Apply For our 2024 Scholarship Today!

Is Marine Transportation A Good Career path?

Jill Caren
By Jill Caren
Updated December 17th, 2023

There is a popular saying among those that love the ocean.

The ocean is calling and I must go

If you can relate, then a marine transportation career might just be a perfect fit. Work in maritime transportation is not always the easiest, but they can offer so much opportunity, and excitement, and fill that salty passion for those that love the wide-open seas.

You can see what other Maritime workers say about their jobs in these threads:

  • Is maritime a good career path? – Reddit
  • Looking to go into maritime, is it worth it? – Reddit
is marine transportation a good career

Marine Transportation Job Description

Every day you buy goods, many of which are made in other countries. You may not really give too much thought to how those products get here, but it is the marine transportation industry that makes it happen.

Or, you might take a ferry to work or enjoy a fishing boat for an afternoon. These are also part of a marine transportation career.

Marine transportation workers also called water transportation workers – or merchant marines, have the responsibility of operating and maintaining the vessels that move cargo or people across our waterways. Water workers operate vessels that are used for business purposes, whether transporting people or products.

Whether traveling in the oceans or narrow waterways, it is up to the team of marine specialists to work together to make sure their ships get to their final destination safely.

This means there are several different jobs available on every ship, giving you more opportunities to get a great job. From entry-level jobs to those with experience and education, there are many opportunities to work out on the wide-open seas.

Check out another career path: Telecommunications career opportunities

Maritime Jobs Pay And Outlook

The median pay across all water transportation workers is $59,250 annually as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But many of the careers mentioned below have salaries will into the $100,000 range with captains and engineers making the most and sailors and marine oilers being the lowest.

The job outlook through 2030 is very strong with an estimated 12% growth in opportunities. Motorboat operators and captains are showing the biggest opportunities in this field.

These are two of the biggest reasons that make marine transportation a good career path!

Now, let’s dig a little deeper into the opportunities.

How Many Jobs Are Available In Marine Transportation?

There will be an estimated 8,400 job openings in marine transportation annually through 2030 as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As of 2020, it was estimated that 66,600 workers were employed in the industry. By 2030 they expect that number to be 74,400.

The breakdown by occupations is:

Occupation2020 Employment2030 Project Employment
Sailor or marine oiler26,40029,200
Captains, mates, or pilots39,90033,900
Motorboat operator2,6003,000
Ship engineer7.8008,400

Retirement and change of careers are two of the most common reasons jobs come available. Captains, mates, and pilots are expected to see the largest growth in employment.

There is also some growth due to the ending of COVID-19 which wreaked havoc on the water transportation industry and forced many deliveries to be delayed. For the next few years, more workers will be needed to get the cargo moving as it had before the pandemic.

Marine Transport Career Opportunities

It takes a lot to get a cargo ship to get from point A to point B, so the number of workers on a ship could be a lot depending on the trip length and products being carried.

Below are some of the most common opportunities you might find if you decide to work in marine transportation.

Ship Captain

Ship captains are in charge and make sure the chain of command is following orders. Their job is to make sure everyone on the ship follows proper safety procedures and to make sure the ship gets to its final destination on time and safely.


These team members are sometimes called deckhands and are typically responsible for the equipment on deck and maintenance of the vessel.

They may do cleaning, look for obstructions the ship may face, load or unload cargo, or sometimes steer the ship under the guidance of a higher-level member.

Marine engineers

Taking care of all the internal systems of a ship is no easy feat. A marine engineer will spend a bit of time in the engine room to maintain and operate all the systems that make the ship work like generators, pumps, and of course the engine.


They work in conjunction with the captain and will act in their place when a captain is not available. The bigger the ship, the more mates that may be present on it.


They work with engineers to help keep the systems in working order. They may oil gears and engine parts, read gauges, help engineers with repairs, as well as many other duties.

The above are some of the jobs you might find on a cargo ship, but there are a few other careers that fall under marine transportation jobs.

  • Marine welding / Ship fitter
  • Ferry workers
  • Commercial fishing
  • Ranking mates
  • Executive officers
  • Port engineer
  • Naval architect
  • Marine surveyor
  • Ship superintendent
  • Able seaman
  • Marine underwriter

Yacht Stewardess. A yacht stewardess will be responsible for the comfort and happiness of guests on a private or commercial yacht. There is little training or education needed, but the job can sound more luxurious than it is.

What Education Do Water Transport Workers Have?

There are no formal degree requirements to get started in a marine transportation career, but some post-high-school education is highly recommended.

Many of these jobs are blue collar worker jobs. If you want this to be a real career with more opportunity and growth, then advancing your knowledge will help tremendously.

Entry Level Marine Transportation Jobs (No Education)

Many of the more entry-level positions require no education and will allow you the opportunity to learn with on-the-job training. These jobs will pay a bit less, but the long-term opportunities will be there for you if you want them.

