Understanding the Role of a Messman on a Cargo Ship

26 October 2023

Messman: Role and Responsibilities

When it comes to the seamless operation of a cargo ship, every crew member plays a pivotal role - one such vital role is the Messman. A Messman is an entry-level position in the Galley Department, where they are instrumental in ensuring the hygiene and cleanliness onboard. They provide critical support to the ship's cook and serve as a key element in the crew's overall morale and well-being. Let's delve deeper into understanding the daily duties and responsibilities of a Messman.

The core responsibilities of a Messman revolve around meal preparation and service, cleaning, inventory management, and performing additional tasks as required. Now, let's take a closer look at these in detail.

  • Meal Preparation and Service: The importance of good food can't be underestimated when at sea, which makes the Messman's role all the more essential. They assist the Chief Cook in meal preparations, ensuring every crew member is well-fed. Their duties include preparing beverages, serving meals, and making sure that water coolers are filled at all times. They work closely with the Chief Cook to serve a variety of nutritious meals, taking into account dietary restrictions and preferences where possible.
  • Cleaning Duties: Post meals, the responsibility of maintaining cleanliness falls on the shoulders of the Messman. They ensure that the mess area is clean and tidy, wash dishes and utensils, and clear tables after every meal. But their role is not just confined to the kitchen - they also maintain cleanliness in the officers' quarters, cabins, and common areas of the ship. Cleanliness is paramount on a ship, both for health and morale, and the Messman plays a critical role in upholding these standards.
  • Inventory Management: Managing the galley's inventory is another crucial task that a Messman often undertakes. They monitor the stock levels of food, cleaning supplies, and other necessities, ensuring that they are replenished as needed. Keeping accurate records and managing stock efficiently helps in maintaining smooth operations and avoiding any shortages or excesses.
  • Additional Tasks: A Messman's role is multifaceted, and they may also be assigned various additional tasks. These can range from cleaning refrigerators and freezers to maintaining the laundry rooms and various other areas of the ship. They might even handle specific tasks like doing the captain's personal laundry or offering haircuts to crew members for an additional charge.

A day in the life of a Messman usually starts early in the morning, often around 0630 hours. Their routine involves assisting in breakfast preparation, followed by a series of cleaning tasks, such as laundry and trash collection. The day continues with lunch and dinner preparation, intertwined with various cleaning tasks and other duties. Depending on the cook's schedule, a Messman may enjoy a brief respite in the afternoon before diving back into their duties.

The Messman role is more than just a job; it's an integral part of the ship's ecosystem. They are the silent heroes who keep the ship's interior clean and the crew well-fed. Despite the sometimes physically demanding nature of the job, it offers a chance to gain valuable experience in the maritime industry, laying the foundation for growth and advancement within this exciting field.

Required Certifications, Training, and Sea Time for Promotion

One of the appealing aspects of the Messman role is that it typically requires no prior maritime experience. It serves as a great entry-point into seafarer careers. The training needed to excel in this role is often provided onboard the ship itself. Experienced crew members onboard play a vital role in mentoring new entrants, providing them with the knowledge and skills to perform their duties effectively.

As the Messman gains sea time and familiarises themselves with the workings of a ship, they become eligible for promotions. Progression can take various paths depending on their interests, skills, and the opportunities available. For instance, a Messman might choose to specialise in galley operations, working towards the position of a Chief Cook. Alternatively, they might opt to explore roles in the deck or engine departments, following additional training and certification.

In the next sections, we will delve further into the career path and professional development opportunities for a Messman, explore the daily physical and mental challenges they face, their leadership and team management responsibilities, and more. Stay tuned!

Learn more about other roles on a cargo ship: Ranks in the Galley on a Cargo Ship.

Career Path and Professional Development Opportunities

Working as a Messman provides an excellent springboard to various career paths within the maritime industry. Given the nature of their duties, they gain a wealth of practical experience that can open doors to a multitude of roles on a ship.

