Ranks & Positions in the Deck Department of a Cargo Ship

02 February 2023

This guide explores the various positions available in the deck department of a merchant vessel, from the highest-ranking officer to entry-level roles. As the shipping industry faces a shortage of skilled seafarers, understanding the responsibilities and requirements of each position can help both seasoned mariners and those starting their maritime career find suitable roles.

Interested in a different department? Read our articles about the positions available in the Engine and Galley departments of a cargo ship.

Deck Department Positions on a Cargo Ship

The Deck Department is responsible for the safe navigation and operation of a cargo ship. The department consists of experienced and trained professionals who work together to ensure the ship's voyage runs smoothly. The following are some of the key positions within the Deck Department.

Master (or Captain)

The Master is the highest-ranking officer on a cargo ship, responsible for overseeing all aspects of the ship's operation. This includes navigation, communications, crew management, and cargo operations, as well as ensuring compliance with regulations and safety standards. As the ultimate decision-maker, the Master's leadership and decision-making skills are critical to the safety and success of the voyage. In fact, the Master has “overriding authority” meaning that neither the company who employs the captain nor the owner of the ship nor the charterer of the same have any right to interfere in the captain's decision-making in a crisis. This position requires extensive experience, managerial skill, and the ability to remain calm and lead in emergency situations.

  • Requirements: Certificate of Competency as Master, high level of skill, experience, and leadership.
  • Responsibilities: Oversee all aspects of ship's operation, ensure compliance with regulations and safety standards, manage crew and cargo operations.
  • Day-to-day: Manage and motivate crew, represent the vessel and ship manager/owner, take control of the ship in difficult passages such as the Singapore straits.
  • Challenges: Operating in a challenging and isolated environment, being the ultimate decision maker in often extremely critical situations where there is an imminent risk to human life, the environment or the ship and its cargo.
  • Salary Range: $9,000 - $16,000+ per month, depending on ship-type.

NOTE: For more accurate salary information, check out our article on Seafarer Salaries.

Chief Officer (or Chief Mate)

The Chief Officer is the second-in-command of the deck department and responsible for ensuring the safe operation of the ship. This includes overseeing cargo operations, maintaining the deck, and ensuring the safety of the crew and cargo. They must be able to make quick and effective decisions in emergency situations, while also maintaining compliance with regulations and safety standards. The Chief Officer works closely with other members of the deck department and has a critical role in training and managing the deck crew.

  • Requirements: Certificate of Competency as Chief Mate, maritime training and at least a year of experience as Officer of the Watch (usually more).
  • Responsibilities: Oversee cargo operations, lead the deck department daily workload, ensure safety of ship, crew, and cargo, make quick decisions in emergencies, manage and train the deck crew.
  • Day-to-day: Supervising cargo loading/unloading, maintaining the deck, training and managing deck crew, communicating with other officers and shore-based personnel.
  • Challenges: Managing and delegating tasks to deck crew, making quick and effective decisions in emergency situations, ensuring compliance with regulations and safety standards.
  • Salary Range: $7,000 - $11,000 per month, depending on ship-type.

Second Officer / Third Officer (Officer of the Watch)

The Second Officer and Third Officer are both key members of the deck department, responsible for navigation, assisting with deck operations, and cargo operations. They must remain vigilant to respond to any navigational, safety, or communication issues that may arise. They work closely with the other officers, crew members, and shore-based personnel to ensure the safe and efficient operation of the ship. They usually work on a 4 on 8 off shift schedule, with several hours of over-time 5 or 6 days a week. The schedule may vary depending on the ship and voyage, and can be very different on ships with frequent port calls.

  • Requirements: Certificate of Competency as an Officer of the Watch
  • Responsibilities: Assisting Chief Officer and Master, monitoring weather conditions, maintaining accurate records, participating in cargo operations.
  • Day-to-day: Working on a 4 on 8 off shift schedule with 4 hours of extra overtime, remaining vigilant for navigational and safety issues, communicating with other vessels and shore.
  • Challenges: Making quick and effective decisions, working well as part of a team.
  • Salary Range: $2,500 to $7,000 per month, depending on experience and ship-type.

Deck Cadet

The Deck Cadet is an entry-level position in the deck department, responsible for assisting deck officers with navigation, ship operations, and other duties. They are most often enrolled in a cadet training program (cadetship) that combines onboard training with classroom studies. The Deck Cadet must be willing to learn, work hard, and take on new challenges , and possesses excellent communication skills. As they gain experience and demonstrate their skills, they may have the opportunity to advance to higher positions within the deck department.

