Ordinary seaman



Ordinary seamen occupy the lowest rank of a maritime ship’s deck crew. They comprise the main labour force on board a boat where they help to operate the ship. They are supervised by the ship captain and the engineer, and can be given instructions by any individuals ranked above them.

The duties of an ordinary seaman include, but are not limited to:

  • Performing basic maintenance on ship equipment, including engines, rigging, and deck machinery
  • Reporting any problems with ship equipment to the chief engineer or other superiors
  • Assisting with navigation by maintaining charts and logs, updating maps, and plotting bearings
  • Maintaining a watch while on duty to ensure that the ship is being operated safely
  • Cleaning and maintaining living areas on board ship, such as sleeping quarters, mess halls, and storage rooms
  • Performing routine tasks such as scrubbing the deck and shining shoes
  • Following orders from the captain regarding ship navigation and maneuvers
  • Responding to emergencies such as fires and collisions by helping to extinguish flames and assist injured passengers
  • Performing other duties as assigned by superiors, such as assisting with the loading and offloading of cargo.

Working conditions

Ordinary seamen work on board merchant vessels and are responsible for a variety of tasks, including standing watch, maintaining the ship, and performing deck duties. They typically work 12-hour shifts for two weeks at a time, followed by two weeks of shore leave. During their shifts, they may be required to work at night, on weekends, and on holidays. Seamen may be required to work in all weather conditions and may be exposed to danger from fires, explosions, and accidents.

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to ordinary seaman:

seamanship apprentice
ordinary seawoman
seaman recruit

Minimum qualifications

A high school diploma is generally the minimum required to work as an ordinary seaman. Some companies may require a related associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in a maritime-related field.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Ordinary seaman is a Skill level 2 occupation.

Ordinary seaman career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to ordinary seaman.

engine minder
container crane operator

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of ordinary seaman. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of ordinary seaman with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

deck officer
ship duty engineer
ship assistant engineer
maritime pilot
non-vessel operating common carrier

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of ordinary seaman.

  • Physical parts of the vessel: Detailed knowledge of the different physical components of the vessel. Provide maintenance and care to ensure optimal operations.
  • Types of maritime vessels: Know a large variety of maritime vessels and their characteristics and specifications. Use that knowledge to ensure that all security, technical, and maintenance measures are taken into account in their supply.
  • Vessel safety equipment: Gain theoretical and practical knowledge of safety equipment used in vessels, including devices such as lifeboats, life rings, splash doors and fire doors, sprinkler systems, etc. Operate equipment during emergency situations.
  • Principles of cargo stowage: Understand the principles of cargo stowage. Understand procedures by which containers should be efficiently loaded and unloaded, taking into account gravitational forces that are exerted during transportation.
  • Global maritime distress and safety system: The internationally agreed-upon set of safety procedures, types of equipment and communication protocols used to increase safety and make it easier to rescue distressed ships, boats and aircraft.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of ordinary seaman.

  • Sort waste: Manually or automatically sort waste by separating it into its different elements.
  • Maintain ship brightwork: Maintain the brightwork of ships and boats by cleaning, polishing and painting; remove garbage and repair damaged equipment.
  • Maintain ropes: Maintain splices and knots in ropes.
  • Moor vessels: Follow standard procedures to moor vessels. Manage communication between the ship and the shore.
  • Assist water-based navigation: Ensure that up-to-date charts and nautical publications are on board the Ship. Prepare information sheets, voyage reports, passage plans, and position reports.
  • Clean ships: Remove dirt from the ship by sweeping, scrubbing and washing the deck and other areas.
  • Load cargo onto ships: Load and unload cargo onto ships. Oversee cargo loading and discharging operations.
  • Follow hygienic procedures during food processing: Ensure a clean working space according to hygienic standards in the food processing industry.
  • Secure ships using rope: Use rope to secure and untie the ship before departure or upon arrival.
  • Handle stressful situations: Deal with and manage highly stressful situations in the workplace by following adequate procedures, communicating in a quiet and effective manner, and remaining level-headed when taking decisions.
  • Use different types of fire extinguishers: Understand and apply various methods of firefighting and various types and classes of fire extinguishing equipment.
  • Use maritime English: Communicate in English employing language used in actual situations on board ships, in ports and elsewhere in the shipping chain.
  • Secure cargo on ships: Secure or tie cargo to ship using ropes or other pieces of equipment.
  • Handle cargo: Manage safely the mechanical elements in the loading and unloading of cargo and stores. Stowing and unstowing of products following instructions.
  • Operate life-saving appliances: Operate survival craft and their launching appliances and arrangements. Operate life-saving instruments like radio life-saving appliances, satellite EPIRBs, SARTs, immersion suits and thermal protective aids.
  • Unmoor vessels: Follow standard procedures to unmoor vessels. Manage communication between the ship and the shore.
  • Perform lookout duties during maritime operations: Maintain a watch during maritime operations, in order to anticipate events and potential hazards.
  • Maintain vessel engine room: Maintain the engines and engine room equipment of a vessel. Conduct pre-checks prior to departure and ongoing examinations during the voyage.
  • Swim: Move through water by means of the limbs.
  • Maintain vessel safety and emergency equipment: Maintain and inspect all safety and emergency equipment such as life jackets, inflatable life rafts, flares, EPIRB, first-aid kits, AED, skiff emergency packs, emergency flashlights, and hand-held radios. Ensure that safety equipment is organised, available for emergency use, and re-stocked as necessary. Record inspection of the equipment in appropriate logbooks.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of ordinary seaman. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Act reliably: Proceed in a way that one can be relied on or depended on.
  • Use different communication channels: Make use of various types of communication channels such as verbal, handwritten, digital and telephonic communication with the purpose of constructing and sharing ideas or information.
  • Follow written instructions: Follow written directions in order to perform a task or carry out a step-by-step procedure.
  • Show confidence: Demonstrate degrees of maturity by fully understanding one’s own qualities and abilities which can serve as sources of confidence in different situations.
  • Work in a water transport team: Work confidently in a group in water transport services, in which each individual operates in their own area of responsibility to reach a common goal, such as a good customer interaction, maritime safety, and ship maintenance.
  • Perform manual work autonomously: Show the ability to pursue basic manual tasks without the help or assistance of others, not needing supervision or guidance, and taking responsibility for one’s actions.
  • Follow verbal instructions: Have the ability to follow spoken instructions received from colleagues. Strive to understand and clarify what is being requested.

ISCO group and title

8350 – Ships’ deck crews and related workers

  1. Ordinary seaman – ESCO
  2. Ordinary Seaman Job Description: Salary, Duties, & More – Climb the Ladder
  3. Featured image: Photo by Brett Sayles
Last updated on August 21, 2022

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