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What is a Sailor?

Also known as: Seafarer, Mariner, Seaman.

A sailor is someone who works on passenger ships, freighters, and tanker ships, navigating sea-going vessels and assisting with the maintenance, operation, and service of these vessels. The term sailor was derived from the fact that all water-borne vessels were once powered by sails. Now the term encompasses all types of vessels, no matter how they are powered. Today, sailors may work for the military or private companies in all aspects of marine employment.

How to Become a Sailor

Think you might be interested in becoming a Sailor? Here are your next steps.

  1. Take the Sokanu Career Test

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  2. Get the Education

    • Delaware Technical Community College-Terry | Dover, DE
      Offers: Associates
    • Delaware Technical Community College-Stanton/Wilmington | Wilmington, DE
      Offers: Certificate, Associates
    • Delaware State University | Dover, DE
      Offers: Bachelors
    • University of Delaware | Newark, DE
      Offers: Bachelors
    • Goldey-Beacom College | Wilmington, DE
      Offers: Bachelors
  3. Get Hired
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What does a Sailor do?

A sailor is responsible for the water-borne vessel as a whole. Whether they are navigating, on the deck crew, or in maintenance, their responsibilities can vary. During the docking procedure or before departure, they are responsible for examining and securing the mooring lines. They are also responsible for the general cleaning of the decks and the routine maintenance. They must be well-versed in fire safety and firefighting methods. They are often called upon to perform duties that utilize welding and carpentry skills. During the sailing expedition, they are responsible for navigating and watching while at sea. They must follow all orders given to them by their captain on duty. As they gain more experience, their responsibilities will increase. Most eventually learn all of the aspects of sailing and vessel maintenance and operation.

At the beginning of their career, sailors are often responsible for more of the menial chores on a ship. This can include scrubbing the decks, cleaning the living and eating quarters, and operating the winches. New sailors are often called deck hands, and they are the lowest on the sailing totem pole. The harder they work, the faster they can move up in the ranks and learn more skills.

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How to Become a Sailor

To become a basic deck hand, most employers do not require any type of education. To become a true seaman, it is important that certification is acquired. Sailors must have knowledge of all of the components of a ship, a good understanding of the operation and maintenance of ships, and the ability to use all types of sailing knots for use on the vessel they work on.

Having previous experience through the Navy is what often drives a sailor to gain a position on a commercial vessel. Though most sailors learn on the job, having a good background in sailing often helps them to succeed. A good base knowledge of sailing practices is truly beneficial when one is starting this career.

All sailors must have their seaman papers before they can begin employment on any vessel. Seaman papers are certificates that are issued by the government. These papers include proof of citizenship, passport information, and other certifications. Letters of approval from certification classes are also important documents. Sailors must be given a clean bill of health before they can get their seaman papers.

What is the workplace of a Sailor like?

Being a seaman is not the easiest of career choices. Sailors are required to be at sea for extended periods of time. Most sailors are away from their families for several months before they come back to shore. While this is not a career for everyone, many people continue to find that the positives far outweigh the negatives. It is important to understand that being a sailor is sometimes dangerous work. They are exposed to many risks from weather conditions, falls, ship wrecks, and sinking. They must always be prepared for the dangers that are associated with the job. By being prepared, they can help to prevent many of the accidents and injuries that can occur while out at sea. This is vital to the health and safety of the entire crew.

The workplace environment is not the most comfortable, as the living quarters on most vessels are often small and cramped with little to no privacy. There are usually designated areas that allow sailors to have some down time with relaxation and some recreation. This helps them break up the monotony of the work day and helps them to unwind from the stresses of the job. Since boredom is often a portion of the life of this career choice, it is important that activities and recreation are a part of the work day.

The typical work day for a sailor involves four hours of duty followed by eight hours of off duty. Some sailors do work eight-hour days, it just depends on their particular function and employer. Most sailors will work over forty hours a week when they are at sea. Once docked at port, the hours are often decreased for the week. Most sailors are put into a certain rotation of duty so that they do not become overly tired or overworked. This is important because a sailor must be alert at all times while they are on duty.


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