,if you know you Wrote the Nigeria Navy Exam and you want to be among the successful candidate that will be shortlisted this season, and assistance to secure your application details.i have that power and influence to do it for you.

  14. I am merchant Navy cadet study COXWAINE also am done with my mandatory course (STCW )…. with my IT letter attached to it,sir I want to know if I can go onboard for my IT as it is compulsory…

  15. Good day sir, Am currently undergoing my Post graduate studies on Maritime Security and Technology.
    I actually have a B.A hons in Philosophy. Please what other courses can i do or what can i do in order to engage in it. i hope to know

  16. Merchant navy personals are mostly at sea and with out any ARMS even in piracy area and can fight with pirates and terrorist with out any ammunition.
    In merchant any nationality can join and shipping company, but mostly national companies only allow their nationals to work, but in some cases they allow expatriates also.
    While naval forces personals go to sea for practice or to fight with enemy and always equipped with most modern arms and ammunition.
    In navy mostly only nationals are allowed for top secrecy purpose

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