A common progression for a Messman is towards the galley operations, often stepping up to the role of an Assistant Cook and then advancing to become a Chief Cook. The Chief Cook is the senior most role in the galley, responsible for managing the kitchen operations, meal planning, and ensuring dietary requirements are met. This progression requires dedication, hard work, and a passion for cooking.

Alternatively, a Messman might also choose to explore roles in the deck or engine departments. Transitioning to these roles generally requires additional training and certification. Depending on their interests, they might choose to train as a Deck Cadet, working towards becoming an Officer, or perhaps pursue a career in the engine room. Both these paths offer extensive opportunities for growth and development.

Explore more about these potential career paths here: Second and Third Officer: Career and Salary and Chief Engineer: Role, Training, and Earnings.

Daily Physical and Mental Challenges

The role of a Messman is physically demanding, involving long working hours and a range of tasks that require both strength and stamina. They work seven days a week, dealing with cleaning, serving meals, and assisting with food preparation, among other duties.

Messman often deal with heavy lifting, bending, and long periods of standing. Their duties also include handling food waste and cleaning tasks which can be strenuous. Moreover, the nature of shipboard life means that conditions can sometimes be challenging, with rough seas making even simple tasks more difficult.

On the mental side, while the Messman role does not involve much decision-making responsibility, it still requires focus, attention to detail, and the ability to adapt to changing conditions. They also need to work well under pressure, particularly during meal service times when tasks need to be completed promptly and efficiently.

Despite the challenges, many seafarers find the work rewarding, providing them with a unique set of experiences that they carry with them throughout their careers. The camaraderie amongst the crew members can also help in mitigating these challenges.

Leadership and Team Management

As an entry-level position, the Messman role is not typically one of leadership. They work under the supervision of the Chief Cook and occasionally the Chief Officer, carrying out the duties assigned to them. This, however, does not mean that teamwork is not required. Working as a Messman involves constant interaction and collaboration with other crew members, particularly within the Galley Department.

With experience and advancement to higher positions, leadership and management responsibilities increase. For instance, a Chief Cook needs to manage the kitchen operations effectively, delegate tasks, and ensure that meals are prepared and served on time. This evolution from an entry-level role to a leadership position equips the seafarers with a unique set of skills.

Learn more about leadership roles on a ship: Sea Captain: Career, Responsibilities, Salary, and Shore Leave.

Impact of Technology and Advancements on the Role

Unlike some industries where technology has dramatically changed the nature of jobs, the role of a Messman remains largely unchanged. The duties of a Messman are manual and service-oriented, such as cooking, cleaning, and serving. Therefore, they have not been significantly impacted by technological advancements.

While there has been innovation in kitchen equipment and cleaning technology, these developments generally serve to assist the Messman in their duties rather than replace them. Their role remains crucial in maintaining the cleanliness and hygiene onboard, which is of utmost importance in the confined living and working conditions of a ship.

However, as technology continues to evolve, there may be changes in the future. For instance, if automation were to replace other crew members, it could potentially reduce the need for a Messman. But, such a scenario seems unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Role-Specific Risks, Liabilities, and Emergency Responsibilities

While the role of a Messman is generally considered to be low-risk compared to some other shipboard roles, it is not without its hazards. Risks come from dealing with hot surfaces in the galley, cleaning chemicals, and potential slipping hazards from wet surfaces. Messmen must be vigilant to avoid injuries.

Moreover, being on a ship entails emergency responsibilities for everyone, regardless of their designated role. Messmen, like all seafarers, undergo safety training to prepare for potential emergencies. This could include responding to fires, man-overboard situations, or abandoning the ship. During such situations, every crew member, including the Messman, has a specific role to play.

Messmen also have an important part in ensuring compliance with sanitation and waste disposal regulations in line with international maritime laws. A failure to maintain cleanliness or proper waste management can result in the spread of diseases on the ship, leading to serious health risks for the entire crew. It is crucial for a Messman to be aware of and comply with these regulations.

