The Comprehensive Guide to the Role of an Ordinary Seaman

09 August 2023

The Role and Responsibilities of an Ordinary Seaman

The profession of an Ordinary Seaman (OS), an integral role in the functioning of a ship, is a captivating entry-point into the maritime industry. Whether it's the roaring waves of the Atlantic Ocean or the tranquil waters of the Mediterranean Sea, an OS serves as the fundamental backbone of the ship's crew. This comprehensive guide explores the role, responsibilities, and professional development opportunities of an Ordinary Seaman in an effort to illuminate this fundamental yet often overlooked maritime career.

Role & Responsibilities

An Ordinary Seaman's life onboard a merchant ship revolves around performing general deck duties, often under the guidance and supervision of an Able Seaman (AB). Duties are broad and include maintenance tasks such as chipping, grinding, and painting the deck to prevent corrosion and ensure ship safety. They also encompass arranging stores, ensuring supplies are readily available and efficiently managed, in addition to assisting in other essential deck operations. This could range from mooring operations when the ship is entering or leaving port, to assisting in loading and unloading cargo. Sometimes, OS are required to work within the accommodation spaces during adverse weather conditions and sometimes in the engine room when additional manpower is required, such as for managing spillages or other unexpected occurrences.

A critical part of an Ordinary Seaman's duties is the rotation of being on lookout and working on deck, following a 15-day cycle. Lookout duties involve vigilance and attention to detail, ensuring the safety of the ship, crew, and cargo. The pattern follows a 4 hours on, 8 hours off regimen, which becomes second nature with time, and also includes an additional 4 hours of overtime during weekdays.

Required Certifications, Training & Sea Time for Promotion

Embarking on a career as an Ordinary Seaman requires no prior experience, making it an accessible entry point into the maritime industry. Once onboard, the supportive environment provided by fellow crew members allows for invaluable on-the-job training. The journey of an OS is one marked by growth and opportunities. After completing 12 months of sea service, they are eligible to progress to an Able Seaman role and, in due course, to Bosun.

For those interested in expanding their horizons, there's also a clear progression pathway to attain officer ranks. Accumulating 36 months of sea time and successfully completing an approved program can pave the way to obtain the Officer of the Watch Certificate of Competency (OOW CoC). The pathway, often referred to as the "experienced route," has the potential to elevate an Ordinary Seaman all the way up to the esteemed rank of a Captain. However, reaching such lofty heights requires a blend of dedication, hard work, resilience, and years of service.

An Ordinary Seaman's journey is not merely about climbing the ranks but about fostering personal and professional growth. It's about gaining a wide range of experiences, learning the nuances of seafaring, and developing an appreciation for the open sea. It's about taking the first step on a journey that can last a lifetime.

Daily Physical & Mental Challenges

The life of an Ordinary Seaman is physically demanding, bringing with it unique challenges every day. Aboard a ship, the elements are ever-changing – from the searing heat of the Middle East to the biting cold of polar regions. Being on the sea can also be mentally taxing due to the constant swell, waves, and rolling motions, particularly in treacherous seas like the North Atlantic. These conditions require physical strength, mental fortitude, and adaptability, molding an OS into a resilient and robust seafarer.

While an Ordinary Seaman's role may appear straightforward, devoid of managerial responsibilities with the majority of accountability resting with seniors, a positive attitude and conscientious approach to tasks is essential. The role may be entry-level, but every task performed, every responsibility undertaken contributes to the larger goal - the efficient operation and safety of the ship. Recognising this contributes not only to an OS's job satisfaction but also their career progression.

Leadership & Team Management

An Ordinary Seaman may not be entrusted with leadership duties, but that does not diminish their importance within the deck crew. As part of the crew, an OS's role is pivotal in ensuring seamless operations on deck. Following orders promptly and effectively, along with maintaining positive working relationships, contribute to the smooth running of the ship.

Teamwork and cooperation are quintessential elements of a ship's operations. An Ordinary Seaman, therefore, must develop a keen sense of teamwork and collaboration. They need to be adaptable, responsive, and willing to help others, enhancing their team management skills. These skills not only ensure a harmonious work environment but also contribute to their progression in the maritime industry.

Impact of Technology & Advancements on the Role

Despite the technological wave sweeping across various industries, the core role of an Ordinary Seaman has remained remarkably unchanged over the decades. Technology has indeed introduced new deck equipment and safety systems, necessitating learning and adaptation from an OS. However, their core skills and responsibilities, the very essence of their role, have remained consistent.

For instance, while digital systems may have automated many operations onboard a ship, the physical tasks of an OS - such as maintenance and lookout duties - still require human expertise and oversight. The impact of technology has therefore been to augment the OS's role, equipping them with modern tools and techniques to perform their tasks more efficiently. It's crucial for an OS to adapt and learn to work in harmony with these technological advancements to ensure optimal performance.

