Frequently Asked Questions

Have more questions about Volunteering with Mercy Ships? Check out these Frequently Asked Questions. If you still can’t find what you’re looking for, please call our National Office on 1300 739 899 or email [email protected]

What kinds of positions are available?

The complex nature of Mercy Ships projects and programs demand a wide range of skills. We need biomedical technicians, sterilisation technicians, marine officers, engineers and ratings, teachers, mechanics, and photographers, and so much more.

For a current list of opportunities, please click here.

How long can I serve?

Mercy Ships provides opportunities to serve for various lengths of time, both in shorter-term or longer-term capacities. Those wishing to serve for more than twelve (12) months must first successfully complete our On Boarding Program (including Foundations of Mercy Ships). All positions have both minimum and maximum lengths of commitment.

Please note: A married person applying to serve without their spouse can serve for up to 3 months.

What health or age restrictions apply?

Health restrictions: All volunteers must be in good health and prepared for the physical demands of both living and working on board a ship in West Africa. For example, our volunteers may be required to sleep in a bunk bed in a dorm-style room with other volunteers of the same gender.

  • Did you know the ship has multiple decks, and the average crewmember climbs about 30 flights of stairs daily?
  • Did you know some roles primarily work off-ship (and sometimes even live off-ship), and require a different kind of physical stamina to be exposed to the heat and African climate?
  • Did you know roles such as Housekeeper, Sales Staff, Dining Room Staff, Hostess, and Galley Staff are physically demanding and require heavy lifting and manual labor?

Because a maritime authority governs us, all volunteer applicants must submit a medical history and physical evaluation, which a licensed medical professional reviews. Some pre-existing medical conditions (for example, insulin-dependent diabetes, heart conditions, pregnancy, immune-suppressed conditions, etc.) may disqualify an applicant for service due to maritime regulations and lack of guaranteed access to adequate medical care. To learn more regarding health requirements for volunteers, click here.

Age restrictions: Currently, volunteers must be between 18 and 79 years old at the time of volunteer service. Applicants between 70-79 can serve for up to six months at a time and will be required to submit additional health documentation.

Are physically impaired people able to volunteer with Mercy Ships?

Due to the limited confines of a Mercy Ship and compliance with ship safety standards, it is not possible for physically disabled persons to volunteer on a Mercy Ship.

What are the immunisation requirements?

We require several different inoculations for all crew members coming on board.

  • Yellow Fever
  • Hepatitis B
  • MMR
  • Tetanus / Diphtheria
  • Tuberculosis testing

For those working in the Hospital, Dental Team, and Engineering, Hepatitis A and Typhoid are also required.

Why is TB testing required before joining Mercy Ships?

While tuberculosis (TB) is not as prevalent in the West as it is in Africa, our volunteers are at risk of exposure while serving. We accept crew from all over the world – including areas more prone to TB infection – so we need to ensure none of our volunteers have active TB when they join, given the close living conditions on the ship a case would risk infecting the crew.

This policy is also in keeping with modern standards from multiple health organisations and infection prevention and control recommendations that all people working in a hospital (in this case, all crew) be tested annually for tuberculosis.

Does Mercy Ships cater to special diets?

While we strive to prepare and serve healthy meals on board and most food served is labelled, we cannot cater to specific diets (i.e. gluten free, vegan, coeliac, etc.) We do have a Crew Galley on board, open 24/7, for any Crew member to cook and prepare their own food when desired.

How much does it cost to serve with Mercy Ships?

Volunteers pay for their transportation to and from the ship’s location, immunisations, travel insurance, as well as monthly crew fees and all personal expenses. Crew fees vary depending on the length of commitment as well as the volunteer’s country of residence.

A detailed overview of costs involved and a sample budget can be found here under Finances for Volunteers.

Can Mercy Ships help me raise funds?

