water transportation worker

What does a Water Transportation Worker do?

A water transportation worker is sometimes called a merchant marine and they can hold a variety of other titles. Titles include captains, mates, deck officers, mariners, sailors, marine oilers, ship engineers, deckhands, and motorboat operators. All of these positions maintain and operate vessels and travel to and from domestic ports along the coasts, the country’s inland waterways, and could also travel to foreign country ports.

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How to Become a Water Transportation Worker

Some water transportation workers hold a bachelor’s degree from a merchant marine academy which offers a bachelor’s degree to gain a Merchant Marine Credential (MMC). This provides an endorsement to become a third mate or third assistant engineer. Those graduating these programs can choose to receive a commission as an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve, U.S.Coast Guard, or Merchant Marine Reserve. Visit the United States Coast Guard website (link opens in a new tab) to learn more.

Non-officers do not normally require a degree. Some job titles include marine oilers or sailors. They receive on-the-job training for 6 months to a year depending on the size and type of ship they work on. All mariners working on ships with U.S. Flags require a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) from the Transportation Security Administration (link opens in a new tab) that ensures the employee is a U.S. Citizen or permanent resident. It also demonstrates the employee has passed security screening. This TWIC is renewed every 5 years.

Mariners working on ships that are traveling on the open ocean require the Standards of Training and Watch Keeping Certification (STWC) endorsement that must be renewed every 5 years. Mariners who work on inland waterways do not require the STWC endorsement. Most Mariners need to have a Merchant Marine Credential (MMC). Entry-level employees do not have to pass a written exam. However, some must pass physical, vision, and hearing tests and all must pass a drug screening test. MMC is renewed every 5 years.

Job Description of Water Transportation Worker

The duties of a water transportation worker vary according to the size and type of ship or vessel they work on. However, they typically maintain and operate non-military vessels such as large deep-sea container ships, bulk carriers, large and small tankers, supply ships, tug boats, salvage vessels, cruise ships, or deep-sea merchant marine ships. They follow their vessel’s strict chain of command and ensure the safety of the cargo and passengers on board.

Captains and mates are responsible to supervise workers, manage maintenance, keep records of the budget, and various other duties. Pilots guide ships in harbors, confined waterways, and rivers. Sailors or deckhands operate and maintain the vessel and deck equipment among other duties. Ship engineers operate and maintain a vessels’ propulsion system.

Larger vessels typically carry a chief engineer who has command of the engine room and its crew as well as a first, second, and third assistant engineer. Marine oilers work in the engine room, assisting the engineers to keep the propulsion system in working order. Motorboat operators run small, motor-driven boats that carry only a few passengers and provide a variety of services, like fishing charters or tours.

Water transportation workers are oftentimes gone for long periods of time, work in all types of weather conditions, and have long working hours. There is a faster than average growth in this industry, especially for our domestic waterways.

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Water Transportation Worker Career Video Transcript

Seafaring is not just a career, it’s a lifestyle. Captains, mates, and ship pilots spend their days on the water on vessels of all sizes, on inland lakes and rivers, as well as the open sea. The captain is responsible for every aspect of the voyage and vessel. They set course and speed, direct crew members, and ensure that proper procedures are followed, keeping logs and records of the ship’s movements and cargo, and supervising the loading and unloading of cargo and passengers.

Mates are the captain’s “right hand.” They manage and train the deck crew, inspect and maintain an inventory of equipment, and order needed repairs. They stand watch, oversee ship operations, and navigation when the captain is not on duty. Pilots are responsible for steering ships in and out of berths, through hazardous conditions, and boat traffic. They motor out from harbor as a ship approaches, then climb aboard to take charge and safely berth the ship. Life aboard ship requires that one must be in good physical condition to tolerate the extremes of weather and irregular hours and to be ready to respond to unexpected danger.

Captains and ship pilots are expected to have vocational training or an associate’s degree, while mates often have a high school diploma. Licensing by the Coast Guard is required for work on ships registered in the U.S. If you can’t resist the call of the sea, you might set sail for a nautical career.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Water Transportation Workers.

The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.

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