10 Reasons Competency Exams For Seafarers Are More Stressful Than Ever

Appearing for seafarers’ competency exams is a tough span of time. There’s barely any money to be made, the seafarer is constantly under vigilance for performance appraisals, and there’s the looming tension of clearing the exams to advance further in rank.

For cadets, it is the most rewarding phase of the sea career. One gets to learn to the maximum, there’s no aspect of responsibility and mistakes can be afforded, for the cadet is only a trainee of sorts. It is when the advance to a higher position is made that a reality check comes into play! It’s no longer as easy as it seemed to be. Realization comes through that the money being earned isn’t coming as easy as one imagined. The first phase of that realization starts while appearing for the exams (MMD/MCA etc).

Photograph by Amit Singh

With burgeoning laws and regulations, exams have become more stressful than ever. Learning on the job is a concept that is long gone and an officer in the making has to deal with a lot more than just his exams. Following are some of the reasons seafarers’ competitive exams have become more stressful than ever:

1. New Maritime Laws/Regulations/Conventions: We all know that the merchant navy is far from the romanticised profession it once was. There’s a law for everything that is to be adhered to at any cost. Being an officer in the making, or an officer who is furthering his rank onboard, it is imperative to be thorough with every new law or regulation that crops up, adding to the already massive syllabus that is there to be studied. As the ticket/license issued to the officer is not ship-type specific but issued as a whole, one must know it all. That is an academic stress that officers have to deal with while appearing or preparing for their competitive exams.

2. Finding Right Books/Publications: The competitive exams need thorough preparations that require a lot of books (online or hard copy) for preparations. Books from authors across the world don’t come cheap and more than that, they’re not easily accessible. Finding the right material to study from poses a great deal of stress. On top of that, publications are constantly updated and it is important to find the right edition to remain updated with the latest information.

3. Checking Authority Website: While in the process of studying, the officer has to constantly check the regulatory authority’s website for the latest news and articles by the same. Constant changes in the examinations system, dates, available appointments etc. change from time to time and that affects the flow of preparation as well.

4. Dealing Financial Constraints: Not all shipping companies pay throughout the year. In fact, the majority of them pay for the time spent onboard. Granted, there are leave wages that cover for time spent ashore. However, we all know that counts for next to nothing. Having spent a considerable time on shore without a steady income, the bank balance starts to dwindle and financial constraints start kicking in causing the officer a great of stress automatically. The money earned onboard is spent not just on courses but also on their daily upkeep, family expenses etc. Over time spent on shore, the financial aspect starts to pose a big headache and take a toll on the mental peace of the seafarer.


5. Taking Courses: Courses are a necessary but indeed, a massive stress to be dealt with. GMDSS, ROC/ARPA, STCW courses, especially in India, the courses to be done prior to applying for a COC take up a lot of time and money. Finding available slots at a good price is cumbersome since there are so many candidates vying for the same. The required courses to be done are also time consuming leaving a shorter time frame to obtain the license to go back to sea with a higher qualification. However, they’re necessary and there’s nothing that can be done about it otherwise.

6. Pressure to Go Back Onboard: There’s a limited time until which one can enjoy his time on shore. With no income at shore in most cases, it becomes very stressful to continue staying on shore (mostly at home) while waiting for the ticket to come through. Personally, this gives rise to a feeling that is completely undesirable thereby automatically mounting pressure on oneself to get back at sea the earliest.

7. Time Constraint: It is often said that time is money. A seafarer knows that better than anyone else! The waiting period to get back onboard has gradually become very long, leaving him with no option but to wait. First, there is the aspect of waiting for the results of the examination to come through. Coupled with that, after the results are released, is the mounting tension to go to sea and earn a living. The necessities of life don’t come cheap nowadays and time is of essence. The constant waiting is quite stressful for each and every sailor.

Photograph by Jose Jacob

8. Cannot Attend Lateral Interests: The vast syllabus of study leaves no personal time for an individual to pursue his other interests and that can be quite frustrating. Someone interested in appearing for GMAT/GRE/CAT/UPSC has but a Hobson’s choice. He can either quit preparing for his tickets and concentrate on further studies full time or he has to focus his entire attention to his preparations for the merchant navy. There’s no room for a parallel show owing to the enormous workload with regard to the examination preparations.

9. Documentation And Government Bodies: Although the MMD as well as the MCA have made the process of exams rather smooth and efficient, there is always the process of running around to gather information from the right people. Photocopies of documents, verification from authorised bodies, stamps and signatures etc. make the task of visiting the authorities rather cumbersome. Combine that with the arduous queues and irregular timings and you have yourself a right disaster!

10. Touts: Not that it is of any concern, but there are touts that constantly try to take your money by giving random, unnecessary ideas with regard to the exams. They pursue and irritate and make irrational offers to the point that it become annoying and kills the zeal to even deal with anyone altogether. These touts are best left alone, either by ignoring them or with stern warnings.

All in all, examinations might be stressful but they’re mandatory. There is no way to advance in the merchant navy but to gulp now all the loopholes and the hurdles to do ones best to achieve that ticket to a higher rank and a higher pay. Although it might seem easy to just quit, a seafarer’s sole task should be to continue to strive to earn that extra mark on the epaulette.

Over to you…

Let’s you what you find the most stressing part of appearing for competency exams?

Disclaimer: The views mentioned above are of the author only. 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

Shilavadra Bhattacharjee is a shipbroker with a background in commercial operations after having sailed onboard as a Third Officer. His interests primarily lie in the energy sector, books and travelling.

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  1. This article related to every officers onboard what’s new, everyone knows’ the fact what’s new,while reading I recognized that it’s from brother from deck. Article need solutions also.

  2. This is quite educating, I believe with this seamen will always prepare their mind. I am a deck cadet looking for placement onboard a ship, anyone who can help me in the house? +2348021451819

  3. As per the maritime legislstion what exactly is the age limit for retirement.
    How to ensure that an average seamen gets his wages in time.
    Most companies specially in meditarian and in gulf are hireing coc of convenience, I dnt wish to name any one particuler however such coc are with people who have no formal sea going education.
    The manning agents are minting money on providing job on meager salaries.
    Will any one care to high light these issues

  4. I went to sea in 1959 and studied on the job or else not.My professional exams weren’t ship specific and covered all Merchant Ships Foreign Going.
    My Masters Cet stated Master of a Foreign Going Ship and was issued in 1969.
    Stop moaning and get on with it as Merchant Seafarers have had to do over the Centuries. and Good Luck.I had a good career.

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