Are you looking for a powerful and impactful career in the Merchant Navy? South Africa boasts a strong demand for workers, especially officers in the Merchant Navy. In this article, let’s discuss the Merchant Navy career paths in South Africa.

What is the Merchant Navy in South Africa?

Merchant Navy is an umbrella term for the commercial shipping industry of a nation. Unlike the traditional Navy, the industry relies on mass-recruiting skilled and unskilled civilians to operate vessels that ship goods, commodities and passengers internationally. While commercial pleasure vessels do not fall under the ‘Merchant Navy’ directly, officers on such vessels often have a Merchant Navy background.

The South African Merchant Navy is a key factor in South Africa’s economic growth, thus making it a respectful profession for seafarers. According to Statista, the Maritime Industry in South Africa experienced a welcoming boom post-COVID situation in trading and economic growth in 2022. The TNPA (Transnet National Port Authority) reported a record revenue in 2022, surpassing the record revenue of 2019.

When it comes to choosing careers in the Merchant Navy in South Africa, there are two distinct tiers: Officers and Ratings. Ratings generally consist of blue-collar jobs in the engine and service sectors. Officers handle navigation, oversee engine operations, or operate the vessel. Ratings directly work under officers and officers maintain the order and functionality of the vessel efficiently.

Merchant Navy Career Path in South Africa

With the right qualifications, you can join the Merchant Navy of any prospering nation around the world. South African universities exclusively offer maritime programs to help you become an officer in the merchant navy.

To enrol into the program, you have to fulfil the following criteria.

  • Complete Grade 12 or N3 qualification with 60% and above passing rate. Mathematics and Science are mandatory subjects to qualify.
  • Grade 10 with N1, N2, and N3 with mathematics and Science with 60% and above passing rate.

If you are a Grade 12 graduate but did not have Mathematics and Science as your subjects, you can do a six-month bridging course with any institution offering Maritime Studies.

Qualified to work as a Rating

With these qualifications, you are qualified to work as a Rating. This opens a variety of blue-collar career paths for you in the Merchant Navy.

As a Rating, you will have the following blue-collar responsibilities.

  • Load and unload cargo,
  • inspect and clean holds, tanks, cranes and winches,
  • repair and paint the ship’s hull, fixtures and fittings,
  • test fire-fighting and life-saving equipment,
  • carry out routine mechanical and electrical maintenance,
  • monitor equipment controls,
  • prepare meals in the galley and serve food and drinks,
  • clean cabins, corridors and decks, 
  • track stock and re-order supplies,

and much more. Your tasks will depend on your background and proficiency. This information has been taken from The UK Official Government website.

You can work as a Rating and earn your way up via a series of certifications, experience, and sea time, to become an officer. But it can be a painfully long and financially challenging process.

For example, take a look at the General Purpose (GP) Rating path in the Indian Merchant Navy. Or becoming a deck officer in the UK Merchant Navy. You can also join Junior Officer Ranks as you progress through your Rating promotions.

According to many reports and predictions, like this one, the Merchant Navy will face significant officer shortages in the upcoming years. Thus, let’s move on to the next point.

Qualified to work as an Officer

Once you are a Grade 12/N3 graduate, aspiring candidates can enrol at Durban University of Technology or Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Maritime Studies or Mechanical Engineering, according to SAMSA.

Note: If you are taking the university route, make sure to do it after your high school graduation. There are age requirements for these programs. Make sure to crosscheck the information with your university.

You must complete S1 and S2 certification in Maritime Studies. After that, you will have a choice of becoming a Navigating Officer or an Engineering Officer. The course does not end here. But before you can enrol on higher studies, you will have to join a shipping company to complete a 12-month sea service training period. You will also receive your Training Record Book during this period. 

Once you finish the training period, you will appear for the SAMSA oral exam to qualify for either Deck Officer or Engineer Officer. A deck officer has the responsibility of bridge watchkeeping at sea and operational duties onshore. They are directly responsible for the safety of the crew, cargo, ship, and environment.

Now, you can go for the S3 certification, which is the National Diploma in Maritime Studies. After that, you will have to undergo a further 12-month sea service. Next, appear for the SAMSA oral exam and you will be qualified as Chief Navigating Officer (if Deck Officer) or Second Engineering Officer (if Engineer Officer).

To qualify further, you will have to complete S4, which is the Higher Diploma in Maritime Studies, followed by another 12 months of sea service. After that, appear for the SAMSA oral exams again to qualify either as Master (Shipmaster/Captain/Second-in-Command) or Chief Engineer.

Final Words

Taking a Merchant Navy Career path in South Africa can be a daunting experience, especially if you are going for the officer level. It requires patience, endurance, and perseverance to reach higher promotions in the career. Also, not to mention that you will also require an ENG1 Medical Certificate of Fitness (or equivalent) and the Basic STCW Training to qualify.

If you are looking for STCW certification, Sail and Power SA is here for you in South Africa. Kindly visit the STCW section or connect with us today to understand more.