From School to Ship: Complete Guide on How to Become a Seaman

by | Last updated May 9, 2024 | Career Guide, Education | 0 comments

If you’re someone who loves to travel, explore new places, and get paid while doing it, becoming a seafarer might be the perfect career choice for you.

Working at sea offers a unique opportunity to see the world while earning a living. But, how do you become a seaman? 

The process today is quite different from before. I remember when anyone could go out to sea and sail on different merchant ships. As long as you hold a seaman’s book, you are considered a seafarer.

But now, things have changed. Taking this career is not easy, considering various requirements and qualifications.

In this article, we’ll provide you with a complete guide on how to become a seaman, from education to training until you land on your first ship.

This tutorial is perfect for students who want to become a seaman and work on ships. Let’s dive in!

The paths to becoming a seaman

There are many paths that you can choose to start a career at sea. The most important route that you’re going to take is the one that involves education, especially if you’re aiming to become a ship captain or chief engineer.

However, officership is not for everyone, and many settle on the lower ranks of the shipboard organization. There are three main career options that you can take to be able to work on board. These are the following:

1. Marine Transportation

Specifically, Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation or BSMT. This is the course that you’re going to take if you want to become a Master Mariner

Marine Transportation focuses on the operation and management of ships, including navigation, cargo handling, and safety procedures. Most of your job will be above deck and this is one reason why you are called “deck people”.

2. Marine Engineering

Or the engine people. If you love tinkering with machines of different sizes, this career is for you.

Marine Engineering focuses on the technical aspects of ships, including the design, construction, and maintenance of the vessel’s machinery and equipment.

The highest rank that you’ll achieve as a marine engineer is Chief Engineer.

An electrician conducting rounds in the engine room.
Image: Brian Dykens | Wikimedia Commons.

3. Electro-Technical Rating/ Officer (ETO or ETR)

An Electro-Technical Rating/ Officer (ETO or ETR) is responsible for the maintenance and repair of electrical and electronic equipment on board a vessel.

If you’re a degree holder in any of the following courses, you can take some supplemental training and become an ETO or ETR.

  • Electrical Engineering
  • Industrial Technology major in Electrical, Electronics, or Instrumentation
  • Mechatronics Engineering
  • Computer Engineering
  • Electronics and Communications Engineering, or
  • Marine Engineering

4. Catering or Hospitality

Catering or hospitality on a ship involves providing food, beverages, and accommodation services to crew members and passengers.

They also maintain the cleanliness and sanitation of the galley, dining areas, accommodation, and cabins.

Most of the graduates from this course end up working on cruise ships. You can also find them in other merchant ships, mostly working in the galley department.

Steps on how to become a seaman

Now that you know which path to take in choosing a career at sea, it’s time to start your journey. The first step is specifically designed for high school students aiming to work on board.

1. Choose a maritime specialization

There are two pre-baccalaureate courses added to our curriculum which were introduced last 2016 with the K-12 or Senior High School program. Choose which path you want to take.

a. SHS Pre-Baccalaureate Maritime Specialization

Has two core subjects, mainly Introduction to Maritime Safety and Introduction to Maritime Career. This track is for students who want to pursue a career in the maritime industry and prepare themselves for college. 

The program covers essential subjects directly applicable to the maritime industry, including navigation, seamanship, and ship operations.

It is specifically tailored to students who aspire to be ship masters or chief engineers, providing them with valuable exposure to officer-level positions.

b. SHS Technical-Vocational-Livelihood (TVL) Maritime Specialization

TVL maritime specialization is a track that focuses on developing the skills and knowledge of students in specific trades related to the maritime industry. 

In other words, this program is designed to support ratings on board. It exposes students to hands-on experience and training in areas such as welding, electrical installation, and engine maintenance. 

After completing this track, students will have the opportunity to work immediately in the maritime industry or pursue further education in a related technical-vocational course.

2. Enrol in a maritime-related course

After finishing any of those maritime specialization courses, choose between Marine Transportation and Marine Engineering.

There are so many universities and colleges in the country, but you have to choose a maritime school that is accredited by MARINA and CHED.

