Too Old to become a Merchant Marine?

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Introduction to Merchant Marine as a Second or Third Career

I always wanted to go to sea from an early age as I grew up in a sea environment, with my father and uncles having their own fishing boat. I spent many happy years at sea in the Merchant Navy as an Engineer Officer. This must have influenced my brother as well; he also went to sea as a ships Engineer Officer.

Nowadays ships engines are mostly large slow-revving 2-stroke diesels such as MAN and Wärtsilär/Sulzer, some being bridge controlled, however watch-keeping and maintenance engineers are still required.

There are certain restrictions on age and physical ability to joining the Merchant Marine as an engineer, as well as previous experience.

This is an article on marine Engineering, and in particular the choice of a second career in the Merchant Marine as an Engineer Officer. We shall look at merchant marine information that is available to the mature person to join the Merchant Marine including the Marine Colleges open to them.

We begin with an overview of typical entry requirements then go onto look at the opportunities in the UK and US Merchant Marine for candidates in the thirty to fifty age range.

Overview of Entry Requirements to Mercantile Marine as an Engineering Officer

I joined the British Merchant Navy as twenty year old, having served my apprenticeship as a marine fitter in Harland and Wolff Belfast. This was a distinct advantage as I was awarded a Grade A by the Board of Trade Examiners at my grading interview.

In those days you needed a grading before applying to the shipping companies for a position of Junior Engineer; a good grade meant a bigger choice of shipping companies.

Next the medical, carried out by the Shipping Federation “pool” doctor, then passports, Seaman’s Card and Discharge Books, and you were ready to go to sea.

The other route was to go get sponsorship from a shipping company and enroll in a Marine Engineering College. Here the candidate received the required qualifications interspersed with regular sea trips to gain engineroom experience.

Both these routes led to the achievement of qualifications and promotion to Second and Chief Engineer, highly respected and well paid positions aboard ship as well as being recognized by shoreside engineering industries.

Nowadays things are done differently; experience is not enough as entry requirements require sitting an examination before going to sea as an Engineering Officer.

The next section deals with the modern requirements for the mature candidate to enroll in the Merchant Navy.

Merchant Marine as a Second or Third Career; Opportunities for a Mature Candidate

We shall continue to look at the opportunities to train as as ships Engineer Officer using the following criteria from the current merchant marine information available;

  • Age limit
  • Physical Fitness
  • Marine Academies/Colleges
  • Experience and Entry Qualifications
  • Fees

UK Opportunities

  • Age Limit

According to the Merchant Navy Training Board, there is no age limit to joining the British Merchant Navy, as long as you are less than 65 years old. (So much for me running away to sea!) Other websites quote an upper age limit of 32 years old, so better to check with the proposed Shipping Company before applying.

  • Physical Fitness

The often hazardous and isolated conditions found at sea mean that the applicant must be physically fit and able to carry out their duties without risk to other crew members of ships safety.

Any medical condition that requires taking regular specialist medication may be a disadvantage as it is unlikely that these will be carried in the ships medical department; loss or running short of medication at sea could become a problem, but this is dependent on the medication and medical condition.

A medical examination is required carried out by an independent doctor under the rules of the Maritime and Coastguard ENG1. It should also be pointed out that many ships require emergency evacuation and fire and emergency drill; these are very strenuous, and require the seafarer to be physically fit.

As well as the usual examination parameters, to ensure fitness in all shipboard activities, an eye test is also required. Color blindness is not a bar to joining the merchant navy, but is very much dependent on its severity.

  • Marine Academies/Colleges

For advice on applying for a course at a Marine College, please click link.

Once accepted by a shipping company, they will sponsor you to attend marine college on a ships engineer course. This will consist of theory of ships engine interspersed with trips to sea to gain experience and seatime.

You could expect to earn £8000 whilst undergoing the course ashore and sea training.

Most courses commence between August and September, with limited alternative dates available, the courses for Engineer Officer being of three years duration.

Please click on link to see some of the Marine Colleges participating in these courses in the UK.

  • Experience and Qualifications

Experience on diesel engines will be an advantage. Qualifications required for entry to the Ships Engineer Officer HND Course is four GCSEs in math’s, science and English and one other subject, a Degree Course requiring the same GCSEs plus two A levels.

  • Fees

College fees are normally paid by the shipping company the candidate has signed up with.

USA Opportunities

  • Age Limit

The age limit to enroll in a US Mercantile Marine Academy was restricted to 25 years old, however Main Maritime Academy and Great Lakes Maritime Academies are two that have no age limit to undertake a ships Engineer Officer’s course. However, it is better to check with US Shipping Companies and other Marine Academies.

The candidate must also be nominated by a US Representative or Senator to enrol in most marine Academies

  • Physical Fitness

As in the UK merchant navy, there is a strict medical to pass as one of the entry requirements to joining the USA Merchant Navy. Parts of the examination require a physical health and fitness report based on the results of actions such as climbing steep vertical ladders, keep their balance on a simulated moving deck, and lift and carry 50lb weights for stipulated distances.

  • Marine Academies

These include the following;

Massachusetts Maritime Academy

United States Marine Academy

Maine Marine Academy

California Maritime Academy

Great Lakes Maritime academy

  • Experience and Qualifications

Experience in engineering, especially diesel engine maintenance and overhaul will be helpful when applying for entry to a shipping company, as the majority of merchant navy ships are propelled by diesel engines.

Academic entry qualifications required differ between Marine Academies, most requiring the candidate to take either a Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or a American College Test (ACT) passing with a minimum SAT verbal attainment of 600, coupled with a math attainment of 660, a strong high school record is also a requirement.

Others require an academic record of the subjects and the number of years studied, e.g. 4 years English and composition, 2 years maths and 1 years algebra, etc.

  • Fees

Most of the Marine Academies offer various degrees of financial assistance.

Reference Webs:

  1. MVGA: Seafarers Medical
  2. Studentadviser: Marine Careers
  3. Clydemarine: Training Careersatsea :
  4. Carrersatsea: Entry Requirements Marine Colleges