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How Many Jobs Are Available in Marine Transportation?

Last updated 03/19/2024 by

Emily Africa

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If you’re looking for a satisfying career that combines adventure, technical skills, and a commitment to keeping global trade flowing, marine transportation might be the right path for you. The good news is that there are plenty of jobs in the marine transportation industry: with a gradual projected growth of 1% per year and thousands of job openings in the industry, marine transportation can be a promising and rewarding career.
Traveling by sea is much more fuel-efficient than traveling by air, which is why maritime transportation is still such a significant economic sector. And operating the vast global network of passenger, container, and cargo ships requires the work of thousands of people. If you’re interested in joining the fleet of vessels that keep the world economy moving, you may want to consider a career in the marine transportation industry.
So how many jobs are available in marine transportation, and what exactly do those jobs entail? In this article, we’ll go over the details of the marine transportation sector to help you decide if a career in this industry may be a good fit for you.

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What is marine transportation?

Marine transportation refers to the movement of people and goods across bodies of water. The marine transportation industry comprises boats and watercraft of all kinds — and the people who operate them.
The following are some examples of the vessels that make marine transportation possible:
  • Bulk carriers
  • Barges
  • Tankers
  • General cargo ships
  • Container ships
  • Passenger ships
  • Naval ships
  • Barges
  • Offshore ships
  • Special purpose ships
Although it’s not often witnessed or acknowledged by most people, marine transport is essential to our economy and society, having made the transportation of everything from timber to turnips possible between countries and continents for thousands of years.

Maritime transportation vs. marine transportation

Transportation overseas by boat is sometimes referred to as “maritime transport.” The marine transportation industry and the maritime industry are very similar, and these names are sometimes used interchangeably. However, there are a couple of differences between marine and maritime transportation:
  • Maritime transportation typically refers exclusively to the long-distance transportation of goods or people, while marine transportation applies to both short- and long-distance sea travel.
  • The maritime transportation sector consists of specialized vessels. As a result, maritime transportation is typically slower than marine transportation.
A simple way to think about the maritime transportation industry is as a subcategory of marine transportation. Although the industries are distinct, they both involve vessels transporting people and goods over bodies of water for various purposes.

The United States marine transportation industry

The United States marine transportation industry is crucial to the U.S. domestic economy and global trade. This industry is responsible for exporting and importing commodities overseas, and it allows the country to participate in international business and maintain its position as a leading economic power.
It may surprise you to learn that the marine transportation industry also plays a critical role in national security. The U.S. Military Sealift Command uses cargo ships as assets during military conflict or natural disasters.
The marine transportation industry accounts for approximately 0.1% of the U.S. workforce, including employees directly and indirectly related to marine transportation and shipping. Let’s look into how this 0.1% of U.S. workers spend their time and what opportunities may be available to you in the industry.

How many jobs are available in marine transportation?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the marine transportation industry employed 75,400 workers in the United States in 2021. This number includes jobs such as ship engineers, laborers, and captains. The BLS projects that employment in the marine transportation industry will consistently grow by 1%, with 8,700 new job openings each year from 2021 to 2031.
Note that these statistics do not include jobs indirectly related to marine transportation, which can account for hundreds of thousands of additional jobs. The following are some of the supporting industries that are crucial to the overall functioning and growth of the marine transportation industry:
  • Port operations: Jobs in port operations include cargo inspectors, longshore workers, and terminal managers. These workers ensure a smooth and efficient flow of goods in and out of ports.
  • Shipbuilding and repair: Shipbuilding and repair workers include welders, electricians, and engineers. They construct and maintain ships and other vessels used in marine transportation.
  • Cargo handling: Cargo handling jobs include forklift operators, crane operators, hand packers, and stevedores. These workers support the maritime transportation industry by loading and unloading cargo from ships, trucks, and trains, ensuring that goods reach their destination safely and efficiently.

Examples of marine transportation jobs

As a marine transportation professional, you’ll have the opportunity to work on the water, travel the world, and help ensure the safe and efficient movement of goods and people by sea. The following are some examples of marine transportation jobs:
  • Ship and boat captains areresponsible for navigating ships, overseeing crews, ensuring maritime traffic safety, and efficiently transporting cargo and passengers.
  • Mates assist the ship captain in navigation and other ship operations.
  • Sailors work on deck and in the engine room of marine vessels. They perform such tasks as operating equipment, maintaining the ship, and assisting with navigation.
  • Marine engineers and naval architects design, build, and maintain ships, boats, and other watercraft.
  • Maritime lawyers are experts in maritime law who help protect the people and businesses operating on waterways. A maritime lawyer may even undertake legal work in a global institution, such as the International Maritime Organization.
  • Ship engineers operate and maintain the engines, boilers, and other machinery on ships and boats. They are expert problem solvers and often have a background in mechanical engineering.
  • Marine pilots guide ships in and out of ports, through narrow waterways, and around other hazards. Essentially, they are specialized captains with a focus on navigation.
  • Marine oilers, machinist’s mates, and engine men operate and maintain engines, generators, and other mechanical equipment on ships and boats.
  • Deckhands perform manual labor tasks on deck, such as operating equipment and assisting with navigation. Deckhand work is often difficult but rewarding.
  • Watercraft operators operate smaller watercraft — such as tugboats, barges, and ferries — to transport cargo and passengers.
  • Other maritime workers include workers who perform additional necessary jobs in the marine transportation industry, such as dispatchers and schedulers.

