12 Famous Myths About Merchant Navy People Have

The merchant navy (merchant marine) isn’t exactly a very common or popular profession. There are many people around the world who are either not aware of this unique industry or have several misbeliefs about the same.

However, owing to a larger than life depiction in popular culture, it intrigues a vast majority of people who’ve never worked as, or known, a seafarer. This curiosity results in questions that seafarers are, quite understandably, repeatedly answering to every such person who has no to negligible information of the field of merchant navy.

We have heard several myths, fallacies and utter nonsense spoken by people who have no clue about the industry at all.

So we at Marine Insight have decided to bust all those myths once for all; so that the next time someone asks a clichéd question, you can just point them to this article!

Here are some of the most popular myths associated with the merchant navy:

1. Seafarers Earn Loads of Money: Probably the most common aspect of a conversation with a misinformed individual, everybody seems to think that we’re cash cows that get paid a huge amount of money. Agreed, the pay is good. However, it is similar to the pay that individuals get after getting themselves a decent MBA/Masters and landing a respectable job (Of course, after certain years down the line in their careers). It is correct that the initial pay is far better than what one would get at shore, but the gap closes up as time goes by. Moreover, people at shore ought not forget the pains a seafarer has to go through to bring in that sort of money- time away from family, living at the mercy of nature, tough labour onboard etc. In our favor though, we don’t have to pay taxes, and rightfully so (Rules on taxes may vary across different countries) !


2. Seafarers Consume Alcohol All The Time: The world over seems to think that sailors have an infinite capacity for alcohol. Couple that with their idea that alcohol onboard is subsidized to the point that it’s free! This notion gives people the credibility to think that sailors drink alcohol like its going out of fashion. What seems to be ignored is that there are random alcohol tests onboard, and that now there is a ‘Company Policy’ against drinking and all of that. Also forgotten is the fact that drinking deters sharp judgment; and that mistakes at sea can threaten the lives of all onboard. In our favor, alcohol is indeed very cheap onboard (but that doesn’t give us the liberty to drink it freely though). Moreover, considering increasing stringent regulations, most of the ships are now becoming “no-alcohol” zones.

3. Seafarers Have Wife/Girl Friend At Every Port: The sole reason why sailors are interpreted to be inherently unfaithful! There was a time when a sailor was greeted at ports with a string of women to choose from. But then that was decades back! However, over time, with the advent of safety regulations, ISPS Code and other security measures, this has become a thing of the past. Combine that with the possibility of ruining one’s health and life back home, we have a purely fictional idea of a sailor’s entertainment at port. It is undeniable that if looked for, services can be found anywhere in the world, but that’s for any human being and not restricted to a sailor. A new country, a new port offers a plethora of sights and experiences. Also, none understands the value of a relationship (and the loyalty that goes with it) more than a sailor. Time away from loved ones doesn’t weaken bonds but strengthens them instead. Unlike others, seafarers knows the true meaning of – someone special is waiting back at home.

4. Seafarers Are Always Seasick: “Don’t you get seasick?!” One of the most common questions when a sailor proclaims proudly that he works on a ship. Seasickness is a condition that affects few. Is it not mandatory for every seafarer to feel seasick! Much like motion sickness, seasickness is subjective and affects people on a case-to-case basis. And no, it is not a big deal. People get it and then get over it gradually. Every seafarers might get homesick at some point in their careers, but there is no surety that everyone will get seasick.

5. Seafarers Have To Deal With Pirates Everyday: Yes, we know you’ve watched Captain Phillips and Pirates of the Caribbean. And yes, the former as close as it’ll get to a true depiction of an encounter such as that. We also know you are aware and also worried of the rising number of pirates around Somalia. But all the seas the world over are not sprinkled with heaps of pirates! Piracy is concentrated in certain parts of the world. Also, it is not compulsory that a pirate attack is guaranteed in those parts of the world. If safety and security measures are not executed to a full length and there are lapses in judgment, it is only then that pirates have the ability to get ship borne. Gradually though, with the advent of armed guards, things are getting much tougher and dangerous for the pirates. However, as a standalone security measure, sailors still have to make do with water hoses and barbed wires! But that doesn’t mean seafarers have to deal with pirates everyday and everywhere.

