The Unsung Heroes: The Galley Department on Cargo Ships

16 February 2023

The galley department on a cargo ship has a big responsibility: to keep the crew well-fed and healthy during long voyages. With ships often spending weeks or even months at sea, having a well-run galley department is essential to keeping morale high and productivity up. In this article, we'll dive into the world of the galley department, exploring the various positions within it and the crucial role that food plays in the daily lives of seafarers. We'll also take a look at the challenges of feeding a diverse crew, often with different dietary requirements, and the measures taken to ensure food safety and hygiene. Whether you're a seasoned sailor or just starting out, this guide will give you a better understanding of the important role that the galley department plays on a cargo ship.

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

Positions in the Galley Department

On a cargo ship, the Galley Department is the heart of the crew's daily lives. It's responsible for providing delicious meals that keep the crew energised and healthy during long voyages, while maintaining a clean and sanitary kitchen and mess areas. Leading the department is the Chief Cook, who oversees meal preparation and manages the other members of the galley crew. Depending on the size of the ship and the length of the voyage, most cargo ships have a Chief Cook and two Messmen, and on smaller ships, the Cook may also perform the duties of a Messman or Steward. Although Second Cooks and Dishwashers are common on passenger ships, they are less common on cargo ships due to smaller crew sizes. Let's take a closer look at the positions within the Galley Department.

Responsibilities of Galley Department Positions

Chief Cook

The Chief Cook (or sometimes just Cook) is like the captain of the Galley Department, responsible for keeping everyone on board well-fed and happy. They are the mastermind behind meal planning and preparation, making sure that the crew gets the nutrients they need to stay energised during long voyages. Not only that, but the Chief Cook also manages the inventory of food supplies and works within a budget to keep the kitchen running smoothly. Food safety is a top priority, and the Chief Cook is in charge of making sure that all food preparation areas are kept clean and sanitary. With all these responsibilities, the Chief Cook must also be an expert in managing people, as they oversee and direct the other members of the Galley Department.

  • Requirements: Usually at least one year of sea time as Messman is required, although often a lot more.
  • Responsibilities: Planning and preparing meals, managing the galley team, maintaining food safety and hygiene standards, and managing the inventory and budget.
  • Day-to-day: Waking up early, preparing breakfast, planning and preparing lunch and dinner, taking a break in the afternoon, and overseeing the cleanup of the galley after each meal.
  • Challenges: Working long hours, managing newcomers, dealing with limited resources, ensuring food safety standards are met, keeping everyone happy (which is often impossible).
  • Salary Range: $2,000 - $5,000 per month, depending on experience and company.

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


The Messman, also sometimes known as the Steward, is the real unsung hero of the Galley Department, responsible for ensuring that the crew has a clean, comfortable place to eat and rest. They are the ones who set up the dining area and serve the crew, making sure that everyone is well-fed and happy. Messmen are also responsible for maintaining the living quarters, which can be a challenging task given the limited space and resources available on a ship. They must be able to work quickly and efficiently, often under time constraints, and must possess excellent communication and teamwork skills.

  • Requirements: A high school diploma or equivalent, and some experience in the food service industry is preferred.
  • Responsibilities: Cleaning the galley, dining area, and living quarters, assisting with food preparation, serving meals, and maintaining food safety and hygiene standards.
  • Day-to-day: Waking up early, cleaning the galley and dining area, assisting the chief cook with meal preparation, serving meals, and cleaning up after each meal.
  • Challenges: Working long hours, no weekends or holidays, dealing with limited resources and space, maintaining high levels of cleanliness and hygiene, and adapting to the demands of a job at sea.
  • Salary Range: $ 700 - $2,000 per month, depending on experience and company.