Some of the most common entry-level jobs in marine transportation include:

  • Wiper
  • Cook
  • Ship fitter
  • Deckhand/Deck cadet
  • Oilers
  • Sailors
  • Welders

These are the basic level jobs you can get in this marine transportation industry that do not require any type of post-secondary education.

Marine Transportation Education

Whether you want to go to a trade school, community college, or a 4-year college there are several options when considering a marine transportation major to gain an education.

Although we have focused on the actual work done on ships in this post – there are so many other jobs within the industry that are less manual as well. Below is a short list of all the marine transportation degree options you can consider.

Four Year Programs

Below are some of the most popular marine transportation schools to earn marine transportation degrees and certificates. These schools typically are four years and you will leave with a Bachelor’s degree in a program like marine transportation, marine engineering, maritime logistics, marine science, and more.

  • United States Merchant Marine Academy
  • California State University Maritime Academy
  • SUNY Maritime College
  • Massachusetts Maritime Academy
  • Maine Maritime Academy

Going through one of these programs will offer you the opportunity to kick-start your maritime career. Classes might include science, navigation, ship safety, maritime law, and more. You can skip over the entry-level positions and start out with a more advanced job and a higher salary.

Some of the best jobs for marine transportation majors include port engineers, naval architects, and port captains. All of these do require more education but with high median salaries, it is worth it.

Two Year And Certificate Programs

Since we focus on trade schools and programs that offer associate degrees, we wanted to be sure to offer some of those as well. Below are some options for a two-year program that can help you land a great job.

Each of these schools offers different certificate and degree programs, so depending what your interests are will depend on which school is right for you.

  • Seattle Central College
  • Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College
  • Newport News Apprentice School
  • Ingalls Apprentice School
ship captain training marine transportation worker

Marine Transportation Career Licenses and Certifications

If you are employed as a maritime worker there may be some licenses or certifications needed depending on the level of work you will be doing. Below are some of the credentials you may need.

Transportation Worker Identification Credential

The transportation worker identification credential (TWIC®) is required by the Maritime Transportation Security Administration for certain maritime transport employees. If you are an employee that will be accessing secure areas of a vessel then this credential will be needed. You will undergo a background check before you can be provided a TWIC®.

Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping

The standards of training, certification, and watchkeeping (STWC) are an endorsement that is required for water transportation workers that work on the open seas. This endorsement requires training on first aid, lifeboat safety procedures, as well as other topics and is provided by the U.S. Coast guard.

Merchant Mariner Credential

A merchant mariner credential (MMC) is issued by the U.S. Coast guard and is required if you will be working on a U.S. ship that has a gross register tonnage of over 100. Where you can work and what you can do with this credential will depend on the endorsement(s) you have with it. These certifications are offered through the U.S. Coast Guard, you can learn more at the National Maritime Center.

What Skills Are Recommended

Jobs in the marine transportation sector are not for the faint of heart. There are some skills and qualities that are needed to be successful in whatever job you do.

  • Physically strong. Not only for the lifting and moving of cargo but even handling some of the many systems and deck work will require a lot of strength.
  • Sharp vision. Great vision is very important when out on the water and in order to get an MMC you will need to pass an eye exam.
  • Problem-solving. Every day will bring new challenges so it is important to be able to find ways to solve these problems.
  • Customer service. Depending on the type of transport vessel you work on, there may be the need to deal with passengers so it is important to have good personal skills.

The Pros Of A Marine Transportation Career

The opportunities are almost limitless for those that work hard and have a desire to grow and learn. You can start in an entry-level position and work alongside a more experienced crew to grow and get promoted.

Traveling the world on the wide-open seas is a rare opportunity and one that can bring so much excitement. The ability to be in different ports and meet all different people is kind of thrilling too.

The average salary is much higher than that of other career paths and the benefits are also much better than in other industries. While some will get into this career for the money and demand, others choose it for the love of the water and the excitement it can bring.

The Cons Of A Marine Transportation Career

Every job has some negatives but rarely is the negative due to the length of time you will be away from home. Like truck drivers, maritime workers can spend weeks – even months away from home.

This is one reason why these jobs often pay higher than those on the land.

There may also be some really stressful situations on the ship when the weather is bad or unforeseen issues arise that can affect team morale. The long hours and the need to be physically strong are both negatives in terms of job satisfaction.

Jill Caren is an international SEO consultant and founder of 2Dogs Media. She is also a trainer, journalist, and speaker who helps brands increase their organic search visibility, traffic, and conversions. She is also the co-founder of Blue Collar Brain, a resource for those looking to enter a trade career.

She has been featured on MSN, Wealth of Geeks, Hubspot, SEO Powersuite, and other publications for her work as an SEO and advocate for skilled trades.