Consider also enrolling in the best schools for maritime education in the country if your goal is to make it to the top.

Tuition fees for these courses vary from around Php20,000 to Php90,000 and sometimes more depending on the schools. There are also miscellaneous fees for books, uniforms, school activities, and many others. 

UC-METC poster for maritime enrollments.
Image: UC Facebook Page.

I dissected the costs of becoming a seaman in this linked post. Check it out first to get a good idea of how much you’re expected to spend if you pursue this career.

The good news is that some schools and shipping companies offer maritime scholarships. You might have heard of the Norwegian Shipowner’s Association (NSA) Scholarship Program.

If you think you have the knowledge, skills, and attitude, consider taking their entrance exams to receive full scholarships when passed.

3. Complete your training

Before you are allowed to board a ship, you must undergo basic training requirements. While the school teaches you the theoretical aspects of shipping, these training are designed to focus on safety matters.

Some of the entry-level training in the maritime industry includes the list below:

  • Ratings Forming Part of a Navigational Watch (RFPNW) (For Deck)
  • Ratings Forming Part of a Watch in a Manned Engine-room/designated to perform duties in a Periodically Unmanned Engine-Room (RFPEW)
  • Medical First Aid (MEFA)
  • Basic Safety Training (BST)
  • Security Awareness Training and Seafarers w/ Designated Security Duties (SAT-SDSD)
  • Survival Craft and Rescue Boats other than Fast Rescue Boats (SCRB)

Remember that these courses are part of the minimum requirements before you get accepted to work on board.

Some companies may add more to them depending on the types of ships you’re assigned to or the requirements in their training matrix.

You can also take these courses anywhere in the country whether in Manila, Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

With hundreds of MARINA-approved maritime training institutions (MTI), you are sure to find one that is convenient for you.

4. Apply to different agencies

Applying to different agencies is an essential step in your journey on how to become a seaman.

Once you have completed your training certificates and COPs, it’s time to take the next big leap and start seeking employment opportunities.

The maritime industry offers a wide range of career paths, from working on cargo ships to cruise liners, offshore vessels, or even research vessels.

Each sector has its own unique requirements and job prospects. You can try to explore different agencies and understand the specific roles they offer.

Seafarers and utility cadets flocking in the streets of Kalaw, Manila.

Start by preparing a comprehensive resume highlighting your qualifications, certifications, and any relevant experience you have gained during your studies and training.

You can either visit their office and apply personally or send them an email with your CV. But research first which shipping agencies are approved by the DMW or POEA.

During the application process, you will undergo a series of exams and face questions during interview before landing on any company.

This is more difficult for applicant cadets who have no one to back them up. Shipping companies have reasons why they need a backer and that is out of our control. But fear not, here is a guide for you to get hired without any backer.

5. Get hired

This will probably feel like the best day of your life.

After getting hired by a shipping agency, all you have to do is wait. Many companies let their cadets undergo utility programs in their offices.

This means you will perform some office jobs while the company finds a ship for you.

The time frame for this activity varies a lot from a few months to a year. However, you’re almost there and you only have to endure.

Since there are many utilities like you in one company, it’s only a matter of time before you’re next in line.

Performing your task better may also speed things up and get you noticed early.

6. Work on board

A few applicant cadets may skip the utility part and immediately start to work on board. But this is very, very rare. Most take the longer path.

And after working in the office for some time, it will be your turn to work on board. That’s it! Your shipping company will inform you of this and check your documents or training certificates if they’re still valid, or lacking.

Visa Application Center Inside VFS Global.
Inside VFS Global. Visa Application Center.

They may require you to get specific training or arrange for some visas like the Schengen Visa or U.S. Visa.

Once you complete them, the next thing you know is that you’re on the ship walking on hard metal that will become your home for the next few months.

Don’t Give Up!

These steps on how to become a seaman are very hard and challenging. But I strongly suggest not to give up and instead, keep on pushing! I promise you, the fruits of your perseverance will be worth it.

If you’re still reading up until here. I pray that you will become a seafarer and make your dreams come true.

May the winds be in your favor.

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