Learn more about seafarer tasks and the risks involved: Most Dangerous Seafarer Tasks.

Demand and Supply Trend in the Job Market

With the global shortage of seafarers, there is a strong demand for entry-level positions like the Messman. Many shipping companies are continuously recruiting for this position to ensure that their ships are adequately staffed.

On the supply side, there is a steady flow of unskilled labor primarily from countries like India and the Philippines. However, given the nature of the work and the demand for these roles, there is stiff competition for the available positions.

Therefore, it is important for aspiring seafarers to stand out by gaining relevant training, acquiring necessary certifications, and building a strong professional network. A referral from an experienced seafarer can significantly improve one's chances of securing a job.

Read more about the demand and supply trends in the maritime industry: Seafarer Salaries: An In-depth Analysis.

Average Salary, Frequency of Shore Leaves, and Work-Life Balance

The average salary for a Messman is on the lower end of the wage scale, usually starting around $800 and maxing out around $1200 per month. However, it is worth noting that this includes accommodation and meals while on the ship, which are significant expenses if living ashore.

Additionally, there is potential to earn extra income through tips or by offering additional services, such as haircuts, depending on the ship's policy.

Contract periods typically range from six to nine months, followed by a vacation period that varies depending on the company's policy and the individual's contract. Shore leave opportunities may also be available when the ship is in port, although this depends on various factors including the port regulations and the ship's schedule.

Working on a ship can be challenging in terms of work-life balance. The work is intense, and the days can be long. However, many seafarers appreciate the opportunity to travel and the camaraderie amongst the crew. Additionally, the long vacation periods between contracts can provide a significant amount of leisure time.

Differences per Ship Type/Industry

It's important to note that the role and responsibilities of a Messman can vary significantly depending on the type of ship and the specific industry. While the overview provided primarily applies to cargo ships, let's look at a couple of other common scenarios:

  • Cruise Ships: On cruise ships, the role of a Messman or steward could be similar in terms of duties for the crew. However, for restaurant staff catering to passengers, the role can be quite different, involving a higher level of service and more interaction with passengers. This might include preparing specialty coffees or cocktails, providing room service, or assisting with special dining events.
  • Yachts: On yachts, the equivalent position is often referred to as a steward or stewardess. This role tends to be more professional and may involve additional duties such as assisting with guest services or providing personal service to the yacht's owner and guests. There are also more defined career progression paths in the yachting industry, often leading to senior steward/stewardess or purser roles.

Liveseas' Role

If you are looking to start your career at sea, Liveseas is here to help. We strive to connect aspiring seafarers with top employers in the maritime industry. However, without experience or necessary documentation, finding an entry-level position can be challenging due to the high volume of applications companies receive. A referral from an experienced seafarer can significantly improve your chances of securing a job.

At Liveseas, we encourage prospective seafarers to network with individuals in the field and ensure their documents are in order before applying. Liveseas is here to assist you, offering valuable resources and articles, helping you understand the requirements and expectations of various maritime roles, and providing guidance on how to navigate your maritime career.

Learn more about different roles on a cargo ship, from the galley to the engine room: Ranks in the Galley on a Cargo Ship and Ranks in the Engine Room on a Cargo Ship.

Conclusion: Starting a Career at Sea as a Messman

In summary, the role of a Messman, although challenging and often underappreciated, provides numerous learning opportunities for those starting a career at sea. Yes, the work can be menial, and the hours can be long, but the experience gained can be truly rewarding. It serves as a stepping stone towards various career paths within the maritime industry, whether that's moving up in the galley or branching out into deck or engine roles.

It’s not just a job, it's the beginning of a journey that can take you around the world, both literally and figuratively. So if you're considering a career at sea, don't overlook the role of a Messman. It could be your ticket to a world of opportunities.

For the best opportunities, join our extensive network for free at Liveseas.