6. Seafarers Get To See New Countries: “Oh! You’re in the merchant navy. You must get to travel so much!” Undoubtedly one of the most common statements from people who have not been associated with the merchant navy whatsoever. Times have changed and so have trading patterns. Discharging at ports is fast and efficient, leaving little or no time for shore leave. VLCCs don’t even get to reach port at times. Bulk carriers are probably the only kind of ships that have the luxury of being at port for over a couple of days. That too, work shifts and stress makes seafarers put bed rest over going out to the city. Just because seafarers visit new ports and countries that doesn’t mean they have the luxury or opportunity to roam around according to their own wish.

7. Seafarers Live a Glamorous Life: People without a fair idea of the merchant navy seem to think that it is a glamorous life. Ships, exotic countries, smart uniforms, great technologies, enchanting sea etc. might make our life at sea seem nothing short of a Hollywood flick. Unfortunately (or fortunately!), people do not get to see the dirty boiler suits, the torn safety shoes, the condition of one’s face at a dusty port, the fatigue that engulf them at the end of the day and so on and so forth. Agreed that there is a certain level of sheen that exists in our line of work. But that luster only comes once all the dirt has been removed.

International Seafarers' Welfare Awards

8. Seafarers Have An Easy Life With 6 Months On Land and 6 Months At Sea: There’s a universal idea that all seafarers have a ‘common 6 months on, 6 months off’ regime. So naturally, they believe that the life is easy for we work for 6 months and laze around for the other 6! Ridiculous, come to think of it. First of all, contracts differ in tenure. It can be 4 on, 2 off or a variety of other combinations depending on the rank and company. Secondly, the months that we don’t work, we’re only spending and not earning. Even with companies that pay while their seafarers are at home, it’s normally much reduced. Third, the work that we do over the few months that we are onboard, makes it necessary for us to go back home and relax; else we’d all go berserk! Couple that with handling family, relationships, exams etc. and we barely get proper time to completely switch off.

9. Seafarers Are Uneducated Fools: Gone are the days when joining the merchant navy meant getting on a ship when one came of age and sailing away. Many people think going to sea doesn’t need much of education. But the truth is today, every rank, including the crew of the ship, has to be well informed, educated and dexterous in theory as well as practice. As far as the officers are concerned, it is a different ball game! Studies pertaining to the merchant navy have become very intense. Subjects ranging from Celestial Navigation to COLREGS to Chartwork have to be registered to the brain in a permanent manner. Those who have been through 3 years of BSc in Nautical Science or 4 years of BTech in Marine Engineering will clearly know the hell they have to go through! So, assuming that sailors are complete buffoons with no knowledge of their craft is a very misplaced concept.

10. Seafarers Have to Fight Wars: People often confuse merchant navy with defense navy. Many believe everyone going to the sea goes to fight wars. The merchant navy is an auxiliary entity that might be called upon in case of dire emergency to assist the navy. However, on a daily operational basis, it has NOTHING to do with the navy or the armed forces of the country in general. The merchant navy is simply a commercial operation wherein transfer of goods/cargo takes place across the world. As in a business wherein goods are exchanged for monetary gains, the merchant navy involves the same process where goods are handed over from A to B for money. So no, please do not confuse it with the navies.

11. Seafarers Must Be Great Swimmers: Just because seafarers have to work at sea, people assume that it is mandatory for them to be great swimmers. However, the fact is seafarers do not have to be swimmers to work at sea. It’s a common misbelief among people that seafarers might need to swim to shores or other ships incase the ship meets with an accident. But no matter how great swimmer a person is, even if the situation demands, it is next to impossible to swim to shores or stay afloat in water in extreme weather conditions. Moreover, there are several personal protective equipment on board ships to ensure that seafarers can float in water during emergencies.