Role-Specific Risks, Liabilities & Emergency Responsibilities

Working as an Ordinary Seaman comes with its share of risks and liabilities, often associated with the physically demanding nature of their work. They may find themselves working at heights or handling heavy machinery, tasks that come with inherent safety risks. It's therefore crucial for an OS to be well-versed with safety regulations and protocols, taking precautionary measures to safeguard themselves and their colleagues.

In emergency situations, the role of an Ordinary Seaman becomes all the more critical. They might be assigned specific duties such as carrying a spare fire hose behind one of the fire teams, or participating in rescue operations. Their readiness to respond and their understanding of the situation could make a significant difference. As such, an OS plays a crucial role in upholding the safety standards onboard a ship.

The adherence to safety and environmental regulations during deck operations is also a key responsibility of an OS. It's their duty to ensure all operations align with the guidelines stipulated in the many regulations that govern merchant shipping. By complying with these regulations, an Ordinary Seaman not only ensures their personal safety but also contributes to the overall safety and integrity of the ship and its crew.

This segment of the journey of an Ordinary Seaman has taken us through the importance of leadership and team management, the impact of technology on their role, and the risks and responsibilities associated with the position. The life of an Ordinary Seaman is a blend of challenges and rewards, of risks and opportunities, and every moment spent at sea adds a valuable chapter to their maritime journey.

Demand & Supply Trend in the Job Market

Like any profession, the maritime industry follows its own set of demand and supply dynamics. Entry-level positions like an Ordinary Seaman are in high demand due to the constant need for crew members on merchant ships. However, the supply of candidates also remains high, with many individuals drawn to the allure of life at sea.

Securing a position as an Ordinary Seaman often requires more than just the right qualifications. One of the significant factors influencing the hiring decision is having the correct paperwork. This includes certificates of competency, medical certificates, and proof of training.

In addition, having someone to guide you through the process can make a difference. A mentor or a referral from an experienced seafarer or a trusted manning agency can set your application apart from thousands of others. An article on our website, "Joining the Merchant Navy: A Comprehensive Guide" provides more details about entering the maritime industry. Remember, preparation and networking can significantly improve your chances of landing a job at sea.

Average Salary, Frequency of Shore Leaves & Work-Life Balance

The salary of an Ordinary Seaman can vary depending on the shipping company and the type of ship. However, it generally ranges between 800 and 1500 USD per month. This income, combined with the lack of daily living expenses onboard, can make seafaring a financially rewarding career.

Shore leaves, or the period when a seafarer can disembark and spend time on land, depend largely on the arrangement with the shipping company and the nature of the voyage. Some ships may have frequent port calls allowing for short shore leaves, while others might have long ocean crossings with infrequent stops.

Work-life balance is a crucial aspect to consider in a seafaring career. While the rotating shift pattern of an Ordinary Seaman can be challenging, it also provides periods of rest and relaxation. Additionally, recreational facilities are typically available onboard to help crew members unwind and socialise. Our article "Seafarer Vacation & Mental Wellbeing" offers some insights into maintaining a healthy work-life balance at sea.

Differences per Ship Type/Industry

Although the role and responsibilities of an Ordinary Seaman are similar across different types of ships and industries, there can be variations in terms of workload, safety risks, and compensation. For example, working on a bulk carrier might involve different responsibilities compared to a container ship or an oil tanker.

The company's nationality and the flag state of the ship can also influence the salary and working conditions of an Ordinary Seaman. Some companies might offer higher wages, while others might offer more opportunities for training and promotion. It's important to research and understand these differences when planning a career as an Ordinary Seaman.

This section has covered the practical aspects of working as an Ordinary Seaman, including job market trends, compensation, and work-life balance. In the next and final section, we'll explore how Liveseas can assist you in your maritime career journey, regardless of your current role or career aspirations.

Liveseas' Role

Whether you are a seasoned seaman looking for new opportunities or interested in sailing for the first time, Liveseas can provide you with the platform to reach your career goals.

At Liveseas, you can showcase your skills, gain visibility with potential employers, and connect with opportunities that match your career aspirations. Liveseas is a seafarer-first platform, ensuring that your needs and career goals are always our priority.

For those interested in starting a career at sea, we recommend reading our articles: How to Join the Merchant Navy or How to Start your Career on a Cruise Ship.


Being an Ordinary Seaman is the first step on a maritime career ladder that leads up to high-ranking roles like Captain or Chief Engineer. It is a role of great responsibility, providing the foundation for a rewarding and challenging career at sea. Despite the physical challenges and potential risks, it offers the opportunity to travel the world, earn a good income, and develop a unique set of skills.

Whether you're an aspiring Ordinary Seaman seeking to understand more about the role, or an experienced seafarer considering your next career move, Liveseas is here to support you. Our wealth of resources, articles, and connections in the industry are aimed at helping you navigate your career path effectively.

Take the first step in your maritime journey with Liveseas, and explore the vast opportunities that the sea has to offer. Remember, the sea might be vast and unpredictable, but with the right knowledge and preparation, it can become a pathway to a fulfilling career. As the saying goes, a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor... Happy sailing!