An ordinary seaman is the lowest rank of a ship’s deck crew. It is considered an entry-level position and comprises the main labor force on board a boat. This person is supervised by the captain and the engineer, and can be given instructions by any individuals ranked above him, such as mates or able bodied seamen.
The term originated in Great Britain during the 18th century. The Royal Navy, which protects the coasts of Great Britain from attack, described an ordinary seaman as an individual who had less than two years experience at sea. The term was later adopted by two of America’s naval services, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Merchant Marine. The U.S. Navy’s title is seaman first class.
To become a seaman in the US, an individual must have a merchant mariner's document issued by the Coast Guard, which provides information about the applicant's age, health, and citizenship. Individuals must also pass physical and drug tests, pass an FBI background check, and be able to follow orders. While the job is physical and physical fitness is important, most companies only require a clean bill of health and the ability to lift at least 50 pounds (22.6 kg).
An ordinary seaman works two four hour watches a day, seven days a week. His duties include the following:
- Upkeep — Painting, cleaning, and polishing of ship brightwork; the collection and disposal of garbage; maintenance and repair of various types of equipment.
- Cargo — Handling ropes and wires; storing and securing of items; assisting with the movement of cargo on and off the ship.
- Lookout — Standing watch both in port and at sea.
- Other Duties — Assisting with any aspect of the ship's operation and maintenance that the superior Seamen or Officers feel is necessary.
The starting base pay for an ordinary seaman depends on the company for which he or she works, but it is an entry-level position. Seamen may receive a 15% sea premium pay while the ship is away from its home port. He or she may also receive overtime pay for Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays while the ship is at sea.
Once an seaman has acquired enough experience at sea, he may apply to the US Coast Guard to test for the next rank, which is able seaman.