How to Become a Seaman/Seafarer Abroad

The allure of the sea has always held a special place in the hearts of OFW aspirants, beckoning them toward a life filled with adventure and boundless opportunities. For many, the dream of becoming a seafarer, traversing the world’s oceans, and embarking on a career teeming with excitement and financial rewards is a powerful aspiration deeply ingrained in our culture.

With this in mind, let us delve into the essential requirements, training, documentation, and job opportunities specifically relevant to Filipinos, offering you a clear path toward a fulfilling career as a seafarer overseas.

how to become a seaman seafarer overseas filipino worker

Understanding the Seafaring Profession

  • A seaman, also known as a seafarer, is an individual who works aboard ships or vessels at sea. Their primary responsibilities revolve around ensuring the safe operation of the ship, cargo handling, navigation, and maintenance. Seafarers play a crucial role in the global maritime industry, serving as the backbone of maritime commerce. Their duties can vary widely depending on their rank and the type of vessel they are on. Common roles include:
    • Captain/Master: The highest-ranking officer responsible for the overall operation of the ship, navigation, and ensuring safety.
    • Chief Officer: Second in command, overseeing cargo loading/unloading and supervising deck officers and crew.
    • Chief Engineer: In charge of the ship’s engine room and mechanical systems, ensuring the vessel’s propulsion and power generation.
    • Able-Bodied Seaman (AB): A crew member responsible for deck maintenance, standing watch, and assisting with navigation.
    • Ordinary Seaman (OS): An entry-level position involving general deck duties and support to higher-ranked crew members.
    • Steward/Cook: Responsible for food preparation and housekeeping.
  • The seafaring profession is known for its demanding and challenging nature, as seafarers often spend extended periods away from home and face the rigors of maritime life.

Differentiating “Able-Bodied Seaman” and “Ordinary Seaman”:

  • The distinction between an Able-Bodied Seaman (AB) and an Ordinary Seaman (OS) lies in their experience and responsibilities:
    • Able-Bodied Seaman (AB): ABs have more experience and training than OS. They are capable of performing a wide range of deck duties, including operating deck machinery, steering the ship, and assisting with navigation. ABs may also stand watch independently.
    • Ordinary Seaman (OS): OSs are typically entry-level crew members. They assist ABs and higher-ranking officers with general deck duties, maintenance, and cargo handling. OSs are in the early stages of their seafaring careers and receive training and guidance to advance to higher ranks.

The Historical Context and the Presence of Women in Seafaring:

  • Historically, seafaring was predominantly a male profession due to its physically demanding nature and the superstitious belief that women aboard ships brought bad luck.
  • However, in recent years, the maritime industry has seen a gradual increase in the presence of women seafarers. Today, women are breaking barriers and pursuing careers as sailors, officers, and even captains.
  • This shift reflects a more inclusive and diverse approach within the maritime sector, emphasizing skills and competence over gender.

Understanding the seafaring profession is essential for those considering a career at sea, as it involves a unique set of roles and responsibilities that contribute to the safe and efficient operation of ships worldwide.

The Journey to Becoming a Seaman Abroad

Becoming a seafarer involves a well-defined path that includes several crucial steps. It typically begins with aspiring individuals completing their secondary education and meeting the physical and medical requirements. The key steps to becoming a seafarer include:

  1. Educational Qualifications: Most seafarers start by completing a Bachelor’s degree in a maritime-related field, such as Marine Transportation or Marine Engineering, from accredited maritime schools or universities. This education provides them with a solid foundation for their career at sea.
  2. Training and Certification: Aspiring seafarers must undergo specialized training courses to obtain the necessary certifications. These courses cover a wide range of topics, including Basic Safety Training (BST), which is vital for ensuring the safety of crew members and vessels.
  3. Seafarer’s Registration: After completing the required education and training, individuals need to register with the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) in the Philippines. This registration allows them to work on international vessels.
  4. Application and Hiring: Once registered, seafarers can apply for positions on ships through manning agencies or directly with shipping companies. They go through interviews, background checks, and medical examinations as part of the hiring process.
  5. Embarkation: After successfully securing a job, seafarers prepare for their first voyage. They receive instructions on their duties, responsibilities, and the vessel’s itinerary. This is the beginning of their journey as seafarers abroad.

The importance of training courses, including Basic Safety Training (BST):

Training courses are a cornerstone of a seafarer’s career. Among these, Basic Safety Training (BST) holds exceptional significance. BST includes essential safety components such as Personal Survival Techniques, Fire Prevention and Firefighting, Elementary First Aid, and Personal Safety and Social Responsibilities.

BST is crucial because it equips seafarers with the skills and knowledge needed to respond effectively in emergency situations at sea. Safety is paramount onboard vessels, and these courses ensure that seafarers are prepared to handle various challenging scenarios, from fires to medical emergencies.

