The merchant navy is made up of civilian officers and crew who transport cargo as well as passengers in non-combatant, commercial ships. It has two main divisions: navigation and engineering. Navigation officers look after the safe movement of a ship, loading and offloading of cargo, radio communication, as well as crew and passengers. They are headed by the master, also known as the captain. The hierarchy is as follows:
. Master, or captain n Second officer or second mate
. Chief officer or chief mate nThird officer or third mate
What do they do?
Aview from a ship: some lush green mountains in the distance blurred by grey mist.
A career in the merchant navy is similar – the grass is really green but the profession also wakes you up to many grey realities.
Delhiite Teena Joey jumped on the bandwagon because she would earn a degree (from the Indira Gandhi National Open University), get paid well and sail around the world.
“It’s a promising career. We knew we would get a job for sure,” said Joey, 24, a second officer with Wallem Shipping Management.
Navigation officers like her look after the safe navigation of a ship, loading and offloading of cargo, radio communication, as well as the crew and passengers.
“It’s as good as it gets,” chipped in her classmate, Aakriti Barthwal, second officer with the Shipping Corporation of India. “We slog for only six-seven months in a year. Others slog for (all) 12,” she adds.
Indeed, when you are on leave, you are totally disconnected from work. Second officer Aman Khurana, a freelance officer, talked about a couple who work in a service industry “who barely see each other during the week”. In the merchant navy, in contrast, he said, “When I’m home, I’m home.”
The profession pays rich dividends – you become independent, and learn manpower and material management at a very young age.
“In 90 per cent of top-notch companies, the salaries come to the same (whether you are freelancing or on contract),” said Khurana at his institute, Applied Research International, in Delhi.
Big salaries in the initial years themselves mean “you can build your house” much earlier in life, added Puneet Vajpayee, freelance second officer with containership company, MSC, Italy.
Even later, say at the age of 40, there are a slew of onshore jobs one can take up.
Sounds tempting? Remember the grey mist?
Sailing requires a tough mental and physical constitution. “You get mentally exhausted,” said Barthwal.
Moreover, being a woman sailor means having to contend with some resistance in this overwhelmingly male-dominated field.
There’s also a social taboo. A ship on which you are the lone lass in a complement (industry speak for team) of anywhere between 20 and 40 is “not the safest of places but it’s upon us (to handle),” said Joey.
. Be physically and mentally tough because you are away from home for long periods and face certain risks at sea. However, officers are allowed to take family on ship – conditions apply
. Possess leadership qualities
. Have an aptitude for people and material management
. Be adaptive and willing to live with people with varying personalities in the same place for long spells
How do I get there?
Pass Class 12 with physics, chemistry, maths and English. Then, opt for three-year BSc nautical science programme by clearing (a) the IIT Joint Entrance Examination (followed by a medical exam and counselling) to enrol at an institute offering the degree; (b) the common entrance test of Indian Maritime University; (c) entrance test of private institutes. To work as a deck officer and for promotions, one must clear exams held by the Ministry of Shipping.