Everything You Need to Know About Able Bodied Seaman Jobs

Oct 01, 2020 · 17 mins read ·

Jobs at Sea
a man working in a seafarer job on the deck of a cargo ship

Are you thinking about what a life spent working in jobs at sea would be like? Are you taking your first steps towards finding the right career for you? If you’ve an interest in all things nautical you might be wondering just what a seafarer’s job is, and you may be looking for some examples of maritime jobs.

Martide has created an on-going series of blog posts that aims to explore different seafarer ranks and what their duties entail. In this post we’re going to be looking at what Able Bodied Seamen do for a living.

For anyone who likes the thought of being part of the deck crew on a container ship, oil tanker, heavy load carrier or any other type of merchant navy vessel, read on and see if being an Able Bodied Seaman might be the seafarer’s job for you!

A tiled floor saying 'one step forward' next to a pair of shoes

Everything you need to know about Able Bodied Seaman jobs at sea

An Able Bodied Seaman (also called an Able Seaman, or just AB for short) works on a ship’s deck and is two ranks above the Deckhands, a rank above an Ordinary Seaman (OS), because they have more experience on their seafarer resume and more sea time under their belt. They answer directly to the Bosun who is in charge of the deck crew and the contact between crew and officers.

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Marine Pilot Jobs

An Able Seaman is a rating. Generally speaking, the deck department and its crew are divided into officers and ratings.

Deck officers include the seafarer ranks Chief Mate, Second and Third Mate and Deck Cadet. Meanwhile the Bosun, Able Seaman, Ordinary Seaman and Trainee Ordinary Seaman are classed as deck ratings.

An Able Bodied Seaman’s duties

An AB’s life at sea is a busy one and, like most other jobs at sea, they have a large number of duties that are their responsibility.


For those wondering ‘what is a seafarer’s job’, the answer is difficult to sum up in just a few words. For an Able Bodied Seaman it will include acting as lookout / standing watch and conducting security rounds while the ship is underway.

A man looking through binoculars

They will also steer the vessel under the guidance of the Deck Officer as well as be of general assistance to the mate they are on watch with.

An AB will also be expected to play an active role in deck operations such as docking, undocking, and line handling and to help with the unloading and loading of cargo when the vessel docks in port.

Maintenance is a large part of an Able Seaman’s job description, as it is for all members of the deck crew. Routine deck maintenance must be undertaken, as will the upkeep of emergency equipment, including life rafts, lifeboats and rescue boats.

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Navigation Officer Jobs

Able Seamen who have more experience may take on a supervisory role, assigning tasks and ensuring that any lower seafarer ranks in the deck crew, such as newer ABs, and Trainee and Ordinary Seaman are carrying out their duties correctly and in a timely fashion.

What do Able Bodied Seamen need to succeed in seafarer jobs?

Most ABs will have worked their way up through the seafarer ranks and will have a minimum of two years experience at sea.

an aerial view of a cargo ship

To gain Able Seaman status, an Ordinary Seaman will not only be required to have that experience and sea time, but will also need to prove themselves worthy of the rank by passing certain relevant exams and tests. However, this will depend on the type of vessel and her specifications, as well as adherence to local laws.


Like so many other examples of maritime jobs, a budding AB will also need to possess the right characteristics and personality to succeed in jobs at sea.

From entry level cargo ship jobs such as Engine Cadet and Electrical Cadet right up to the ship’s Chief Officer and Master, being able to work under pressure and difficult weather conditions is a must.

Read more: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering a Career in Seafarer Jobs

You will also need to be able to handle long periods spent away from home. No one is saying that those working in jobs at sea can’t, and don’t, miss their friends, family, and loved ones but you will need to be mentally strong to have a long and successful career at sea.

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Being a good communicator will also help, especially as you rise through the seafarer ranks, which means that having a good command of the English language will also stand you in good stead.

How to find Able Bodied Seaman jobs online

Once you are qualified and ready to start looking for seafarer jobs, you will find that there are a number of places to find a position as an Ordinary Seaman or Able Bodied Seaman.

You could go directly to shipping companies, or you could use a maritime recruitment agency such as Martide.


Our website and our free mobile app for seafarers both make it easy to find entry level cargo ship jobs as well as higher ranking jobs at sea.

You can download the app for Android devices from Google Play, and the iPhone / iPad / Apple version from the App Store.

A Martide maritime jobs site advert showing smartphone with seafarer jobs on the screen

However if you’re not quite at the point where you’re ready to start looking for seafarer jobs and you want to do some more research and find more examples of maritime jobs, why not keep reading?

We have plenty more guides in our series "what is a seafarer’s job?" - for example, take a look at what being a Marine Electrician, a Junior Engineer, an Electro-Technical Officer or a Junior Electrician involves. Or how about finding out more about being a Messman, a Motorman, or a Pumpman?

Want to find out more about being a Chief Marine Engineer, a Chief Cook, an excavator driver on a vessel, or a Shipfitter? We have you covered.

There are also quite a few jobs that you might not associate with being a job at sea - such as ship’s carpenter, ship’s plumber or even a garbage operator. These positions are mainly found on cruise ships, alongside the better known ranks of Chief Steward or Chief Stewardess and the Stewards and Stewardesses who work under them.

Perhaps you’d like to know what Oilers or Wipers do, or maybe you have your eyes on the prize and want to know what it takes to become a Master. Either way, never stop exploring.

Read the previous article in this series: Everything You Need to Know About Bosun Jobs at Sea

Read the next article in this series: Everything You Need to Know About Ordinary Seaman Jobs

Eve Church

Eve Church

Eve is Martide's content writer, publishing regular posts on everything from our maritime recruitment and crew planning software to life at sea. Eve has been writing professionally for more than two decades, crafting everything from SEO-focused blog posts and website landing pages to magazine articles and corporate whitepapers.


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