Merchant Navy ratings are support workers who help to run a ship, serving in the deck, engineering, communications or catering departments.
Deck ratings are part of a team that keeps a ship and its equipment clean and in good order. This may include painting, inspecting and cleaning holds and tanks, helping steer the ship, acting as lookout, helping moor the ship in dock, loading and unloading cargo, and operating cranes.
In the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) - civilian-crewed ships that are operated by the Ministry of Defence - deck ratings serve on the flight deck during helicopter operations and help with refuelling. They are trained in nuclear, biological and chemical defence measures, and weapons handling.
Engineering ratings are based in the engine control room and the engine room, where they repair and service a ship’s engines and other equipment to ensure everything is working safely and properly.
In the RFA, engineering ratings also service and repair defensive weapons and help on the flight-deck during helicopter operations.
RFA communication ratings operate a ship’s communications system, including radio and satellite communications. They may need to communicate with other vessels, with lights and flags, in emergencies.
Catering ratings perform duties similar to those found in the hotel trade. Some may work as cooks, based in the ship's galley (kitchen), where their duties include preparing and cooking food and looking after food stores. They are also responsible for keeping equipment clean and maintaining hygiene standards. Others work as stewards, serving food and drink to officers and crew or to passengers.
Ships are in operation continuously. Ratings work shifts, also known as ‘watches’, which may vary according to the size of the ship. On a large vessel you may work four hours on duty followed by eight hours off duty. Working patterns vary between a few weeks and several months, periods of leave in between voyages also vary.
Deck ratings work on the bridge (which is covered) and outside on deck in all weathers. Engineering ratings are based in the engine room, which may be hot and noisy. Other work areas may be confined or refrigerated.
Many ships supply ratings with single cabins. Off-duty facilities are good.
Ratings in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) may have to work in warfare situations.
To be a Merchant Navy rating you should:
There are around 11,500 ratings currently employed in the Merchant Navy. Opportunities to train as a rating are limited, with the exception of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and several commercial shipping companies who train their own ratings. You can obtain a list of these companies from the Merchant Navy Training Board (see Further Information section).
The work and lifestyle will depend on the size and type of vessel worked on, distances travelled and the trade area of operation. For instance, cruise ships visit holiday destinations. Oil tankers travel the shipping routes between ports catering for industrial cargo. Some ships travel worldwide, whereas others only travel in Europe.
Promotion depends on length of service, experience and qualifications, with progression to the ranks of leading hand, petty officer and chief petty officer.
With the necessary skills and personal qualities, you could take further training and qualifications. You can progress to officer rank through the Marine Apprenticeship, or a ‘rating to officer’ conversion course. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary has a scheme whereby ratings may qualify as junior officers.
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