Volunteer FAQs








We are so excited that you are interested in learning more about serving with us. This pages provides help with the most common questions we receive. Please contact us if you have additional questions.


What kinds of positions are available?

The complex nature of Mercy Ships projects and programs demand a wide range of skills. For a current list of opportunites, 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 On Boarding Program (Foundations of Mercy Ships & Gateway). All positions have both minimum and maximum commitment lengths.

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

What health or age restrictions apply?

All volunteers must be 18 years old, and while we have no upper age limit to join, all volunteers must be in good health and be aware of both the physical demands of living onboard and in West Africa, as well as any physical demands of the role for which they want to join.

Did you know the ship has multiple decks, and the average crew member climbs about 30 flights of stairs per day?

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 Cook are physically demanding and require heavy lifting and manual labor?


With the application, all volunteers are required to submit a medical history and physical evaluation which are reviewed by a licensed medical professional as part of the application process. 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 lack of availability to adequate medical care.

To learn more regarding medical restrictions for volunteers, click here.

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 immunization requirements?

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

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

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

There are several highly recommended immunizations as well.

Click here to download a copy of the current immunization list. 

Note: For those joining only during shipyard in the Canary Islands, the only required immunization is Tetanus/Diphtheria.

Why is TB testing required before joining Mercy Ships?

While tuberculosis 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 organizations 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 & serve healthy meals onboard, we cannot cater to specific diets (i.e. gluten-free, vegan, celiac, etc.)

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 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.

Click here to see a sample budget.

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.

Is it safe to live onboard the ships in African nations? What security measures are in place?

Mercy Ships holds the security of its crew as our highest priority. We do not serve in conflict areas, although it has 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 provided with 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 its 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 vessel, Africa Mercy. Mercy Ships Company Security Officer (CSO) is responsible for compliance and administration oversight of the approved SSP. 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 onboard.

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.

You may refer to the full summary of each level by clicking here.

If I serve on one of the ships, 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. These include visits to prisons, orphanages & program sites as well as working with the 100 or so local Day Workers who work onboard 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 games in one of the lounges onboard 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 onboard. At any time, we have over 50 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.

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 can I get more information about volunteering with Mercy Ships?

To obtain more information about volunteering with Mercy Ships, we suggest you click here to join myMercy, our online community. You can also attend a Foundations of Mercy Ships (FMS) program at the International Support Center (ISC) in Texas, which is offered 3-4 times per year.

In addition, we offer an Introduction to Mercy Ships-Europe program in the Netherlands twice a year for our European applicants.

Please click here for more information regarding training opportunities.


Can married couples with/without children serve onboard?

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 non-married couples serve together onboard?

We welcome couples to serve together. Please note however that you will be allocated separate cabins, and along with all crew members, should familiarize yourself with, and agree to abide by our Code of Conduct, specifically as it relates to relationships.

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

Can single parent families volunteer to serve onboard?

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 onboard. 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.

How many children are onboard?

There are about 50-55 children between the ages of one and eighteen living onboard the Africa Mercy during the school year.

What are the advantages for children living onboard?

Children are exposed to many different cultures and nationalities. They have opportunities to join the family in serving. The Academy offers a great Christian school with small classes and excellent academics. There are lots of positive role models serving onboard for children to interact with.

What are some of the disadvantages for children living onboard?

Separation from extended family. Lack of freedom and possible boredom. Limited facilities and extracurricular activities such as gym, sports, dance, etc. Children have a much smaller pool of other children in their age group. Making friends and then having to say “goodbyes” when they leave.

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 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 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.

Click here to view the Academy brochure.

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of the Academy?

The great thing about the Academy is the small class size, which means each student can get more individual attention. However, it can be challenging for students and teachers to live and work together within healthy boundaries.

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

The school day starts at 8:00 AM and finishes at 3:20 PM. The amount of homework depends on the age and grade level of the student. Preschool hours are from 8 AM-12:00 PM or 9:00 AM-12:00 PM, depending on the age and preschool year.

What is the average class size?

There are typically six to eight students per class.

How are the classes divided?

Nursery, Preschool, Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th, 9th and 10th, 11th and 12th.

What do kids do during the summer or when the Academy is closed?

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 (June and July).

When are school breaks scheduled?

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 onboard with children of a similar group to yours, please ask a recruiter!

What is there to do as a family on our off-time?

Depending on the location, there are typically local hotels with pool facilities. There are a few local beaches, however, most are not safe for swimming. There are other crew activities arranged, including days out to different local places of interest, markets, nice restaurants, 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 an Internet Café, 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 would our cabin be like, and how big are the beds?

The cabins vary in size (6-berth and 4-berth) according to how many in your family. A few of the 6-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 mom and dad). Each 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.

Are diapers available onboard?

Unfortunately, diapers are not available for purchase onboard. However, families can purchase them online and have them delivered to the International Support Center (ISC) in Texas for transport in the regularly scheduled container sent to the ship approximately every six weeks.