12. Seafarers Don’t Have Anything To Do at Sea: Life is easy for seafarers, there is nothing much to do on board ships – that’s what many people think. A myth goes around that people at sea just lazy around, fish and make merry once the ship sails. As many don’t have a clue about the working of the ship, they think seafarers have lots of time in hand which allows them to booze, travel and relax. However, the fact is seafarers are one of the most hardworking people in the world who have to face serious issues everyday on board.

At the end, however many inappropriate things seafarers might hear about their profession, the love for the sea and their job is never diminished. Sailors love talking about their job and their stories at sea. Seafarers are humans too who work very hard through the roughest weather putting their lives at risk. Therefore, it’s important that the common folk is well informed about the merchant navy and life at sea; for if it wasn’t for seafarers, the economy of the entire world would come to a halt!

Over to you…

Do you know about any other misconception people have about merchant navy?

Do you have info to share with us ? Suggest a correction

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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. Most random question:

    Q: What do you do at night?
    A: Obviously we stop every night and anchor in the middle of the ocean.

    Then there is the other question which your friends cant help but ask to wind you up:

    Q: Do you get horny and bum each other?
    A: err… no.

  2. Superb article! Every line helps explain non-sailors just what it means to be a seafarer. Thanks a lot.

    Simply speaking, YOU NAILED IT!

  3. Who wrote this thing? Have they ever even been to sea? We pay taxes, we have paid vacation when we’re off, a lot of us aren’t permanent to ships so the work isn’t steady. What the hell? This sounds like someone got most of their info off google and has never sailed.

  4. Dear John, Every single person at Marine Insight is a sailor or an ex-sailor. Each country has its own rules on seafarers taxes; and the person who wrote the article belonged to one which exempt taxes for seafarers ( T & C Applied). Hope this answers your question.

  5. In India, Sailor income is tax free, apart from other misconception, people thinks being sailor is easy, its not, and we indeed work very hard, and have strenuous work hours, and seldom get a chance to visit a port even on a bulk carriers.

  6. There’s no way we get 6 months vacation! Let’s take the case of a 4 on, 2 off contract, permanent pay. That’s 8 months worked and 4 months at home (on leave) every year. Sounds great, but people forget that we work continuously, weekends included. So, if you deduct the worked weekends and holidays, you’ll end up with 40 – 45 days vacation per year.

  7. a well written and encouraging write up, very educated and encouraging to young officers like me.

  8. Another question the common people ask is about….where you are posted currently that misconceptions goes as if we are working in Naval Vessels.
    How to explain that the Merchant Vessel goes to different countries different ports every now and then, as per the Companies Instructions & requirements. Even the well educated people have this misconception

  9. Thanks buddy. I have sailed for abt 25 yrs and quit in 2000. All u said is very true and I concur. This brought back memories. Thanks again. Socorro

  10. Awesome article. Truly depicting the true scenario of Merchant Navy profession.

    Although I love this job, and being a sailor I’m proud of it, but I am unable to explain the difficulties that we face on-board to the normal people. Now with help of this article, I can satisfy all their doubts and myths about the our noble profession.

    Thanks 🙂

  11. D most stupid question i hav heard being a mariners wife is does d ship comes to pick him up in mumbai… so u must b staying near d port… right… omg… dumest ppl with dumbest queries…

  12. This is surely one of the weirdest things we have ever heard!! Hope this article sheds some light on the real truth…..

  13. I think dis site has a lot to offer the world in times of sanitizing non seafarer on d tidiuos and difficult nature of our profession.
    Pls keep it up.

  14. nicely elaborated the ocean of life…in current indian marine scenario a countable seafearers are working in well-concerned shipping companies and rest of all are in the rat race of seaman-agent the hell system…from officer to crew eagar to take a sign off after completion of the official contract, becomes a nightmare to sign on in next vessel…so not only take rest at home but also moving A to Z company take an unexpected loss of time might be one month to one year…this the real and true fact of indian market in shipping sectore…after all, be proud as a mariner…good day

  15. Great write up !!! Many comments about many other aspects , taxes , sign off , employment etc, . This is a general article and quite spot on too , how many of us have heard these things mentioned above , I would bet my money on all Indian seafarers’ having heard it atleast from one person. I have umpteen times…. Great article , fun and easy to read , keep it coming

  16. Oh another one of those questions , after hearing everything about the past ship , ports visited etc , nature of job ( ie on ship , sailing ) ” Okay then where are you posted .. Mumbai ?? ” Duh ! ..

