Unveiling the Role of an ETO/Electrician in Maritime Industry

28 September 2023

ETO/Electrician: A Versatile Role on Board a Ship

An Electro-Technical Officer (ETO) or Electrician on a vessel is not just a job, but a unique calling. It's a role that demands continuous learning, specialist knowledge, and technical prowess. ETOs find themselves at the heart of maintaining and repairing all electrical and electronic equipment on board, including power generation and distribution systems, communication systems, navigational aids, and safety equipment. With the rapid technological advancements in the maritime industry, their position has evolved from being solely service-oriented to a more dynamic, multi-functional role.

Role & Responsibilities

Automation and electronically controlled engines in modern vessels have steadily increased the significance of the ETO's role. They are often the sole professionals aboard a cargo ship who can tackle electrical system failures. This responsibility dramatically elevates the pressure of their job. The phrase, "Electrician, please come to the engine control room," is a common refrain over the PA system, a testament to their indispensable position on board.

The scope of an ETO's duties is broad and varied, akin to the vast expanse of the sea. Their reporting line can shift from the Chief Engineer to the Second Engineer, Chief Officer, or even the Master, depending on the task. For instance, they are accountable for maintaining and operating navigational lights and other navigational equipment. Consequently, while working on navigation equipment, they might report directly to the Chief Officer or the Master.

Key Duties Include:

  • Ensuring the smooth running of electrical motors, both in the engine room and on deck.
  • Overseeing the operation and maintenance of switchboards, inclusive of the main and emergency switchboards.
  • Swift troubleshooting and maintenance of fire detectors and the ship's fire alarm system, essential for the crew's safety.
  • Continuous monitoring and maintenance of the ship's alarm systems.
  • Managing complex electronic systems onboard, such as communication, navigation, and automation systems, keeping them in sync with the latest technology.
  • Ensuring the efficient operation of navigational lights and other navigational equipment.
  • Monitoring and maintaining various types of ship batteries, including emergency batteries, lifeboat batteries, and batteries for emergency generators, vital for emergency situations.
  • Taking care of refrigeration units in the engine room and, if applicable, refrigerated containers on container ships.
  • Maintenance of the vessel's air conditioning unit to ensure a comfortable environment for the crew.
  • Oversight of electrical systems for cargo and engine room cranes, ensuring their proper functioning and maintenance, which is essential for loading and unloading goods.

Despite their critical role, ETOs often find themselves on-call 24/7, needing to be on standby in the engine room during critical passages and operations. They frequently face physical work in tight spaces and confined spaces with the potential risk of breathing hazardous gases. The responsibility of troubleshooting complex systems alone adds to the challenging and demanding nature of the job.

In an ever-evolving maritime industry ETOs are critical in keeping the ship running smoothly. They are the ones who spring into action when everyone else is at a loss, wielding their knowledge and expertise to tackle any problem that arises. In the exciting world of maritime careers, the ETO position is indeed a captivating role that offers a wide variety of experiences and challenges. ETOs are an embodiment of versatility, technical knowledge, and adaptability, upholding the highest standards of safety and efficiency on board.

To better understand the technical side of the maritime industry, read about the digitalised maritime industry here.

Certifications, Training, & Sea Time for Promotion

Aspiring ETOs must navigate their way through a combination of sea time and college-based learning to earn an ETO Certificate of Competency (CoC). Generally, at least 12 months of sea time as an electrical cadet is necessary. However, the requirements may vary depending on the specific licensing authority. Alternative routes and cross-certification from shore-based Electrical or Electronic Engineering courses can also lead to the ETO role. The journey towards becoming an ETO is rigorous and challenging, but it's a rewarding and fulfilling career.

Mastering the seas as an ETO requires more than technical knowledge. It demands courage, resilience, and the ability to adapt to a constantly changing environment. With the right training and the spirit of a seafarer, ETOs are prepared to tackle whatever challenges the sea throws their way.

Career Path & Professional Development Opportunities

While there is usually no progression to a more senior rank on most merchant vessels, ETOs are not confined to the sea. The breadth of skills and experiences gained in the maritime industry can open doors to diverse career paths. They can advance to Senior ETO roles on some larger ships and special ship types. They also have the opportunity to transition to shore-side roles, such as technical superintendent and electrical technical superintendent in larger companies. The sea may be their starting point, but ETOs have a world of opportunities to explore.

ETOs can also find many opportunities in contractor companies who do onboard setups of equipment at ports, manufacturers of navigation equipment and radars, etc. This option allows ETOs to apply their expertise in new and exciting ways while expanding their skills and experience.

Furthermore, ETO's can specialise in specific types of equipment or systems, which only adds to the versatility of their role. By focusing on a particular area, they can become experts in that field, increasing their value and opening up more opportunities for career advancement.

To further understand the diversity of roles in the maritime industry, read about the role, training, and earnings of a Chief Engineer here.

Regulations & International Maritime Laws Compliance

ETO's must adhere strictly to electrical safety standards and international maritime laws. They are responsible for ensuring that all equipment complies with the safety of life at sea (SOLAS), the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), and other regulations. While they are not directly liable for compliance, most work subject to regulation is supervised by the Chief Engineer, adding another layer of accountability to their role.

Being well-versed in maritime regulations is crucial for the safety of the crew and the ship. A failure to comply could have severe repercussions, making this an essential part of the ETO's role. As a result, ETOs must constantly stay updated with the latest changes and updates in international maritime laws.

To understand more about how safety is implemented in various ship types, check out our article on safety by ship type here.

