Water Transportation Workers: Salary, career path, job outlook, education and more

Education Required
Sailors and marine oilers usually do not need formal education. Other types of water transportation workers often complete U.S. Coast Guard-approved training programs to help them obtain their required credentials.  
Training Required
Ordinary seamen, wipers, and other entry-level mariners get on-the-job training for 6 months to a year. The length of training depends on the size and type of ship and waterway they work on. For example, workers on deep-sea vessels need more complex training than those whose ships travel on a river.
Job Outlook
The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026: 8% (As fast as average)
(The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.)
Advancement
After obtaining their MMC, crewmembers can apply for endorsements that may allow them to move into more advanced positions.
Licenses/Certifications
All mariners working on ships with U.S. flags must have a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) from the Transportation Security Administration. This credential states that a person is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and has passed a security screening. The TWIC must be renewed every 5 years.
Median pay: How much do Water Transportation Workers make?
$54,870 Annual Salary
$26.38 per hour

Water transportation workers operate and maintain vessels that take cargo and people over water. The vessels travel to and from foreign ports across the ocean and to domestic ports along the coasts, across the Great Lakes, and along the country’s many inland waterways.

What do Water Transportation Workers do?

Water transportation workers typically do the following:

  • Operate and maintain nonmilitary vessels
  • Follow their vessel’s strict chain of command
  • Ensure the safety of all people and cargo on board

These workers, sometimes called merchant mariners, work on a variety of ships.

Some operate large deep-sea container ships to transport manufactured goods and refrigerated cargos around the world.

Others work on bulk carriers that move heavy commodities, such as coal or iron ore, across the oceans and over the Great Lakes.

Still others work on both large and small tankers that carry oil and other liquid products around the country and the world. Others work on supply ships that transport equipment and supplies to offshore oil and gas platforms.

Workers on tugboats help barges and other boats maneuver in small harbors and at sea.

Salvage vessels that offer emergency services also employ merchant mariners.

Cruise ships also employ water transportation workers, and some merchant mariners work on ferries to transport passengers along shorter distances.

A typical deep-sea merchant ship, large coastal ship, or Great Lakes merchant ship employs a captain and a chief engineer, along with three mates, three assistant engineers, and a number of sailors and marine oilers. Smaller vessels that operate in harbors or rivers may have a smaller crew. The specific complement of mariners is dependent on U.S. Coast Guard regulations.

Also, there are other workers on ships, such as cooks, electricians, and general maintenance and repair workers.

The following are examples of types of water transportation workers: 

Careers for Water Transportation Workers

  • Able seamen
  • Barge captains
  • Barge engineers
  • Barge masters
  • Boat pilots
  • Boatswain
  • Captains
  • Car ferry captains
  • Car ferry masters
  • Chief engineers, marine
  • Coastal tug mates
  • Cruise ship workers
  • Deck cadets
  • Deck hands
  • Deck officers
  • Docking pilots
  • Ferry captains
  • Ferry engineers
  • First mates
  • Harbor boat pilots
  • Harbor pilots
  • Harbor tug captains
  • Launch operators
  • Marine oilers
  • Mates
  • Merchant mariners
  • Merchant seamen
  • Motorboat operators
  • Ordinary seamen
  • Outboard motorboat operators
  • Pilots
  • Port captains
  • Pumpmen
  • QMEDs
  • Qualified members of the engine department
  • River boat captains
  • River pilots
  • Sailboat captains
  • Sailors
  • Ship engineers
  • Ship officers
  • Speedboat drivers
  • Speedboat operators
  • Towboat captains
  • Towboat engineers
  • Tugboat captains
  • Tugboat engineers
  • Tugboat mates
  • Tugboat operators
  • Tugboat pilots
  • Water taxi operators
  • Wipers

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