Qualifications and Entry Requirements

The exact nature of education and training courses leading to careers as ships' officers differs across countries, and advice should be sought from your relevant national authority.

International competence standards for seafarers are determined by the UN International Maritime Organization. To view skills in which qualified officers are competent, click here.

Maritime education and training for ships' officers is usually conducted from the age of 18 and above, although in some countries there may also be opportunities for graduates with unrelated degrees to take maritime training courses after university.

Entry requirements are usually equivalent to A-level, baccalaureate or senior high school standard, i.e. qualifications achieved beyond age 16. Maths and science ability, especially physics for engineers, is also normally required, though not necessarily at an advanced level since appropriate training normally forms part of specialist maritime education. However, English proficiency is increasingly important, as it is the international language used throughout the global shipping industry. 

In some countries students may study for a maritime degree at a specialist maritime institute, or a maritime faculty within a larger university. In other countries students may study for national technical qualifications, or there may be a choice of studying for either a degree or an alternative technical qualification.

Regardless of the type of national qualification, it must cover the competence standards required by the International Maritime Organization. Officers are normally only permitted to work on internationally trading ships if they have been issued with what are known as "STCW" certificates in either deck, engine or electrical departments. 

To be issued with an STCW certificate, officers must normally complete a minimum of a year of on board training at sea, as well as education and training in a shore-based college. Depending on the national system, most newly qualified officers have typically had 3 to 4 years training including their on board training, which may occur at the end of a shore-based course or be taken at intervals between shore-based courses. 

If you are interested in considering a career in shipping as a ship's officer, your next step is to contact your national shipowners' association.

  • International Chamber of Shipping
  • 38 St Mary Axe, London
  • EC3A 8BH