How to join Merchant Navy?

Have you ever dreamt of exploring the wild oceans? Does the thought of crossing those foggy tides to step on new lands excite you? How about being on one of those huge vessels that sail towards the horizons?

If you are interested, I can tell you of a job that will let you do all that while getting paid. Yes, I’m talking about joining the merchant navy. The fleet of huge vessels takes aboard a lot of men in its journey to take cargo from one land to another. And you can be one of them. In this article, I’m going to talk about the ways to become part of merchant navy ships?

How to join the merchant navy?

The term merchant navy refers to the fleet of cargo ships that carry shipments across international waters. This industry is the heart of international trade and is a huge asset to the import and export industry.

Once you board a merchant navy ship, it’s going to be your home for a while. You will have to wait for at least a few months to get back to your home port. Till then, it is more like a small town in the ocean and you will have everything you need in that town. And to make it like that, the vessel needs a lot of humans aboard. With those who control the vessel, the ships take along a large number of professionals to serve officers on board. 

So, merchant navy vessels offer plenty of job opportunities. It’s not just the deck officers, but also engineers, caterers, helpers, etc. Now, what does that mean? There are multiple ways to join the merchant navy. Let’s look at each of them.

Become a deck officer

Do you know who is the ‘Supreme Leader’ in a ship? The Captain! That was too obvious. But who becomes the captain of a ship? The answer would be ‘Deck officers’. With years of experience and series of examinations, climbing one step at a time, deck officers reach that position. And who are deck officers? They are the people who keep the vessel running. 

Deck officers are responsible for navigation, maneuvering and safe handling of the ship. This includes ensuring the effective functioning of the vessel, handling of all kinds of communication with the land, management, and delivery of cargo on board, maintenance and operation of life-saving devices, etc. These tasks will be divided among deck officers of various ranks such as deck cadets, third officers, second officers, and chief officers. 

Now, how to become a deck officer?

One becomes a deck officer after completing a program in nautical science and gaining the required sailing experience in a vessel. Nautical Science is an academic disciple that teaches a student the techniques and knowledge needed to operate and navigate a ship. In India, there are two different nautical science programs that allow you to join the merchant navy as a deck officer. They are BSc nautical science and diploma in nautical science (DNS). 

BSc Nautical science

It is a regular 3-year science program where the candidates will learn nautical technology and its application. The course intends to equip students with the necessary skills and knowledge to navigate and operate marine vehicles and devices such as ships. The subjects covered during this program are Navigation, Celestial Navigation, Ship Stability, Ship Operation Technology, Meteorology, Oceanography, Spherical Trigonometry, Basic Marine Engineering, Cargo Handling and Stowage, Maritime Commerce, Maritime Law, etc. 

Once you complete the 3 years in a reputed institution recognized by the shipping authority of India, you will have to go onboard as a deck cadet or deck officer trainee for another 12 months. After gaining the required experience, you can appear for second mate examination. Clearing this will allow you to join the ship as a third officer and then progress to the rank of the second officer with experience. You will need to clear a few more exams and earn more years of sailing experience to become a first officer or captain. 

Diploma in nautical science (DNS)

This is a one year program in nautical science divided into 2 semesters. This course is offered by institutions under Indian Maritime University. The program covers subjects such as Navigation, Preservation laws, Architecture of naval, Sea structure, Ship Operation Technology, Ship stability, Cargo handling and storage, Fluid Dynamics, Dynamics of Onshore Structures, etc. But this doesn’t mean you will be done with just one year. On successful completion of the regular course, a candidate will have to gain 18 months of sailing experience as a deck cadet to receive the certificates. From there, your climb uphill starts. 


A ship is a big vessel. Thousands of parts work together in tandem to keep it in a way it needs to be. And to keep the vessel functioning and conduct the necessary maintenance,  merchant navy ships take engineers aboard. They are in charge of the functioning and maintenance of engines and other mechanical parts of a ship. They work as chief engineers, second engineers, third engineers, and junior engineers. 

Now, how to become an engineer in the merchant navy?

