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What is Merchant Navy?

Its saddening to see how misinformed Teens joining Merchant Navy again and again!!! Most of the time all they are told is that you are very well paid, will travel all through the world, will be served free wines onboard (Believe me I have met one cadet who told me this too!!) and of course the young beauty at every port and would live to the brim of life

SO, the thing is, is this much information really enough to join the Merchant Navy and whether these facts are really true? Are you strong enough to sail the High seas and bear the wrath of the Sea World? Ok so let’s take things step by step

Most people don't even know that Indian navy is very different from Merchant Navy. While Indian Navy deals with War and the staff is trained for the same, we the Merchant Navy people are trained for the carriage of goods or Cargo as we call it. Indian navy guys will always go on Naval Ships designed for combat while Merchant Navy people will go on the various Cargo ships designed specifically to carry a particular type of Cargo.

Cargo ships can be :

a Tanker carrying Oil ,

Container ships carrying (as the name suggests) Containers,

Dry Cargo ships carrying bulk cargo like Coal, cement and many more products ,

Gas carrier carrying LPG or LNG cargo,

Passenger ships with passengers onboard

etc .

So that’s for the ships but what about the work environment of Merchant Navy ?? We have mainly three departments onboard with following Hierarchy


Officers : Master, Chief Officer, second officer, third officer followed by Cadet

Crew : Bosun, Pumpman (on tankers), Able seaman(AB) followed by the Trainee/Ordinary Seaman (OS)


Officers : Chief Engineer, Second Engineer, Third Engineer, Fourth Engineer followed by Engine Cadet(JE)

Crew : Oiler No.1 or Fitter, Oilman or Oilers followed by Wiper/GP (if any)


Crew : Chief Cook, followed by Messman/GS

While the above is a very general list of the ranks and an exhaustive list cannot be created as different companies have different policies and different names for the rank onboard (e.g. in some companies the Second Engineer may be called First Asst Engineer and so on ,similarly some companies may not have Wipers or even Pumpman onboard).Things again vary depending on the company policies but on an average a ship today generally has such structure of staff and a Merchant Ship has approximately 20-28 men onboard.

About the Salary now, which you must be eagerly waiting for!! Again, here too, it varies from company to company and even in the same company varies with type of ship so it is really very difficult to say it for sure, but for cadets/the trainees it may start from 200 US$ to 300 Us$ per month for deck and around 600 to 700 USD for JEs. Third officer/Fourth Eng. may get from 3000 US$ to 4000 US$ per month and by the way ,mind you these are boys of age range 20-25 years. Also don't forget that the earned money is Tax free (if you are outside India sailing for more than 6 months in a financial year),cool na !!! There is also good news for girls that they too can and are joining Merchant Navy.

Well, if you have heard that we guys get a handsome package at a very young age then you are not wrong but what you don't know is that why does a merchant navy guy get so much? Some of the reasons which I have heard is that you lose your youth, you are far from the family and you get disconnected with the Life. While they may not be totally wrong but in my views, it is not completely right (I will elaborate this later).I personally believe they pay us so much because of our hardships. Mind you we do not have doctors onboard, Merchant Navy officers are trained for basic medical treatments, we don't have Fire squads to combat fire ,Merchant Navy guys are trained for this too ,we don't have any Police or security staff and yet again we are trained and need to protect ourselves even during Somalia Transits. Now tell me how much professionally demanding this field is and why we should not be paid for such kind of life? Before you think that it is very very risky let me tell you that I find it riskier to walk on road than Sail on seas these days!!

Wow Merchant navy is great nahin !!! To add the icing to that cake ,what about the World tours?? Man!! See the whole world ,the other attraction of this field. While you may be thinking that we guys have travelled the whole world but surprise!!!let me give you the true picture now -the work on board for cadets/JEs

At Port:

.At port the working hours increases as we need to go for stations/maneuvering while approaching ports. After making fast the vessel everyone is busy with the cargo operations(We came there for it right!). Junior officers start 6 on 6 off that is to say that 6hrs work and 6 hrs rest ...this does not mean that the officers others job is not to be done ...Port papers and Voyage planning needs to be completed prior Departure. For senior officers it means full responsibility for the operations .Gone are those days when complete monitoring of the operation was the only requirement at the port .The vessel need to be always ready for any Port State Control and vetting Inspections which is very very common these days .Surveys and Inspections are so common that every other port there is one .

