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How Do I Get a Deckhand Job?

Civilian deckhands have often had previous experience working in their nation's navy.
Many jobs are often listed in the local newspaper classifieds.
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  • Written By: Josie Myers
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 12 July 2014
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The lure of the sea is strong for some, as the classical figure of the sailor and his crew are ingrained in the public imagination. The first step for most seeking a life at sea is to obtain a job as a deckhand. In order to find a deckhand job, an individual must have a mentally and physically strong carriage. Experience on a boat is preferred in most cases, since life on the sea can sometimes dangerous, and individuals put their lives in each others hands. Once a person has decided that they have the experience and capabilities that the job demands, finding a deckhand job can be as easy as looking in the classifieds, or asking boat captains about available positions.

Self-assessment is perhaps the most important step to finding a deckhand job. Those interested should research the types of jobs available. Fishing boats, barges and tugboats are only a few of the types of sailing vessels that need deckhands to function. Charter boats and cruise ships have slightly less physical demands, and a deckhand job often becomes more customer service than physical labor.

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Jobs on tugboats, fishing vessels and freighters require someone who is physically strong, mentally able to work virtually nonstop, and resourceful. Deckhands in these positions must be able to act quickly in case of emergency, and to improvise when equipment fails. Some jobs require specialized skills. Fishing ships, for example, require deckhands to understand the ins and outs of catching and cleaning fish. Before applying for a job on a specific boat, potential deckhands should consider if the physical demands can be met for that specific job.

If the decision to begin life as a deckhand is made, there are a few steps that can help to land the all important first deckhand job. A Merchant Mariners Document (MMD), or Z-Card, should be obtained from the Coast Guard before seeking a job. Although this is only a necessity when working on ships larger than 100 tons, it can make a potential deckhand more useful for shipping companies, where one may have to be transferred to a large ship.

Experience is a key to getting any job, and is looked upon as extremely favorably for someone applying for a deckhand job. Inexperience can create dangerous situations, particularly in situations where deckhands rely on one another for safety. Anyone who has seen a documentary about crab or lobster fishing has seen first hand how someone's misstep can mean danger for everyone on board. Experience can be found in simple work around local ships, or even by working for a relative who owns a boat. For those seeking lifelong careers in boating, the Navy is an excellent option for sailors to gain the experience and discipline that employers seek.

Once some experience is in hand, finding a deckhand job is much like finding any other position. Potential candidates should search want ads and speak to boat captains. Another source of employment is to go directly to the source, and ask around the local docks to see if anyone is hiring. As with any job, candidates should be prepared to give detailed accounts of experience and character.

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TugboatMate
Post 1

I liked the fact that the article pointed out that work can be different on different types of vessels. If you get hired as a deckhand on an inland river towboat, your duties will involve securing barges for multi-barge tows, breaking apart tows, making rounds of barges, standing lookout, and related tasks. On large container ships, you’ll install lashing gear to keep stacks of 40’ and 55’ containers in place. On commuter ferries, you’ll handle docking lines and secure areas that are off limits to passengers during transit.

As a source of employment, also check out trade magazines. Tugboat companies and marine construction companies often post their openings in the classified jobs section. Some helpful guidance can also be found in the book So You Want to Work on a Boat. The book is something of a primer for working in the industry and offers information about the places to look for work, how to put together resumes, the benefits of training, and also discusses some of the necessary credentialing.

While looking for jobs in classified ads, you’ll notice that some companies won’t use the word deckhand. They may instead use “seaman” or “able seaman.” Depending on the wording, these companies could be looking for deckhands who have satisfied U.S. Coast Guard ratings. As a last point, people should know that the job of a deckhand is generally very physical. It can be strenuous. It can also involve working outdoors in harsh environments. Some people see the position of deckhand as a way to get a foot in the door to the maritime industry. Once they accumulate sea time and study for Coast Guard licenses, they can advance to better paying positions as mates and captains. Good luck!

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