Unlicensed Apprentice Program

Becoming a Seafarer

Steady employment and first class representation!
  • No experience necessary
  • Guaranteed 1st job
  • Good benefits and Pension Plan
  • Free tuition and room and board at the Seafarers Training Institute in Maryland

Seafaring is a rewarding career and one to take pride in, with good pay and benefits. Tuition along with room and board for seafarer training is free through the Seafarers’ Training Institute. Learn more about training at the SHLSS in the sections below.

The merchant maritime industry employs men and women who work on a variety of vessels on the deck, in the engine and galley departments. If you become a seafarer, you will have job opportunities in different sectors of the maritime industry. Jobs are available on vessels sailing on inland waterways, Great Lakes, and the East and West Coasts – including cargo vessels, tugs and cruise ships.

If you continue your training, you will have the chance to move up the career ladder into more skilled and higher-paying positions. You will also have an opportunity to travel and to be part of the “brotherhood of the sea.” Once you complete the Unlicensed Apprentice (UA) Program, you will have the skills necessary to begin a career as a seafarer.

Life on a ship is not for everyone, as it is very demanding. Mariners often live and work together in a confined and isolated environment, and may be away from home for months at time. There is often no immediate access to medical care. However, ships are becoming more and more modern, with wifi, satellite television and other modern amenities.

The Unlicensed Apprentice Program

Canadians interested in becoming a seafarer can contact the SIU of Canada to apply for training at the Seafarers Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship (“SHLSS” or “School”) in Piney Point, Maryland, USA. The SHLSS is a vocational school dedicated to preparing students for successful careers as merchant mariners. SHLSS also offers classes for experienced seafarers, which allows them to upgrade their skills.

The UA Program at SHLSS is the largest training program for entry level seafarers in the North America. It is designed to prepare students with little or no maritime experience for a seafaring career. An applicant must be self-motivated to succeed in the classroom and other assigned areas of detail. Excelling in the classroom is not the only requirement. You must also possess a strong work ethic to succeed.

The SHLSS is affiliated with the Seafarers International Union of North America, Atlantic, Gulf, Lakes and Inland Waters District/NMU, AFL-CIO (SIU).

Free tuition and room and board for program participants.

Students in the UA Program will not pay for tuition, rent or meals while attending the SHLSS, as these costs are covered by The Seafarers’ Training Institute. Students are however, responsible for paying the costs of their uniforms, and various clothing items, Flu shot, Hepititis A & B vaccination, and travel insurance. There are also fees for the following required documents: a Transport Canada Marine Medical, Transport Canada Discharge Book, a criminal record check and a current passport. These fees and costs are approximately $1,500. Students must also pay for their transportation to the School in Piney Point, Maryland.

Admission Requirements

General Requirements

  • Must be 18 years of age or older
  • Must be eligible to work in Canada
  • Must be able to meet all Transport Canada qualifications/requirements
  • Must obtain a Transport Canada issued 2-year marine medical certificate
  • Cannot be on any form of probation or parole – must provide a recent Police Background Check

Physical Requirements

  • Must be in good physical, mental and dental health – applicants must be able to pass a complete physical
  • Have blood pressure normal for their age
  • Have a dental check-up
  • Have normal color vision as determined by T.C. approved doctor color vision testing or mariner could be restricted to sailing steward department (included in the T.C. medical)
  • All deck department applicants must have a minimum of 20/20 vision in each eye, and corrected to 20/40 in both eyes
  • All engine department applicants must have a minimum of 20/20 vision in each eye, and corrected to 20/50 in both eyes. NOTE: If the applicant does not meet the vision requirements for upgrading in either the Deck or Engine departments, he/she may be restricted to sailing in the Galley department
  • Applicants who wear corrective lenses or glasses need to bring either two (2) pair of glasses or one (1) pair of glasses and one (1) pair of contact lenses
How to apply

Please read detailed step-by-step instructions for applying to the SHLSS through the Seafarers International Union of Canada by downloading the application guide.

