How to become an able seaman

Updated February 21, 2017

An able seaman is someone who works on commercial ships that are either privately or publicly owned. The position of able seaman is a step up from the entry-level position of ordinary seaman. Ordinary seaman positions can serve as an apprenticeship for promotion to able seaman.

Become an able seaman by getting a job on a commercial vessel as an ordinary seaman. You must perform routine duties such as painting and cleaning the decks and other parts of the ship. You'll learn how to take care of the deck equipment and handle ropes and cables. As you gain experience at sea, you'll take your turn at navigation watch on the bridge. You'll learn to steer the ship by following the deck officer's instructions.

Finish your apprenticeship after 12 to 18 months of on-the-job experience. Apply to the U.S. Coast Guard to take a test for able seaman certification. Since commercial ships are required to have a certain number of certified able seamen on board at all times, there are usually plenty of job opportunities.

Take a Coast Guard approved training course instead of the ordinary seaman apprenticeship program if you want greater career opportunities. These training courses can take 12 months up to 3 years, depending on the level of training you desire. A 3-year course provides an unlimited license as an able seaman and will enable you to work in all waters on any size vessel. Once you pass your test, you'll be issued a Mariner's Document with the designation of Able Seaman endorsement on the back of your ID card.

Make sure you have a real love for the sea if you want to become an able seaman. The work can be dangerous and you'll be gone from home much of the time. Sometimes the pay for this career is not worth the risks or nature of the work.

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