The shipping industry offers the chance of an adventurous lifestyle packed with exciting and well-paid career prospects in a dynamic and growing industry, and provides challenges and responsibility for those who want more from a career than the usual ‘nine to five’ routine.
Over 95% of goods are carried by sea, whether it’s food, fuel, technology, TVs, clothing, books or cars. Container ships, tankers, ferries and cruise ships are all part of this international industry.
The Merchant Navy is the name given to the international commercial shipping industry. It’s made up of a large number of shipping companies who recruit civilians as crew (officers and ratings), who are known as merchant seafarers. Shipping companies vary greatly in the size and type of ships they operate, their cargoes and areas of operation. Their trade routes may take them to every continent and across every ocean on the globe.
The types of modern merchant ship include:
The ultimate rank on a ship is Captain or Chief Engineer. There’s a clearly-defined career path to achieving this which begins by training to become an officer by enrolling on an officer cadet training scheme programme. This is a fully sponsored three-year programme resulting in a Foundation Degree or HND academic qualification in either navigation or engineering disciplines, and involves academic and practical training at a maritime college integrated with periods of hands-on training at sea. British ships’ officers have an excellent worldwide reputation and career prospects at sea or back on land are superb.
The UK academic training path for ships’ officers is second to none. The application to enrol on an officer cadetship is made direct to the shipping companies. The scheme is similar to an apprenticeship but it is full time and the course fees and often a living allowance are paid for by the shipping companies. Newly-qualified officers enjoy a starting salary of around £25,000 per year, and most are also tax exempt due to their time working abroad.
A new officer cadet training programme specifically tailored to the superyacht industry has been introduced. The programme follows the Merchant Navy deck officer cadet foundation degree route, with the fundamental MCA underpinning knowledge units such as bridge watchkeeping, chartwork, ship stability and cargo work, but includes additional superyacht specific units such as superyacht operations, paint care and hospitality. The academic entry requirements are the same as the Merchant Navy cadetship programme, and sponsorship is available to students who wish to enrol.
No matter what kind of vessel you join, you’re about to experience life in a completely different way. Officer cadets in training will be working at sea within a few months of joining their sponsoring company, as soon as the initial introductory training phase is completed at the academy.
Ships actually operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with crew members rotating on leave after their vessel appointment has been completed. While technical officers and crew often work a system of watches each day, normally in a pattern of four hours on and eight hours off, the working hours of most hotel operations personnel on cruise ships and ferries are dependent on their guests’ routines.
The lifestyle at sea will depend on the type and trading pattern of each ship but there are usually great opportunities for global travel. The food and accommodation on board is excellent, with single cabins and en suite facilities for officers on many vessels.
Holiday, pay, welfare and benefits vary from company to company but are generally very good. For example, a qualified officer after a voyage lasting four months could get two months’ holiday or more. Many UK nationals also benefit enormously from tax-free status, provided they meet the associated requirements.
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