We have developed fundraising materials to help you communicate and raise funds to support your time with us. Additionally, depending on the position, need and availability of funding, you can apply for financial assistance to ensure continuity in critical positions. If funding your trip may prohibit you from applying, please indicate on your application that you would like assistance in fundraising.

Fundraising can be the most intimidating part of serving with us, but the majority of applicants have found it to be the very rewarding and very few end up not serving due to lack of finances!

Is it safe to live on board in African nations? What security measures are in place?

Mercy Ships holds the security of our crew as our highest priority. We do not serve in conflict areas, although we have served in post-conflict venues, such as Sierra Leone and Liberia after the cessation of hostilities. Our country security protocols are developed from evaluations conducted by an assessment team, various embassies, other NGOs and multilateral agencies, on-the-ground surveys, and government officials. Each ship is staffed by dedicated security guards and a Ship Security Officer, who provide continuous watch-keeping and access control. While the ship is in the host nation conducting its field service, the Ship Security Officer maintains a working relationship with local embassy staff and other relevant contacts and the local security situation is carefully monitored with security protocols in place as necessary. At times a host nation may experience varying degrees of political and ethnic tension, requiring such protocols as avoiding certain routes or areas, or otherwise ensuring the safety of crew and patients, and the controlled delivery of services. While a Mercy Ship is capable of sailing away from a port in an emergency situation, none has been required to do so in our 40+ year history.

Mercy Ships complies with the International Ship & Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code) and has a regulatory approved Ship Security Plan (SSP) for its vessels. Our Company Security Officer (CSO) is responsible for compliance and administration oversight of the approved SSP and the CSO or his designate is available 24/7 to respond to any incidents identified by the ship’s Captain. In accordance with the signed protocol with a host nation, its government is responsible for providing port security.

What languages do I need to know?

English proficiency is required for all positions in Mercy Ships, and fluency is required for some positions. French is beneficial, but not required unless stated on the job description.

For English proficiency, while Mercy Ships does not currently require proof of examination, we use the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) as a reference for English proficiency. All volunteers must be at level B1 on the CEFR scale (Independent User – Threshold or Intermediate) or higher in order to join on board.

Level B1 summary:

  • Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.
  • Can deal with situations likely to arise while traveling in an area where the language is spoken.
  • Can produce simple connected text on topics that are familiar or of personal interest.
  • Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes, and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
If I serve on the ship, will I be working with the local people?

All of our volunteers work with the local people to some degree. Some (for example, those who serve in the hospital) will likely have more direct contact, but there are opportunities throughout the week made available for crew to participate in during their time off from work. Our crew also work alongside 200 or so local Day Crew who work on board during the field service. Our Day Crew are vital to our mission, and are an integral part of our community on board.

What do crew do after work?

After work, crew often get together for fellowship and fun. This may include going out for an adventure to a local market, dinner or dessert, playing games in one of the lounges on board or on one of the decks, watching movies, or attending an informal Bible study/prayer meeting. Others use the time after work to email friends, write home, practice music or get involved with the many Mercy Ministry opportunities conducted off the ship.

Where do crew come from?

Our crew is diverse and come from all over the world to serve on board. At any time, we have about 40 different nationalities represented.

Where does the ship pick me up?

All volunteers fly to the ship’s location (usually in West Africa) and join the ship there. Sailing isn’t involved unless your service dates are in line with the sail from the field service location to the maintenance location, or from the maintenance location to the next field service location. Volunteers are picked up from the airport when they land in our host country, and taken to the ship by Mercy Ships crew or Day Crew.

Where does Mercy Ships serve?

Mercy Ships is dedicated to serving the people of Africa. With the support and prayers of friends like you, we can say to the suffering men, women and children of Africa, “Mercy is on its way!”.

Which African countries have you visited?

Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Cameroon.

What does the ship’s schedule typically look like?

Typically, a Mercy Ship will be docked in a West African country for around 10 months out of the year involved in active field service. This is followed by two months of ship maintenance and repairs. During these months, the Hospital is closed, though we do still staff non-medical positions. 

