Working in the realm of water transportation places high demands and important job responsibilities on workers, but offers plenty of rewards as well. Jobs in the field task workers with operating and maintaining vessels that transport people and cargo over water. As a merchant marine, you travel on shipping vessels to various foreign ports, to domestic ports lined up on the coast, or even across the United States’ inland waterways (such as the Great Lakes). But is all the hard work worth it? What is the average merchant mariner salary? We have some numbers you might want to check out.
Merchant Mariner Salary: Quick Overview
According to Zip Recruiter, the national average merchant mariner salary is $53,834/year in 2019, which translates to about $26/hour. National average means that half of all employed workers earn more than this median amount, while the other half earn less.
To give you a better idea of how much a merchant mariner salary can vary, let’s take a look at both ends of the spectrum. Top 10% of all workers in the field earn up to $112,000/year or $53.85/hour. Meanwhile, the bottom 10% make only $18,500/year or $8.89/hour. This wide range means that the industry is prone to large differences in earning power based on a worker’s level of experience, location, employer, and the specific field of work for each merchant marine.
Earnings Factors That Will Affect Pay
A merchant marine’s field of work serves as the single most important factor that affects salary. As of May 2018, ship engineers earned a median wage of $71,130 per year. At the same time, ship captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels earned a lower median wage, around $69,180 per year. Motorboat operators held a median wage of $50,290, while sailors and marine oilers earned even less, around $40,900/ year. As you can see, experience and specialization will greatly influence a merchant mariner salary; so if you’re considering getting a job in the field, you might want to make sure there will be plenty of possibilities to advance as you gain more expertise.
Obviously, education plays a big role in how much you’ll be able to make. Ship engineers earn the top pay of all merchant marines. However, these specific workers are also required to complete high levels of education to be able to specialize.
Another criterion that affects wages is the sector of the economy in which merchant marines operate. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top five industries paid the following median salaries in 2018: $58,540 for employees in support of activities for water transportation; 56,700 for employees involved in deep-sea, coastal and great lakes water transportation; 52,780 for inland water transportation workers; $49,940 for government employees; and $38,350 for scenic and sightseeing transportation (for water).
Job Description and Outlook of a Merchant Marine
The typical workday of a merchant marine consists of the following job activities:
- Operating and maintaining non-military vessels;
- Following the orders of their vessel’s strict chain of command;
- Ensuring the safety of all people and cargo on board;
- Fulfilling highly specific tasks: cooking, mechanics, or electronics (after graduating in this specialization).
A downside to the job is that merchant marines tend to live in close quarters with one another for long periods of time. Personal space carries a premium while at sea and the job can become very uncomfortable, especially if you don’t play well with others. With that being said, the job also allows you to travel to many parts of the country and even internationally. You could even end up seeing the world if you’re dedicated to making it as a merchant marine.
As for the job’s outlook, the prospect of this trade appears favorable according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment of merchant marines should grow by 7% between the years 2016 through 2026. This figure remains on par as the average for all other occupations in the job market.
Additionally, we feel relieved to see that this age-old occupation won’t become obsolete anytime soon. The employment of captains and ship mates should grow by 9% and of ship engineers by 7%. Also, the Bureau estimated employment of sailors and marine oilers to grow by an average rate of 8%. The demand for water-weight shipping should grow with the expanding economy. Consequently, experts believe this will increase the market demand for merchant marines.
Educational Requirements of a Merchant Marine
Most of merchant marines (such as deck officers, engineers and pilots) must hold a bachelor’s degree from a Merchant Marine academy to be qualified to work in this field. These academies offer a Merchant Marine Credential (MMC), in addition to the standard bachelor’s degree. The credential endorses the graduate, allowing him or her to become a third mate/third assistant engineer following graduation.
Sailors and marine oilers (all non-officer personnel) do not need a degree to attain employment. These workers receive on-the-job training for a six-month period. Occasionally, the training takes up to a year to complete. For instance, the crew on deep-sea vessels needs more complex training than the crew operating on a ship that travels on a river.
As expected, education and training requirements vary by the type of job you’re after. For lower-level jobs, water transportation workers often embark on U.S. Coast Guard-approved training programs to receive credentials. If you’re planning to get a job on a ship flying the U.S. flag, you need a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC), issued by the Transportation Security Administration. This basically ensures that you’re a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and that you have passed a security screening. Additionally, merchant marines who work on ships operating on the open ocean need to get the Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STWC) endorsement, which is issued by the Coast Guard after the workers have completed the required training.
Possibilities of Advancement in the Field
If you’re unhappy with the average merchant mariner salary, you can always strive for more. As within any field, possibilities of advancement do exist. Workers gain hands-on experience as part of their training programs, as it’s common for them to advance from lower positions to higher ones as they get better. For example, mates may have previously worked as sailors.
Furthermore, workers can apply for endorsements that will allow them to move into more advanced positions after obtaining their MMC. You can become a Qualified Member of the Engine Department after passing a written test and having six months experience. On the same note, it usually takes at least one year spent in each position to be able to advance on the occupation ladder – from third mate to second mate, then to first mate, eventually to captain or chief engineer. This greatly varies based on the employer and work environment.
Do I Have What It Takes to Become a Merchant Marine?
As with all gigs, working as a merchant marine requires certain skills, most of which can be developed over time. As expected, you need plenty of physical strength, since heavy lifting can be a big part of the job description. Given the tight quarters, good communication skills are also essential, as it would be ideal to get along well with the rest of the crew.
Next, mechanical skills and manual dexterity are both a must, as is good hand-eye coordination. Depending on your field of work, you may be required to operate various controls or keep complex machines working properly. You also need to be able to keep your balance on wet or uneven surfaces, since the weather isn’t always kind.
The average merchant mariner salary depends on skill, experience, and qualifications. The job can be immensely satisfying, but might also take workers away from their home for months at a time. As with all industries, there are pros and cons to consider before pursuing a career as a seaman. If you do, however, you might be able to see the world as part of the job. Tempting, don’t you agree?
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