What Skills Do I Need as an Able Seaman?

Lori Kilchermann

There are several required skills to master if you wish to become an able seaman. These skills, such as knot tying, rules of the road and navigation basics, are all prerequisites to becoming an able seaman. You will also be required to complete classroom work, have a particular amount of time at sea and pass both a physical and drug examination in order to become an able seaman. You must also be 18 years of age or older in order to take the classroom component of the training.

Able seaman still sometimes perform routine work.
Able seaman still sometimes perform routine work.

If you 18 years old or older, have acquired the prerequisite time on the sea or on the United States Great Lakes and you want to become an able seaman on an American flagged ship, you will be required to take and pass a course given by the United States Coast Guard (USCG). The 40-hour class will cover deck safety, general deck duties and rules of the road while at sea. You will also be trained in basic navigation to provide you with the skills to safely operate on board a ship and work as a member of a crew. You will also be required to pass a physical examination to make certain that you are in top physical condition to withstand the rigors of sea duty.

An able seaman should know how to perform knot tying and line splicing.
An able seaman should know how to perform knot tying and line splicing.

Along with a physical assessment, you will be required to take and pass a drug screen to test for drug use. Once cleared for duty by both of the exams, you may begin your classroom training, which amounts to 40 hours in total. The training will include marlinspike seamanship. This will teach you many skills that you will be required to posses if you want to become an able seaman.

Marlinspike seamanship training is concentrated on working with ropes, cables and the proper methodology of tying a ship at dock. Knot tying and line splicing as well as selecting the proper type of rope to use for any given application are all covered in this marlinspike seamanship training. The course takes its name from the marlinspike, a tool used in the splicing of ropes and cable.

The amount of time required at sea is dependent upon which of the seven types of seaman you are attempting to become. The time at sea ranges from six months to three years and must be fully documented to be claimed. Once the classroom period is completed, the USCG will check the paperwork you have submitted to verify that you posses all of the skills required to become an able seaman. Once verified that all skills and requirements are completed and met, the USCG will endorse your license, stating that you are eligible to become employed as an able seaman.

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Discussion Comments


I was surprised to learn that the top salary for an able seaman is only a little more than 40 thousand dollars a year. I always hear about how well the profession pays, but like @Drentel said the guys who deep sea fish have nine of ten months to do something else. They could have another job the rest of the year, and this was add to what they earn each year.


@Feryll - The work of an able seaman does come with risks, but the pay is worth the risk for these guys. Some of the fishermen can make a good bit of money working a couple of months during the year. I think this is one of the appeals for deep sea fishermen. They work really hard for weeks or for a couple of months and then they are free the rest of the year to do what they want.

I guess it also helps if you have a love for the sea and like spending time on a ship. The job is definitely not for everyone.


I have seen some of the reality shows on TV about seaman jobs and the guys who do the jobs. From watching the shows, I see that the work can be really dangerous. The seamen are working with heavy lines and cables, hooks and other dangerous equipment and dangerous tools. Add to this the weather they encounter sometimes when they are at sea, and I can see why this can be one of the most dangerous professions to go into.

I can't imagine what it would be like to be out on the seas in a really rough storm as the ship is tossed all over the place. And the seamen are sometimes on deck working in very windy and rainy conditions. They are so far from land in some cases that there is no way they can get quick medical care if they get injured. Even a medical helicopter takes some time to arrive when you're that far out.

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