Do You Have the Right Skills & Personality for a Job at Sea?

Aug 13, 2020 · 13 mins read ·

Jobs at Sea, Life at Sea
man standing with outspread arms on mountain looking at sea

What is a seafarer’s job and what skills and personality traits should you possess if you’re thinking about a career in jobs at sea? It’s a good question - and there are any number of right answers, depending of course, on what type of cargo ship jobs you’re thinking of training for or applying for.

Let’s take a look at probably the easiest one to break down first: the personality traits needed to become a seafarer.

Do you have the right skills and personality to work in a job at sea?

It will probably come as no surprise to learn that anyone thinking about working in seafarer jobs will need to have a strong work ethic, tenacity, punctuality, people skills, courage and diligence. These are all highly desirable attributes in many industries, however in maritime jobs they’re virtual necessities.

The very nature of shipping; the living and working in an enclosed space, the long weeks or months spent at sea and the need to get along with people of different cultures, languages and backgrounds all require a very distinct personality.

Read more: How to Communicate Better When Working in Seafarer Jobs

Would you be comfortable with being away from your family or partner / spouse for months at a time? Could you cope with potentially being away for special occasions or holidays?

How would you deal with someone who wasn’t the easiest person to be around onboard your vessel?

All valid questions that you should ask yourself before you seriously consider thinking about applying for entry level cargo ship jobs.

So you think you’ve got the right personality for working in jobs at sea, but what skills do you need and do you think you could acquire them?

a hand holding a small anchor out of a body of water

Hard skills v. soft skills for cargo ship jobs

Having certain personality traits (soft skills) and being in possession of the necessary proficiencies (hard skills) are a must for working in any position in cargo ship jobs.

Read more: 7 Common Misconceptions About Seafarer Jobs

And soft skills and hard skills play an equally important role, so don’t make the mistake of thinking soft skills aren’t as important as their ‘harder’ sibling!

Soft skills such as critical thinking, sound judgement, effective communication, decision making, social intelligence, problem solving and time management are all extremely valuable virtues for seafarers.

Meanwhile hard skills are things that you will learn on the job and then become better at over time as you continue to perform them onboard and learn more about them - for example through seafarer training and education.

What is a seafarer’s job and what skills are needed?

Obviously it goes without saying that a very specific skill set is also mandatory for anyone wishing to forge a successful career in jobs at sea.

At the beginning of this blog post we asked ‘what is a seafarer’s job?’ It’s a question that Google is often asked but the reality is, there’s no such thing as ‘a’ seafarer’s job.

There are numerous different types of seafarer jobs!

Read more: Your Guide to Different Types of Seafarer Jobs

And of course, a career in maritime jobs demands a sound understanding of, and proficiency in, many different areas of knowledge. And the skills needed by an able seaman will differ massively to those needed by a master while anyone working in oiler jobs will clearly need a different set of skills to the ship’s cook - and vice versa.

In the case of an able seaman, they should be competent in lifesaving, CPR and first aid, telecommunication systems, sanitation, geography, general maintenance, and mechanics. That includes knowing how to operate, maintain and repair the machinery, safety equipment and tools used on cargo ships or other vessels. That’s quite the list of skills!

a small cargo ship sailing under a blue cloudy sky

Read more: Your Guide to Maritime Training for Jobs at Sea

An AB will also need to know how to look for obstructions in a cargo ship’s path, stand watch as a helmsman and lookout, use a compass and be able to read nautical maps, keep a steady course by correctly carrying out rudder orders, communicate using navigational terms, and be able to use semaphores and blinker lights.

Meanwhile the skills needed by an oiler will include knowing how to perform routine maintenance on equipment, repairing faulty systems or machines, watching gauges and indicators to make sure machines are in good working order, and troubleshooting and finding the roots of operating errors and deciding what course of action to take.

As you can see these are just two different seafarer jobs onboard a vessel and the tasks they perform and the skills needed to do those tasks vary wildly.

So to find an answer to the question ’what is a seafarer’s job?’ you will first need to decide which seafarer you are talking about!

What other skills are needed in jobs at sea?

Possessing physical strength is also a huge asset - for obvious reasons. But there are other skills that might not seem relevant to the shipping industry, but in fact are increasingly valued in modern seafaring.

That includes things that will not only help your career in cargo ship jobs, but will make you a better all-rounder and more popular onboard - such as being able to speak a foreign language.

Crews are usually made up of any number of nationalities and being able to communicate with your fellow seamen will make life at sea easier, more productive, safer and more sociable.

A hand holding a Spanish phrase book in front of cacti

Knowing your way around a computer, being able to use relevant software programs, and having a working knowledge of spreadsheets such as Microsoft Excel are becoming more important.

While some might even say that it won’t be long before essential skills for seafarers  will include computer programming and being able to code. After all as technology advances so too will the systems used on board, and subsequently the skills needed to operate and troubleshoot them.

Finding jobs at sea with Martide

The demands on the modern mariner are increasing but whether you are looking for entry level cargo ship jobs, oiler jobs, able seaman jobs or chief marine engineer jobs (to name just a few) register an account with Martide today.

Line up your next contract now and click here to see our vacant seafarer jobs for qualified seamen and women of all seafarer ranks and levels of experience.

And don't forget to download our mobile app either from Google Play for Android or from the Apple Store for iPhone.

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

It gives you full access to our cargo ship jobs and lets you apply with just the click of a button - no matter where in the world you are.

This post was originally published on 27th March 2019 and updated on 13th August 2020.

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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