Going Outside - Joining the Merch

Discussion in 'Finance & Pensions' started by Lostontheoggin, Jul 24, 2015.

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  1. Those of you close to retirement may be wondering what your going to do when you leave. One option that has been taken by some including myself is joining the Merch.

    There is currently a shortage of Merchant Navy ratings, simply because very little training has occurred in the last 20 years due to a decline in employment.

    Most employment is in the short sea trades, with some notable exceptions such as the RFA and the British Antartic Survey. Companies such as P&O Ferries, Stena Line CalMac and DFDS employ British Ratings in the Ferry trade as well as numerous offshore companies in the North Sea, dredging companies and Cruise Ship companies wanting Coxswains for passenger transfer boats.

    Most recruitment is done through Recruitment agencies, such as Seamariner, Clyde Marine or Viking Recruitment. They place people with companies requiring crew, usually at short notice and if your any good they keep you.

    Usually those leaving the RN from the Warfare Branch require 6 months sea time on a Merchant ship to qualify as an Able Seaman, historically this was the difficult part, getting those first 6 months, as most employers want AB's. Ex RN can however usually sail as Efficient Deck hands or Ordinary Seamen. With shortages of manpower, companies that were once insistent on an AB's ticket are now willing to take seafarers with an EDH.

    So just what is the process? each individual is different, you have to apply to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in Southampton, who will tell you just what courses you need to have in order to sail.

    Usually you recieve at least an exemption from the Basic courses such as Firefighting, Sea Survival, First Aid and Personal Safety & Social Responsiblity, courses done in the mob that are MCA approved will also count.

    The Maritime colleges in the UK such as Warsash, South Shields, Glasgow and Fleetwood are very helpful with information regarding the short courses (equivalent of prejoining training) that you need. Courses from these colleges can usually be paid for from resettlement.

    The Merchant Navy is a meritocracy, study, pass the exams, get the seatime and work hard and you can move from Ordinary Seamen to Master Mariner. An AB can apply to take an Officer of the Watch Certificate of Competancy and from there to Chief Officer and Master.

    I am a Master Mariner it took 8 years after leaving the RN in 2000.


    • Bullshit Bullshit x 1
  2. Ninja_Stoker

    Ninja_Stoker War Hero Moderator

    Sounds good on the face of it. Incredible, in fact.

    It would be interesting to hear opinions and experiences from others for a balanced view.

    Eight years from AB RN to Master Mariner MN sounds impressive, but is it genuine & realistic? I have reservations.
  3. I didn't say I was an AB RN, it is possible though.

    The OOW course at Warsash Maritime academy is run for AB's taking their ticket. To get on it you have to be a qualified MN AB. This usually requires 36months seatime in the MN if you were starting from Scratch. Individual circumstances vary for guys coming out of the RN.

    Cadets in the MN require 12 months seatime and to complete the NVQ Level 3 Task book whilst at sea. They also take 2 academic years of study which gives them exemptions to Chief Officers exams if they pass. It's in a split of 7 phases of college time followed by seatime. If they don't complete the task book they are required to do 36months seatime and the OOW course at a college such as Warsash I know a few who've done it this way, but they are from Trinidad and that was the prefered way for their company.

    Afeter completion of the OOW course and as a qualified OOW you usually work as a 3rd Officer. You need 18 months seatime in order to take the Chief Officers course. This usually takes 1 academic year, 9 months of study if you time it right.

    After completion of the Chief Officers course and getting your ticket, they reset your seatime, so an additional 18 months seatime is required before you can sit your Masters Oral Exam. You can get a dispensation of up to 3 months if sailing as a Chief Officer not merely qualified as one. The Masters Oral Exam is one on one with a former Captain and usually takes between 3 and 4 hours it is a real grilling.

    If my own back story is what you want then here it is, I was a **** up in the RN, I passed out of Dartmouth and failed my fleet board, go to civvy st, straight to civvy st do not pass go do not collect 200 pounds. My own fault, I didn't study hard enough or cheat well enough. But I had always wanted to go to sea, my family come from both an RN and MN background and the thought of doing just another ordinary job filled me with dread.

