Get Answers About Serving as a Family & Our Academy

We are so excited that you are interested in learning more about Mercy Ships. This pages provides help with the most common questions we receive for serving as a family and our Academy. Please contact us if you have additional questions.

Can married couples with/without children serve onboard?

Housing for couples is limited, but we have cabins for married couples. Family housing is reserved for long-term crew where one spouse is filling a critical position.

If we are a couple, how will our placement be managed?

We love when couples volunteer together. Placement will be dependent on respective roles being available at the same time, as well as the availability of couples housing.

Can non-married couples serve together onboard?

We welcome couples who are not married 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 has a very limited number of family cabins available and therefore they must be allocated to crew that can work full-time in a critical position onboard. When we accept any family, we expect one of the parents to work full-time while the other parent’s main responsibility would be to take care of 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 ship duties and therefore would prevent the crewmember from working full-time.

If we are applying as a family, can we both work full-time?

When we accept any family unit, we expect one of the parents to work full-time while the other parent’s main responsibility would be to serve as a primary caregiver (PCG) and care of their children when they are not in school. This expectation is due in large part to safety issues. Depending on the age(s) of the child(ren), the PCG can work part-time in a department onboard their respective ship.

How many children are onboard?

We have over 60 beds for children, with children between the ages of 1 and 18 living on board the Africa Mercy during the school year. The Global Mercy has a larger capacity for children, and combined we will have over 170 beds available for children!

What are the advantages for children living onboard?

Living on a Mercy Ship gives children the opportunity to experience many new cultures and nationalities, particularly if they choose to join the family in interacting with those we come to serve. The Academy offers a fantastic ACSI-accredited Christian international school with small classes and excellent academics. There are many positive role models serving onboard for children to interact with and learn from.

Many of our families treasure the quality time they spend together every day, sharing meals, and having friends around all the time!

What are some of the disadvantages for children living onboard?

Some families find the separation from extended family difficult. Our Kids On Boarding Program is designed to equip children and families through these transitions.

The nature and environment of some of the port cities we are docked in means sometimes a lack of freedom and possible boredom due to the lack of outdoor play space. While we have a great play area on deck, the limited options & facilities for extracurricular activities such as gym, sports, dance, etc. can be challenging. Additionally, making friends and then having to say “goodbyes” when they leave can be difficult.

Why do the ships have a school onboard?

Mercy Ships values all children and believes they play a vital role in our community. The primary reason missionaries leave the mission field is because their environment is not able to meet the educational needs of their children. We believe that a family’s successful service with Mercy Ships should never come at the cost of their children’s education. The Mercy Ships Academy exists to …”provide an exceptional biblically-based education for crewmembers’ children, inspiring them to truly follow Jesus.

Mercy Ships wants to see a healthy, thriving community that enables families to serve long-term with us. Crew longevity is a challenge for Mercy Ships, so having a school stabilizes the community and allows managers and leaders to serve in their roles as long as they wish.

How will ship life benefit my child?

Students living onboard a Mercy Ship have the unique opportunity to access a whole kaleidoscope of information and experiences firsthand. This includes experiencing different cultures in Europe and Africa as well as witnessing various socioeconomic conditions. Children are encouraged to take advantage of educational field trips, which are offered at all ports. In Africa, there are opportunities for staff and students to participate in various ministries, such as serving in local orphanages and on the ships’ hospital wards.

The ratio of one teacher to six students creates an excellent environment for the students to receive individual attention and to go into greater depth with their studies. The entire school staff is committed to the spiritual, emotional, and academic growth of all students in the Academy.

The all-around education onboard offers not only a high standard of academic excellence, but also equips students to develop character and maturity as they encounter and interact with various cultures.

What is a TCK (Third Culture Kid)?

“A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background, other TCKs.”

Ruth Van Reken, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds.

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?

One of the great things about the Academy is the small class size and excellent student teacher ratios, which means each student can get more individual attention. The limited space for Physical Education due to living on a ship in a port can be challenging, but the Teachers always look for creative ways to get everyone moving!

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. There is an hour lunch break, where all students and families can have lunch together.

Preschool hours are from 8 AM-12:00 PM or 9:00 AM-12:00 PM, depending on the age and preschool year.

The amount of homework depends on the age and grade level of the student.

What is the average class size?

The maximum class size on the Africa Mercy is 6. A second ship will have a maximum class size of 10.

How are the classes divided?

Preschool, Kindergarten, Grades 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, 6, 7 and 8, 9 and 10, 11, and 12.

What do kids do when the Academy is closed for holidays or the maintenance period?

Many families use this time to leave the ship, visit family, work on support raising, etc. The Academy’s summer holiday typically coincides with the ship’s maintenance period/dry dock period.

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 places to visit ashore, like parks or local hotels with pool facilities. There are often a few local beaches, however, some are not safe for swimming. Crew onboard the ships often arrange group activities, including days out to different local places of interest such as markets and nice restaurants. The Africa Mercy houses a small swimming pool onboard as well as plenty of space on other decks to play. There is also an Internet Café and a well-stocked library of books and DVDs.

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 members are in your family. Your accommodations will also differ depending on which ship you are serving. A few of the family cabins on the Africa Mercy have a sofa bed for the parents. Each cabin features its own bathroom and kitchenette as well as ample storage space. The Global Mercy will have a greater number of accommodations and the ability to house larger families.

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. There are rules on food service, for example, and general safety rules that all crew are expected to follow.

Are diapers available onboard?

Unfortunately, diapers are not available for purchase onboard. However, depending on local supplies, families can purchase them in local markets or supermarkets, or order 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?

Depending on availability and the schedule of Dental programs on board, we try to have a crew dentist onboard as often as possible, who cares for the dental needs of our long-term crew as well as emergency care for short-term crew. However, the Crew Dentist is not an orthodontist, so the overall treatment must be supervised by your own orthodontist.