Apply Now

Any money spent as part of the application process is non-refundable and the sole responsibility of the applicant.

Step 1

  • Submit application form online
    • Application form includes space for minimum 400 word essay on “why I want to be a merchant mariner”
  • Mail the following to SIU of Canada:
    • Three non-family character references
    • High school and/or college transcripts
    • Four photos 2 for passport – 1 for discharge book – 1 for STI files)


Once your application is received you will be contacted via email and instructed to schedule a reading and math test at an SIU Hall.

You will be contacted by email after completing Step 1 if you have been selected to move onto Step 2.


Step 2

After being informed that you have moved on to Step 2 of the application process, you must provide copies of the following documents to the program coordinator

  • Transport Canada Marine Medical Certificate
  • Transport Canada Discharge Book
  • Police Clearance Certificate
  • Valid passport
  • Complete dental examination results from your dentist


If selected, you will be advised prior to the start of class. You must also pass all the required medical tests and purchase your list of clothing items. Bring money for uniforms with you to school. (cash/money order – NO personal cheques)

UA Frequently Asked Questions

Questions about the Unlicensed Apprentice (UA) Program

What is the Unlicensed Apprentice (UA) Program?

The UA program is a rigorous training program for prospective merchant mariners. Students will learn how to safely work aboard towing, shipping and other merchant vessels. Upon completion of the program, students will be equipped with the knowledge and skills to work on these vessels as part of a strong team of experienced seafarers.

How long is the UA Program?

The program for Deck & Engine is approximately 34 weeks long, and includes a combination of in-classroom training at the SHLSS, as well as an apprenticeship on board a vessel.

What is the program curriculum?

The program is broken down as follows:

  • Phase 1: Fifteen (15) weeks of entry level training at the SHLSS.
  • Phase 2: Ninety (90) days or more shipboard training on a Canadian vessel, as a non-crew member unlicensed apprentice. This requires completion of a designated sea project. Apprentices receive a stipend while they are training on board the vessel during Phase 2.
  • Phase 3: Seven (7) weeks of follow-up training in Piney Point, MD. This phase focuses on the specific skills of each department.


The program for the Galley is approximately 7 weeks long, and includes a combination of in-classroom training at the SHLSS, as well as an apprenticeship on board a vessel.

The school has various classroom facilities, including a cooking lab for hands-on training and culinary demonstrations. It is also home to the Paul Hall Library and Maritime Museum, marine simulation equipment, and the Seafarers Training and Recreation Center, which contains dining facilities, living quarters, and recreational and laundry facilities. The hands-on-training during Phase 1 is conducted on board the Freedom Star, a vessel which is docked at the campus’s waterfront.

Is tuition and housing really free?

Yes. If you are accepted, The Seafarers’ Training Institute will cover the cost of your tuition, and your room and board to attend the school. There are some other costs that you are responsible for.

What is an unlicensed sailor?

An unlicensed sailor is anyone aboard a vessel who is a non-officer, such as deckhands, ordinary seamen, bridge watchmen, mechanical assistants, cargo maintenance, chief cook and second cook.

Where is the training school?

The School is located on the campus of the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education in Piney Point, Maryland.

The campus consists of over 60 acres on the waterfront in Piney Point, Maryland, which is approximately 60 miles from Washington D.C. The campus includes the SHLSS, as well as the Joseph Sacco Firefighting and Safety Training School.

Is there anywhere in Canada I can go to be trained as a seafarer?

The program offered at SHLSS is unique and not offered anywhere else in the world. Currently there are no schools in Canada that have an unlicensed apprentice program. Further, The Seafarers’ Training Institute will only cover tuition costs for students of SHLSS

Will I be training for one type of job? Like to be an electrician or mechanic?

No. Students receive in-depth skills training to be proficient in each of the duties on a ship. In Phase 2 of training, students are required to train in all major departments of a vessel.

