As a nation surrounded by water, Britain has a rich maritime history. Today, the marine industry continues to play a key part in our lives. Ninety-five per cent of Britain’s international trade comes and goes by sea, while millions of passengers leave and arrive at our ports every year. Boats play a part in our leisure lives as well—from rowing to sailing.

The fleet of ships that transports goods and people over the seas is called the Merchant Navy. They include massive container ships and oil tankers, cruise ships and car ferries, and specialist craft that might, for example, support off shore oil rigs or lay undersea cables. There’s also the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, which keeps the Royal Navy’s warships supplied with food, fuel and ammunition around the world, and tugs which assist with the movement of larger ships in and out of ports.

Work on board is broadly divided between two departments. The deck department is in charge of navigating and ‘driving’ the ship, while the engineering department makes sure the engines and all the machinery are running smoothly. Either way, it’s a far cry from your typical office job: you could be at sea for months at a time, although you’ll get plenty of leave when you’re back on shore.

Port operations are important too. Cargo has to be loaded and unloaded at ports, harbours and quays using various types of lifting equipment and vehicles. In this area you would learn to work safely in potentially hazardous environments and to respond quickly in emergency situations. In this industry there’s no set career pattern, so those with a wide range of skills tend to get ahead (making an apprenticeship a great option). While much of the industry is located in coastal areas, there’s a healthy waterways industry based around the UK’s canals, rivers and lakes. Industry hotspots include East Anglia, Wales, the South Coast, West Scotland, and Thames Valley.

At a glance

  • A thriving maritime sector is important for a strong UK economy
  • 95% of the goods that the UK imports and exports are transported by sea
  • The marine sector employs around 113,000 people in the UK


  • Be physically fit
  • Have good practical and technical skills
  • Be prepared to spend long periods away from home
  • Be a good team worker
  • Understand engineering principles
  • Communicate well with other people

Useful contacts

Seafish—Promotes the fishing industry and supports environmental sustainability

Maritime Skills Alliance—Sector body for maritime skills development covering the marine leisure, ports, seafishing and shipping industries

Apprenticeships in Marine

Read More

Able seafarer/tug rating (deck or engine room) apprenticeship

Tugs assist with the movement of larger ships in and out of port so that they may safely dock and

Read More

Boatmaster apprenticeship

For anybody who wants to work on vessels operating on inland waterways and limited distances to sea, the Boatmaster apprenticeship

Read More

Marinas and boatyards apprenticeships

Marinas and boatyards are busy places where boats have to be moved, moored and lifted for maintenance safely and following

Read More

Merchant Navy (deck or engineering)

The Advanced Level Merchant Navy (deck or engineering) apprenticeship is an excellent progression pathway if you are already working in

Read More

Port operations apprenticeship

Port operations covers the work that goes on in sea, river and inland waterway ports, harbours, quays, terminals, wharves, jetties,

Read More

Seafishing apprenticeship

The Seafishing apprenticeship pathway is an excellent way into the industry for anybody who wants to work on fishing vessels. You

Read More

Workboat operations apprenticeship

Specialist workboats are used for a whole host of activities that support the marine industry. They operate as landing craft,

Read More