California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Sailors and Marine Oilers in San Diego County

May also be called: Able Seamen; Able Bodied Seamen; Bosuns; Deckhands; Mariners; Merchant Marines; Merchant Seamen; Oilers; Ordinary Seamen; Quartermasters; Tankermen; Watchmen

What Would I Do?

Sailors operate ships and their deck equipment under the direction of Merchant Marine officers and keep the nonengineering areas in good condition. They stand watch, looking out for other ships and obstructions in the ship’s path, as well as for buoys and lighthouses. They also steer the ship, measure water depth, and maintain and use deck equipment such as lifeboats, anchors, and cargo-handling gear. On vessels handling liquid cargo, Sailors selected for duty as pumpmen hook up hoses, operate pumps, and clean tanks; on tugboats they tie barges together for towing, inspect them, and untie them when port is reached. When docking or departing, they handle lines. They also do routine maintenance, such as repairing lines, chipping rust, and painting and cleaning decks or other areas. Experienced Sailors are designated able seamen on oceangoing vessels, but may be called simply deckhands on inland waters. Larger vessels usually have a boatswain, or head seaman.

Marine Oilers help ship engineers maintain a vessel in proper running order in the engine spaces below decks. They lubricate gears, shafts, bearings, and other moving parts of engines and motors; read pressure and temperature gauges; record data; and sometimes help with repairs and adjust machinery.

Sailors and Marine Oilers may use a variety of tools and labor-saving devices during the course of their work. They may use mooring lines and ropes made of various materials and operate equipment such as electric windlasses, hydraulic capstans, electric and hydraulic, depth gauges, cargo derricks, containger lift trucks, winches, and semaphores.

Sailors and Marine Oilers may utilize computer technology during the course of their work, employing data base user interface and query software (KNMI TurboWin, Kongsberg Maritime K-Log Deck Logbook, Log book software) and facilities management software (computerized maintenance management system software).

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Lubricate machinery, equipment, and engine parts such as gears, shafts, and bearings.Mechanical
Lower and man lifeboats when emergencies occur.Public Safety and Security
Steer ships under the direction of commanders or navigating officers, or direct helmsmen to steer, following designated courses.Active Listening
Handle lines to moor vessels to wharfs, to tie up vessels to other vessels, or to rig towing lines.Coordination
Stand by wheels when ships are on automatic pilot, and verify accuracy of courses, using magnetic compasses.Critical Thinking
Read pressure and temperature gauges or displays, and record data in engineering logs.Operation Monitoring
Stand watch in ships' bows or bridge wings in order to look for obstructions in a ship's path or to locate navigational aids such as buoys and lighthouses.Far Vision
Overhaul lifeboats and lifeboat gear, and lower or raise lifeboats with winches or falls.Multilimb Coordination
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Sailors and Marine Oilers regularly work in damp and cold conditions. Falling overboard is always a potentially fatal possibility. They risk injury from hazards associated with working with machinery, heavy loads, and dangerous cargo. However, safety procedures and advanced emergency communications have made this occupation safer.

When away from shore, Sailors and Marine Oilers work every day. Crews are normally on duty half-days. Overtime is commonplace. Workers on rivers, canals, or harbors are more likely to work year-round. Some work eight- or 12-hour shifts and go home every day. Others work steadily for a week or a month and then have an extended period off. They usually are on duty for 6 or 12 hours and off for 6 or 12 hours.

Many water transportation workers belong to one of the following unions: International Longshore and Warehouse Union, International Organization of Masters, Mates, and Pilots, or the Seafarers’ International Union. The rate of unionization for these workers is about 16 percent, higher than the average for all occupations. Unionization rates vary by region. In unionized areas, merchant marine officers and seamen, both veterans and beginners, are hired for voyages through union hiring halls or directly by shipping companies. Hiring halls rank the candidates by the length of time the person has been out of work and fill open slots accordingly. Most major seaports have hiring halls.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The jobs of Sailors and Marine Oilers may appeal to those who enjoy activities that involve practical, hands-on problems and solutions. These jobs involve technical or mechanical activities.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?


