Working on the deck department on a merchant vessel, an Able Seaman or "AB" reports to the ship's boatswain (i.e. deck foreman) and works either as a helmsman (i.e. steering the boat and serving in the bridge) or as a dayworker (i.e. maintenance, repair and sanitation throughout the ship). In addition to passing special courses and a battery of exams, prospective Abs are required to first undergo a 6- to 36-month apprenticeship as an Ordinary Seaman or "OS."
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
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Download a PDF of the Merchant Mariner's Document (MMD) application from the U.S. Coast Guard's National Maritime Center.
Print the MMD application and fill out the entire document.
Mail the completed application to your Regional Examination Center (REC). See "Resources" for an interactive REC locator powered by Google Maps.
Get an official physical exam and ask the doctor to forward the exam report to your Regional Examination Center.
Sign your MMD when it arrives in the mail.
Join a local mariner's union and start applying for apprenticeship jobs on merchant vessel as an "Ordinary Seaman."
Getting An Apprenticeship
Work as an Ordinary Seaman for the length of time required for whichever category of Able Seaman you want to become. For example, if you want to get the "Any Waters, Unlimited" credential, spend at least three years as an OS. To get the "Limited" credential, spend 18 months on a 100-ton vessel. To get the "Special" credential, spend 12 months on a vessel that operates in the Great Lakes and oceans. To get the "Special Mobile Offshore Unit (MOU)" credential, spend 12 months on a vessel at least 65 feet long that operates in the Great Lakes and oceans. To get the "Special Offshore Supply Vessel (OSV)" or "Special Fishing Industry (FISH IND)" credential, spend 6 months on a vessel that operates in the Great Lake and oceans. Finally, to get the "Special Sail" credential, spend 6 months on a sailing school vessel.
Find and enrol in an Able Seaman training course approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. See "Resources" for a complete listing of approved courses, searchable by location.
Successfully complete the training course.
Contact your Regional Examination Center and schedule a date to take the Able Seaman certification exam for the specific credential level you want.
Pass the written exam.
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