The first step is to enroll for a Btech course. Though marine engineering is the best bet, engineers from other streams can also board the ship by taking a longer route. Let’s look at the two most common ways through which individuals join the merchant navy as engineers.

BTech marine engineering

The most common route is by taking up Btech in marine engineering from a recognized university. As you already know, it is a 4-year undergraduate program divided into 8 semesters. The program intends to teach the students about the operation of the ship’s main engine, auxiliaries, and other propulsion and adjunct machinery. 

Marine engineering covers subjects such as electronics, fluid mechanics, ship construction, commercial geography, naval architecture, engineering drawing, etc. The students also need to gain specified sailing experience as trainee engineers in a vessel before joining a merchant navy ship as junior engineers. Then, you will get to climb to the position of third engineer, second engineer and chief engineer with experience. 

Btech mechanical engineering

The second most popular route towards becoming an engineer in the merchant navy is by doing Btech in mechanical engineering. But, you will still have to become a marine engineer. This can be done by taking up a 1year Graduate marine engineering (GME) course after your graduation in mechanical engineering. This will give mechanical engineers the ticket to the merchant navy. From here, the pathway upwards is the same as the last route.

Electro-technical officer

A merchant navy vessel carries a lot of electrotechnical equipment on board. These electrical mechanisms are vital in operating and controlling the vessel.  Thus, such vessels, both cargo ships or cruise ships, carry experts who take care of all the works related to its maintenance and smooth functioning. These people are called electro-technical officers. Electrotechnical officers are in charge of controlling all electronic and electrical equipment onboard to ensure the operational safety and performance of the ship. Electrical officers work along with deck officers and engineers to deal with all electrical and technology-related challenges on a ship. 

Now, how to become an electro-technical officer in the merchant navy?

Just like engineers on board, electro-technical officers are mostly engineers. The first step is to opt for Btech in subjects such as  Electrical Engineering, Electronics Engineering, Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Electronics and Telecommunication / Communication Engineering, or Electronics and Instrumentation. Once that is done, you should undergo a 17-week pre-sea training for electro-technical officers on merchant ships. That’s not it. You should receive the certification as an electro-technical officer before boarding your ship as a part of the electrical officer’s crew. For that, you need to go through 6 months of training onboard.

Join the catering department in the merchant navy

We spoke about the people who take care of the vessel. But that’s not it. Merchant navy vessels take onboard personnel who serve the officers. This includes the catering department as well. When it comes to the merchant navy, there are pre-sea training courses for catering. There are two main programs. Certificate course in marine catering (CCMC) and orientation course for catering personal (OOCP). 

Certificate course in marine catering (CCMC)

It is a 6-month pre-sea course that trains students in Food Production, Food and Beverage Service, Housekeeping and Maritime familiarization. One can join this course either after completing an undergraduate course in hotel management or directly after HSE.

Orientation course for catering personal (OOCP)

Unlike certificate courses in marine catering (CCMC), this is a 12-day pre-sea training program. This is a DG approved course and successful completion of the course will make a candidate eligible for the roles of a general steward, trainee/ second cook. They will subsequently get promoted to higher ranks in the catering department. Candidates who have completed diploma or degree programs in courses like hotel management are eligible to appear for the OOCP course. 


Apart from these positions, one can join the merchant navy as ratings. They are people who help the officers with their daily job roles. There are three main types of ratings. Deck ratings, engine ratings, and catering ratings. As it’s obvious from the names, deck ratings assist deck officers with their tasks, engine ratings and catering ratings assist engineering officers and catering officers respectively. You can join the merchant navy as a rating after the 10th. As a rating, you will have the opportunity to climb up the ladder and become officers after gaining enough sea time experience and training. But this depends on the shipping company you are working for.


Merchant navy is an ideal choice for those who love the ocean. You will get to travel around the world in a vessel and get paid for that. In this article, we discussed the pathways towards joining the merchant navy. One can join the fleet of merchant vessels as deck officers, engineers, electro-technical officers, caterers, ratings, etc. We hope the illustrated analysis has powered up your insights and widened your perspectives about how to join the merchant navy. Always remember that you make your own destiny. Make sure that you invest time and thought before making your life-changing decisions.

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