The median wage in 2017 for Sailors and Marine Oilers in California was $32,677 annually, or $15.71 hourly. The median wage for Sailors and Marine Oilers in San Diego County was $41,601 annually, or $20.00 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2017Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
San Diego County$34,987$41,601$53,410
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2017 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas


Because of widespread union membership, Sailors and Marine Oilers enjoy a wide variey of benefits, including vacation leave pay; sick leave; pension plans; and medical, dental, and vision plans.

What is the Job Outlook?

Although its rate of growth will be significant, the occupation of Sailors and Marine Oilers is not a large one. Most job opportunities will come in the form of worker replacement needs. Most water transportation occupations require workers to be away from home for long, lonesome periods of time, causing a good number to leave these jobs.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Sailors and Marine Oilers is expected to grow at an average rate compared with the total for all occupations. Jobs for Sailors and Marine Oilers are expected to increase by 14.3 percent, or 300 jobs between 2014 and 2024.

In San Diego County, the number of Sailors and Marine Oilers is expected to grow at an average rate compared with the total for all occupations. Jobs for Sailors and Marine Oilers are expected to increase by 16.7 percent, or 20 jobs between 2014 and 2024.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Sailors and Marine Oilers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Additional Openings
Due to Net
San Diego County
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 20 new job openings per year is expected for Sailors and Marine Oilers, plus an additional 60 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 80 job openings.

In San Diego County, an average of 1 new job opening per year is expected for Sailors and Marine Oilers, plus an additional 3 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 4 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Sailors and Marine Oilers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
San Diego County
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

The qualifications for this job are mainly of a physical nature. Most positions demand robust health, good vision, and color perception. Many jobs require heavy lifting, the ability to withstand heat and cold, stand or stoop for long periods of time, the agility to maneuver through tight spaces, and good balance on uneven and wet surfaces and in rough water.

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

There are no particular educational or training requirements for Sailors and Marine Oilers. When hired at the entry-level, they undergo basic training, lasting a few days, in areas such as first aid and fire­fighting.

Early Career Planning

High school general education courses in language arts, business mathematics, machine shop, and computer technology are helpful. Students who are interested in water transportation occupations might consider participating in a local Sea Scouts troop. This organization teaches high school students (ages 14-20) basic sailing and shipboard tasks on working ships throughout California, including inland ports on rivers and lakes. It is administered by the Boy Scouts of America.


Sailors and Marine Oilers need a Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC), issued by the U.S. Coast Guard. In past years this credential was called the Merchant Mariner's Document (MMD).

The MMC is required for all crewmembers of U.S. ships with a Gross Register Tonnage of over 100. An entry-level MMC permits work on deck as an ordinary seaman, in the engine department as a wiper, or in the steward's department as a food handler. Sailors and Marine Oilers aboard ships operating in harbors or on rivers or other freshwaterways do not need a Merchant Mariner Credential.

Applicants for the MMC need to take a drug test and wait for a criminal background check to be done before getting the document, which may take anywhere from a few weeks to six months. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Sailors and Marine Oilers are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Support Activities for Water Transport6.2%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

After obtaining a valid MMC from the U.S. Coast Guard, contact a marine company or a maritime labor union to find work.
 Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Sailors and Marine Oilers.

  • Marinas
  • Marine Contractors
  • Recruiting-Armed Forces
  • Ships & Ship Operation

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Opportunities for advancement are somewhat limited. Entry-level Sailors and Marine Oilers are called ordinary seamen or deckhands. Deckhands who wish to advance must decide whether they want to work in the wheelhouse or the engine room. With three years experience and training, an ordinary seaman can take the able seaman exam and promote.

Special training is not required to become an able seaman on vessels operating in harbors or on rivers. After gaining sufficient experience and knowledge, able seamen may take a U.S. Coast Guard exam to qualify as a mate, pilot, or captain.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Sailors and Marine Oilers with links to more information.

Bridge and Lock TendersProfile
Captains, Mates, and Pilots of Water VesselsGuide
Motorboat OperatorsProfile
Railroad Brake, Signal, and Switch OperatorsProfile

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SOC - Standard Occupational Classification53-5011
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Sailors and Marine Oilers53-5011.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)RCE
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Marine Transportation, Other 490399
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Marine Technology095900