    I applied to the MCA to see what exemptions I could get from them towards an OOW ticket, not a lot was the reply, the four courses detailed above. However they did say that if I got 12 months seatime as a cadet, I could do the OOW course at Warsash. I applied to almost every shipping company in Britain and nobody seemed interested. Finally I got an interview with Trinity House for their cadetship scheme and they took a chance on me, I did some Pre joining training of Advanced Fire Fighting and Medical First Aid and they sent me on a bp tanker. This was huge, I'd come from a frigate with 280 people onboard to a VLCC (Super Tanker) 333m long with a GRT of 310,000 tonnes. It was a bit of a culture shock, and I got the piss ripped out of me for continually saying 'When I was in the RN' but I realised I could really succeed at this life.

    I was then sent on a couple of ferries, the lighthouse ships and a General Cargo ship doing a round the world service. When I got back to Southampton I did the OOW course at Warsash, there was myself a former Lt Cdr 2 guys from Trinidad and a fellow from Nigeria. I passed the course and the MCA Oral exam. My only hang up being the flashing light signal exam which I had to resit.

    After that I applied to bp for a 3rd mates job, I must have made a good impression, they flew me to the Isle of Man for an interview, I can remember thinking they're flying me to the interview, I've got this job, I can only **** it up.

    I got the job, I joined my first ship as a qualified OOW in the USA, on my first day I applied for study leave, I realised that I was playing catch up and really needed to fly through my tickets. I was of course knocked back and told I needed to be with the company for a year before I was eligable, this had been my plan all along, I thought I'd have more chance the next year if I'd been knocked back once.

    4 months into my trip, ploughing back and fore across the Caribbean from Trinidad to the US carrying Liquified Natural Gas, I got an Email from the office saying my study leave had been approved. Bugger, there was a way I could reduce my sea time requirement to 12 months from 18 by completing the NVQ Level 4 task book, but not thinking I'd need it and would just sit the written exams, I'd done bugger all. I now had a place to do my course, paid for by bp and 8 months seatime to get and complete the NVQ Level 4. Needless to say the next 2 trips I kicked the arse out of my taskbook, mostly keeping watch, sleeping and studying, but I finished the bloody thing.

    I then went to Warsash for my mates course, a little more laid back this time, we were more senior students. I passed. I now had to do 2 years return of service with bp to pay for my course, now my aim was promotion, I think I was the only 3rd mate in bp with a Chief Mates Ticket. It doesn't always work, get the ticket get the job, companies like you to have the ticket above the one your sailing in so that you can step up if required. I then got some varied experience in, from trading in Ice in Russia to carrying products round the Kiwi coast. I also managed whilst home on leave to meet my future wife.

    I completed my 2 years with bp and knew I could leave but was in no hurry, I got married, got promoted to 2nd mate, did a step up to cover mate for a week. Things were going great, my wife and I then tried for a family, got one far too quickly for my liking.

    I then left bp to be closer to home and the kid, I did a few contracts for a dredging company, Trinity House and then Stena Line.

    I went back to Warsash after getting another 18 months seatime for the pre Masters Orals prep course and my got my Masters ticket in 2009. I'm now sailing as a relief Chief Officer for Stena Line.

    Hope this helps

    • Informative Informative x 4
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  4. Lostontheoggin seems to know what he is talking about
    Though he is a newboy it may be worth the COs approaching him to see if he could be a MOD for all the RFA/Merchant guys who have come out of the woodwork
  5. Thanks Slim for the vote of confidence, I'm not able to give much time to moderate a chat board at the moment. I am willing to answer any questions you may have.

    What brought about this post was a recent article in the Nautilus Telegraph, which is the union newspaper but basically acts as the Navy News for the Merchant Navy. (You can see the back issues online but the latest one, with the job adverts in it, is only available to members online) berating the poor state of Merchant Navy Rating training and the current age profile of the Short Sea trade fleet.

