How to become a... Marine Operations Apprentice

Last updated: 05 July 2016

How to become a... Marine Operations Apprentice

Note: If you have an existing maritime qualification please refer to the ‘Pre-qualified marine’ job link in this section of the website.

Why do we need these roles on the Thames Tideway Tunnel project?

During the construction of the tunnel, we are planning to transport at least 4.5 million tonnes of material to and from our sites using barges on the River Thames. This helps reduce the number of lorries on London’s roads. We will need skilled people to crew and skipper the vessels.

A typical day

You will probably be working on a tug or workboat as part of a crew of three to five people. The main operation will be the collection of soil, excavated as a result of our tunnelling activities, and its transfer and disposal at approved sites downstream.

The working day varies according to the tides, but long shifts are normal and early starts are part of the routine. On board you will be part of a small team led by the skipper and you will start work as a trainee deckhand under a qualified mate. The tasks you will typically undertake include rope and wire handling, cargo loading and unloading, lookout and operating winches and other deck gear. You will start as the most junior member of the crew, but there’s normally a good camaraderie amongst boat crews and you will be part of a hard working team.

Useful interests and qualities

You must be prepared to work outside in all weathers. A cheerful, positive attitude is important. You must be ready to take orders from the skipper and mate and be willing to work hard and seize opportunities to learn and develop your skills. There is a minimum fitness requirement for this role, which is set by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and you will need to pass this. Working safely is vital and you need to be able to understand and apply safe working practices at all times.

Pay and prospects

There is an established apprenticeship pathway which combines practical experience with classroom learning at college. Starting pay for a trainee deckhand is normally around £10,000 to £15,000 a year depending on your age and employer and this can rise to around £24,000 as you become a qualified mate. It is possible to work up to becoming a fully qualified boatmaster (skipper) by obtaining a Boatmasters’ Licence (BML) when you would expect to earn over £30,000 with overtime on top of this. Your qualifications also provide transferable skills to jobs in the merchant navy and some shore based roles.

To pilot a boat on the River Thames you also need to acquire a Local Knowledge endorsement demonstrating your navigational knowledge. Further endorsements are also available for specialist operations such as towing and pushing barges.

Entry Level requirements

There is no minimum academic entry requirement for an intermediate apprenticeship, but the more C grade GCSE’s you have then better, and an interest in science, maths and ICT is useful if you want to aim to become a qualified boatmaster.

Next steps

We will update this page when further details are available about who will be carrying out the marine operations on the Thames Tideway Tunnel.

However there’s no need to wait until then. If you like the look of this job you can find out more information from The Company of Watermen and Lightermen. You can ask for an apprentice information pack or speak to their training officer to get more information. River apprenticeships are also available through 64ths, in partnership with Skills for Growth, who are delivering the pathway for Maritime Skills (Inland waters and Short Distances to Sea). This gives a Level 2 Apprenticeship Certificate and a Level 2 Diploma accredited by the SQA. Recognised by the MCA, it provides students with the underpinning knowledge to gain the National Boatmaster Licence.


We’re committed to ensuring access to opportunities for groups under-represented in the workforce in terms of their ethnicity, gender and disability so please, give it a go if you have the skills and aptitude.