Marine transportation as a career path

Marine transportation is an exciting and challenging field that offers many job opportunities. From navigating ships to designing and building vessels, there are a variety of options that may fit your individual interests and skills.
Here’s what you can expect if you pursue a career in marine transportation:

Pro Tip

If you’re considering changing careers, your first step should be to find a mentor! Lisa Dupras is a career coach and expert at helping people pivot careers. She advises people interested in pursuing new career paths to seek mentors — that is, people currently working in positions you may be interested in. According to Dupras, “Mentors are invaluable in helping pave the way to a career change.”

Marine transportation job requirements

While the specific requirements for a job in marine transportation will vary by position, here are some of the standard requirements you will need to meet:


Most jobs in marine transportation only require a high school diploma or equivalent. However, some jobs may require post-secondary education, such as a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering or naval architecture.
Certain schools offer a marine transportation course, which usually takes four years to complete. The first three years consist of academic study, while the last year involves in-field training.

Licenses and certifications

Certain positions, such as ship captains and marine pilots, require licenses and certifications from the United States Coast Guard. These certifications demonstrate that you have the knowledge and skills necessary to perform the job safely and effectively.

Physical fitness

A high level of physical fitness will increase your job opportunities within the marine transportation field. Many jobs in this industry involve physically demanding tasks, such as climbing ladders, working in confined spaces, and handling heavy equipment.

Maritime experience

Some positions may require prior experience working in marine transportation services. This experience can demonstrate your ability to work in the unique and challenging environments that are abundant in maritime jobs. To gain this experience, you may need to start in an entry-level position or acquire specialized education.

Technical skills

When seeking a career in the marine transportation industry, it helps to have a strong understanding of machinery and electronics, as well as the ability to troubleshoot and repair equipment.

Communication and teamwork skills

The maritime environment can be challenging, so effective communication skills are critical in marine transportation. Crew members must be able to communicate clearly and efficiently to ensure the safe operation of a ship, and marine transportation workers must be able to work together to achieve common goals.

Availability to travel

Unsurprisingly, most positions in marine transportation involve travel. If you intend to work on a transport ship, you must be comfortable with spending extended periods of time away from home and be able to adapt to the unique challenges of life at sea.

Is marine transportation a good career path?

Scott Lieberman, finance and career expert and founder of Touchdown Money, shares his strategy for identifying the right career for you, which he calls the PCM system. Basically, you need to figure out whether a potential career path is a good fit for your personality, competencies, and money goals.
Let’s use this exercise to see if marine transportation might be an ideal career path for you.

Personality traits of marine transportation workers

A typical successful marine transportation worker displays the following qualities:
  • Adventurous spirit
  • Tenacity
  • Problem-solving abilities
  • Critical thinking skills
  • A love of water and the ocean
  • Punctuality
  • Strong work ethic
  • Diligence
  • Courage

Marine transportation competencies

According to Lieberman, as with all career paths, you need to be willing to “build outstanding skills” and “enjoy the tasks to dedicate the time and energy needed.” Marine transportation can be a good career path for individuals who enjoy working on the water and are interested in the technical aspects of operating ships and other watercraft.
Keep in mind that because this industry is essential to the global economy, there is a constant demand for highly qualified and skilled professionals. If you want to develop the competencies needed to succeed as a marine transportation worker, consider seeking education from an approved maritime academy program and gaining experience in skills valued within your chosen profession.

Money in marine transportation jobs

To determine whether a certain career path is right for you, consider what sort of lifestyle you want to live and see if the salary will allow you to reach that goal. In 2022, the top half of workers in marine transportation were making between $54,000 and $122,000 a year. If that sounds appealing, you may want to consider pursuing a career in one of the best-paying jobs in marine transportation.


What is the highest-paying job in the maritime industry?

The highest-paying job in the maritime transportation industry is a ship captain, with an average annual salary of almost $100,000.

What is the marine transportation system?

The marine transportation system is the global network that transports cargo and passengers across waterways around the world.

What marine transportation jobs are most in demand?

The marine transportation jobs that are most in demand are engineers and naval architects.

Does a marine transportation worker make good money?

Provided you have the education, experience, and skills required for the most complex jobs, you can make $100,000 or more per year in the marine transportation industry.

Are marine transportation workers in demand?

Marine transportation is a relatively slow-growing industry, but there is still a demand for workers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an average of 8,700 new job openings each year for the next decade.

How high is the salary for marine transportation?

Salaries will vary by profession. In 2022, the average annual salary for marine transportation in the United States was $54,000.

Key Takeaways

  • The marine transportation industry plays a crucial role in domestic and global economies by transporting goods and passengers overseas.
  • In the United States, an estimated 8,700 marine transportation jobs will be available each year over the next decade, with an average annual salary of $54,000.
  • Marine transportation consists of a wide variety of professions, including ship captains, deckhands, ship engineers, and maritime lawyers.
  • If you are interested in working in a maritime industry, you possess the necessary skills and qualifications, and you are willing to adapt to the unique challenges of life at sea, marine transportation may be a good career path for you.
While the maritime transportation industry offers plenty of rewarding career opportunities, they may not be the best fit for your individual skills and goals. If you’re planning to change careers soon, some other industries worth looking into include capital goods, oil and gas production, and real estate investment trusts.
Need help managing your money while you search for your dream job? SuperMoney can help! Start by reading our guide on how to navigate a career change, then use our comparison tool to find the best money management tools for your needs!

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