    The Merch tends to group trades into Deep Sea and Short Sea trades, Ocean going Tankers Box boats and Bulkers in the Deep Sea trade and Ferries, Dredgers, Tugs, Coasters and Survey Vessels etc in the Short Sea Trades.

    The Deep Sea trades historically took on Deck boys, basically as cheap labour and to provide the AB's of the future, most people did about 10 years Deep Sea before either going ashore or moving into the Short Sea Trade.

    During the 1980's competition from cheap foreign crews made employing British crew uneconomic, combined with a bad reputation for drink. You may have heard of the expression flip flop out, to describe changing from a British Crew to a Philipino one. This made little difference to the short sea trades as their supply of crew was increased with guys no longer able to find work deep sea. So very few were trained.

    Now with little training having gone on for 25 years the short sea trades are faced with an ageing workforce. The temptation is to change crew to Eastern European, who typically earn less, but some companies such as those mentioned above still employ British crews, a move is underway to encourage training, and the Government have made funds available to companies for training, through the Maritime Education Fund.

    However as someone who came from the RN I can see scope for ex matelots who still wish to work at sea to move into these jobs in the next 10 years.

    We have a core crew of 55 onboard the ship I'm on at the moment, of those 5 of us are Ex RN, 2 AB's who were AB's RN, 1 Cook who was also an AB RN but chose to move into the galley and 1 Motorman, who was an MEM.

    We also have an Ex Para who works as a Steward, unbelievably on reception and an Ex REME Engineer who works as 4th Engineer.

    It isn't a land of milk and honey, the company do face pressure to reduce labour costs, as does any business, especially given the Eastern European option, but the Eastern European option has it's own problems with high turnover of staff, little experience etc.

    We have an Agency AB onboard at the moment, he likes to move around as he prefers variety and to be able to work when he chooses, at the moment he is inundated with job offers and has practically moved from ship to ship all summer, he is working through SeaMariner, he is also a money grabbing git.

    I hope this post may have helped answer some questions.


    PSIf there are Engineers or Electricians interested in the Engineering pathway, let me know, I'll need to do a little research just to make sure I'm correct but should be able to provide you with information.
  6. Lostontheoggin certainly knows what he's talking about, and anyone with the gonads to make a go of it can achieve what he has said.
    The downside, very few companies are willing to give ex servicemen a break in the MN, I don't know why, I have tried to promote ex servicemen in the past (mainly ex RN) to no avail, companies are prepared to accept East Europeans who to be quite honest couldn't be trusted to tie their own boot laces, but as the wages are acceptable to them...........
    I left the RN as AB, sat my AB and Lifeboat tickets in Southampton and signed on AB on a tanker before my terminal leave had expired, but I'm Old n Bold so haven't a f'king clue what I'm talking about ;) could have went for my tickets just as Lostontheoggin says, but opted for the runs ashore and the Deep sea/Coast/North Sea route instead and went for my tickets when I seen the writing on the wall, ie, the great influx of foreign crews into the Supply sector in the late 80s/early 90s.

    Lostontheoggin, are you on the Caledonian boats? Just out of curiosity as I'm no longer in the North, sea but judging by the size of your crew it looks like it.
  7. Dabtoe, I'm with Stena Line on the Irish Sea.

    I've found some resentment towards ex RN types myself, often it was expected that I'd know which way to pass the port but not which way to pass a bouy.

    Seems to be changing now, people are aware that so few ratings are coming through and are more open to fresh talent.
  8. Seadog

    Seadog War Hero Moderator

    And their English going to rats when things get hairy.
  9. Seadog

    Seadog War Hero Moderator

    I posted this only a couple of months ago:

    If you aspire to continuing a marine engineering career at sea, here is what you have to do to get into the MCA's Scheme of Competency.


