Merchant Mariner's Document

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Countries with a Merchant Navy or Merchant Marine require identifying credentials for their mariners. The Merchant Mariner's Document (MMD) or Z-card in the United States, and the Ordinary Seaman's Certificate in the United Kingdom are examples of these credentials.

United Kingdom[edit]

An Ordinary Seaman Certificate is a required certification to obtain a job as an Ordinary Seaman, a rating in a merchant ship's deck department. It consists mostly of proof of identity, proof of some minimal health (possibly including a drug test) and some minimal age, and the standards defined under Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW). A Z-CARD is also a folded leaflet format, typically used for marketing communications.

United States[edit]

The Merchant Mariner's Document (MMD), previously called a Z-Card, is a kind of Merchant Mariner Credential previously issued by the United States Coast Guard in accordance with the STCW guidelines, and, until completely phased out, remains one of the standard documents required for all crewmembers of U.S. ships with a Gross Register Tonnage of over 100. An entry-level MMD allows a mariner to work on the deck as an Ordinary Seaman (OS), in the engine department as a Wiper, or in the steward's department as a Food Handler (FH). With experience and testing, qualified ratings such as Able Seaman (AB) or Qualified Member of the Engine Department (QMED) can be obtained.

The document is the size of a driver's license, and contains the sailor's information regarding date of birth, the location of issue, nationality, and the shipboard duties he or she is qualified for. Crewmen on any vessel over 100 gross tons are required to have one by United States law.

The document was created shortly after World War II ended in 1945 to maintain security in ports around the world when sabotage was still a major concern. Today, the document still serves this purpose, and is regarded as a proof of identity as well as a passport when a sailor is in a foreign country. The document had to be renewed every five years.

Prior to the early 1990s, Z-Cards were obtained free of charge and were good for life, but increased safety standards in the maritime industry sought to keep all active mariners renewing these documents and constantly training to stay abreast of any advancements in their field. All applicants for a Z-Card are required to apply, take a drug test, and wait for a criminal background check to complete before receiving their documents, which may take anywhere from a few weeks to several years.

The name Z-Card comes from its early days in use where the sailor's ID number always started with the letter 'Z'.

The Coast Guard has begun replacing the Merchant Mariner's Document, STCW Certificate, and Certificate of Registry with a new credential, the passport-style Merchant Mariner Credential. Mariners will receive the new credential when they apply for a new document or renew their current document. Current MMD's remain valid until their expiration date.

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