How far in advance should I apply?

If possible, applications should be submitted at least 3 to 6 months in advance. For some positions and for some time periods, additional time is required.

How long does it take to be reviewed?

Mercy Ships is able to begin reviewing applications as soon as all application items are submitted for the applicant. Processing applications and reviews usually takes 2-6 weeks. Timing depends on several factors including necessity of interviews, application workload, and timing of the staffing period.

All applications go through the following reviews prior to final acceptance on board:

  • Medical review – do you meet the health requirements Mercy Ships needs to meet as per maritime law?
  • Position review – are you qualified for the position for which you’ve applied?
  • Other reviews are based on expected commitment length, but may include Academic review (if coming with your family)
Are background or criminal records checks required?

Background checks or criminal record checks are required for certain positions, including the following:

  • Teachers / Academy staff (a valid Working with Children certificate or equivalent would also be sufficient)
  • Finance / Sales staff
  • Chaplaincy
  • Crew and Hospital Physicians
  • Any individual who would like to volunteer with the youth group on board, or volunteer with the Academy
  • Any individual joining for one year or more
  • Any UK citizens or residents

All checks / certificates are held valid by Mercy Ships for two years.

Do I need experience before volunteering?

Mercy Ships requires at least two years of post-licensed experience before volunteering for most medical positions in the hospital on board. General and technical positions may also require previous experience depending on the position.

Are interviews required?

Mercy Ships utilises the Spark Hire tool, which allows for a one-way interview with applicants. If one is requested, applicants are given a set of questions to answer and may record their responses when convenient for them, within a certain timeframe. The interview recordings are shared with the relevant reviewer or team leader for consideration.

For more in-depth interviews, you may be asked to meet with us for an interview via Skype or phone call. Typically we do not conduct interviews for those applying to join for less than a year, though at times the supervisor on board may request one in an effort to better understand your previous work experience and suitability for the role, as well as provide you with details of the position and what you could expect if approved.

Typically we would interview for the following positions:

  • All managers
  • Communications team
  • Academy teachers
  • Senior engineers and officers
  • Chaplains
  • Information Services team
  • Finance team
  • Supply team
  • Human Resources team
  • Staff Development team
  • Administrative positions
  • HOPE Centre team

We may also conduct a brief interview if there are concerns regarding English language proficiency, as we require CEFR English Level B1 on board (minimum).

What is the Talent Community?

If the appropriate position is not available when you would like to join, or if you are not available now but would like to be “on-call” for the future, we still encourage you to complete an application. This will be reviewed along with any required credentials (licenses, registrations, skills, etc.) as appropriate for the position. Once we verify you would qualify for the role, you will be approved for our Talent Community.

We do send regular updates to members of the Talent Community, as well as contact them when their role becomes available on board (whether through a last-minute cancellation or by normal staffing cycle).

Can I apply if I am not a Christian or currently not attending a church?

Mercy Ships welcomes short term volunteers who would like to give of their time, efforts, and expertise, regardless of religion. We regularly have non-Christians and/or those who are not currently a member of a church apply to volunteer. Although the vast majority of our staff and volunteers are followers of Jesus, we will consider all applicants. There are certain leadership positions where we do require the candidate to be a Christian and to be a strong spiritual leader in order to lead prayer meetings and lead their teams spiritually. All volunteers must have a lifestyle consistent with our Core Values and be willing to adhere to our Code of Conduct.

Why might my application be denied?

A candidate may be denied if they do not meet the requirements for the role they are applying for, including all of the requirements listed on the job description for necessary skills, licensure, and English proficiency. Also, our flag-state of Malta only accepts certain certifications for maritime officers from certain countries, including Australia.