  17. You people have given more reasons not to join merchant navy than to join like seafarers do not get time for shore leave, they have to work very hard(no glamorous life as u mentioned), 6 months sea 6 months on land is a thing of past, there’s unemployment and market is on downfall freshers find themselves no job after having so expensive studies,
    i have given imu-cet(rank 40) this year and willing to join imu-kolkata but there are more reasons for a no than yes …you are a seafarer give me honest reasons why u love this inspite of all the troubles and risk the career gives to u or honestly tell me there a lot other better things that i can do with my life than to making it in sea mearchant

  18. @Anshuman:

    Our main aim is to highlight the reality of this trade and profession. I am a seafarer from last 8 years and I love working on ships. But looking away from the reality will not change the truth and myths of this industry. We have posted many articles on ” The positives” of Merchant navy and as responsible maritime professionals, we just can’t overlook the other side of the coin. We cannot suggest what other careers one can choose apart form merchant navy or which career is better than @ sea. We have seen young students like you joining the industry, and leaving it within no time because they were not aware of the real life at sea. It’s a great career but it’s not for everyone. You would need great courage and a strong mind, along with other mandatory requirements, to have a successful career in merchant navy.

  19. in India,does a mariner in india gets the NRI status?
    i am studying at imu kolkata campus(MERI)
    and iam told so by friends

  20. Anish sir ,your step is quite admiring to awaken people about life at sea…..

    I am a great fan of yours initiative… Thanks alot

  21. One most common question as soon as we sign off from ship ..
    -Dont know wat bothers others about our vacation.

  22. Sir, Please give me an honest review(rank and placement opportunities) about Tolani Maritime Institute, Pune as I will be joining it for bs marine engineering, Sir please guide me honestly as I m selected at other Institute also for Normal Btech course. Sir, I want an honest answer. And please reply fast

  23. TMI is a very good institution for merchant navy training , both for engine and deck side. I am a pasout of Tolani.

  24. I am just a cadet sir. But would like to appriciate the info provided by you on this page. Thank you and please keep up the good job.

  25. Hello,I hv cmpltd B.E(c.s) want to join merchant navy….is it possible to join it….if yes how….which is the easier way…thank you….
    Waiting for your rly

  26. superb….as a deck cadet i face this type of questions everyday.
    excellent anwers thanx…MARINE INSIGHT

  27. The most stupid and silly question I have ever been asked was: why don’t you bring your family to live with you onboard?

  28. Im a fourth engineer, ppl use to ask me “probably u ppl must be catchin fishes from sea for ur daily meals, wen ur sailing…..”

  29. No you can’t catch fish at sea your going on average 12 knots like trying to walk out of a moving car going twelve miles an hour. Yes life at sea is hard if you have family or a girlfriend. If you don’t its great. But sea time is sea time and your living in close proximity with people so it can create tension. At the same time it createsd bonds. Yes there are different companies, yes there are different countries, yes there are people in different countries that work for different companies. Now stop and ponder that! Different senarios. On average yes shore time has been cut drastically by the efficiency of machinery. But it is a life like no other the sea is home and how often do you wake up and go out side and see open ocean with nothing in sight. If you haven’t sailed across the ocean you don’t know what I’m talking about if you have you know what I’m stating and it isn’t worth trying to explain to the people who haven’t. It is best to just smile and let them believe what they want.

  30. Very well thought out, however, I love this job.The flexibility is another thing which any other employed person would definitely envy. Do contracts when you want to, sit it out if you feel like, its a great thing. Plus step ashore with a decent package if for some reason you wish to. Where can a service personnel get this kind of freedom!!!

  31. 25 years sailed, all times cadet,2/off,chief/off,captain…a tough ”contract” job
    eventually a shore/any ! much better

  32. Im a ship chandler and not a seafarer but i have seen problems, frustrations where you are in a city where your house is at the closest proximity but still are unable to visit due to the responsibilities onboard.

