Merchant Marine Purser

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Merchant Marine Purser

Education and Training Varies—see profile

Salary Average—$30,514 per year

Employment Outlook Poor

Definition and Nature of the Work

All passenger ships and some freighters and tankers employ pursers, who do the complicated paperwork that is necessary each time ships enter ports. They keep their ships' accounts and prepare and keep records of payroll. Pursers also assist passengers whenever necessary.

One of the most important responsibilities of pursers is overseeing ships' documentation and customs declarations. They arrange for ship and document inspections by immigration officials and prepare passenger and crew lists for the appropriate governmental authorities. Ship pursers assist passengers in a number of ways: they arrange for room transfers; exchange currency; coordinate luggage transportation; and organize tours and sightseeing trips while ships are in port. They also answer questions and field complaints from passengers. In recent years, pursers have been trained as pharmacists' mates to improve health care onboard ships. They are in charge of the medicine chest and first-aid care and file injury reports. Passenger ships have fairly large purser departments; on cargo ships, fewer pursers are needed.

Education and Training Requirements

Most pursers attend maritime training schools, which 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. Other schools offer general seamanship training to a limited number of people with no experience at sea. Some pursers get their sea experience by serving in the U.S. Navy or U.S. Coast Guard.

To enter the federal academies, applicants must be between seventeen and twenty-two years of age, single, high school graduates, U.S. citizens, and in good physical condition. Candidates for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy or the U.S. Naval Academy must be nominated by members of Congress. Admission to the other schools is competitive.

To qualify for their jobs, pursers need U.S. Coast Guard licenses, which require examinations. Prospective pursers should take commercial courses in high school or in business school. Experience in typing and bookkeeping can be useful.

Getting the Job

One of the most direct routes to becoming a purser is attending a marine academy. Most schools have job placement offices.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Assistant pursers may advance to jobs as tourist-class, cabin-class, and first-class pursers on passenger ships. With more experience, they can be promoted to pursers and executive pursers. The highest job in pursers departments is chief purser. Union training programs help candidates advance through the ranks.

Employment in the merchant marine is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2014. More important, the number of graduates of maritime training schools may exceed the growth in demand. Openings may occur when experienced pursers retire or leave the field, but applicants may find stiff competition.

Working Conditions

Pursers work long hours and irregular shifts. They are on call twenty-four hours when ships are at sea. As with all merchant marine occupations, the work can be hazardous. The risk of falls, fire, collision, and sinking is always present. Pursers are away from home for long periods and rarely have a chance to explore the ports they visit.

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries depend on the type and size of the ship, as well as pursers' experience and responsibility. In 2004 the average salary for pursers was $30,514 per year.

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

Benefits include eighteen to thirty days of vacation for each thirty days of work. Medical care, hospital insurance, and retirement plans are provided, as are room and board. Partial pensions are available for those who retire early because of permanent disabilities.