There are a few reasons why one might not be accepted for a position on board. Due to maritime regulations, there are certain medical conditions that would disqualify someone from serving on board, including:

  • Some heart conditions
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Insulin dependent diabetes (for service in Africa)
  • Immunosuppressive medications
  • Active hepatitis
  • Neurological condition causing persistent weakness, paralysis, or paresthesias
  • BMI over 35
  • Pregnancy where service on board will exceed 24 weeks of gestation
  • Schizophrenia / Psychoses
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Significant vision or hearing loss
  • Mobility issues

This list is presented as a guide and is not comprehensive. During a medical review, anything that needs extra attention or documentation will be addressed by our medical reviewers.

Applicants may also be redirected to other, shorter opportunities if the volunteer is not able or willing to join our Community of Faith (required for all crew serving 1+ years) or if their family situation prohibits them from serving in a longer capacity (if married, and their spouse is not applying, for example).

Can married couples with/without children serve on board?

Housing for couples is limited, but we have cabins for married couples. Family housing is reserved for long-term crew where one spouse is filling a critical position.

Please note: A married person applying to serve without their spouse will only be accepted for a maximum of three (3) months.

Can non-married couples serve together on board?

We welcome couples who are not married to serve together. Please note however that you will be allocated separate cabins, and along with all crew members, should familiarise yourself with, and agree to abide by our Code of Conduct, specifically as it relates to relationships.

Can single parent families volunteer to serve on board?

The ship is very limited in the number of family cabins available and therefore they must be allocated to crew that can work full-time in a critical position onboard. When we accept any family, we expect one of the parents to work full-time while the other parent’s main responsibility (due in a large part to safety issues) would be to take care of/watch their children when they are not in school. Therefore, this would not work in the case of the single-parent family, as their time would have to be split between their parental and shipboard duties and therefore not allowing the crew member to work full-time.

If we are a couple, how will our placement be managed?

We love when couples volunteer together. Placement will be dependent on respective roles being available at the same time, as well as the availability of couples housing.

If we are applying as a family, can we both work full-time?

When we accept any family unit, we expect one of the parents to work full-time while the other parent’s main responsibility (due in a large part to safety issues) would be to take care/watch after their children when they are not in school, taking on the role of Primary Care Giver (PCG). Depending on the age(s) of the child(ren), the PCG can work part-time in a department on board the ship.

How many children are on board?

We have over 60 beds for children, with children between the ages of one and eighteen living on board the Africa Mercy during the school year. A second ship, the Global Mercy, will have a larger capacity for children, and combined we will have over 170 beds available for children when both ships are in service!

What are the advantages and disadvantages for children living on board?

Children are introduced to many new cultures and nationalities. They have opportunities to join the family in interacting with those we come to serve. The Academy offers a fantastic accredited Christian international school with small classes and excellent academics. There are lots of positive role models serving on board for children to interact with.

Many of our families have treasured the time the family spends together every day, eating meals together, and having friends around all the time, too!

Some families find the separation from extended family difficult. Our Kids On Boarding Program is designed to equip children and families through these transitions.

The nature and environment of some of the port cities we are docked in means sometimes a lack of freedom and possible boredom due to the lack of outdoor play space. While we have a great play area on deck, the limited options and facilities for extracurricular activities such as gym, sports, dance, etc. can be challenging. Additionally, making friends and then having to say “goodbyes” when they leave can be difficult.

What is the Mercy Ships Academy?

The Mercy Ships Academy was founded in 1979 to provide a Christian education for the children of crew members. Instruction from a Christian point of view is offered for children of Nursery age through to completion of High School.

Mercy Ships Academy is a fully accredited International Christian School that brings glory to God by fully equipping each student with the foundation of knowledge and skills necessary to fulfil God’s purposes in their lives. We do this by partnering with parents in developing Christian character in their children through teaching values based on a genuine biblical worldview within the structure of quality academic education, meeting the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of each student. The Mercy Ships Academy uses an international standards-based curriculum and follows the educational standards of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) and Middle States Association.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Academy?

