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Merchant Navy deck officer Navigation officer

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Merchant Navy deck officers look after the day-to-day running and navigation of ships, and take care of passengers and cargo.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: £20,500 to £80,000 average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: 56 to 84 per week

1. Entry requirements

You can join the merchant navy from age 16 as an officer cadet or as an apprentice able seafarer (deck).

You'll need at least 4 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), including English, maths and physics (or combined science) or equivalent qualifications.

If you have A levels or equivalent, in maths or science, you could do an industry-backed HND, foundation degree, or degree. Subjects include nautical science, and navigation and maritime science.

If you already have a degree, you'll usually be able to join a graduate programme and train as an officer in a shorter time.

You'll need to pass a medical exam which will include a physical fitness and eyesight test.

You’ll usually need a maritime sponsoring company to put you through initial training.

Details of sponsoring companies are available from Careers at Sea.

2. Skills required

You'll need:

  • the ability to lead and motivate
  • decision-making skills
  • communication skills
  • excellent maths for navigating
  • calmness under pressure

3. What you'll do

You may work on a range of ships, including:

  • cargo containers
  • cruise ships and ferries
  • specialised support vessels
  • oil and chemical tankers

Your day-to-day tasks will depend on your rank:

  • as a 3rd officer, you'll be responsible for safety equipment and lifeboats
  • as a 2nd officer, you'll navigate the ship using radar, satellites, computers and weather reports
  • as a chief officer, you'll manage other officers and handle financial, legal and commercial matters
  • as a master or captain, you'll have overall responsibility for the efficient running of the ship and the safety of the crew, passengers and cargo

As a deck officer in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (civilian-crewed ships operated by the Ministry of Defence), you could support the Royal Navy in areas like fighting or humanitarian relief.

4. Salary

Starter: £20,500 (cadet)

Experienced: £25,000 to £42,000

Highly Experienced: £80,000 or more

Your salary will depend on your ship type and rank. Your employer may pay for food and accommodation at sea and some travel costs onshore.

These figures are a guide.

5. Working hours, patterns and environment

Your hours will depend on the size of the ship, but you'll usually work between 56 and 84 hours a week. This will include evenings and weekends.

You could be away from home for several months at a time. Most companies will give you a generous amount of time off as a holiday allowance.

You could work in confined spaces or at heights. You’ll also work in a variety of weather conditions, including extremes of heat and cold.

You'll be working and living in a closed, multicultural and multilingual environment for long periods of time.

If you work with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, you may work in combat zones.

6. Career path and progression

The Merchant Navy has clear progression routes through its ranks

You could find onshore and offshore positions with shipping companies, port authorities, maritime insurance companies and shipping brokers. Roles include logistics and fleet coordination, training and general management.

You could work for UK companies or for shipping companies based overseas.

You could also become a manager in other sectors.

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Last updated: 10 September 2018