The role of maritime schools and popular maritime courses:

Maritime schools play a pivotal role in shaping the future of seafarers. They offer specialized programs and courses that prepare individuals for a career at sea. Some popular maritime courses include:

  1. Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation: This program covers navigation, seamanship, and ship operations. It provides the knowledge and skills necessary to become a deck officer.
  2. Bachelor of Science in Marine Engineering: Focused on ship machinery, systems, and operations, this program prepares students for careers as marine engineers.
  3. Ratings Courses: These courses are for individuals seeking to become ratings, such as able seamen or engine ratings. They cover various aspects of shipboard duties.
  4. Electro-Technical Officer (ETO) Course: For those interested in marine electronics and automation, this course leads to a career as an ETO responsible for shipboard electrical systems.

Maritime schools ensure that students receive comprehensive training and education that aligns with international standards and regulations.

Continuing education and career advancement in seafaring:

  • The journey of a seafarer doesn’t end with basic training and education. Career advancement is possible through continuous learning and gaining experience. Seafarers can pursue advanced certifications, such as Chief Mate or Chief Engineer licenses, to take on higher-ranking roles.
  • Continuous education and training are vital for keeping up with evolving technology and safety regulations in the maritime industry. Seafarers also have opportunities to specialize in specific areas, such as navigation, engine operation, or safety management, further enhancing their career prospects and contributions to the maritime sector.

Seaman Job Requirements

  1. Passport: Obtaining a valid passport is the first step for OFWs. It serves as their primary identification document and is essential for international travel. Ensure that your passport has enough validity to cover your entire overseas contract.
  2. Resume: A well-structured and updated resume is crucial for job applications. It should highlight your skills, work experience, and qualifications relevant to the position you’re seeking abroad.
  3. Seaman’s Book (SIRB): For those working in the maritime industry, a Seaman’s Book, also known as a Seafarer’s Identification and Record Book (SIRB), is mandatory. It verifies your eligibility to work on board a ship.
  4. Medical Certificate: A comprehensive medical examination is required to ensure that you are physically fit for the demands of your overseas job. This certificate typically includes a physical checkup, chest x-ray, and blood tests.
  5. Transit Visa: Depending on your destination country, you may need a transit visa if you have layovers or stopovers in other countries during your journey. Ensure you have the necessary visas to avoid travel disruptions.
  6. Training Certificates (STCW and others): Depending on your role, you may need specific training certificates, such as Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) certificates. These certifications ensure you are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge for your job.

How to apply for a Seaman’s Book and processing fees:

To apply for a Seaman’s Book (SIRB), follow these steps:

  1. Prepare required documents: Gather necessary documents, including your passport, medical certificate, and training certificates.
  2. Visit the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA): MARINA is responsible for issuing Seaman’s Books in the Philippines. Visit their office or their official website to access application forms and guidelines.
  3. Complete the application form: Fill out the application form and submit it along with the required documents to MARINA. Be prepared to pay the processing fee, which may vary.
  4. Undergo an interview: You may need to participate in an interview as part of the application process.
  5. Attend a pre-departure orientation seminar (PDOS): Before your departure, attend a PDOS, which provides essential information about working overseas, including your rights and responsibilities.
  6. Receive your Seaman’s Book: Once your application is approved, you will receive your Seaman’s Book, which is valid for five years.

Where to find seaman jobs: job sites, referrals, and shipping agencies:

  1. Online job portals: Numerous websites and job portals cater specifically to seafarers looking for job opportunities. Websites like, Seaman Jobsite, and Seaman Jobs Online are popular choices.
  2. Shipping agencies: Many OFWs find employment through licensed manning agencies. These agencies have connections with international shipping companies and can help match you with suitable job openings.
  3. Referrals: Networking and referrals from fellow seafarers can also be valuable. Often, experienced OFWs recommend job openings or refer acquaintances to shipping agencies.

Top manning agencies and their role in the hiring process:

Prominent manning agencies in the Philippines play a crucial role in the hiring process for OFWs. They typically facilitate the following:

  1. Recruitment: Manning agencies scout for job openings, liaise with international shipping companies and identify suitable candidates.
  2. Documentation: They assist in processing the necessary documents, including visas, Seaman’s Books, and medical examinations.
  3. Training: Manning agencies may provide or arrange for required training and certification for seafarers.
  4. Deployment: They coordinate travel arrangements, ensuring that OFWs reach their designated work locations safely.
  5. Support: Manning agencies offer assistance and support throughout the OFWs’ contracts, including addressing concerns and ensuring compliance with labor standards.

Choosing a reputable manning agency is crucial for a smooth and secure overseas work experience. It’s essential to research agencies, check their track record, and verify their licenses before partnering with them for job placements.

