The opportunity to
travel around the world and the lure of high salaries
attracts many youngsters to a career in the Merchant Navy.
This feature describes the profession, how to get into it and
the promotion avenues. Usually, young people are attracted by
the glamour of travelling the high seas, but it is good to
know what actually the job entails. It also describes what to
expect and the avenues after spending some years on the ship.
A career in the merchant navy is considered a glamorous one,
especially by young people who have the travel bug. It offers
an opportunity to visit new and exotic places all over the
world, and the salaries are also very high. For many young
people, a life of travel and adventure holds a unique charm
and that is the reason that many of them look for a career in
the merchant navy.
What is merchant navy? It consists of various types of ships
such as tankers, cargo and passenger ships. It is different
from the navy in the sense that it offers commercial
services, as opposed to the navy, which is involved in the
defence of a nation. Companies that run merchant ships
require trained people who can operate and maintain the
ships. Some of these are: Chevron and Mobil of USA, Wallem
Ship Management of Hong Kong, Denholm of UK and a host of
Norwegian companies. India too has its shipping companies,
such as the Shipping Corporation of India, Great Eastern
Shipping, Essar and Chowgule Shipping. Merchant Navy is the
backbone of international trade, carrying cargo across the
globe. Without the merchant navy, much of the import-export
business would grind to a halt!
Trained people are required for the three main departments of
the shipthe deck, the engine and the service department.
There are, thus, many career options that are available for
any youngster that has dreams to join the merchant navy. The
deck officers include the captain, chief officer, second
officer, third officer and other junior officers. Deck staff
is responsible for navigating, supervising cargo and
passengers. The engine department consists of the chief
engineer, radio officer, electrical officer and junior
engineers. They are responsible for the engines and other
mechanical and electrical equipment. The service department
manages the kitchen, laundry, medical and other services.
Thus, another way of getting into the merchant navy could be
by doing a course in hotel management and catering.
Salary: The starting salary varies between Rs 15,000 to Rs
20,000 a month. A person gets a variety of benefits such as
free food, accommodation, paid leave, two-way free passage
and facilities for families. In other words, the salary can
be saved totally while one is on ship. The perquisites
include bonus, holiday travel and other annual benefits.
Foreign companies pay higher, and a starting salary of
1,500 to $ 2,500 can be expected. Since the job involves
going abroad for extended periods, one can take advantage of
becoming an NRI and earn tax-free income.
The entry level for a fresh Marine Engineer (ME) is at the
rank of fifth engineer or junior engineer. Promotions depend
on examinations and a steady performance. The fourth engineer
must have completed 18 months of sea time and clear the
examination (conducted by Marine Mercantile Department,
Government of India) to be promoted to the rank of third
engineer. At each stage, exams have to be cleared and after
many years of experience, one may hope to become the chief
engineer, the highest rank that an ME can reach. At this
level, salary may reach Rs 1.50 lakh per month. Some people
achieve this by mid-30s. The chances of promotions are quite
wide, though it may be mentioned that there are no higher
positions after becoming the captain of a ship. There could,
thus, be some stagnation at this level.
How to apply: A merchant navy aspirant can do the 3-year B.Sc
(National Science) course or the 4-year Marine Engineering
course at the TS Chanakya, Mumbai and Marine Engineering
Research Institute (MERI), Calcutta. The first is a
navigation discipline course while the second is an
engineering course. The eligibility is class 12 with Physics,
Chemistry and Mathematics. Admission is through the IIT joint
Entrance Examination (JEE-2000), the screening test of which
is scheduled to be held on January 2, 2000 and main
examination on May 7, 2000. Application forms can be obtained
from Chairman, JEE of any IIT and some designated banks from
August 2, 1999 to September 13, 1999. Candidates will also
have to fill forms for TS Chanakya and MERI, which are
available from: Director General of Shipping, Jahaz Bhawan,
WH Marg, Ballard Estate, Mumbai - 400 038.
Candidates have to be unmarried Indian citizens (male or
female). After clearing the test, there is an interview and a
medical test. Normal vision is required but glasses upto plus
or minus 2.5 may be allowed. There are some private
institutes which offer training for merchant navy as well.
These institutes prepare students for jobs such as deck
cadets and marine engineering jobs. Look out for notices in
the local newspapers for the courses conducted by private
Becoming a deck cadet: If you have missed the opportunity to
do IIT-JEE, the alternative is to do a training to become a
deck cadet from a private institute. Some of these institutes
have contacts with shipping companies, which normally recruit
deck cadets directly. The limitation is that one may not have
as fast a promotion that may be offered to a regular marine
engineer or a graduate in nautical science.
Aptitude: It is normally believed that the job of a merchant
navy officer is a glamorous one. While travel and high
salaries are no doubt attractive, an aspirant must assess
whether he has the aptitude or not. First, it is a high
technology profession. One must not only have engineering
aptitude but a feel for technology as well. Second, a person
may be on a ship for extended periods of time, without
family. This could become lonely and may cause stress.
Further, if one gets sea-sick, a career in the merchant navy
is hardly the correct option. It may also be kept in mind
that if you have an aversion to exams, you may find
promotions difficult to come by. Finally, one would have to
be a calm person and not prone to panic: a person managing a
ship would have to keep calm in the case of rough seas and
storms, or if the engine fails. Working hours could be
irregular; one could be sailing for nine months in a year,
with a minimum duty of eight hours a day. Working areas could
also be cramped, with little social life. It is only on the
bigger passenger ships that one can meet other people, but
for many cargo ships, it means spending months only with the
crew members. So, one must be prepared for the rugged life.
Training: The four-year training is a rigorous one and
prepares a young person for crisis management besides imparts
skills required for the ship. In the first year, one learns
basics of engineering, electrical and electronics. The next
year, cadets learn about the engine room, the machines and
instruments used for sailing. Candidates will also have to
attend workshops at the Mazagaon docks, the Indian Naval
Dockyard and the Bombay Port Trust. This is essential because
of the rule that all MEs must have two years of workshop
training in government-authorised centres. The other
organisations where training can be done are the Garden Reach
Shipbuilders and Central Inland Waterways Transport
Corporation. The third and fourth year are devoted to
studying engineering. Students learn about the internal
combustion engine, the diesel power-house and other technical
In the final year, students learn management including
operations management, naval architecture, marine auxiliaries
and electricity, geography, ship construction and marine
systems design. MERI is equipped with instrumentation,
automation and simulators. Students are trained to meet
challenges on the sea. Discipline, dedication and the ability
to work under pressure are all required from a good sailor.
These days, working in a computerised environment are an
added training that one must go through and some jobs may
have become easier because of this. However, one must be
constantly alert to warning systems to avoid any mishap.
Prospects beyond marine engineering: Training in marine
engineering does not limit you to ships. After putting in
several years of service, many sailors retire with a good
savings and opt for land-based jobs or start a business. The
normal age of retirement would be mid-30s or early forties,
when a person feels the need to settle down with family.
Openings would exist in the power plants, electrical and
electronics industry, ship-building industry, etc. Many
marine engineers become consultants to international shipping
lines or join companies providing maintenance and other
services to ships.