The Merchant Navy is the name given to the international commercial shipping industry. It is made up of a large number of shipping companies who recruit civilians as their own seafarers officers.
Companies vary greatly in the size of ships, types of ship and areas of the world where they operate. Types of modern merchant ship include container ships, cruise liners, oil/gas tankers, chemical carriers, bulk carriers, cable layers, ro/ro ferries, car carriers, oil-rig supply vessels and general purpose cargo ships. Their trade routes may take them to every continent and across every ocean on the globe.
On board ship there are three main operational departments. The deck department is staffed by navigating officers while the engineering department is staffed by marine engineering officers, which may also include marine electro-technical officers. The third is the catering or hotel department, which provides the crew and any passengers with catering and domestic services.
The merchant fleet operates worldwide and includes:
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 often great opportunities for global travel. The food and accommodation onboard is excellent, with single cabins and en-suite facilities for officers on many vessels. Whatever the ship type being served upon, there will also be the opportunity pursue leisure interests, socialise with colleagues onboard or study for further professional qualifications.
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.
A successful ship’s officer or crew member requires particular personal qualities in order to cope with the demands of the profession. He or she will spend several months at a time away from home living in close proximity with other crew members. The ability to cope with the stresses of separation whilst exercising tolerance towards others on the ship is therefore essential.
Young officers and crew members must be able to accept a higher level of responsibility than would be expected at a similar age in most other professions and possess the leadership qualities necessary to direct the work of others, often under difficult circumstances. Self-reliance, self-discipline, initiative and the ability to work as part of a team are also required, as are the commercial awareness and management skills demanded by a competitive modern industry.
Recruitment for most merchant navy commercial cargo shipping sectors is focussed predominantly on navigation (deck) and marine engineering personnel, with some catering staff also being required.
However, the cruise and ferry industries also require significant numbers of hotel operations staff (eg, food and beverage, accommodation) and other support personnel (eg, medical, entertainment, casino, beauty, photographic, retail, fitness etc).