Merchant Navy or Defence Forces | Which Career Path is suitable for you?


Choosing between a career in the Merchant Navy or the Defense Forces is a pivotal decision that demands careful consideration. The Merchant Navy offers adventure on the high seas, with opportunities for travel and substantial financial rewards. On the other hand, the Defense Forces provide a sense of duty, discipline, the chance to serve our country, and the security of a stable job.

Let’s explore both career paths to help you make an informed and exciting choice.

What is the Merchant Navy?

Container Vessel

The Merchant Navy is a civilian ship fleet that transports goods and people worldwide. It’s not a military navy. People who work on these ships, like officers and crew, help move goods internationally and ensure safe voyages. This helps support global trade and economic growth.

What is a Defence Force?

A defence force, also known as a military or armed force, is a government organization responsible for protecting a country’s security and sovereignty. It consists of various branches, such as the army, navy, air force, and sometimes other specialized units. These forces are trained and equipped to defend against external threats and maintain national security.

Indian Army

Pathways to Joining the Merchant Navy and Armed Forces 

Merchant Navy 

To pursue a career in the Merchant Navy, you can choose from various courses such as:

  1. B.Tech in Marine Engineering
  2. Diploma in Nautical Science 
  3. BSc in Nautical Science 
  4. Graduate Marine Engineering 

However, to embark on this exciting journey, you’ll need to pass the IMU CET (Indian Maritime University Common Entrance Test) examination.

Defence Forces

Joining the defence forces in India is an honorable and challenging endeavor. There are several ways to become a part of the Indian Armed Forces:

  1. National Defense Academy (NDA)
  2. Combined Defense Services (CDS) Exam
  3. Territorial Army
  4. Short Service Commission (SSC)
  5. Technical Entries (UES, TGC)
  6. NCC Special Entry
  7. Medical and Dental Corps (AFMS, AFDS)
Indian Paramilitary Forces

Examination and Syllabus 

The Indian Maritime University Common Entrance Test (IMU CET)

IMU Headquarters
  • The Indian Maritime University Common Entrance Test (IMU CET) is conducted twice a year.

The IMU CET (Indian Maritime University Common Entrance Test) syllabus covers various subjects:

  • Physics 
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • English
  • General Knowledge
  • General Aptitude

National Defence Academy Examination (NDA)

NDA Cadets
  • The NDA exam refers to the National Defence Academy Examination, which is a competitive examination conducted in India for the recruitment of candidates into the Indian Armed Forces. The NDA is a premier military academy that trains young individuals to become officers in the Indian Army, Navy, and Air Force.
  •  The National Defence Academy Examination is conducted twice a year.
  • The National Defence Academy Examination syllabus covers various subjects:
  • 1. Mathematics: This part focuses on basic math concepts. You’ll need to understand numbers, shapes, triangles, and some advanced math like calculus and statistics.
  • 2. General Ability Test (GAT): This part has two sections:
  • A. English: It checks your English language skills, including words, grammar, and reading.
  • B. General Knowledge: This section covers various topics like science, history, geography, current events, politics, economics, Indian laws, and general problem-solving abilities.

Selection Statistics and Success Rates

Exam Name IMU CET (2017)NDA 
Appeared Candidates22.5006,00,000
Selection Rate 4.42%0.066%
  • The selection rates for entry into the defence forces in India can be relatively low compared to the Merchant Navy exams. This is primarily because the defence forces have stringent eligibility criteria, a challenging selection process, and a limited number of vacancies available each year.
  • The selection process for defence forces typically involves a written examination, followed by an interview, group discussions, psychological tests, physical fitness assessments, and medical examinations. These rigorous evaluations are designed to ensure that only the most qualified and capable candidates are admitted.


CriteriaIMU CETNDA (for Army)NDA (for Air Force and Naval Wings)
Educational BackgroundScience BackgroundAll Backgrounds (Art & Commerce included)Science Background (Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics)
Percentage in Class 12thPCM – 60%, English – 50%Not ApplicableNot Applicable
Age Limit17-25 years15.5-18.5 age 16 or 19 years old during the commencement of the course15.5-18.5 age 16 or 19 years old during the commencement of the course
Physical StandardsLess StringentHigh StandardsHigh Standards

Similarities Between the Merchant Navy and Defence Services 

  1. Staying away from family 

Both careers, Merchant Navy and Defence Forces, share the common aspect of requiring personnel to stay away from their families for extended durations. This shared sacrifice fosters resilience and a deep sense of camaraderie among individuals in these professions

  1. Hardship and tough life 

Merchant Navy and Defense Forces entail arduous challenges and demanding lifestyles. The shared similarity lies in the rigorous discipline, extended periods away from home, and the need to perform under pressure in ever-changing environments. These careers demand resilience and a strong sense of duty from those who choose them.

