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How to become a sailor in the USA ?

How to become a sailor in the USA?

Dreaming of a life at sea, where you can explore the world’s oceans, travel to faraway places, and embrace adventure? Becoming a sailor in the United States can turn this dream into reality. Whether you’re planning on becoming a merchant mariner, fishing trawler sailor, cruise ship worker, or yacht crew member – or looking for jobs for a sailor on Jooble, the journey to becoming a sailor involves a combination of education, training, certification, and, dare I say it, a certain amount of grit

In this article, we teamed up with experts from job aggregator Jooble to take a closer look at some of the steps needed to help you navigate this adventurous career path.


Before diving headlong into a sailing career, take some time out for self-assessment. Set aside the romance of the job for a moment and ask yourself why you want to become a sailor. Do you have the physical stamina required for the job? The mental fortitude? Does your passion for the ocean outweigh all the negatives of a life at sea? 

Life as a sailor can be isolating, as crews frequently spend extended periods at sea. If you’re married, spending long periods away from home can be challenging when it comes to family life. And then there are the living conditions. A sailor’s quarters are often compact and basic, with shared sleeping accommodations and limited personal space – which means limited privacy. Moreover, depending on what type of sailing you’re interested in, it can be extremely demanding work, requiring continuous vigilance. So it’s essential to be sure that this is a lifestyle that will suit your temperament.


Which type of sailor are you thinking of becoming?

The first decision you’ll need to make is what type of sailor you want to become. Here are some common options:

Merchant Marine

Merchant mariners are responsible for operating and maintaining various types of commercial vessels, including cargo ships, container ships, bulk carriers, and oil tankers, transporting goods around the world. While at sea, merchant marines work in shifts, or “watches,” to ensure the vessel’s continuous operation. This includes monitoring the ship’s systems, navigating, and maintaining a lookout for other vessels or hazards. 

Fishing Trawler worker

Working as a sailor on a fishing trawler is a demanding and often physically challenging job. It involves a wide range of tasks and responsibilities, and the specific duties can vary depending on the type of trawler and the fishing operation, such as operating and maintaining the vessel’s fishing gear and machinery.

Cruise Ship Worker

Here there are various options. You can join the staff on a cruise ship as a deckhand, steward, entertainer, chef, etc. These positions may not require extensive qualifications but require strong customer service skills.

Yacht Crew Member

Another option is to work on private yachts as a captain, mate, steward, or deckhand. Extensive sailing experience and the right certifications can help you secure such positions.


Education and Training

  • For those pursuing a career as a merchant marine, formal education is required. You will need to enroll in a maritime academy or college offering maritime programs. Some renowned institutions include the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), California Maritime Academy, and Massachusetts Maritime Academy. These programs provide classroom education as well as practical training aboard ships.
  • Working on a fishing trawler typically does not require formal education like a college degree, but it does demand specific training and certifications due to the specialized nature of the job.
  • Cruise ship workers may not need formal education, but relevant experience in the hospitality industry can be a plus. 
  • Yacht crew members often start as deckhands and work their way up, gaining sailing experience along the way.


Obtaining the Required Certifications

Depending on what type of sailor you want to be, you’ll need specific certifications:

  • Merchant Marine: Merchant Mariner Credentials (MMC) are issued by the U.S. Coast Guard. Depending on your role, this includes various endorsements such as Able Seaman, Oiler, and more.
  • Fishing Trawler worker: Depending on your role on the trawler, you may need to obtain a U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) fishing vessel endorsement, such as an Able Seaman or Fisherman’s Certificate. 
  • Cruise Ship Worker: Positions on cruise ships may require certifications related to hospitality, safety training, or specific skills like lifeguard or culinary certificates.
  • Yacht Crew Member: Yacht crew members may need to obtain certifications like STCW (Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers) or a Captain’s License for larger vessels.

Final Thoughts

Becoming a sailor can be an exciting and fulfilling career for those who are passionate about the sea. However, although the prospect of a life as a sailor promises exciting adventures, it remains a challenging and often dangerous environment. Being a sailor demands respect for the elements, hard work, dedication – and continuous vigilance.


Dreaming of a life at sea? Becoming a sailor in the United States can turn this dream into reality. In this article, we take a closer look at some of the steps needed to help you navigate this adventurous career path.

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