A marine engineer starts his career as a 5th Engineer and grows in the order as below.
Second Engineer (Some companies call this rank as 1st engineer)
The process takes roughly around more than 10 years on an average. Now in India , we have supply of marine engineers more than demand. Also , shipping is dull , many shipowners doesn't encourage taking junior engineers onboard which will add up to additional costs. This means that a newly passed out marine engineer even though he has a sponsor company , he may have to simply sit and wait for ship availability for around 1.5 years. People who has educational loan will find difficulty. Now he goes onboard for sailing for the first time. Say 6-9 months. Once he comes back , now the passing rate of MEO Class IV exam is low. So ,he may need another 1 year sometimes to clear exam , and this process continues , you have lot of exams to clear in-between and courses that makes you uptodate enabled to take on . Then, you sail as Fourth Engineer again and then Third Engineer. Actually the promotion from 4/E to 3/E is direct promotion without any exam at company's descretion. If you have total sea experience of 12 months in any capacity after MEO Class 4 ,you are eligible to write the exam for MEO Class 2 (Second Engineer's Exam). Just because ,you clear the exam all on a one go doesn't mean that you'll sail as second Engineer for the next time. MMD ensures that the engineer has enough standard. Even if you get Class 2 Cleared , promotion is at Company's descretion. If you are in complex and dangerous ships , promotions are slower. It is really very tough to clear class 2 now. Once, you clear Class 2 and again gain sea experience of 18 months in the capacity of Second Engineer ,you're eligible for taking up Chief Engineer's Exam. (MEO Class 1). Again , promotion depends on Company's descretion. If you're in Top Notch Companies, promotion is really tough. Any leyman person who reads this will feel like 'Oh..is there only 3 promotion exams ! ' No masters degree in Engineering is equivalent to this because they clear hell lot of exams and Viva and there is no well defined syllabus for this. They can ask anything from anywhere from the ships. The exams are conducted by Mercantile marine department in India which is under DG Shipping. The standards set by them for exams are the highest in the world compared to UK, Singapore , Australia etc. Hence ,It takes something like a 10 years on the minimum anyway these days provided that the Minimum happens when the Engineer sails in less complicated ships like handyman Bulkers, reefer ships etc.