Second Engineer: Vital Insights into Salary & Responsibilities

06 July 2023

Introduction to the Role of a Second Engineer

The maritime industry is a complex, dynamic field that thrives on the collective efforts of a range of specialists. One such key role is the Second Engineer, an integral part of the vessel's operational backbone. The Second Engineer, also referred to as the first assistant engineer, holds a pivotal position in the engine room hierarchy on a ship, responsible for everything from maintenance of the main propulsion engines to the overall administration of the engine room crew. Their role combines technical expertise, leadership, and stringent adherence to maritime regulations, making it one of the most demanding, yet rewarding, roles in the marine industry.

The Journey: Becoming a Second Engineer

So, how does one become a Second Engineer in the maritime industry? A key requirement for this role is acquiring the Second Engineer's Certificate of Competency (CoC), which in itself demands a minimum of a year of sea time as an Engineer Officer of the Watch. However, in practice, many aspirants accumulate around three years of sea time before they are ready to tackle the challenges of a Second Engineer. This period helps nurture necessary practical skills and an understanding of the sea's unpredictable nature, preparing them for their future responsibilities.

The journey to becoming a Second Engineer usually begins with a promotion from the position of Third Engineer after successfully passing the necessary written and oral examinations for the Second Engineer's CoC. At this point, a pathway to professional development opens up, including the opportunity to ascend to the position of Chief Engineer on cargo ships. For those serving on larger vessels like cruise ships, the next step might be as a First Engineer.

Having substantial seagoing experience typically qualifies a Second Engineer for a shore-based role as a superintendent engineer. However, many choose to obtain their Chief Engineer's license before venturing into this arena. This transition not only signifies a professional milestone but also introduces new responsibilities and challenges that require an even higher level of competency and commitment.

Responsibilities & Tasks of a Second Engineer

The Second Engineer’s role encapsulates a broad array of tasks, combining hands-on technical work in the engine room with a significant amount of administrative duties. They serve as the general manager of the engine room, and one of their primary responsibilities includes scheduling all the maintenance jobs according to the ship's planned maintenance system. This involves liaising with the Chief Engineer for essential operations like the ordering of bunkers, lube oils, spare parts, and stores. In addition, they provide daily reports to the Chief Engineer, ensuring that all operations run smoothly and within regulations.

At sea or in port, the Second Engineer oversees major maintenance work, usually leading the operations with the support of one or two assistants. Their domain extends beyond the main engines to all the ship’s equipment, including life-saving and firefighting apparatus. This diverse scope of responsibilities positions the Second Engineer as the first line of response in case of emergencies, making their role critical to the ship's overall safety and efficiency.

However, the Second Engineer's role isn't confined to the engine room. A significant part of their workday is dedicated to paperwork and management duties. This includes leading daily toolbox meetings in the mornings, arranging the jobs of the engine crew, managing work permits, and supervising the other engineers, oilers, fitter, and potentially the electrician. This all-encompassing responsibility requires them to be efficient multitaskers, with the ability to manage time and resources effectively.

Leadership & Team Management

As a senior engineering position, the Second Engineer commands significant respect and responsibility on the ship. They typically manage a team of 6-9 people, requiring them to possess robust leadership skills. Managing the engine crew and other staff is a delicate balancing act, requiring a deep understanding of human nature and a knack for ensuring the smooth running of the ship’s operations. The Second Engineer's role is often deemed the most challenging on the ship, especially in terms of workload. However, it also provides them with the unique opportunity to make a tangible impact on the ship's overall functioning and safety.

Whether it’s arranging work schedules, handling emergencies, or conducting maintenance, the Second Engineer needs to lead from the front, drawing upon their experience and knowledge. This leadership role extends to their interactions with the Chief Engineer, to whom they report regularly, ensuring the engine department is aligned with the broader ship operations.

The successful management of such a diverse array of responsibilities marks a significant achievement in a Second Engineer's career, positioning them well for future advancement within the maritime industry. Yet, as they climb the ladder, they must continually adapt to new technologies and challenges that this evolving industry presents.

Staying Current: Impact of Technology & Continuous Learning

The maritime industry has seen significant technological advancements over the past few years. The role of the Second Engineer has evolved in step, requiring a commitment to continuous learning and adaptation. Today, a Second Engineer must stay up to date with emerging equipment and technologies onboard newer ships, such as Ballast Water Treatment Systems (BWTS), Scrubbers, and Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) reduction systems.

However, staying current with technological advancements doesn't mean abandoning traditional technical skills. Often, the Second Engineer may still need to perform manual labor and old-school technical work, such as operating a lathe and welding, especially if the ship lacks a dedicated fitter/welder.

Staying updated and embracing new technology not only enhances the Second Engineer's competency onboard but also opens doors to opportunities ashore. With their diverse experience and adaptability, they may be poised for a future role as a technical superintendent engineer. For a detailed look into the digitisation of the maritime industry, check out our guide on Navigating the Digitalised Maritime Industry.

Responsibility: Emergency Preparedness & Critical Systems

The Second Engineer's role goes beyond day-to-day operations. Their responsibilities include managing emergencies and ensuring that critical systems function smoothly. In the event of emergencies like fire, grounding, collision, or the need to abandon ship, the Second Engineer often assumes a leadership role.

