Work at Sea: How to Get a Freighter Job

You can work at sea in a freighter job, working your way to almost anywhere in the world, without money, short hair, applications, experience or references - all you need is a passport and a vaccination certificate.

| May/June 1971

Learn how to work at sea with no real-world experience using these helpful tips.

Learn how to work at sea with no real-world experience using these helpful tips.

Photo by Fotolia/il-fede

Learn how to get a freighter job and work at sea with no real-world experience.

Work at Sea: How to Get a Freighter Job

I'm here to tell you that — contrary to popular belief — you can still work your way to almost anywhere in the world on a freighter. You don't need money, short hair, experience or references. You won't even have to fill out an application! All you'll need is a passport and a vaccination certificate.

There are two good ways for the complete novice to get a job on a freighter. One is by going from ship to ship and asking each captain if he needs (a) a deckboy or (b) a workaway. A deckboy is part of the crew and gets paid (although very little) and a workaway gets no wages at all but swaps labor for his passage. Although few companies now accept workaways, some captains will still take one in place of a paid crew member.

Don't waste your time with United States vessels when going from ship to ship unless you're already in the American union (in which case, you probably wouldn't be using this method of locating a job anyway). If you're not a union member, don't bother trying to join; they'll just put you on a waiting list. I was about No. 200 when I first applied and, one year later, they had taken only ten people into the union. Now that the war in Asia is winding down, there are a lot of unemployed sailors — and too many union members. So concentrate on foreign vessels.

The second easy beginner's entry to a freighter job is through the Scandinavian Shipping Office. There are only two of these offices in the United States: One is on Pier 29 in San Francisco and the other is at Hansen Place in Brooklyn. When the captain of a Scandinavian ship in our waters needs crew members he calls one of these two offices, and the chances of getting a job this way are probably better than by going ship-to-ship.

The Scandinavian Shipping Office in San Francisco, where I hired on, gives out jobs at 10 a.m. each weekday. Members of the Scandinavian unions are given first preference, experienced nonunion people get second choice and anyone else present can then apply for jobs still unfilled on a first come first served basis. basis.

9/10/2017 6:25:15 AM

I have finished the school for navigation how to apply for a job

5/8/2016 2:35:04 PM

You will not be allowed to perform job at sea with no STCW basic safety course and Medical health check with are both required by MLC. When you have finally arranged both documents i would suggest searching for employment online at or any similar maritime jobs resource.

8/3/2015 1:05:22 PM

Pay is a hundred dollars a MONTH??? How many hours do you work?

10/15/2014 5:39:18 PM

Hi i didn't find The Scandinavian Shipping Office in San Francisco when i tried to google it So if some one knows an other Company or other ways to figure out how to work my self from Usa to Australia on a cargoship i would be really greatful (Im a Swedish/finnish citicen)

stephanie nouvel
6/18/2009 2:15:06 PM

*DISCLAIMER: Keep in mind the response was written by a travel agent for freighters!*

stephanie nouvel
6/18/2009 2:13:43 PM

Concerning the safety of a woman travelling solo onboard a frieghter, this is the reply I got from "I'd suggest that passenger freighters are about the safest mode of transportation for unaccompanied women as long as they listen to the advice of the officers and crew. I have encountered more women than men voyaging aboard freighters. This is because women outlive men and because it is a safe mode of travel. In general, the crew will "adopt" passengers, especially women. This could be because most have wives at home and they'd like to think their wives would be guarded in similar circumstances. If you sail into an unsafe port, you will receive advice such as keep your door and windows closed and locked. In some cases, you will be told this is not a port to go ashore alone (or, perhaps at all). The officers and crew have sailed into these ports many times and know which are safe and which present dangers. Only a foolish person would ignore such advice. Most of the women I met on freighters loved being independent with a feeling of freedom of choice. Many learned a great deal about the sea, navigation and the workings of ships. Like me, many spent hours on the bridge watching and asking questions when the officers weren't too busy to answer them. You are much more likely to come to harm walking down the main street of Nassau in broad daylight than on a freighter. I wouldn't hesitate to allow my daughters to voyage alone! Hope this helps"

stephanie nouvel
6/4/2009 2:58:08 PM

Hey Aubrey, Chris, and Melissa, Thanks Aubrey so much for that advice. I have just recently learned of and it is a wonderful website. I found this about freighter travel and women there: "Women will appreciate freighter travel... Fred Cherney is a freighter travel expert and a member of the Journeywoman Network of classified advertisers. In a recent email to our office Fred wrote, 'I was wondering if your women readers were aware of another safe method of travel for women on their own? Passenger freighter travel is still alive and offers women on their own a safe method of travel whether across the ocean or around the world. Crews tend to adopt passengers and keep an eye out for them. In most cases, singles can avoid paying single supplements. If there is a supplement, it is usually very small. If your readers would like any more information on passenger freighter voyages, please let me know. I'll be happy to supply it'. Email: Website:" From: I wrote an e-mail to the address provided inquiring about the safety of a lady (in this case a young lady of 23) travelling solo on a frieghter, and I will post the response once I get it. Thank you so much for the help Aubrey, and it is nice to know there are other women interested in this type of thing. Melissa, as for jobs on freighters I have kind of lost hope. It seems a lot easier to just pay your way aboard and across (money always makes things easier, doesn't it?). It is expensive, but for me who doesn't like to fly, it is worth it. All the best to all of you! - Stephanie

11/20/2008 9:17:45 AM

Chris, Melissa and Stephanie, I would recommend checking out, which was started by Rolf Potts, a veteran "shoestring traveler" and author of Vagabonding. You can find information about traveling on a freighter at these links: 1. Scroll all the way to the bottom, 2. Scroll down to the May 7, 2006 entry, 3. Scroll to the July 27, 2006 entry, Vagablogging seems to have a pretty strong online community, so you might be able to find other visitors who have traveled by freighter or are planning to. Stephanie and Melissa, you might also try to see if you can find women who have experience traveling this way. Good luck to you all!

11/19/2008 11:53:10 PM

I was all excited when I saw this article as I had been looking for information about traveling this way for ages. Then I saw that it was written in 1971. Does anyone know if this is still a viable way to travel? Thanks much! In regards to Stephanie's question, a girl friend of mine would like to know that as well!

8/29/2008 2:12:23 AM

Are they open to hiring girls for those jobs?

stephanie nouvel
7/24/2008 1:32:28 PM

are there any women onboard? if not, how do you think a young lady would fare? do you think it could be dangerous? thanks

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