At Sea:

All officers generally keep watches, as we call it, for minimum 8 hrs of the day(twice 4 hrs) in addition to this we need to do our rank related jobs .These jobs and watches are to be maintained in particular shifts .So you can take that during sailing a normal working day may vary from 8 hrs to 12 hrs and believe me we are more than happy while sailing

You need to do other maintenance and rank related job. For deck staff it means Deck maintenance, navigation and Cargo related job while for the Engine Staff it means Maintenance of Engine and other Machineries. For galley staff it means Cleaning Accommodations and cabins where we live, washing clothes other than cooking food. Do not forget, you are there to work and do not have any assistance in case of emergencies. Emergency can be of any form and during those times there is nothing such thing as "rest”. It’s a total commercial field where a loss of few seconds turns out to be thousands and thousands of dollars of loss to the owners/charterers and you will be asked to give your best during such tough times. Sure, if the ship is an old one you will not only learn a lot but also will be too busy to think of anything else. Special ships like Gas tankers and tankers come with their own set of complexities and automations to deal with. Since it is an international business with multinational staff you can be very sure that public holidays will not be recognized and celebrated with the same enthusiasm.

Even onboard with multinational or Indian crew is fun if you take it that way. During your leisure time you can watch movies in your a common place which we call Smoke room(lounge). If you are lucky your ship will have internet .Most of the ships have these days. Table-tennis are in almost all ships. Being an Indian we can always find out ways to play cricket in the most remote place on earth, ship quite obviously is not spared too. Table tennis tournaments is very common during long sailings. If you are fond of learning you can learn a new language itself. While novels can be found onboard but a library is yet to be found on any ship for me. Some companies however do maintain library too onboard. You can do some painting if you are one of those artistic types or the health enthusiast have small Gym for them...So life on ship is also very exciting if you know how to make it so !!!

So you ask what about the shore leave ??? Well yes you can, if you have the stamina to. One can go ashore during his Off(rest) period but do not forget that he has to come back and start with his duties at the right time unless he has adjusted his duties with someone else the shore leave is at the cost of his rest time(read sleep) .Also to add here is that the days of long port stay are gone. Tankers on which I have worked throughout my life stays maximum for 24 hrs (required as per Charter party) unless there are other restrictions from the port. Bulk carriers stay for few days while Container ships only hours. Also you cannot go ashore very far due to the same reason of coming back soon. The biggest setback to our shore leave is after 9/11 incident. Today there are long paper works for shore leave. Even the shore passes and shore leave is not allowed in some ports. You might be shocked but after the Taj attack in Mumbai the ports in India have raised the security level.

You say that’s Ok for you !! continue reading ....The field is getting more and more demanding. You will need to work with Multinational crew and officers. There will be cultural differences which means that you have to be very particular how you behave and talk with other national crew.

Further let me still elaborate about the Work on board.

Treatment needs to be done by Seafarers themselves only. Second Officer is usually the medical officer onboard, having the control of the pharmacy onboard. He gives medicines with guidance from the Master or Captain of the vessel. The master is trained in simple first aid measures like administering injections and various types of bandages etc. There is a book called "Medical guide for ships" which has extensive list of symptoms and probable causes. However with advent of better communication, Master usually calls for medical advise from shore doctors in case of any medical issues on board. Sure, when the vessel reaches port, you can go to qualified doctors ashore for medical treatment. In case of any emergency on board during sailing, the vessel can be diverted to the closest port of medical treatment.

Also all the medical cost how much ever it may be is covered by the company and you need not pay even one USD also for your medical while you are onboard.

