Merchant Navy - Careers at Sea

Written by: Charlotte Rogers
Published on: 19 Aug 2019

Careers at Sea is the first port of call for those interested to find out about roles, career development and how to apply for a career in the Merchant Navy. We support the maritime industry in encouraging young people to start a career on board Merchant Navy ships in various entry roles including Engineering, Electro-Technical or Deck Cadetships, as well as Rating Apprenticeships.

We spoke to Charlotte Hird, an Engineer Cadet sponsored by Carnival UK (one of the variety of companies and sponsors that can support your career), to discuss some of her experiences at sea and her journey from beginning as a Royal Navy mechanical engineering graduate to starting a cadetship in the Merchant Navy.

Careers at Sea portrait

Why did you choose a career at sea?

I knew I didn’t want to work in an office, I wanted to do a hands-on role that excited me.  Working at sea offers a variety of challenges where no two days are the same. It is a broad industry that is still growing. There is the opportunity to work with likeminded people towards a common goal, the career opportunities are great, and I get far more time to pursue my interests outside of work than most people do.

What kind of training do you do?

The training is aimed at giving everyone the fundamental knowledge of your chosen discipline. It is split between academic and practical elements. 

The academic aspects are done at colleges and provide you with the theoretical knowledge which you then apply during the practical phases.

The practical elements take place onboard ship, where your knowledge is tested and developed, and you continue to learn in a hands-on environment. While at sea you work alongside, and are supervised by, qualified engineers in various roles to expand your knowledge and learn your trade. Personally, the training you get at sea is invaluable and is what makes the cadet programmes so effective. 

What has been your best experience at sea so far?

I cannot pick one-singular thing, I’ve been to some great places and worked on some interesting projects. The best experience comes from the people that you meet. You meet people from all over the country at college and all over the world at sea; people that you would never meet in any other situation. You become a family and you have memories and friends that will last a lifetime, regardless of how infrequently you see them.

As a trainee on ship, what does a typical day include for you?

As a trainee, your primary role is to get the most out of your learning experience and learn as much as you can; not just in your own department but also the other departments on the ship. A typical day would be to join a watch and work alongside one of the third engineers to develop your knowledge and skills. You assist in problem solving, maintenance tasks and other general duties. Each day is different and much depends on the ships schedule. Some days you take part in crew drills, other days will be training and some days you will use your free time to go ashore. As a cadet and on top of normal watch duties, you must make time to write reports, do research and stay on top of your academic studies. It can be a juggling act. You have to be flexible and work with your training officer to get the most out of the cadetship and involve yourself in the jobs that will be most beneficial to your learning.

What challenges have you faced?

With any job there are pressures and challenges and they aren’t any different at sea. However, they can be amplified by being away from home and loved ones for long periods of time. Sometimes you miss the milestones and that can be a hard thing to accept, but that comes with the territory.

Being a female engineer can be a challenge in itself; I have been the only woman in the department more than once. There can still be some stigma around this being a “man's” job and the personal feeling of having to prove yourself as worthy to your colleagues. I have been fortunate in the great teams I’ve worked in and come up against very few people that think I don’t belong.

What kind of vessels have you worked on?

As a Carnival UK cadet, I have only sailed on passenger ships, but no two ships are the same and they each have their own quirks. 

Where have you been in the world?

So far, I have spent time in the Mediterranean fly-cruising to Croatia and the Greek islands from Malta. I’ve visited the Canary Islands, Norwegian fjords, Iceland, Europe, the USA and spent some time in Canada. One of the great things about working at sea is getting to travel when you are working, but also having the time to travel in your leave. The world really is your oyster.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

I want to have progressed my career and achieved my seconds ticket, be working towards my chief's ticket and become a chartered marine engineer. At sea, every day is a learning day. There are so many opportunities within this industry and it’s changing all the time. 

What would you say to someone who’s considering working at sea?

The best piece of advice I could give anyone is to do your research, look at the positives as well as the negatives. Working at sea is rewarding and exciting as there are so many opportunities, but it’s not an infallible job.

Get information from as many sources as possible, including social media. There are groups just for seafarers who would be more than happy to answer questions. The training providers and colleges will also be able to give you details for contacting current cadets.

For a list of role opportunities, sponsors and nautical course providers that can help you towards your own career adventure on board ship, look at the Careers at Sea website: or email