Everything You Need to Know About Ordinary Seaman Jobs

Oct 08, 2020 · 10 mins read ·

Jobs at Sea
drone view of cargo ship

We’re continuing our series of posts about jobs at sea with a look at what a budding Ordinary Seaman can expect from a life on the ocean wave. If you’ve ever wondered ‘what is a seafarer’s job’ you’ve come to the right place as we explore this entry level ship job.

There are many different examples of maritime jobs and the shipping industry is a great place to climb the career ladder.

Seafarer jobs follow a hierarchy and many seamen and women will start at first as a Deck Cadet or Deckhand and then move on to working as an Ordinary Seaman. (And of course, it goes without saying that we include women in that job title too!)

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

After spending a few years working as an Ordinary Seaman, if you have shown aptitude and skill in the role, you can start moving up in the seafarer ranks to take exams to become an Able Seaman, from which you could then start working your way up to becoming a Bosun.

So what do  Ordinary Seamen do, where do they work, and what does their job involve? Let’s take a look.

What are Ordinary Seaman jobs on ships?

An Ordinary Seaman (often also abbreviated to OS) is a deck rating. A vessel’s deck crew is made up of different seafarer ranks which are divided into ratings and officers.


Deck Officers include the Chief Officer (also called the Chief Mate or First Officer), Second and Third Officers and Deck Cadets. The deck ratings, meanwhile, are the Bosun, Able Seamen, Ordinary Seamen and Trainee Ordinary Seamen.

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

It stands to reason then that an OS will spend most of their work shifts on the deck. However, because of their status as someone working in entry level cargo ship jobs at the start of their career, they may be asked to do a variety of different jobs so that they get a good, all round understanding of the different departments on a ship.

For example, Ordinary Seamen are not normally asked to stand watch, but their training could feature watchstanding principles so that they know how to keep lookout should the need arise.

As for the type of vessel, you can find Ordinary Seaman on ships as varied as cruise liners, container ships, tankers and gas tankers, heavy load carriers, bulk carriers and more.

What is a seafarer’s job: Ordinary Seaman

What an Ordinary Seaman does on a daily basis will depend on the type of vessel he or she is employed on.

Other factors can play a part too: how many other deck crew members there are, and the type of voyage.

In general though, the answer to what is a seafarer’s job, if we’re talking about an OS, it will be to help to clean and maintain the ship’s deck and certain items of equipment, and assist with operations.

The work of an Ordinary Seaman is physically demanding. Duties can include sweeping, washing, buffing and painting the deck, performing maintenance on the gear that handles cargo, as well as running and rigging gear, and launching and recovering the lifeboats and life rafts. They will also handle ropes and wires and make sure that any cargo onboard is secure.

What skills do I need to become an Ordinary Seaman?

Physical strength is a big must. You need to be fit and able to undertake strenuous work - sometimes in challenging weather conditions.

Mental strength and resilience is also important for all seafarer ranks. No matter whether you’re working in entry level cargo ship jobs such as Messman, Electrical Cadet, Junior Engineer or Engine Cadet, an excavator driver on a ship, or you’re a high ranking Chief Marine Officer or the ship’s Master, you will be spending weeks or months away from home and at sea.

Being able to handle this is crucial for anyone thinking about pursuing a career where you work in jobs at sea.

There are many examples of maritime jobs, but one thing that they all require is the relevant training.


Seafarer jobs are not the type of careers that you can just apply for, get hired, turn up, and learn on the job!

For someone starting out in entry level ship jobs, such as an Ordinary Seaman job, you will have had to have acquired basic training qualifications as well as having taken and passed a health test.

What are some other examples of maritime jobs?

If you’re interested in becoming an OS so that you can work your way up in jobs at sea, you might want to find out what other seafarer jobs you could study or qualify for once you’ve gained some sea time and experience.

We’ve already mentioned the career path of Trainee OS to OS to Able Seaman (AB) to Bosun, but what other examples of maritime jobs are there?

If you’re interested in electrical engineering you might want to consider training to become a Junior Electrician on a ship and then working your way up to full Marine Electrician or Electro-Technical Officer.

Or how about becoming a Third, Second or even First Officer?

Maybe you like the sound of being an Oiler, a Wiper, a Messman, a Pumpman, a Motorman, a Chief Cook, or a Shipfitter.

There are also a few jobs that might interest you that you may not think of as being a job on a ship - 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 Stewardess and regular Steward and Stewardess.

Or perhaps you have your sights set on one day becoming the Master of a vessel.

What is a seafarer’s job? It’s all of these and more!

Deciding to embark on a career in jobs at sea is a brave choice. There’s no denying that a seafarer’s job is hard work and that you might occasionally miss home and your friends and family, but if you know for certain that you’re destined for something other than the 9 to 5 routine or a life on land, you could be making the best decision you’ve ever made.

How to find jobs at sea

If you’re already a qualified seafarer and you’re looking for employment, take a look at Martide’s current seafarer jobs. We’re always hiring across the different seafarer ranks, from entry level cargo ship jobs to officers and Masters.


You should also download our mobile app too which is available on Google Play and in the App Store.

It’s free and it has all of our job vacancies listed so you can check and apply for jobs while you’re on the go.

Meanwhile if you’d like to see what other maritime jobs are out there and you’re still wondering what is a seafarer’s job, carry on reading this series of blog posts!

Read the previous post in this series: Everything You Need to Know About Able Seaman Jobs

Read the next article in this series: Everything You Need to Know About Ship's Master 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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