Students are also required to take classes concerning shipboard emergencies and operations including: firefighting, water survival, first aid, CPR, industrial relations and social responsibilities on board a vessel. Each course is designed to provide the students with skills and knowledge to perform safely and effectively aboard a ship.

Will there be any training aboard a vessel?

Yes, all students receive training aboard the Freedom Star, a vessel currently docked at the SHLSS. Students will spend two weeks aboard the ship in the first phase of training. Phase 2 is 90 days (or more) onboard a Canadian vessel obtaining hands-on training & completing a Sea Project Book.

Do I need to be physically fit to do this program?

Yes. The work of a seafarer is physically demanding, and requires a certain level of physical fitness. As part of your training at SHLSS, you will be required to participate in regular fitness training.

You should be aware that upon arrival you will be evaluated to determine whether you are physically able to perform the essential tasks of a merchant mariner. This evaluation will include an assessment of your ability to climb ladders and stairs, your agility, your sense of balance, your ability to lift loads of at least 40 pounds, your ability to crouch, kneel, crawl, and stand on your feet for extended periods, your manual dexterity, and your ability to use survival equipment.

If you are physically unable to perform these essential tasks, you cannot work as a mariner on a ship. For this reason, you may be sent home to improve your fitness level if you cannot successfully perform these tasks upon arrival.

Will I have medical insurance while I am at school?

UA students are required to purchase their own travel insurance while attending classes in the U.S.

What does a day in the life of a UA student look like?

  • 0400 – wake-up
  • 0415 – prepare dorm for morning inspection
  • 0430 – breakfast
  • 0445 – report to work in the Galley
  • 0730 – mustering for morning colors
  • 0800 – march to class
  • 0800 – 1100 class
  • 1100 – march to lunch
  • 1130 – report to galley for lunch detail
  • 1300 – march to class
  • 1300 – 1600 afternoon class
  • 1600 – return from class and march to evening meal
  • 1630 – report to galley for evening meal duty
  • 1630 – 1930 – galley duty
  • 2000 – lights out

What costs do I have to cover myself to take the UA program?

Costs vary, but here are some examples:

  • Four (4) passport size photos = $30
  • Transport Canada Marine Medical = $100
  • Canadian Passport = $110
  • Dental = varies depending on work that needs to be completed
  • Transport Canada Discharge Book = $20
  • Uniforms = $445 USD
  • Transportation expense to get to school = varies depends on location and mode of transportation
  • Miscellaneous/required clothing costs = $450 (varies)

Do I need to write any exams?

Students are required to pass an exam at the end of each course in order to pass. If you fail the exam, you are allowed one additional opportunity to take the exam. If a student fails a course, the case will be referred to the Review Board to decide whether the student should be allowed to continue in the program.

How does the admissions process work for the UA program?

The application process to the Unlicensed Apprentice Program is selective. The program only accepts applicants whom the Admission Committee determines will be able to successfully pursue a seafaring career. A candidate must demonstrate that he or she possesses the discipline, ability, and fitness level necessary to work as a merchant mariner in order to be accepted into the Program. Candidates are accepted throughout the year.

When do the UA Program sessions begin throughout the year and how many students are admitted?

New sessions begin approximately every month. Students are admitted based on the general and physical requirements, their work ethic, dedication and drive to succeed, not based on a quota.

How long do I have to complete my application?

No deadlines

How long before I find out if I’m accepted?

After completing Step 1, you will be notified if you have been selected to move on to Step 2. Once you have been selected for Step 2, and after completing all Steps of the application, you will be notified of your class selection prior to your report date.

If I’ve already done the UA Program, can I do it again?

If you have attended the UA Program, you are not eligible to retake it.

When I graduate will I have a job?

The SIU of Canada

guarantees graduates their first job as part of the UA Program. Being re-hired or continuing is up to the individual.

What are my obligations after graduation?

SIU asks all UA graduates to commit to working for one of our companies for five years.