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How to Become a Merchant Seaman

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The merchant seaman is a professional. Beyond a profession, it is your way of life. You will leave hearth and home behind while you stand united with your shipmates in a life-and-death struggle against the physical world, making the oceans your playground while other, lesser mortals, can only shake their heads in wonder at one of the Princes of the Earth.

Collect all the required forms. Go to the nearest U.S. Coast Guard Regional Examination Center to pick up the application for a Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC), the drug test forms and the medical forms. If you are not near a regional examination center, the forms are available online at the U.S. Coast Guard National Maritime Center website.

Get a physical examination. Have your physician report the results on the Coast Guard medical forms, the Personnel Physical Examination Report (Form CG-719K), the Certification of Fitness for Entry Level Ratings Form (CG-719K/E) and the Medical Waiver Submission Form (MLD-RM-REC-171), if a waiver is necessary.

Read, understand and comply with the instructions concerning drug screens on the U.S. Coast Guard Drug Testing Requirements (MLD-REC-FM-101 Rev 04) document. Make an appointment for a drug screen and have the results reported by the screening organization on the DOT/USCG Periodic Drug Testing Form (Form CG-719P).

Complete the Application for Merchant Mariner Credential or Certificate of Registry (Form CG-719B), answering a questions truthfully and fully. As part of the application process, an extensive background investigation will be conducted by the FBI, based on your fingerprints. You must take an oath as to the validity of your statements on the application, you must provide full information on any convictions and you must provide three valid character references.

Complete the Small Vessel Sea Service Form (Form CG-719S) if you have ever sailed, even in your own boat. Any time you have spent on the water will count as sea time. If you are ex-Navy or Coast Guard, complete the Request Pertaining to Military Records form (Form SF-180). Your military sea time will count toward upgrades in certification or even licensing as an officer.

Apply for a Department of Homeland Security Transportation Worker Identification Card. You must have this document before you obtain your Merchant Mariner Credential. Follow the "Transportation Worker Identification Card (TWIC)" link on the National Maritime Center website to learn about the TWIC program and to apply for the card.

Submit all documentation to the nearest regional examination center. The regional transportation center will perform the necessary investigations and complete the processing and issuance of your Merchant Mariner Credential, which will then be mailed to you. There is no longer a need to appear at a regional examination center as part of the application process.


With your Merchant Mariner Credential, you will be able to start a job hunt. The Seafarers International Union provides training and experience in both classroom and shipboard settings.


Merchant seamen spend long periods away from home. Not only they, but their families, must be aware of the potential effects of this separation. Although the job pays very well, there is a long-standing joke among seafarers: "How do you spot the merchant seaman? He has a Rolex on his wrist and divorce papers in his pocket."