How To Become A Ship Captain In The Merchant Navy

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 12 October 2022

Published 12 October 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The merchant navy is one of the defence forces in the country. There are many posts in the merchant navy and the ship captain is one of the higher position as compared to others. If you want to serve the nation, gaining knowledge of the role a ship captain performs can help you decide if you want to enter this field. In this article, we discuss how to become a ship captain, the responsibilities a ship captain has, their work schedule and the skills you require to become a ship captain.

Related: Comprehensive Guide to Officer Ranks in Merchant Navy

How To Become A Ship Captain?

When you are planning how to become a ship captain then below are the steps to be followed:

1. Learn about a career path

As a ship captain is a higher post in the merchant navy, it is better to gain knowledge about how to reach that position. It is helpful to gain knowledge of the educational qualifications required, entrance exams available to enter this field and marks you require maintaining to be eligible to become a ship captain. To become a ship captain, first, it is important that you join the merchant navy and work as a deck officer.

Related: What Does A Navy Officer Do? (Plus Salary And Skills)

2. Gain relevant education

To stay eligible to become a ship captain, you require to clear 12th class with science stream and study subjects like mathematics, physics and chemistry. You need a minimum of 60% marks in your 12th standard in school. There are many options you can pursue to enter the merchant navy, like pursuing diploma courses, merchant navy bachelor courses or merchant navy master courses. Each course has its own age limit and eligibility criteria, as below:

Diploma course

You can pursue a one-year diploma course after the completion of the 12th standard from a recognised school board like the Central Board of Secondary Education (C.B.S.E). You can also pursue a two-year merchant navy diploma course if you have completed any diploma in engineering like electronics engineering, mechanical engineering or marine engineering with a minimum of 60% marks. The age limit for these courses is between 25 to 28 years of age.

Bachelor's course

You can pursue a merchant navy bachelor course if you have cleared the 12th standard in science stream from a recognised board like CBSE. You require appearing for entrance exams to get admission to an undergraduate merchant navy course. There are a few entrance exams conducted every year, like Indian Maritime University Comman Entrance Exam (IMU-CET), All Indian Merchant Navy Entrance Test (AIMN Entrance Exam) and Joint Entrance Engineering Advanced Exam (JEE Advanced). The age limit of these courses is between 17 to 25 years of age.

Related: Top 10 Courses After 12th Non-Medical For Science Students

Postgraduate course

You can pursue postgraduate in two courses, MBA (Master in Business Administration) and GME (Graduate Marine Engineering). To pursue MBA, you may have passed a bachelor course in any stream from a recognised university. The minimum age limit for an MBA course is 25 years. To pursue a GME course, you may have a bachelor's degree in naval engineering or mechanical engineering. The minimum age limit for the GME course is 28 years.

3. Meet fitness criteria

Fitness is a critical component to enter the merchant navy. You require fulfilling the below fitness criteria:

  • Good hearing capability to recognise or identify the problem in a vessel

  • Candidate has a normal vision (6 by 6) and no colour blindness

  • Good mathematical skills to navigate the ship

  • Have required weight and height as per the standards set by the Navy

4. Gain experience

It is important to gain experience to advance your skills and get a knowledge of the practical working environment. You can do internships during your academy days to gain experience. You can also work as a third mate or deck officer in the Coast Guard Reserve, Naval Reserve or Indian Merchant Navy.

5. Promote to ship captain

With your in-depth knowledge and continuous work experience as a deck officer, you may get promoted to the position of a ship captain. The time needed to reach this post depends upon your work experience and time spent at each rank. At times, you may require appearing for a test to qualify for this position. To reach the position of a ship captain, it is important to continue your learning and stay updated with advanced technology in your field.

Related: How To Join the Merchant Navy: A Complete Guide

What Does A Ship Captain Do?

A ship's captain has an important role in leading the entire ship or cruise. They are primarily responsible for the efficient operations of the ship and managing the safe activities of the ship in oceans, rivers, loading bays or coastal waters. They look after the navigation of the vessel, crew management and security of the ship and ensure they are legally compliant in all the activities they perform. Also, it is the ship captain's responsibility to manage the international trade operations like export or import of goods.

Here are a few responsibilities of a ship's captain:

  • Navigate the ship in all weather situations

  • Oversee the duties of the crew members

  • Ensure maintenance of the equipment following the environmental guidelines

  • Maintain a formal record of every activity taking place on the ship

  • Maintain ship's accounting and other financial functions

  • Act as a point of contact with local authorities in case of any mis-happen on the ship

Workplace Of A Ship Captain

Ship captains spent most of their time on their ship, whose size may vary depending upon their duties and experience. The work environment of a ship's captain is challenging in both emotional and physical ways. The captain's territory to cruise the ship can range from travelling rivers, navigate waterways or touring at the ocean.

Many times the ships have no connectivity with the world due to network issues in the middle of the ocean. Their stay at ship may vary from a few days to several months depending upon the course of their travel. In some jobs, ship captains work for six months on the ship and get other six months of the year off which they can spend at their home or as per their interest.

Skills Of A Ship Captain

Below are a few skills required to carry out the role of a ship captain efficiently:

Decision-making skills

A ship captain has multiple responsibilities to perform and they also take decisions in different scenarios to achieve their objective. They navigate ships in extreme weather conditions, create strategies in case of attack by pirates, promote crew members and manage supplies during their long-duration tours. Having great decision-making skills may help them think objectively and safely run the operations of the ship.

Related: What Is Decision Making? Definition, Types and Tips

Technical skills

The ship captains use radio broadcast systems or other telecommunication devices to communicate with the team on the ground. They also identify issues in the vessel by its sound and ensure its timely maintenance. A ship captain is expected to have basic technical knowledge of the tools or machines used onboard, including their usage, to guide the team in critical situations.

Related: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples

Communication skills

A ship captain interacts with different stakeholders to carry out ship operations efficiently. They give commands to their crew members, discuss route plans with the navigation team, share their coordinates with the ground team and give disaster recovery guidance to all the members on board. Excellent communication skills are important to deliver the details in a clear and understandable manner.

Related: Guide: How To Become an Effective Communicator

Geographical knowledge

To travel to the sea, you require knowledge of the principles and methods behind the elements of land, air masses and sea. You also require having knowledge of the interrelationship between human life, animal life and plant life at the locations you may pass through during your travel. Also, it is important to understand the weather condition of the geographical area from where the ship may sail.

Management skills

A ship captain handles multiple tasks such as strategic planning, resource allocation, coordination of people, lead the crew, create documentation of activities on the ship and others. They also require to maintain discipline on the ship. To carry out all these tasks efficiently and timely, knowledge of business and management principles is required.

Psychological skills

In this field of work, knowledge of human nature is important. The ship captain is able to understand the factors that motivate their crew members and is able to assess the capability of every individual, their personalities and interests. As crew members remain cut from the world for a long duration, it is important to analyse their behavior to keep them motivated.

Swimming skills

Along with other skills, swimming is one of the critical skills for a ship captain to have. As they remain on the ship for a long duration and may get stuck in extreme weather, knowing how to swim may help them save themselves and their crew members if required.

Related: What Are Careers on the Sea? (With Definition and Examples)

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