Merchant seamen are civilian individuals classified as members of the U.S. Merchant Marine who are employed on board commercially operated vessels. These seamen may be hired directly by the company operating the vessel or through a marine labor union. Merchant seamen who are unlicensed are required to have a valid Merchant Mariner's Document (MMD) or seamen's papers, formerly known as a Z-card.
A seaman possessing an MMD without qualified ratings may work on a vessel in an entry-level position. Such positions include ordinary seamen in the deck department and members of the Stewards department. This level of documentation may be obtained without a written or verbal exam, physical examination or prior marine experience. All applicants for MMD are required to pass a drug test prior to issuance of documents and randomly thereafter.
Department classifies an MMD with a qualified rating. These endorsements include AB – Able Seaman, LB – Lifeboatman, QMED – Qualified Member of the Engineering Department, Tankerman, Tankerman Engineer, Tankerman Assistant, Tankerman-PIC or Takerman-PIC Barge. To receive a qualified rating, a seaman must present documentation of prior sea time, meet certain physical requirements and pass a written, verbal and/or demonstrative examination. An MMD may be obtained through one of seventeen Regional Exam Centers throughout the United States.
Licensed seamen must complete the required sections of the Application form for an original license, which is valid for one year. There are several requirements that need to be adhered to. Three character references must be included. Physical Exam Form: This form must be completed in full, if not there will be a delay in the application. Failure to meet vision, hearing or general physical condition requirements does not automatically disqualify an applicant. Drug Test: Applicants must be certified "drug free" (marijuana, cocaine, opiates, PCP, and amphetamines) by having passed a DOT drug test or submitting a letter that the applicant is currently enrolled in a USCG random drug testing program. Sea Service Form: Applicants must tabulate their experience operating vessels on the Sea Service Form. If necessary, use added copies to account for service on more than four vessels. One day of service consists of a minimum of four hours underway, not dockside. You may only claim one day in a 24-hour period. Documentation of Sea Service: If sea time is documented on your own vessel, use state registration, documentation certificate, and bill of sale or insurance papers. The vessel owner filling out a Sea Service Form must support Service on vessels other than your own. Proof of Age and Citizenship: Verify by one of the following: Birth certificate (original only), Passport (original only), Certificate of Naturalization (original only), Proper documentation for name change, Proof of Social Security Number and CPR/First Aid Card(s): A certificate from the American Red Cross or American Heart Association courses. First Aid: Less than one year old. CPR: Currently valid, but no more than two years old.
Licensed officers must graduate from the federal academy or from one of the 5 state academies. They may also raise themselves up through the unlicensed ranks (this type of officer is called a "hawse-piper"). Eligibility requirements for admission to the Academies includes the following criteria. Candidates must be of good moral character. Be at least 17 years of age and must not have passed their 25th birthday before July 1 in the year of entrance. Be citizens of the United States either by birth or naturalization, except for a limited number of international midshipmen specially authorized by Congress. Meet the physical, security and character requirements necessary for appointment as U.S. Naval Reserve, Merchant Marine Reserve midshipmen. Obtain a Congressional nomination to the Academy; submit a completed application; and qualify scholastically.
U.S Congress members must recommend each new plebe. Each Representative and Senator may nominate 10 candidates to the Academy each year. In addition, the U.S. Representative for Guam, the Virgin Islands, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and American Samoa; and the governors of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Marshall Islands, may nominate 10 candidates annually. Applicant must be a resident of the same state or territory as the nominating authority, and applications should be submitted at the same time as the nomination request is being evaluated.