    Hats off to you guys and it has been a pleasure working with you’ll


  33. I am a dp operator and I can tell you that all the myths are true , I drink every day , have lots of women in every port , don’t know how to swim and pay absolutely no tax hihi life is good 🙂

  34. hello everyone !
    I’d like to ask two questions and i hope someone living somewhere can answer )
    1)if they say on other websites that for example a chief mate earns X $ per month,does it mean while he is working or each month?
    2)i’m going to study in a university in St Petersburg and i was wondering what rank i’ll have after 5 years there (after graduating)
    Merci )

  35. Sir, I have permanent tatoo on my left hand near finger.
    Can able to be officer in merchant navy

  36. I have 15months experience and pnama watchkeeping but i’m unable to find a good company please guide me

  37. hai sir.. this is vamshi perseived b-tech ,specilization electrical . recently i came into contact with SEA RISE MARINE .institute . is it the good one.. they are assuring a100% placement .. for ETO course . they are giving a bond paper .. should i belive that .. please help me ….. sir .. if this is not a good institute then i will plan for a masters in u s … so i would be very thankful if u reply to me.. please show me the way

  38. My brother left for sea few days back for first time. And, I was looking for some insight in life of a sailor and came to this post. It is indeed a awesome post for people like me, who knows nothing about life in sea.
    When I came to the point that seafarers must be good swimmers, a silly smile came on my face caz I used to ask him questions like have you learnt swiming, are you very good swimmer etc…
    Thanks for the post.

  39. First of all I am not in merchant navy, but I want to pursue it.( i am getting MANET PUNE institute for the same) I have paased my 12th and looking for joining a merchant navy institute but I am really confused , whether to join or not? Whether it would be interesting or not? For how much time will i not be able to see my family? Will i be happy in the coming future? And many awkward questions that are not letting me to join it…What to do???

  40. @ShubhamGupta I’m exactly inin the same mindset. I just cant decide whether to persue merchant navy or not. I am in 11th grade and thankfully have a few years to make a decision . I am not sure if I could live without my family. Not sure if I could live without a social life. Not sure if I’ll be happy. Moreover my friend is joining Indian Navy.

  41. Most dumbest question I have faced was, why do they need Engineers on board ? People don’t know that there are Engineers on board .They think only navigation officers on board and they are running a ship like driving a car.

  42. Yes, We can understand that’s frustrating. Another common comment we hear is – ” Ok, I understand you are an engineer on ship, but what’s the need of an engineer on board?”. Sometimes it’s best to ignore such questions 🙂

  43. On arrival home after 4 months away you always get the same question, hello when did u get home, when u going back,,,,,

  44. As a student of BS Marintransportation people underestament the ability,knowedge and value of being a seafarer yes! is a fact that you will earn better money on sea than land but they don’t know how hard to be onboard to earn that money, being a seafarers life is always at risk, im so greatful that this one was post to clear out the habit and let the people know the myth of being a seafarer.

    Thank you Marine Insight

  45. This article is too good..My husband is a marine engineer..I can actually relate to what the author is trying to screem out his lungs off..This article is hilarrious..coz its just exactly people come up with..Author needs a pat on the back for summing up all the instances in a hilarious tone:)

  46. It depends on where your ship is? Normally you get signal near the coast. If you are sailing in mid sea, you can’t think of getting a network.
    If you company provide internet on ship, then you can use internet apps and services for chats and making calls.

  47. Sir Am about to aboard, but unfortunately I don’t know swimming. Does it make any problem or get rejected at 11 th hour…



  49. sir i am planning to take admission at MANET pune ,is it a good decision or i should think of another institution.?

  50. Do check last two years placement record. In general this is the reputed private institute in India.

  51. I had a surgery when i was 6 months old, now i cleared medical test to join gme cource at sims, does that surgery create any problem for my carrier at future

  52. The true facts are not the same as presented through this article. Well it may amuse the newly joined seafarers or some ignorant people ashore many of whom can’t differentiate between the ship and an aeroplane even. Right some thing really informative and inspiring presenting the positive aspect of the marine profession. Tks.