Specific duties of a Second Engineer during emergencies usually include preparing emergency power, activating emergency sea water supply (fire line), and operating foam or CO2 fire extinguishing systems. Their critical role in these scenarios is a testament to the trust and responsibility placed on them. To learn more about ship safety and preparedness, explore our article on Navigating Maritime Emergencies: Ship Safety & Preparedness.

The efficacy of a Second Engineer in handling workload stress, emergencies, and daily tasks often sets the stage for the overall operations of the ship. By respecting basic engineering and management principles and acknowledging the hard work of the team, a Second Engineer can effectively maintain the balance on board.

Compliance: Maritime Regulations & Environmental Impact

Adherence to maritime regulations and international laws is a crucial aspect of the Second Engineer's role. One such critical responsibility is the operation of the Oily Water Separator. This device separates oil from water that drains from the engine room bilges, a form of waste known as bilgewater. Any malfunction in this system can have serious consequences. If the bilges cannot be discharged efficiently without breaching the 15ppm oil discharge limit, the ship may need to halt operations and discharge to a slop barge, which incurs significant costs for the shipping company.

Historically, some Second Engineers manipulated separators to bypass these issues, but modern oily bilge separators are hard to trick. Moreover, the repercussions of such practices can be severe, including potential jail time. Therefore, it is unlikely that modern Second Engineers would risk such consequences. Rather, they are more likely to prioritise complying with regulations to ensure the safety and environmental sustainability of their operations.

This responsibility, while necessary, can induce significant stress on the Second Engineer. Nevertheless, their dedication to upholding maritime regulations underscores their commitment to the ship's safe and legal operations and their important role in preserving the marine ecosystem.

Job Market Insights: Demand for Second Engineers

In the commercial shipping industry, the role of the Second Engineer is one of the most in-demand. There is a noticeable discrepancy between the availability of deck officers and engine officers, making Second Engineers highly sought after.

Passing the rigorous exams to obtain the Certificate of Competency (CoC) for a Second Engineer is a challenge few manage to conquer. Many of those who succeed aim to become a Chief Engineer, therefore reducing their availability for the position of Second Engineer. This considerable shortage has led to increased salaries for Second Engineers, often approaching that of a Chief Engineer in many companies.

However, the demand for Second Engineers is not uniform across all vessel types and maritime industries, which brings us to the next section.

Salary Breakdown: Understanding the Compensation Structure

The average salary for a Second Engineer can range from 8000 to 12000 USD, with potential for additional earnings based on the complexity of the work undertaken. As a senior engineer, a Second Engineer may be eligible for several financial incentives including rejoin bonuses, seniority bonuses, and others.

It's important to note that the compensation structure can vary significantly based on the type of ship, the company, and the specific responsibilities. For a comprehensive breakdown of seafarer salaries across industry, rank, and ship type, take a look at our guide on Seafarer Salaries.

Work-Life Balance & Challenges in Different Vessel Types

The position of a Second Engineer is demanding, with the workload often exceeding that of other positions on board. Therefore, achieving a good work-life balance can be challenging.

Most contracts offer a schedule of 3 months on and 3 months off, although some companies may require longer on-ship durations. However, due to the current job market, many companies are reducing the minimum contracts to 3 months to attract new talent. Despite the high workload, opportunities for shore leave are rare on most cargo vessels, particularly tankers.

The nature of work for a Second Engineer can also vary significantly based on the type of ship. For instance:

  • On bulk carriers, the workload is typically simpler and lighter.
  • Tankers usually require more intensive work due to a larger machinery base and stricter standards, leading to additional paperwork.
  • Gas tankers present the most challenging work environment but often have more personnel to help manage the workload.
  • On container vessels, the workload can be demanding due to larger engines, leading to frequent maintenance work at port.
  • On cruise liners and yachts, the role of a Second Engineer can range from managing work without much manual labor on large cruise ships to being the least senior engineer on board a yacht with diverse responsibilities, from engine overhauls to toilet unclogging.

These differences highlight the need for adaptability and resilience, characteristics that are integral to the Second Engineer's role.

The Path Forward: From Second Engineer to Chief Engineer or Superintendent

The career path of a Second Engineer doesn't stop at their current rank. With experience and further certification, they can aspire to become a Chief Engineer, taking over the ultimate responsibility for the entire engine department.

On larger vessels such as cruise ships, the next step might be becoming a First Engineer. Furthermore, after amassing significant sea-going experience, a Second Engineer could also transition to a shore-based role, such as a Superintendent Engineer. However, many choose to obtain their Chief Engineer's license before making this transition.

Professional development opportunities abound in the maritime industry. The key is in constant learning and adapting to new technologies and methodologies.

How Liveseas Supports Second Engineers in their Maritime Careers

Liveseas plays a pivotal role in supporting all ranks in their maritime careers. The platform connects professionals with companies of their choice, serving as a comprehensive resource for everything related to careers at sea.

At Liveseas, 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.

Whether a Second Engineer is seeking work, or looking to pivot to a better company, Liveseas is there to assist.


The role of a Second Engineer in the maritime industry is demanding yet rewarding. It calls for exceptional leadership capabilities, technical skills, and adaptability. With the constant emergence of new technologies, the position requires continuous learning and development.

However, it is a role that offers plentiful opportunities for growth and progression. Not only is the position financially rewarding, but it also allows for professional development, opening doors to more senior roles both at sea and ashore.

At Liveseas, we understand the challenges and rewards of a maritime career. We are here to help Second Engineers, and all other seafaring professionals, navigate their career paths successfully and make the most of the opportunities that come their way.