You might be thinking that I am over-exaggerating the things let me tell you that I have not yet completed ...We forgot about the "Sea" ..You see the calm, placid sea on which a ship sails...ya that’s right so beautiful!!See the most beautiful sunrise and divine sunset. Believe me Merchant Navy guys are closest to mother Nature. Sailing the ship while drizzling and staring the iridescent sky or marvel at the meteors and constellations in the night. As I said we guys are blessed to be closest to the mother nature on such a Mammoth ship, but such big ships start to feel like a pack of cards which can roll over anytime during severe storms. People get Seasick and you will see things flying all over if not properly secured. Headaches and homesickness and lowest mental strength are just part of things/feelings which will follow after it. Motion sickness as we call it is never to be underestimated and though it takes long time to get habituated to but I have seen people leaving their jobs completely and burden others due to this. So, can you handle this too...???

What? You say you still can bear this!!! Kudos my friend ,Merchant Navy demands guys like you!!!While the above views were not to discourage anyone from joining Merchant Navy but to prepare them for such a demanding field. Of course, you will not have such tough time on every ship and for sure not all Merchant Navy guys are so tough.

This is really a rewarding profession and with fast promotions you can secure your life early. While this is also true that you need to stay away from your family for long time but things are changing .Today Most companies are ready to allow Family carriage onboard and you can sail with your wife and kids. I know my friend who is presently sailing with his wife and have been able to check out the famous PATAYA BEACH, lucky kyun?? Family carriage is usually for the top 4 officers i.e Master, chief officer, Chief Engineer and 2d Engineer, however some companies also extend the same to junior officers also. Ratings are not allowed to carry their families onboard.

Contracts periods with Junior officers are for 6 months +/- 1 month, Senior officers get contracts for 4+/- 1 month , and ratings have a contract of usually 9 +/- 1 month ,again this may vary from company to company and also based on ship types and trade of the ship you are joining. .Companies are also considerate and understand the personal problems and requirements to adjust your contracts sometimes.

Gone are those days when you were not in touch with your family and parents. Again, most companies provide a minimum of free email service to mail text messages and Satellites phone to call families. Most of the companies now also have a minimum data plan where in, you can use whatsapp for chatting and calling. Also most standard companies have something called a v-sat which provides full fledged internet service on the ship. Slowly the software onboard for ship operations are also becoming cloud based making internet more and more important.

Now for the vacations ,on an average you are entitled 3 months vacations but it is up to you when you want to join back, just keep your company informed about your plans and they will line you up accordingly. I forgot to tell you this, that you will not be paid during your vacations. This again depends on your company. Some companies have all year round pay policy but in short what they have done is that they have distributed the money given to you for your service onboard equally during your vacation period also. I have heard people saying that Merchant Navy officers lose their youth at sea, they lose their life blah blah blah...I certainly do not agree to such crap. To me we guys live more than anyone else. Nobody is forcing you to join quickly. Vacations mean pure vacations, no pending jobs, no boss orders and certainly no deadlines to join. While this is true that you might or might not be able to see the world during sailing but you have both time and money to go any place in the world during vacations. You can actually do anything which you want during your vacations.

Having given you a detailed information on life at sea, if you want to join Merchant navy do consult someone in this field. Again, people may have their own opinion about this field so it’s always better to ask and be ready before joining .A list of the Merchant navy Training Institutes for the cadets and basic requirements can be found easily but a thorough search and googling would certainly help you a lot. While there are many colleges in India but before joining any Institute do confirm their last placement and the Authenticity of the Institutes. Please confirm from their alumni whether any placement help is provided by the Institute. While a lot of changes have been done since I joined the sea and now Indian Maritime university(IMU) has also been established but do check everything before joining any Institute since changes are regularly happening.

The other option which is there ,is to look for Advertisements published by authentic Stable Companies in newspapers and get selected/sponsored by such companies. Here I must add about the placement agents too who might promise you a Job and the ship for your sea time ,quite obviously for some money. While not all are fake but most are, so do check their authenticity and credibility too.

With this note I end here and hope that this blog will give a slight better picture of the profession called MERCHANT NAVY.

I really hope you got a lot of information about merchant navy and life on board a ship.If you want to watch different videos on merchant navy, you can go to the following website:

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