  53. My father was a Bosun in the U S Merchant Marines for over 25+ years and fished out of Gloucester, MA. The article touches on topics that my dad mentioned throughout his lifetime. Dad’s time at sea encouraged me to become an Art Historian. Thank you for taking the time out to acknowledge our Merchant Marines.

  54. Thanks for the guidelines you have contributed here. Something important I would like to express is that pc memory demands generally increase along with other innovations in the technology. For instance, any time new generations of cpus are brought to the market, there is certainly usually a related increase in the type calls for of both the pc memory plus hard drive room. This is because the software operated by way of these cpus will inevitably increase in power to benefit from the new technological know-how.

  55. Now i had appeared for 12th sci exam.How can i apply for merchant navy.what is the process.please provide me details.

  56. Sir i completed graduation in mechanical engineering i thought to join merchant navy by doing GME for that i contracted one person also he told me that after completing GME you will get 100% placement n told all those excitements merchant navy professional will get and also told that there’s a age limit of 40 to retire.After reading your articles I’m bit confused about joining or not like that so please give me a beat suggestion sir it’s my kind request in you.. Thank you

  57. 1: Taxes are the same as on shore.
    2: Alcohol has the same prise as on shore, being drunk or intoxicated is illigal onboard.
    3: 99% of the ports you’ve no possibility to go off.
    4: If you are one of the very few to be constantly seasick, you’d better find another job.
    5: Piracy activities rice and fall in several areas around the world, when sailing there you get guards on board and keep an extra look out.
    6: I’ve seen ports from the ship, they all look alike, only the (generally not understandable) accent of the dockers changes.
    7: Uniforms are a thing of the past. you wear your boiler suit for 10 hours a day, eat some and sleep the other hours.
    8: 6/6 where do I sign? 4/2 is the norm, getting half pay at those 2 at home. working 10h a day at sea. two times 4h watch and 2h overtime
    9: You need a university study to become an officer.
    10: the military navy is designed to protect the merchant ships. which the military navy seems to have forgotten though.
    11: You’d better not be a good swimmer, then you work harder to keep your ship afloat.
    12: If we didn’t work at sea, no ship would reach port.

    2nd Engineer sailing around for a decade and a bit.

  58. Sir I’m studying Bsc Nautical science, I had stammer for sometimes while speaking ,is this cause me medically unfit for onboard

  59. Actually am from science biology is there any scope in merchant navy for my I really wanna work in it..please help me

  60. @Monika: The basic requirement to enter this field for becoming as officer onboard ship is to have PCM in 10+2

  61. Yes most of these facts are true as described. Also I believe more sailor’s must pay taxes than not. I paid Canada for 40 years. Also add to point # 8 about the time off ( 6mth on 6 mths off) a sailor usually works more hours per year than most others. 6 months on: working 2 x 6 hr shifts a day for 6 months = 2190 hrs/yr. Compared to someone ashore working 40 hrs/wk x 50 weeks (allowing 2 week vacation) =2000 hrs.

  62. “9. Seafarers Are Uneducated Fools: Gone are the days when joining the merchant navy meant getting on a ship when one came of age and sailing away. Many people think going to sea doesn’t need much of education.”

    It may be true that gone are the days when anyone could join a crew when they came of age, but I would hardly call any of those sailors past or present uneducated fools. All sailors learn very important skills in creative engineering and a few of the smarter ones learned more advance engineering and navigating while at sea. Those were the ones who became officers, first mates, and eventually captains. Some of the older skills are no longer as necessary such as carpentry or sewing (yes, sailors once actually had to have sewing skills so they could repair their sails and clothing, even braid or rebraid and repair rope), but let it never be said that a sailor was an uneducated fool.

  63. Does ship officers or sailor get chance to visit other country’s port and roam around for few hours

  64. @Dhruv: Not as of now during the Pandemic situation. However, during normal run, you will be getting shore leave to go the city.

  65. I have heard that people say that merchant Navy is a big no for girls especially in the Indian background.
    As I am interested in merchant Navy but does not see much females working on born in a ship.

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