Seaman Salary and Compensation

Minimum wage standards set by the International Labour Organization:

  • The International Labour Organization (ILO) sets international labor standards, including those related to seafarers’ wages and working conditions.
  • These standards aim to ensure fair compensation and decent working conditions for seafarers worldwide.
  • While the specific minimum wage may vary depending on factors like the type of vessel and rank, the ILO’s guidelines provide a baseline for fair wages within the maritime industry.

Rank and Position:

Deck Officers:

  • Captains and chief mates can earn between PHP 100,000 to over PHP 400,000 monthly.
  • Junior officers like third mates may earn around PHP 50,000 to PHP 150,000 per month.

Engine Officers:

  • Chief engineers can earn from PHP 200,000 to PHP 500,000 monthly.
  • Lower-ranking engineers like fourth engineers might earn between PHP 75,000 and PHP 175,000.

Ratings and Support Staff:

  • Ordinary seamen, able seamen, bosuns, and others typically earn from PHP 25,000 to PHP 100,000 per month.

Type of Vessel:

  • Tankers: Crew on tankers, due to the specialized nature of their work, often have higher salaries, potentially in the upper ranges of the estimates provided.
  • Cargo Ships: Those on bulk carriers or container ships might earn in the mid-range.
  • Cruise Ships: Salaries on cruise ships can vary greatly based on position and tips from passengers.
  • Experience: More experienced seafarers usually command higher salaries. For example, a seasoned captain will generally earn more than someone who has recently been promoted to that position.
  • Company and Contract Terms: The shipping company’s size and the specific terms of the employment contract can also impact earnings. Some companies may offer additional benefits like health insurance, contributing to the overall compensation package.

These figures are approximate and can vary based on various factors, including the current exchange rate, global economic conditions, maritime laws, and labor demand in the maritime industry.

Factors influencing seaman salaries (type of vessel, rank, length of service):

  • Seaman salaries can vary significantly based on several factors:
    1. Type of Vessel: The nature of the ship, whether it’s a container vessel, oil tanker, cruise ship, or fishing boat, plays a crucial role in determining seafarers’ salaries. Jobs on larger, more specialized vessels often command higher pay due to increased responsibilities and risks.
    2. Rank: The hierarchical structure on board a ship means that officers, such as captains and chief engineers, typically earn more than lower-ranked crew members like able seamen or oilers. Higher-ranking positions require more experience and expertise.
    3. Length of Service: Seafarers with more years of experience tend to receive higher salaries. As they gain experience and certifications, their earning potential increases.

Incentives, bonuses, and Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs):

  • Many seafarers receive various incentives and bonuses in addition to their base salary. These may include:
    1. Signing Bonuses: Some companies offer signing bonuses to attract experienced seafarers to their vessels.
    2. Performance Bonuses: Depending on the ship’s performance or meeting specific targets, crew members may receive performance-based bonuses.
    3. Hazard Pay: Seafarers working in dangerous conditions, such as those in the offshore oil and gas industry, may receive hazard pay.
  • Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) negotiated between seafarers’ unions and shipping companies can also impact wages and benefits. These agreements outline the terms and conditions of employment, including salary scales, working hours, and other benefits.

Case studies highlighting salary variations in different roles and industries:

To provide a clearer picture of seaman salaries, it’s valuable to look at case studies in various roles and industries:

    1. Merchant Marine Officer: A captain of a container ship with extensive experience can earn a six-figure annual salary, often with additional bonuses based on the ship’s performance.
    2. Able Seaman on a Fishing Trawler: An able seaman on a fishing trawler may earn a lower base salary but receive a share of the catch’s profits, potentially leading to higher overall compensation.
    3. Engineer on an Oil Tanker: Chief engineers on oil tankers, responsible for the vessel’s propulsion systems and machinery, can earn substantial salaries due to the specialized knowledge required and the inherent risks associated with oil transport.

Understanding these factors and case studies can help seafarers make informed decisions about their careers and financial planning, ensuring they receive fair compensation for their vital contributions to the maritime industry.

Video: How to become a Seafarer? ⚓️ | Step by Step Guide

This video provides a detailed guide on starting a maritime career. It highlights the importance of educational qualifications, suggesting high school graduation and maritime specializations in senior high school as advantageous. The video also discusses the role of TESDA courses in acquiring necessary technical skills and outlines the age requirements for aspiring seafarers. Finally, it covers the essential requirements and training programs needed for a career at sea, making it a valuable resource for Filipinos interested in joining the maritime industry.


In the heart of every Filipino, the call of the sea echoes as a powerful and timeless dream. The allure of becoming a seafarer, with its promise of adventure and prosperity, has woven itself into the very fabric of our culture. It’s a dream that transcends generations

and continues to inspire countless individuals. Throughout this guide, we’ve navigated the intricate waters of how to become a Filipino seaman abroad. We’ve explored the essential requirements, the significance of training, the importance of documentation, and the abundant job opportunities awaiting our kababayans in the maritime industry.

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