Is there an orthodontist onboard?

We have a crew dentist onboard who cares for the dental needs of our long-term crew as well as emergency care for short-term crew. The Crew Dentist can also assist by making minor adjustments to braces as long as the patient has clear directions from their orthodontist. However, the Crew Dentist is not an orthodontist, so the overall treatment must be supervised by your own orthodontist.


What surgical procedures do you perform onboard?

Mercy Ships provides many types of surgeries:

  • General (Adults)
  • General (Pediatric)
  • Ophthalmic
  • Oral Maxillofacial & ENT Head & Neck
  • Orthopedics (Pediatric)
  • Plastics
  • Urogynecologic

CLICK HERE to view our detailed list of provided surgeries.

Do I need to be a registered nurse?

Yes, Registered Nurses are preferred for most nursing positions, but we do have opportunities for other licensed personnel.

What opportunities does Mercy Ships offer for allied health professionals?

View the table below to learn what opportunities Mercy Ships offers for Allied Health Professionals.

Can a Nurse Anesthetist join as an Anesthesia Provider?

Yes, we do accept Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists or the national equivalent as Anesthesia Providers. However, they must first join as an Anesthetic Assistant.

Mercy Ships is a remote environment where supervision by a physician anesthesiologist cannot be guaranteed at all times. CRNAs wishing to work as an Anesthesia Provider must understand and agree to work in this situation and be able to take full responsibility for their actions. CRNAs, therefore, are expected to apply for an Anesthesia Assistant position in order for Mercy Ships to assess their comfort and skill level prior to joining as a Provider.

As a surgeon, what can I expect during my first time onboard?

Due to the complexities of our surgical cases, surgeons who have not previously served with Mercy Ships will be paired with an alumni as the primary surgeon for each case.

Do you use general surgeons?

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

Do you use gynecologists?

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. The majority of the positions in the hospital require a current license and we do not have personnel or bed space onboard currently to facilitate these opportunities.

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

Do I need experience before volunteering?

Mercy Ships requires at least 2 years of post-licensed experience before volunteering for most medical positions in the hospital.

Does my license 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 with a signed protocol in which the host government agrees to hold harmless all Mercy Ships staff and volunteer medical providers based on due diligence by Mercy Ships to provide qualified providers who work within their scope of practice. As such, Mercy Ships does not provide or require malpractice insurance for volunteer medical workers except those who will be providing medical care to our crew (i.e. Crew Physician, Crew Nurse, and Crew Dentist).

What is the minimum commitment?

Based on the orientation required and need for consistency, a minimum commitment is specified for each position. While it is easier for a member of the surgical team to come for only 2 weeks, ward nurses require a more extensive orientation and therefore come for a minimum of 2 months.

What will my schedule be (night/weekends/etc.)?

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: 7:00 am – 3:00 pm
  • Evening: 2:00 pm – 9.30 pm
  • Night: 9:00 pm – 7:30 am

What are the nursing responsibilities in 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, nasopharyngeal 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 onboard?

Mercy Ships International follows the World Health Organization 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 onboard?

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 onboard, 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 Training (BT) according to STCW standards. For licensed crew members, a valid certificate of competency is required, in addition to the other position-specific requirements as listed on the job descriptions. Missing something? We may be able to help you receive certain certifications through our Maritime Training Center. If you have questions, please contact our Technical Recruiter, Ali Edwards.

Note: Some national certificates are not recognized by the flag state of our vessels (Malta). We will review your certificates during the application process.

Will my service time on the Mercy Ship count toward a Merchant Marine Certificate?

That depends on your licensing or certifying administration. You will do best to consult with them on any restrictions or limitations they may impose. The fact that our ships spend most of their time in port, as do many ‘stand-by’ vessels, means that some maritime administrations may not accept service time onboard our ships, or they may accept it at a reduced rate; for example one day’s credit for each three days served.

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 organization, 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:
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 any experience. Can Mercy Ships help?

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


Are background or criminal record 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 onboard, or volunteer with the Academy

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

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. Reviews can take anywhere from 1 week to several. 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 onboard:

  • Medical review – do you meet the health requirements Mercy Ships needs to meet 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:

  • Chaplaincy review
  • Academic review (if coming with your family)


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

Are interviews required?

Depending on the position for which you’ve applied, an interview via Skype or phone call may be required. Typically we do not conduct interviews for those applying to join for less than a year, though at times the supervisor onboard 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 Center team

We may also conduct a brief interview if there are concerns regarding English language proficiency, as we require CEFR English Level B1 onboard (minimum). Please click here for more details.

What is the Talent Pool?

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 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 Pool.

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

How far in advance should I apply to volunteer with Mercy Ships?

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

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. However, all volunteers must have a lifestyle consistent with our Core Values and be willing to adhere to our Code of Conduct.

How do I apply?

Applications for service with Mercy Ships are accepted year-round. Processing usually takes 2-6 weeks. Everything you need to know about applying for a Mercy Ships volunteer position can be found by clicking here.