Different Career Paths in Shipping

The shipping industry offers you one of the most diverse and exciting career paths within industries today. The global marketplace has expanded tremendously. International economies depend upon shipping for sustainability and growth. As international trade increases worldwide, so does the demand for shipping, and along with it, increased opportunities to enter this exciting field. This means that you will have an easy time finding employment in the shipping industry. Finding your niche, though, requires careful planning, research, proper education and training, determination and flexibility.

Your first step is to conduct an honest self-evaluation: your aspirations, tolerances, preferences, and needs for professional and social growth in life. For instance, are you the kind of person who loves the idea of feeling the ocean winds on your face, traveling to foreign ports, experiencing different cultures, and cultivating a global network of co-workers, friends and industry colleagues, while enjoying the rewards of high pay and great benefits? Are you looking for a career that will build your self-confidence and offer you opportunities for rapid advancement? If so, then working on a shipping vessel, such as cargo ships, dry bulk carriers, or tankers, may be the place for you. The flip side, though, is that life at sea is very demanding, the work hours are very long, the vessel is not home and you are going to be sharing cramped living quarters with your co-workers. You may feel isolated and homesick for family and friends. So, be careful and think about these issues before seeking out a sea-based position.

Career Paths in ShippingIf your self-evaluation tells you that you prefer walls, your own space or privacy, solid land under your feet, and the constancy of home and family, then you will want to explore a land-based career in the shipping industry. But don’t think that you are giving up excitement or versatility by working on land. The on-shore aspect of the shipping industry is fast-paced, intensive, multi-faceted and always busy. In fact, a career in shipping in 24/7, since the ships trade worldwide and need constant management and monitoring. But since the industry is so broad and global, you can transfer virtually any educational degree, including finance, marketing, law, and engineering into a successful career on shore for one of many large and small shipping companies.

For me, international shipping was my first love, even though my path took me initially to the world of finance. My passion for the exciting international world of my parents’ shipping company propelled me to obtain my MBA from Harvard University so that I could join them in the company started by my parents decades before. I was lucky that I had first-hand experience in seeing not only the many, varied career paths available in the shipping industry but also the tremendous joy that my parents experienced from their work. The opportunity to have a positive impact on international trade and geo-political relations was for me the most important way in which I wanted to spend my working days.

Life on the Seas

As mentioned previously, working on a sea-going vessel is exciting. Your on-board colleagues become like an extended family and these relationships can endure for a lifetime, even after leaving the vessel, especially if you work for a solid shipping company with a fleet of ships around which you can rotate your service. The experience and skills you gain are easily transferred to on-shore operations or to a different industry altogether. The list of career opportunities on international shipping vessels is extensive, but essentially they break down into four general categories:

General Crew:

Responsible for the cargo and deck areas, including cargo operations, navigation, berthing and un-berthing operations, ship maintenance and general servicing of all vessel deck equipment, utilities and deck machinery.

Marine Engineer:

Responsible for ensuring the safety of mechanical and structural systems. This job requires good multi-tasking capabilities.

Deck Officer:

Responsible for safely navigating the vessel at sea, including: designing and implementing passage plan, managing navigational watch, monitoring of vessel’s position via location instruments such as electronic charts and radar. Once at port, deck officers are responsible for the orderly flow of cargo from the vessel to dock.

Marine Cook:

Responsible for preparing the meals for the staff on the vessel, including ordering and budgeting everything needed for the galley.


Primarily found on long-haul vessels, responsible for crew accommodations and assisting the marine cook. Usually the steward holds a safety and or medical training certificate.

Land-Based Careers

On-shore careersLand-Based Careers fall into three general categories: shipbuilding and repair, port operations and crossover positions.

Shipbuilding and Repair:

Designing, engineering and construction of new vessels, as well as repair of existing stock.

Port Operations:

Ports are busy and dynamic and can be as exciting as being on the vessels at sea. A wide variety of shipping vessels, cargo, personnel and government officials move in and out of the ports. Additionally, one has to track, monitor and comply with a myriad of international and domestic port regulations. Careers at port include: passenger and cargo loading, unloading, and distribution, and port security. This includes such positions as: longshoreman, truck and ship loaders, transportation manager, shipping broker, cargo and freight agent, marine engineer, chartering manager, and fleet engineer. A shipping broker position, for instance, will keep you on your edge. To be successful, you must be able to correctly assess current market conditions and predict the future of supply and demand for your company’s cargo. Your analyses can make or break the company—excitement for sure!