    There is a deck equivalent out there too. I know/know of several RN officers and senior rates who have taken this route - started while still serving - and now have Masters(Unlimited) or Chief Engineer - not to be confused with Chief Stoker - (Unlimited) Certificates of Competency.
  10. Seadog

    Seadog War Hero Moderator

    One left the RN in 1999 as a CCMEA, got a Chief Engineer's ticket within 6 years and is now a Chief Officer E RFA. Two others, same back story same timeline are senior engineers with P&O Cruises. I have loads of engineer examples, including some "oh fcuk, it's harder than I thought" fails.
  11. I can try and answer any RN Warfare Officers' questions who might be interested in RN to MN, as I am about to start Fleetwood Nautical College in September (pending formal contract) with RFA after 12 years as warfare off in RN.
  12. We have a young lad sailing with us now, Ex Seaman Specialist sailing with us as an EDH (Efficient Deck Hand) this is the level that Ex RN ratings can join the Merch at. Historically this was the hard part but now at least Northern Marine are recruiting. Hope this helps.
  13. Subsunk

    Subsunk Badgeman Book Reviewer

    What's the admin burden like? I'm prepping for the 200 Tonne Master's orals and it sounds like there is a mountain of paper to manage.
  14. What do you mean by admin burden ? EDH you will need the four basic courses, ie firefighting, basic first aid, sea survival and the social responsibilities (STD) one that I can never remember the name of. You will also need a medical ENG1 a discharge book and probably vaccination certs probably also a navigational watch rating cert and a steering certificate. To work as an AB RN personnel usually require an additional 6 months sea time as an EDH along with Advanced Firesfighting and CPSC (lifeboat ticket)
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2016
  15. Unlike the RN where all your training is documented and kept on your records, the MN issues you with a certificate each time you complete a course, you then have to take these with you when you join a ship.
  16. It's quite a while ago, but..............
    In 1974 I left the RN as a PO OE Mechanician (greenie). Based only upon an interview, as Service qualifications weren't recognised in the Merch, I joined Canadian Pacific Ships as a two ringer Electrical Engineering Officer. I sailed as 'single handed' electrician on clean product tankers and bulk carriers for 5 years, during which time CP funded me on 3 spells at South Shields Marine & Tech College where I picked up the old C&G full technological cert (old HNC level?).
    The living conditions in the Merch were unbelieveable - own en-suite cabin, stewards, lounge bar, dhoby machines, movies, unlimited bar, etc. Being the only electrician, I was not a watch-keeper, so I was almost always available for runs ashore. My pay was about 50% more than I had been getting in the Andrew and we worked on a 2 on, 1 off basis; trips were generally 4 to 6 months with 2 to 3 months leave. In the event, I always had at least a week's more leave than I was due to before being flown around the world for my next stint at sea. There were always decent flights and usually at least a couple of nights in decent hotels to await the ship arriving.
    All rosy in the garden then? Well, I got tied up during my spell with CP and the wife wanted me home if we were to start a family - so that's why I left. However, what I really missed in the Merch and never found it, was the cameraderie and the crack that I had enjoyed in my brief 7 years in the RN. Looking back, that was undoubtedly the best 7 years of my life, but I didn't always appreciate it at the time. Even today, my best oppos are the lads who were in my class on Mech's course; we have reunions most years.
    So my message is, yes, the Merch was OK, but it has very little in common with the RN and as I found, the grass is not always greener on the other side.
    Postscript.........What did I do then? Well, having developed a penchant for dark blue uniforms, I joined the police. But that's another story............
  17. Subsunk

    Subsunk Badgeman Book Reviewer

    If you're going for certificates of competency, there looks like a massive amount of legislation to get your head around. How does that impact on day-to-day watch keeping & maintenance?
  18. If you're just going for a 200grt ticket, I can't imagine it would be that great. Annual certification, usually all done in one hit along with your MCA survey. Usual stuff for an old man time sheets log books etc
  19. Poor old Ninja..".Equilibrium is restored in the space-time continuum". His contribution to common sense.
    Being a Chief Stoker is rather a long way down the intellectual chain yet he considers himself suitable material to be a Moderator--Help!
  20. BillyQ The ninja gives loads of sensible advice on site. I consider him to be one of the fairest moderators hers.
    On the other hand you seem to be on site merely to spout unlimited volumes of complete Shite.
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