  1. Food and lodging are free during the service

Merchant Navy and the Defense Forces, a notable similarity lies in the provision of free food and lodging during service. This essential perk not only ensures the well-being of individuals serving in these esteemed professions but also contributes to financial savings and a sense of security, fostering a strong camaraderie among personnel. 

  1. Good communication skills 

Strong communication skills are a shared necessity in both the Merchant Navy and the Defense Forces. Whether on a ship at sea or engaged in military operations, effective communication is crucial. It facilitates seamless coordination among crew or team members, ensures safety, and enhances task execution. Clear and concise communication is vital for conveying critical information, maintaining teamwork, and minimizing risks

  1. Examination for promotion

Merchant Navy and the Defense Forces, the need to clear examinations for promotions is a common thread that underscores the importance of knowledge and skill development. These examinations serve as a yardstick to assess competence and readiness for higher responsibilities. This shared emphasis on continuous learning and growth ensures that individuals in both fields are well-equipped to excel in their respective roles and contribute effectively to their organizations’ missions.

Difference Between Merchant Navy and Defence forces 

AspectMerchant NavyDefense Forces
Primary MissionCommercial Shipping and TradeNational Defense and Security
Career FocusMaritime Industry and TradeMilitary and Defense
UniformOften casual attire, uniforms during official dutiesUniforms as standard attire
DeploymentInternational voyages and trade routesNational and international deployments
Promotions and AdvancementPrimarily based on experience and certification(Faster Promotion)Hierarchical structure with promotions based on rank and merit(Slow Promotion)
Easier to get a promotion Tough to get to the topmost position 
Company and JobYou can change your company 
You can ask questions
No question asked 
Need to follow orders
Country comes first
Indian Navy Officers


PrivilegeArmed ForcesMerchant Navy
Comprehensive Medical InsuranceTypically provided to all personnel and their familiesCoverage varies by employer and may not always include family members
Post-Retirement BenefitsPension and healthcare benefits for retireesNo Provident Fund
Educational Assistance for DependentsAccess to subsidized education for childrenNo Assistance 
Housing FacilitiesProvided with accommodation or housing allowancesAccommodation arrangements vary by employer
Commute and TravelGovernment-provided transportation and travel benefitsTravel arrangements are provided by the company during sign-on and sign-off.


The Indian Armed Forces show incredible sacrifice by risking their lives to keep our country safe. They might get hurt, spend a long time away from family, or face tough conditions, but they do it all to protect us. They’re very brave and devoted to our country, and we should always appreciate their sacrifices.

“Sher Shah of Kargil” Captain Vikram Batra 

Captain Vikram Batra

Captain Vikram Batra, known as the “Sher Shah of Kargil,” was a fearless Indian Army officer who displayed exceptional courage during the Kargil War in 1999, ultimately sacrificing his life for his country while capturing a crucial peak. His indomitable spirit and dedication continue to inspire generations.

Rank, Promotion, and Salary

Merchant Navy

Rank Salary(Dry Vessel)Salary (Tanker Vessel)
Captain/ Chief Engineer8,000$-10,000 $9,000$-14,000 $
Chief officer/ 2nd Engineer6,500$-8,500 $7,500$-9,500 $
2nd officer/ 3rd Engineer4,000$-4,800 $4,000$-5,000 $
Deck Cadet/ Engine Cadet350$-750 $350$-750 $

Defence Forces

RankService Salary (Rupees)
Field MarshalNever Retires
General/ COAS32+ Years₹2,50,000
Lt General 32 Years₹2,24,000
Major General25 Years₹1,44,200-₹2,18,200
Brigadier 25 Years₹1,39,600-₹2,17,600
Colonel 13 Years₹1,13,600-₹2,17,600
Lt Colonel13 Years₹1,21,200-₹2,12,400
Major 6 Years₹69,400-₹2,07,200
Captain2 Years ₹61,300-₹1,93,900
Lieutenant After Commissioning₹56,100-₹1,77,500

You should have to fight and fight to win. There is no roof for the losers. If you lose, don’t come back. You will have disgraced the country and the country won’t accept you.”    

-Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw

Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw


In conclusion, choosing between a career in the Merchant Navy and the Defence Forces ultimately depends on your personal goals, values, and aspirations. The Merchant Navy offers a unique blend of adventure and commerce, while the Defence Forces provide a sense of duty and national service. Consider your interests, lifestyle preferences, and long-term ambitions carefully to make the right decision for a fulfilling and rewarding career path. Your choice will shape not only your future but also your sense of purpose and fulfillment in life.

Indian Defence Forces

If you have any doubts or questions, please leave a comment below.

Is Merchant Navy A Government Job|Decoding Salaries, Global Travel Opportunities, and More (2023), Refer to this blog.


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