Crossover positions are for those who love the field of international shipping, however prefer not to spend time on the seas or at port, but instead to work with the many resource services that interact with international shipping companies on a daily basis. Careers include: shipping and receiving clerk, accountant, public relations specialist, maritime lawyer, marine biologist, and human resources specialist.

There are good websites, such as go-maritime.net, that provide useful overviews of the various career possibilities on and off-shore, with antidotes, videos, job responsibilities, and educational/training requirements. I suggest you visit them as a part of your assessment to help you define your career path. Take advantage of career fairs and other job search networking opportunities where you can meet professionals engaged in the careers that interest you. They, like myself, are always happy to share personal experiences and make helpful suggestions to guide you on your way.

14 thoughts on “Different Career Paths in Shipping”

  1. Capt Amarendra Mishra said:

    Hi Angela, nice to read your experiences and your point of view. I would like to seek your help in understanding future direction to my career.I have sailed fr 18 years of which 5 years as a master , fortunately for me i have worked on all types of vsls. Last 1.5 yrs working ashore in ship agency / stevedoring /customs liasioning functions. basically what you call a crossover function . I need to know how to go about shaping my career path.

  2. Can I use your article on our Came by Ship website http://www.camebyship.com to help promote careers in the maritime and shipping sector it is very well written

  3. Hi Angela,

    I am a ship broker, 40 years of age and interested to break into maritime finance/private equity.Can you suggest how to navigate this switch. Will an mba from a top school going to help??


  4. Ponnanna Devaiah said:


    The above article, boosted my interest even further on shipping industry, i am an engineer graduate, working related to ELV systems. i want to start fresh, i want to start new!!!
    Can a engineering graduate who has no experience in shipping industry start a career in this field.?
    how can he be successful in this field

    • If that’s your dream, I’m sure that with an engineering degree you can find a relevant path to get started with in the shipping industry! Good luck!

      • Hi Angela…I love to travel. I am looking for job in ship. My age is 32. What kind of job I can get. Please suggest me how to proceed. I am planning to change career now. Currently I am working as a piping design engineer.

  5. Hi Ms Angela,

    Your article created interest in me to pursue my shipping career further.

    I see you had a shipping background within your family and so you did your MBA from Harvard. However is there really a scope for me to do MBA after having spent my entire life & career with shipping.
    Had completed my B tech from the most reputed engineering collages back home in India and thereafter sailed to ranks of Chief Engineer. Overall sailed for almost 18 years and then have been as technical superintendent for almost 12 years, which means an overall 30 years in shipping.
    Presently settled in Singapore and was looking forward for doing MBA by distance education in Shipping & Logistics from Middlesex University, London, approved by Lloyds Maritime Academy.

    Appreciate your sincere and frank views on my further prospects.

    Thanks & Brgds

  6. Thanks for sharing the wonderful information with us.

  7. Edem Kwaku Midorse (GH) said:

    Wow! This is interesting. I am reading automobile engineering (HND) can I get job in the shiping industry?

  8. Hello Madam ,

    Good Morning to you……

    My name is shyam …. I have completed my B.tech Marine Engineer from India…. Currently there is now no proper employment oppurtunity for me in shipping line as a fresher…
    There is no vacancy for trainee marine engineer in any shipping company .. Some of shipping company are employed to agents for recruiting the officer and crew in vessel .. Even if we went to agents there are asking money for employment and even too we can’t trust them by offering money to agents….. Kindly give me proper suggestion for getting job in shipping line as a fresher…

    Thanking you very much……

  9. Hello Madam,
    I am in my final semester of Metallurgical Engineering. After spending two decades of life on ground, it was my dream to spend rest either on water or air. I love exploring new places if fortunately i get to this field. However, I find shipping to be an attractive path for me. Your guidance would definitely help me madam.
    Thank you.

  10. okonkwo oluchi said:

    iam a student of international relation masters precisely. i want to acquire a degree in shipping and chattering. is it a good idea?. i want to change a career path ino shipping industrz. what is the advice

  11. Kintati simon nyuyfala said:

    Hi Angela your experience touch me so much am a year one student studying logistics and transport management with the primary aim of becoming a marina your guide lines will be of great important to me. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s