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]
How do I apply?
Applications for service with Mercy Ships are accepted year-round. Click here for more information on how to volunteer.
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.
What kinds of positions are available?
The complex nature of Mercy Ships projects and programs demand a wide range of skills. For a list of positions that are generally available and the minimum commitment for each, please see the chart below:
For a detailed list of what positions are currently available, please see our Volunteer Opportunities list.
How far in advance should I apply to volunteer with Mercy Ships?
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.
What is the minimum time commitment?
Mercy Ships provides opportunities to serve for various lengths of time, both in a shorter-term or longer-term capacities, and all positions have both minimum and maximum commitment lengths. For example, while it is easier for a member of the surgical team to come for only two weeks, ward nurses require a more extensive orientation and therefore come for a minimum of two months.
Those wishing to serve for more than one field service must first successfully complete the Mercy Ships On Boarding Program. Please note: A married person applying to serve without their spouse will only be accepted for a maximum of three (3) months
What references are required to apply?
When applying to serve with Mercy Ships, two references are required; one from your pastor or spiritual leader and one from your employer. If you are a medical professional, please use the “Medical Professional Reference Form” in lieu of the Employer Reference. Please note: If you are not able to provide an employer or pastor/spiritual leader reference, you may submit a substitute reference from a person who has functioned in a supervisor/mentor or coach role for you.
How much does it cost to serve with Mercy Ships?
Volunteers pay for their transportation to and from the ship’s location as well as crew fees and all personal expenses. Crew fees vary depending on the length of commitment as well as what nation the volunteer comes from. A detailed overview of costs involved 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, we sometimes provide financial assistance to ensure continuity in critical positions. If interested, please indicate on your application that you would like assistance in fundraising.
What health or age restrictions apply?
We require all volunteers to be in good physical condition. All applicants are required to complete a Physical Evaluation as part of their application and Immunisation Checklist once accepted. Some pre-existing medical conditions (for example insulin dependent diabetes, heart conditions, pregnancy, immune suppressed conditions, etc.) may disqualify service at some operating locations due to maritime regulations and availability of medical care. We require all volunteers to be at least 18 years old. There is no upper age limit for service.
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.
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.)
Can married couples with/without children serve on board?
Housing for couples and families is very limited and is reserved for longer-term crew and/or critical positions. A final decision on couples housing may be delayed until 2 months prior to the time of service. Family housing is reserved for long-term crew where one spouse is filling a critical position.
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 operational position on board. 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. 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.
Is Mercy Ships a Christian organisation?
Yes, we are! But we don’t want to tag ourselves exclusively, and that’s why we call ourselves a faith-based organisation instead. We think everyone should be able to help, and Mercy Ships offers help to everyone, no strings attached. 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 serve with us. Although the vast majority of our staff and volunteers are followers of Jesus, we do consider all applicants. However, all volunteers must have a lifestyle consistent with our Core Values and be willing to adhere to our Code of Conduct.
Is proficiency in English required in Mercy Ships?
Yes. English proficiency is required for all positions in Mercy Ships, and fluency is required for some positions.
Is a foreign language required to serve in Mercy Ships?
No. However a working knowledge of French is very beneficial for several countries in which we serve.
What does the ship’s schedule typically look like?
Typically, the Africa Mercy will be docked in a West African country for around 10 months out of the year involved in active field service. During the months of June-August, the ship undergoes maintenance and repairs. During these months, the Hospital is closed, though we do still staff non-medical positions. Please click here for a more detailed schedule.
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!”.
Where does the ship pick me up?
This is a common question – all volunteers actually 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 field service location.
Which African countries have you visited?
Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Cameroon.
Is it safe to live on board the Africa Mercy in African nations? What security measures are in place?
Mercy Ships holds the security of its crew in highest priority. Our security protocol is developed from assessments conducted by our Advance Team as well as input from various embassies and government officials. Mercy Ships employees six full-time Gurkhas security guards, supervised by our own Ship Security Officer. There are trained security personnel on duty 24/7. While a Mercy Ship vessel is always prepared to cast off in an emergency situation, none has been required to do so in our forty year history.
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 with our patients, but there are opportunities throughout the week made available for crew to participate in during their time off from work. These include visits to prisons, orphanages and programs sites as well as working with the 250 or so local Day Crew who work on board in the Dining Room, Housekeeping, Deck, Hospital and other departments during the field service.
What do crew do after work?
After work, crew often get together for fellowship and fun. This may include going out for dinner or dessert, playing board games in one of many lounges or on one of the decks, watching a movie, 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.
Depending on the location, there are typically local hotels with pool facilities. There are other crew activities arranged, days out to different local places of interest, markets, nice restaurants, the beach etc. There is a children’s covered play area on Deck 8 and a much smaller one on Deck 7, and a pool on Deck 8. There is wi-fi on board, and also a well stocked library of books and DVDs. There are also plenty of opportunities to travel and see the country in which we are serving.
What are the cabins like?
Each cabin is designed to maximise space, and most have a private bathroom, small closet and desk area for each person, and internet access. If you’re a single crew member, you’ll bunk in a multi-berth cabin. A limited number of double-berth cabins are reserved for married couples and a few cabins are available for families serving long-term.
Family cabins vary in size (6-berth and 4-berth) according to how many in your family. A few of the six berth cabins have 3 small bedrooms (2 rooms for the kids with bunks) and a master bedroom. Some 6 berth cabins have 2 bedrooms (2 small bedrooms for the kids with bunks) and a pull out couch in the den for mum and dad. Each has their own bathroom and kitchenette and ample storage space.
What are the special rules for children?
There are about 50-55 children between the ages of one and eighteen living on board the Africa Mercy . 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.
What is the Academy?
The 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 brings glory to God by fully equipping each student with the foundation of knowledge and skills necessary to fulfill 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 a 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.
How long are the school days?
The school day starts at 8AM and finishes at 3:20PM. Amount of homework depends on the age and grade level of the student. Preschool hours are from 8AM-12PM or 9AM-12PM, depending on the age and preschool year.
How are the classes divided?
Nursery, Preschool, Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th, 9th and 10th, 11th and 12th of typically six to eight students per class.
What do kids do during the summer or when the Academy is closed?
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 and July) over summer. 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. The school calendar changes based on the ship maintenance schedule.
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.
What surgical procedures do you perform on board?
Do you use general surgeons?
Yes. The surgical procedures performed most frequently are inguinal herniorrhaphies for large hernias and thyroidectomies.
Do I need to be a registered nurse?
Yes, RN licensure is required for all nursing roles on board.
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 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.
What opportunities does Mercy Ships offer for allied health professionals?
See table below:
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.
Do I need malpractice insurance?
Mercy Ships operates in a host country pursuant to a protocol in which 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 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.
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.
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: 7AM – 3PM
Evening: 2PM – 9.30PM
Night: 9PM – 7:30AM
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.
I’ve heard that Mercy Ships crew raise their support. Is there any consideration for professional mariners?
As a non-profit, volunteer organisation, we do ask volunteer crew to give their time and skills as well as raise or save enough money to pay for their own transportation expenses to and from the ships and their costs of living on board, and any personal expenses they may incur. Recognising that professional mariners often do not have access to traditional fundraising venues, we may be able to help provide limited financial assistance for qualified individuals.
I’m interested in a maritime career, but I don’t have any 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).