How Do I Become a Longshoreman?

Expert Fact Checked

When a person visits waterfronts and shipyards and watches the cargo being loaded and unloaded, the question, "How do I become a longshoreman?" frequently arises. The process is often long but the journey can be challenging, interesting and financially rewarding.

How Do I Become a Longshoreman?

Aside from meeting physical fitness requirements and enduring the bracing weather common at docks and ports, there are other requirements necessary to secure the job.

Union Membership

All bona fide longshoremen have to be members of the harbor workers' union. This process can take several years, as there are no open enrollment periods that are common with many other trade unions. Keep informed of union enrollment activities so you can be first in line when the program opens up to new applicants.

Union Qualifications

When applying for union membership, keep in mind that people who have racked up hours working in the field as non-union workers are preferred over others. The non-union positions go by many different names including casual worker, dock worker, wharfie, dock laborer, stevedores and dockers. As long as the job has the same requirements as union positions, the experience is applicable and will help you gain union membership.

Finding Non-Union Jobs

Traditional job-hunting methods like combing help wanted ads in newspapers and online bulletin boards for dock worker positions is a good start. Job agencies that specialize in ship and dock positions are also helpful. Directly applying at stevedoring and shipping companies can secure a position, either part-time or as an on-call worker. All this experience adds up and accrues the hours of experience that unions require to consider you for membership.


Since you will be competing with people as determined as you are to become longshoremen, diversifying your experience and honing a wide range of skills will increase your chances of union membership when openings become available.

Physical Requirements

A longshoreman has to be in peak physical condition to perform well. Since the job entails loading and unloading cargo of all shapes, sizes and weights, optimum agility and coordination are required, as well as the ability to work quickly and efficiently to meet stringent deadlines for vessels entering and exiting ports.

Educational Background

Longshoremen positions pay well and do not require a college degree. Before entering this field, though, you should learn as much as possible about the shipping industry and what different longshoremen jobs entail. Study shipping terminology and lingo so you can present yourself professionally to prospective employers. If you find a particular company you want to work for, learn about their history and growth projections and package yourself to meet their needs as specifically as possible. Anticipate what questions they may have and develop solid answers that make the hiring manager believe you will be an asset to their operations.

Working Conditions and Advancement Opportunities

Carefully consider the pros and cons of the position after you ask yourself, "How do I become a longshoreman?"

Reality Check

While the romantic side of the job is alluring, remember that you will not likely have much time to stand facing the open water with the wind in your face as you consider the wonders of the world and recall the thrill of visiting exotic international cities.

The job is dangerous as it involves manually moving heavy cargo as well as operating heavy machinery to lift pallets and containers that can be as large and cumbersome to manipulate as small houses. The hours are long and require working in all kinds of weather conditions, from sweltering heat to subzero temperatures.

The Payoff

If you decide you can endure the physical demands of the job, the payoff is substantial. As of 2011, longshoremen starting salaries were around $19 per hour and those with experience were earning about $55 per hour. Advancement opportunities for longshoremen are normally plentiful and can bring in salaries in the high six-figure range.

Getting Started

Check the websites for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) to learn more about their enrollment procedures and fees. The ILWU serves longshoremen in California, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and Alaska. The ILA serves longshoremen along the shores of the Great Lakes, Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, Puerto Rico, Eastern Canada and several major U.S. rivers.

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How Do I Become a Longshoreman?