Merchant Navy Rating

The Job and What's Involved

Ratings carry out a wide range of essential tasks in the day-to-day running of Merchant Navy ships.

The Merchant Navy is made up of a large number of civilian ships, operated by individual shipping companies. These include:

  • Cruise ships.
  • Containerships carrying a variety of cargo.
  • Ferries carrying millions of passengers each year.
  • Oil, gas and chemical tankers of all sizes.
  • Bulk carriers carrying ores, grain and coal.
  • Specialised vessels, including support for the offshore oil and gas industry.

Job descriptions vary according to the type of ship and the area where the rating is based.

Deck ratings:

  • Help to navigate and steer the ship.
  • Act as lookout.
  • Operate deck machinery, such as winches and cranes.
  • Load and unload cargo.
  • Carry out maintenance tasks such as painting steelwork and inspecting and cleaning holds and tanks.
  • Help to moor the vessel in dock.
  • Help maintain shipboard safety and security.

Engineering ratings:

These are based in the engine room and the engine control room. They:

  • Operate, repair and service the ship's engines and other machinery.
  • Help maintain shipboard safety and security.

Catering ratings:

  • Prepare food.
  • Look after stores.
  • Keep catering equipment clean.
  • Serve food and drink to passengers or crew.
  • Clean and look after accommodation and public areas.

Ratings work under the supervision of the ship's officers.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

British waters are some of the busiest in the world for shipping. Ships carry over 90 per cent of world trade, and this is forecast to increase substantially by 2015. There are around 10,000 UK Merchant Navy ratings, but opportunities for entering the Merchant Navy as a rating are limited.

There is no central recruiting agency, so applicants need to approach individual shipping companies directly to find a sponsored training opportunity. There is a list of companies on the Careers at Sea website.

Education and Training

There are no set minimum qualifications needed to become a Merchant Navy rating, but most employers ask for at least three GCSE's (A*-D) or equivalent. Applicants need to show they are capable of training to a minimum of NVQ Level 2. The Diplomas in engineering and in hospitality (for catering ratings) may be a useful starting point.

All ratings must pass a Merchant Navy medical examination before being employed at sea. Applicants for jobs that include navigation need good eyesight. Deck and engineering ratings must have normal colour vision.

It can be helpful for applicants to have qualifications or experience in areas such as engineering or catering. Experience and qualifications gained in the Royal Navy may count towards Merchant Navy qualifications.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Merchant Navy training begins with a six-week residential course on basic skills and safety awareness. Trainees then spend around eight months gaining practical experience working at sea. After this, they return to college for three to six weeks' training in their chosen speciality before going to sea again.

Trainees work towards NVQ Level 2 in marine vessel support, which has paths leading to deck rating or engineering rating careers. Successful deck ratings also receive the Efficient Deck Hand Certificate. Catering ratings work towards an NVQ Level 2 in catering. It usually takes 12 to 18 months for ratings to complete training. Qualified ratings are known as Seaman (Grade 1).

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A Merchant Navy rating should be:

  • Good at practical work.
  • Able to take responsibility.
  • Able to work unsupervised and as part of a team.
  • Able to follow instructions as mistakes could have dangerous consequences.
  • Competent operating technical equipment.
  • Sociable and able to get on with a wide variety of people.
  • Able to cope with being away from friends and family for months at a time.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience, qualified ratings may progress to Seaman (Grade 2).

There are also opportunities to take a conversion course and progress to officer level.

Get Further Information

The Marine Society & Sea Cadets
Tel: 020 7654 7000

Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB)
Tel: 020 7417 2800 or 0800 085 0973

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