One of the great things about the Academy is the small class size and excellent student teacher ratios, which means each student can get more individual attention. The limited space for Physical Education due to living on a ship in a port can be challenging, but the Teachers always look for creative ways to get everyone moving!

How long are the school days and how much homework do students have?

The school day starts at 8:00am and finishes at 3:20pm. There is an hour lunch break, where all students and families can have lunch together.

Preschool hours are from 8am-12:00pm or 9:00am-12:00pm, depending on the age and preschool year.

The amount of homework depends on the age and grade level of the student.

How are the classes divided and what is the average class size?

Preschool, Kindergarten, Grades 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, 6, 7 and 8, 9 and 10, 11, and 12.

The maximum class size on the Africa Mercy is 6. The Global Mercy will have a maximum class size of 10.

What do kids do when the Academy is closed for holidays or the maintenance period?

Many families use this time to take leave of the ship, visit family, work on fundraising, etc. The Academy’s summer holiday typically coincides with the ship’s maintenance period/dry dock period.

Typically there is a mid-school break for approximately two weeks from before Christmas through the first week of January, and there is a break for about two months (usually June & July). The school calendar changes based on the ship maintenance schedule. If you would like to be connected to a family on board with children of a similar group to yours, please ask a recruiter!

What are the family cabins like?

The family cabins vary in size (6-berth and 4-berth) according to how many in your family, and depends on which ship you are serving. A few of the family cabins on the Africa Mercy have a sofa-bed for the parents; each cabin has its own bathroom and kitchenette and ample storage space.

What are the special rules for children?

On the whole, the ship is a safe and family friendly environment. There are some guidelines for children’s protection, and of course, parents are ultimately responsible for their children. Younger children (under 10) must be supervised at all times, and cannot wander around the ship without an adult. There are rules on food service, for example, and general safety rules that all crew are expected to follow.

What surgeries are performed on board?

Mercy Ships provides many types of surgeries:

  • General (Adults)
  • General (Paediatric)
  • Ophthalmic
  • Oral Maxillofacial & ENT Head & Neck
  • Orthopaedics (Paediatric)
  • Plastics
  • Urogynecologic
Do I need to be a registered nurse?

Yes, RN licensure is required for all nursing roles on board.

Do you use general surgeons?

Yes. The surgical procedures performed most frequently are inguinal herniorrhaphies for large hernias and thyroidectomies.

Do you use gynaecologists?

Our Women’s Health Program uses OBF surgeons who are trained in fistula cases. Unfortunately, we are not able to offer training in this area apart from our Medical Capacity Building program that trains local surgeons.

Do you use medical or nursing students?

Medical and nursing students often ask to join Mercy Ships as an elective session or to get exposure/experience in a developing country, however we are unable to accommodate these requests because the majority of the positions in the hospital require a current license/registration and at least two years of post-graduate experience, and we do not have personnel or bed space on board currently to facilitate these opportunities.

There are positions which do not require a license (such as Hospital Steriliser or Hospital Supply Assistant), but often they do not meet a medical or nursing student’s objectives.

Does my medical license/registration need to be current?

You must hold an active license in good standing in your home nation. You will be asked to submit copies of your license, diploma, and relevant certificates. It will expedite the application process if you send these with your application. Upon acceptance, you may also be asked to submit a registration document in our host nation.

Do I need malpractice insurance?

Mercy Ships operates in a host country pursuant to a protocol in which the host government agrees to hold harmless all Mercy Ships staff and volunteer medical providers (including physicians) based on due diligence by Mercy Ships to provide qualified providers and that negligence is not involved. Furthermore, legal council advises that suits brought outside of the host country are a possibility in our increasingly litigious world. Each medical provider should check with their own insurance carrier as to their exposure that results from volunteer international activities. Mercy Ships is looking into options to provide this but at this time is unable to offer any malpractice insurance for volunteer medical workers.

What will my schedule be?

Schedules vary depending on where you work. Ward and ICU nurses work rotating shifts, which will include nights and weekends. Operating Room staff and other ship-based teams tend to work weekdays, day shifts. Some days may be long.

