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Merchant Navy rating

Merchant Navy ratings carry out a wide range of jobs to help the day-to-day running of a ship.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: £16,000 to £30,000 average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: Variable per week

1. Entry requirements

You must apply directly to shipping companies or the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA). The RFA consists of civilian-crewed ships operated by the Ministry of Defence. If you're successful, they'll sponsor you through a training programme.

Training is a mix of college-based study and placements at sea. You'll be expected to pass a medical exam.

Most sponsoring companies ask for 3 to 4 GCSEs or equivalent in subjects like English, maths and physics (or combined science).

Qualifications and experience in catering, engineering, freight handling or navigation could also be useful.

You could get into this job through an apprenticeship.

2. Skills required

You'll need:

  • the ability to work unsupervised
  • good practical and technical skills
  • catering and customer care skills (for cooking and stewarding jobs)

3. What you'll do

You'll work aboard container vessels, bulk carriers, tankers, tugs, cruise liners and ferries. You may work on deck, in the engine room, the kitchens or the communications room.

Your day-to-day tasks may include:

  • loading and unloading cargo
  • inspecting and cleaning holds, tanks, cranes and winches
  • repairing and painting the ship's hull, fixtures and fittings
  • testing fire-fighting and life-saving equipment
  • carrying out routine mechanical and electrical maintenance
  • monitoring equipment controls
  • preparing meals in the galley and serving food and drinks
  • cleaning cabins, corridors and decks
  • tracking stock and re-ordering supplies

You'd also help deck officers with navigational and watch duties, mooring and anchoring.

In the RFA you'll work on the flight deck during helicopter operations and help with refuelling. You'll also be trained in nuclear, biological and chemical defence measures, weapons handling and repair.

4. Salary

Starter: £16,000

Experienced: £18,000 to £24,000

Highly Experienced: £25,000 to £30,000 (officer or engineer)

Sponsored trainee Merchant Navy ratings receive all college and living costs plus a small salary. Many companies pay salaries that include food and accommodation while at sea, and travel costs when appropriate.

These figures are a guide.

5. Working hours, patterns and environment

You'll normally work shifts, known as 'watches'. On a large ship, you might work 4 hours on duty followed by 8 hours off. Conditions on deck can be cold, wet and windy, while below decks it may be noisy, hot and cramped.

In the Royal Fleet Auxiliary you may have to work in combat zones or on peace-keeping operations.

The time you spend at sea could vary from a few days or weeks to several months. Your leave periods will also vary.

6. Career path and progression

You could progress to the ranks of leading hand, petty officer and chief petty officer. With the necessary skills and experience, you could take further training to join the junior officer ranks.

You could also use your skills to move into onshore engineering or a hospitality and catering career.

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Last updated: 11 April 2017