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

Challenges in the Galley Department

Let's take a moment to appreciate the hard work and dedication of the Galley Department on cargo ships. It's amazing to see how versatile and creative the cooks have to be to meet the different meal requests, whether it's vegetarian, gluten-free or something else. On top of that, they work long hours and often have to deal with seasickness during rough seas. But despite all these challenges, the Galley Department never fails to deliver high-quality, nutritious meals that keep the crew energised and healthy during long voyages. They are truly the unsung heroes of the ship, and an essential part of the ship's overall operation.

Budget and Receiving Food Stores

The Galley Department must manage its resources carefully, just like any other department onboard a ship. The Chief Cook must ensure that all food supplies are ordered and received on time while staying within the budget set by the ship's management. The department must also prioritise food safety and adhere to strict regulations to prevent contamination and foodborne illnesses. In short, the Galley Department is not only responsible for feeding the crew, but also for doing so in a safe, efficient, and cost-effective manner.

Training and Requirements for Galley Crew

Working in the Galley Department is no easy feat and requires specialised training and experience. The Chief Cook, for instance, is usually a skilled chef with years of experience in different culinary settings. The Messman, on the other hand, must possess excellent communication and teamwork skills, as well as basic food preparation and service experience. Some level of experience in cleaning and food service may also be required. All members of the Galley Department must have a good understanding of health and safety regulations and be able to operate kitchen equipment safely and effectively. Some positions may even require a food handler's permit or other specialised certifications. Ongoing training and professional development are also essential for Galley Department crew members to keep up with industry best practices and food service trends.

Besides their important roles in the Galley Department, crew members also have to meet certain certification and training requirements. All seafarers must hold a valid Seafarers' Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW) Basic Safety certification, which covers a wide range of skills and knowledge, including personal survival techniques, firefighting, and first aid. As members of the Galley Department, basic safety training is usually all that is required, but crew members working on specialised vessels may need additional ship-specific STCW safety training. STCW certification is an internationally recognised set of standards for the training and certification of seafarers, ensuring that they are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to work safely and efficiently in a maritime environment.

The Importance of Food on Cargo Ships

Food is not just fuel for the body, but a source of comfort and morale for seafarers on cargo ships. The Galley Department's role in providing high-quality, nutritious meals cannot be overstated. Here are a few reasons why food is so important on cargo ships:

Providing Nutritious and Satisfying Meals

It's no secret that good food can make anyone happy, and this is especially true for crew members on a cargo ship. The galley department has a big responsibility to make sure that the crew is well-nourished and satisfied during their time at sea. With all the physical demands of the job, a healthy and balanced diet is crucial. This means meals that have plenty of protein, complex carbs, healthy fats, and essential vitamins and minerals. After all, a happy stomach equals a happy crew!

Boosting Morale and Team Cohesion

Meals on a cargo ship are a time-honoured tradition that brings the crew together for a well-deserved break from their duties. Sitting down to eat together can be a moment of calm in an otherwise busy day, allowing the crew to relax and recharge. Sharing meals can also be a great way to bond with other crew members and get to know each other better, fostering a sense of community and teamwork. And, of course, the food itself can be a source of comfort and enjoyment, helping to boost morale and lift spirits during long voyages.

Maintaining Crew Health and Well-Being

When you're miles away from the nearest doctor, you want to make sure that the food you're eating won't make you sick! That's why the galley department on cargo ships takes food safety very seriously. They follow strict guidelines to prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses and keep the crew healthy. This includes everything from properly storing and preparing food to keeping the kitchen clean and sanitary. By ensuring that the food served onboard is of high quality, the galley department plays a critical role in maintaining the health and well-being of the crew.

Discover more in our article about Seafarer Wellbeing.


And there you have it, folks – a closer look at the hardworking men and women who make up the galley department on cargo ships. Their job is no easy feat, but it is one that is crucial to the success of the ship and the well-being of the crew. If you have a sense of adventure and a desire to work in a unique environment, starting your maritime career in the galley department is a great choice! Remember that platforms like Liveseas can connect you with maritime employers whether you are new to the industry or an experienced professional. So why not embark on a new adventure and take your career to the high seas?