Life as a Longshoreman

With the proliferation of technology and mechanization, you might get discouraged, thinking today’s work opportunities are limited to desk jobs. If this sounds familiar, a career as a longshoreman may be right for you. Longshoremen work at ports to facilitate the transport of goods around the world. In general, longshoremen are paid well and have great benefits. In return, though, they are asked to work hard. If this career sounds intriguing, it may be time to consider life as a longshoreman.


Those working at ports have multiple important duties, including:

  • Loading and unloading cargo onto and from ships
  • Sending cargo through various port processes
  • Getting cargo where it needs to go in the next step

While this sounds simple enough, those working as longshoremen must be organized, able to give and follow instructions explicitly, and willing to perform specific tasks.

Physical Requirements

Longshoremen are required to work with heavy machinery, such as cranes and forklifts. They must be in excellent physical condition, as some cargo-moving duties are manual. Successful longshoremen are agile and able to think and react quickly. They have good motor skills and work efficiently.

Sometimes, however, despite appropriate work habits, accidents happen. Port workers are covered under the Longshore Act to make sure they get the necessary benefits if they are injured on the job.

How To Become a Longshoreman

There are several distinct steps you need to take to start working as a longshoreman.

  1. Get a Transportation Worker Identification Credential, or TWIC, card.To get one, make an appointment with the Transportation Security Administration. Bring the required documents to the appointment. Once there, you will pay a fee, complete a questionnaire, and have your photograph and fingerprints taken.
  2. Begin your career as a casual worker.Search out the closest labor union. As a casual worker, you will be the last priority, behind union members. As you continue to show up for work, the unions will gradually recognize you as an identified casual worker, which moves you up from the back of the line just a little. The amount of work you can get depends upon how much is expected for the day. Work is assigned at the union halls. Keep in mind work can be sporadic.
  3. Get serious about joining a union.Longshoremen are required to join the harbor workers’ union, and most generally belong to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, or ILWU, or to the International Longshoremen’s Association, or ILA. Once you apply for membership, being accepted as a union member may take several years. Those who are longtime casual dock workers will get priority over those with shorter dock tenure.

Longshoremen must work in all types of weather year-round. They work hard, and their tasks involve some degree of risk, as some of the cargo is quite heavy and large. This is an interesting career, though, with no day quite the same as the next. This is a great career if you do not want to spend your days behind a desk.

A New Career

If the ideas of working with machines and sitting in an office all day does not appeal to you, there are options available. One of these classic choices is that of a longshoreman. Each day these hard workers keep cargo moving around the world, onto store shelves, and into your home.