Demand & Supply Trend in the Job Market

As ships become more technologically advanced, the demand for ETOs is rapidly growing. Their unique blend of skills and experience is increasingly valued in the maritime industry. However, the supply is constrained due to the need for specialised training, the challenging nature of the job, and the lack of career progression on most merchant vessels. This imbalance between demand and supply has created a highly competitive market for ETOs.

The maritime industry's reliance on technology means that the ETO's role will only become more crucial in the future. As a result, ETOs can expect a rewarding and in-demand career, providing they are willing to meet the challenges head-on.

To delve deeper into the economic dynamics of the maritime job market, read our article on seafarer salaries here.

Physical & Mental Challenges

Being an ETO is not for the faint-hearted. The role comes with significant physical and mental challenges. For instance, ETOs often have to work in confined spaces and may potentially be exposed to hazardous gases. This demands a high level of physical fitness and resilience.

The ETOs' role includes maintenance and repair of equipment, which often means working in difficult and tight spaces. This could range from the engine room to on-deck operations. Additionally, the job might require working at heights, dealing with heavy machinery, and being exposed to the elements.

On the mental side, ETOs must constantly be prepared for emergencies and be capable of handling high-stress situations. A failure in the electrical system can be catastrophic for a vessel, putting lives and cargo at risk. ETOs must be mentally prepared to handle these situations, often under extreme pressure.

Despite these challenges, ETOs must maintain a high level of professionalism and dedication to their work. Liveseas offers resources to help manage these challenges, such as our guide on emergency preparedness at sea.

Leadership & Team Management

The ETO role is not just about technical skills; it also requires strong leadership and team management abilities. An ETO often works as part of a team and may have to oversee and guide the work of others. This involves excellent communication skills, decision-making abilities, and a deep understanding of human dynamics.

They are expected to communicate effectively with the rest of the crew, especially during emergencies or when coordinating maintenance and repairs. An ETO must be able to delegate tasks efficiently, ensure that safety protocols are being followed, and resolve any conflicts that may arise within the team.

For further insight on the importance of effective leadership in the maritime industry, explore our piece on the role of the Chief Engineer, a key leadership position onboard.

Impact of Technological Advancements on ETO Role

As ships become more technologically advanced, the role of the ETO is becoming increasingly important. The advent of digitalisation, automation, and the Internet of Things (IoT) in the maritime industry means that there is now a higher demand for technical expertise on board ships.

This shift towards technology means that ETOs now need to have a comprehensive understanding of digital systems, in addition to their traditional electrical and electronic engineering knowledge. They need to manage systems such as computerised engine management systems, navigation systems, communication equipment, and more. As we have discussed in our article on the digitalised maritime industry, this trend is expected to continue and intensify in the future.

Compliance with Regulations & International Maritime Laws

ETO's must comply with electrical safety standards and international maritime laws. They are responsible for ensuring that the equipment they manage is in compliance with regulations like SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea), MARPOL (International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships), and more.

While they are not directly liable for keeping in line with these regulations, most work subject to regulation is supervised by the Chief Engineer. ETOs must, however, be familiar with these standards and know how to ensure compliance with them. Liveseas offers resources to help ETOs understand and navigate these regulations, such as our article on safety by ship type.

Demand & Supply Trend in the Job Market

With the growing complexity and sophistication of ship technology, the demand for skilled ETOs is increasing rapidly. However, the supply is constrained due to the need for specialised training, the challenging nature of the job, and the perceived lack of career progression on most merchant vessels.

Despite this, a career as an ETO is rewarding and provides a unique set of opportunities. With the right qualifications and experience, ETOs have the potential to make a significant impact in the maritime industry. And as we've mentioned in our seafarer salaries article, the financial rewards can also be substantial.

Salary, Shore Leaves & Work-Life Balance

The average monthly salary of ETOs ranges from 6000 to 9000 USD. The work schedules can vary from 2 months on/2 months off to 6 months on/6 months off, with attractive contract rotations often offered to the ETOs, similar to those of senior officers.

However, while the financial rewards can be attractive, it's important to note that life at sea can be tough, and striking a healthy work-life balance is essential. Shore leaves and time off are an important aspect of life as an ETO, providing much-needed breaks from the demands of ship life.

At Liveseas, we're committed to helping maritime professionals like ETOs find the right opportunities, navigate challenges, and build successful careers. You can showcase your skills, gain visibility with potential employers, and connect with opportunities that match your career aspirations. Liveseas is a seafarer-first platform, ensuring that your needs and career goals are always our priority.

For those interested in starting a career at sea, we recommend reading our articles: How to Join the Merchant Navy or How to Start your Career on a Cruise Ship.

Liveseas' Role

At Liveseas, we aim to be a bridge between ETOs and shipping companies. Our platform makes it easier for ETOs to connect with potential employers, making the job search process more efficient and fruitful. We understand the challenges faced by ETOs and strive to provide resources and tools that can help them overcome these obstacles and advance in their careers.

We also keep ETOs up-to-date with the latest maritime regulations, helping them stay compliant and perform their roles effectively. Our resources and articles cover a wide range of topics, ensuring that ETOs can always find the information they need.

In addition, we understand the importance of discretion in job searches. That's why we offer a private by default profile that allows ETOs to explore opportunities without risking current employment. We respect the privacy of our users and work diligently to provide a safe and secure platform for job search and professional development.

Furthermore, at Liveseas we have a comprehensive list of articles about roles beyond just ETOs. For instance, you might be interested to learn about the role of a Chief Officer in the maritime industry.