Dental personnel, community health educators, eye field team members, mental health team members, and palliative care team members work off the ship Monday through Friday. This means they are usually in a hot environment and wet during the rainy season.

Nurses can expect to work approximately 10 shifts in every 2-week period. You will usually receive one weekend off every two weeks. All shifts are 8 hours, including weekend shifts. You will work a mixture of day and evening shifts, with 4-5 night shifts in a 4-week period. Night duty is expected of all ward nurses. Shift times are as follows:

Day: 7:00am – 3:00pm

Evening: 2:00pm – 9.30pm

Night: 9:00pm – 7:30am

These shift patterns subject to change.

What are the nursing responsibilities on the ward?

You will care for 5-7 patients of varying acuity on a day or evening shift. On a night shift, you will care for approximately 10 patients. We have a busy surgical ward, so you will care for patients with simple incision lines and more complicated skin graft dressings, surgical drains, NG tubes, urinary catheters, IV fluids, IV antibiotics, naso-pharyngeal airways and occasionally tracheostomies. When you arrive, you will be given the opportunity to tell us how comfortable you are with certain skills and this will be taken into consideration when you are allocated a patient assignment. We have an ICU where ICU nurses care for ventilated and critically ill patients.

Do I need to bring my own scrubs?

Scrubs are provided for those who are involved in direct patient care. You may choose to bring your own scrubs if you like a bit of personal style, etc. Mercy Ships launders the scrubs we provide. However you are responsible for laundering any personal scrubs.

What are the medicines we use on board?

Mercy Ships International follows the World Health Organisation recommendations for essential medicines and has had its own essential medicines formulary book with dosage guidelines since 2003.

Do I need seaman’s papers to serve on board?

Both the Deck and Engineering departments (technical crew) consist of licensed and non-licensed crew members, depending on position. For example, all officer and rating positions do require current certificates of seafarer training. Other positions on board, such as entry-level positions and skilled trades (carpenters, welders, electricians, etc.) do not require maritime licensing.

What kinds of certificates are required to serve in deck or engineering?

This varies with the position. All technical crew should have a current certificate of Basic Safety Training (BST) according to STCW standards. If you are lacking a current BST certificate, we provide that training three times per year at our International Support Center in Texas, or can recommend an approved training location. For licensed crew members, a valid certificate of competency is required, along with a valid maritime medical certificate. Some national certificates are not recognised by the flag state of our vessels (Malta). We will review your certificates during the application process.

Will my Navy experience benefit Mercy Ships?

That depends on what your specialty was, and what training and experience you’ve had. With regard to certificates, since we are required to follow merchant marine training and certificate standards, typically there is not a direct equivalent of your naval rating or commission. However, we would be more than happy to discuss your specific skills and training to see if you may be a fit within our technical crew.

Why does Mercy Ships register its ships in Malta?

Because of the international nature of our organisation, we register our vessels in Malta, because it is one of the few flag states that place little restriction on the nationalities of the technical crew.

Is Mercy Ships compliant with safety and environmental regulations?

Malta is signatory to IMO conventions, including SOLAS, MARPOL, ISM, ISPS, AND STCW. We comply with these and other international regulations, as surveyed and audited by member societies of the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS). In addition to the international regulations, Malta, as a member of the European Union, imposes additional national regulations with which the ship must comply.

How much time is spent at sea?

The typical 12-month cycle of a Mercy Ships vessel is as follows:

8-10 months in port during field service in West Africa

6-8 weeks in shipyard and dry dock

4-6 weeks cumulative sailing between field services and shipyard

I’m interested in a maritime career but I don’t have experience. Can Mercy Ships help?

We can provide entry level crew with basic maritime training, including STCW 95 Basic Safety Training (BST)(US Coast Guard Standards), and Watch Rating training for both deck hands and engine hands (Maltese certificate).

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