  • Requirements: Enrolled in a cadet training program. Willingness to learn, work hard, and take on new challenges.
  • Responsibilities: Assists deck officers with navigation, ship operations, and other duties.
  • Day-to-day: Works closely with the Deck Department and may have a combination of onboard training and classroom studies.
  • Challenges: Learning and adapting to the demands of life at sea, and balancing onboard training with classroom studies.
  • Salary Range: $500 to $3,000 per month, varies a lot depending on the company.

Bosun (Boatswain)

The Bosun is responsible for supervising the deck crew and ensuring that all maintenance and repair work on deck is carried out efficiently and safely. They are in charge of the ship's rigging, anchors, and often assist with the loading and unloading of cargo. Overall, they oversee the deck crew in their duties, and provide guidance and training as needed. The Bosun is usually a senior member of the deck department and reports directly to the Chief Officer. They are required to have a good understanding of ship maintenance and repair procedures, as well as strong leadership and communication skills.

  • Requirements: Experience in deck operations, technical expertise, leadership and communication skills.
  • Responsibilities: Managing the deck crew, maintaining deck equipment, troubleshooting equipment problems, and responding to emergency situations.
  • Day-to-day: Working closely with the Chief Officer and other deck department members, directing and supervising deck crew activities, maintaining inventory of deck equipment, spares and stores.
  • Challenges: Responding to emergency situations, working well under pressure, and ensuring that the deck crew is working together effectively.
  • Salary Range: $2,000 to $5,000 per month, depending on experience and company.

Able Seaman (AB)

An Able Seaman (AB) is a qualified deckhand who performs a variety of duties on the ship's deck. They are responsible for maintaining and operating the deck equipment, including ropes, winches, and cranes. They may also be responsible for the maintenance and repair of the ship's hull, deck, and superstructure, as well as the life-saving and firefighting equipment. In addition, they may be involved in cargo handling and securing operations, and on most ships they have a secondary duty to stand watch as a helmsman or lookout. To become an AB, a seafarer must have completed specific training and have a minimum of 12 months of sea time. They must hold an STCW certification, which demonstrates their competence in a range of essential maritime skills, including firefighting, survival techniques, and medical first aid. Additionally, they must be physically fit, able to work long hours, and be comfortable working in a range of weather conditions. As an AB gains more experience and further certifications, they may be promoted to the position of Bosun or Deck Officer. Some seafarers use their experience as an AB to transition to shore-based maritime careers.

  • Requirements: Completed training and hold appropriate STCW certification.
  • Responsibilities: Standing watch, operating deck equipment, handling cargo, assisting with ship's equipment maintenance and repairs
  • Day-to-day: Maintaining deck, lookout duty, ensuring safe cargo handling, operating deck equipment (cranes, winches, windlasses, etc).
  • Challenges: Physically demanding tasks, exposure to adverse weather or heat/sunlight, long hours when on duty.
  • Salary Range: $800 - $3,000 per month, depending on experience, company.

Ordinary Seaman (OS)

The Ordinary Seaman (OS) is typically the newest member of the deck crew and plays a vital role in the smooth operation of the ship. They work under the guidance of the Able Seaman and Deck Officers , performing a range of duties related to deck maintenance, cargo handling, and keeping a lookout. They may also be responsible for standing watch, particularly during times of heavy traffic or inclement weather. While the Ordinary Seaman's primary responsibility is performing routine maintenance tasks, they are also expected to learn the basics of navigation and ship operations, such as basic chart reading and plotting, knot tying, and rope handling. They must work well in a team, follow orders from their superiors, and possess a strong work ethic. Although the Ordinary Seaman position is an entry-level position, it provides an excellent opportunity for individuals interested in pursuing a maritime career to gain valuable experience and develop the skills needed to succeed in more senior roles.

Looking to work at sea for the first time? Check out our articles on how to begin a Merchant Navy or Cruise career.

  • Requirements: Usually no formal education or certification is required, but must be physically fit and willing to work hard.
  • Responsibilities: Assisting with deck maintenance, cargo handling, navigation, and standing watch.
  • Day-to-day: Performing routine maintenance tasks, learning navigation and ship operations basics, taking direction from superiors.
  • Challenges: Physically demanding work, exposure to harsh weather conditions, adapting to life at sea.
  • Salary Range: $500 to $2,500 per month, depending on the company.

Summing up

In conclusion, working on a cargo ship can be a challenging yet rewarding experience. The Deck Department is responsible for the safe navigation and operation of the ship, and each position within the department plays a critical role in the success of the voyage. Whether you are an experienced mariner or just starting your maritime career, the positions available on a cargo ship provide a unique opportunity to gain valuable experience and develop the skills necessary to succeed in the maritime industry. By understanding the roles and responsibilities of each position within the Deck Department, you can make informed decisions about your career path and find the position that is best suited to your skills and interests. With the help of platforms like Liveseas, you can connect with top maritime employers who are actively looking for new crew members.