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Merchant Marine Radio Officer Job Description, Career as a Merchant Marine Radio Officer, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training Varies—see profile

Salary Median—$14 per hour

Employment Outlook Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

Radio officers work aboard cargo vessels and passenger ships. They use radio, Morse code, and other electronic and satellite communication devices to contact shore headquarters and other ships. In addition, radio officers receive and record time signals, weather reports, and other information important to the smooth operation of their vessels. They also maintain the radio equipment and depth-recording and electronic navigation devices on ships.

Education and Training Requirements

Radio officers must have either first- or second-class radio-telegraph operator's licenses from the Federal Communications Commission. To get such licenses, applicants must pass written examinations covering sea communication regulations, operating practices, and message routing. Passenger ships may have six radio officers; cargo ships have only one.

Radio officers get the best preparation at maritime academies. Without formal training the licensing examination may be difficult to pass. Marine academies include the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy, and state academies in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, and Texas. Candidates for the Merchant Marine Academy and the Naval Academy must be nominated by members of Congress. Admission to the other academies is competitive. To qualify for the federal academies, applicants must be between seventeen and twenty-two years old, single, high school graduates, U.S. citizens, and in good physical condition.

Radio operators may also get sea experience through training programs sponsored by one of the unions that represent seamen. However, the programs accept only a limited number of trainees who have no sea experience.

Getting the Job

Graduates of marine academies or training programs may take U.S. Coast Guard licensing exams. Once certified, radio officers can register at union hiring halls.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Career radio officers are members of a very specialized profession and have few chances for promotion. Some become head radio officers.

Employment of radio officers is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2014. The number of graduates of marine academies should slightly exceed the number of jobs available. Offshore oil and mineral exploration may offer the most job prospects. Openings do occur when career radio officers retire or leave the field.

Working Conditions

At sea, radio officers stand watch in the radio room. During every twenty-four hours, they work two shifts of four hours with eight-hour breaks between shifts. On some ships, radio officers work regular eight-hour days.

Clean and adequate accommodations are provided on board ship. Exposure to the weather and the risk of fire, collision, and sinking go with the job. Radio officers' work requires long periods away from home.

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings vary according to rank, type of ship, and location. In 2004 the median wage of all radio officers was $14 per hour. Overtime and bonus pay increased the earnings of some officers.

Where to Go for More Information

National Marine Engineers Beneficial Association
444 N. Capitol St., Ste. 800
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 638-5355

Seafarers International Union
5201 Auth Way
Camp Springs, MD 20746
(301) 899-0675

Room and board, medical care, and hospitalization insurance are provided. Vacation, ranging from eighteen to thirty days for every thirty days of work, and retirement plans are other benefits of the job. Officers who are forced to retire prematurely because of disabilities may be eligible for partial pensions.

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