Seafarer Guides: Second Officer Salary & Career Path

22 June 2023

In this article, we shed light on the journey of a Second Officer or Second Mate in the maritime industry. The role of a Second Officer at sea is versatile and laden with responsibilities, ranging from assisting the Chief Mate to ensuring the safety and security of the vessel. The day-to-day life of a Second Officer is an amalgamation of technical and managerial tasks, and with it comes unique challenges and rewards.

Duties and Responsibilities

As the Second Officer onboard, you serve as a vital cog in the ship's Deck Department. It is your role to assist the Chief Mate, manage navigation, and conduct cargo inspections. Second Officers are also typically entrusted with medical duties. But, each ship is different, and depending on the vessel, a Second Officer's responsibilities can extend far beyond this.

On cargo ships, there are usually three specific posts that Second Officers can fill: Navigation Officer, Assistant Safety Officer, and Radio Officer. Each of these roles comes with its unique set of duties and challenges.

As the Navigation Officer, you are tasked with preparing the first draft of the passage plan. You are the one with the most seniority among the officers of the watch in this role.

As the Assistant Safety Officer, you work alongside the Chief Mate to maintain all safety items onboard. This role involves keeping the safety inventory up-to-date and ensuring the readiness of all lifesaving and firefighting appliances.

Finally, as the Radio Officer, you handle most of the paperwork on the bridge. In this age of advanced satellite communications, the traditional duties of a radio officer have significantly diminished, but the importance of maintaining all necessary documentation has not.

Regardless of the specific role, as a Second Officer, your day will be split into shifts of 4 hours on duty and 8 hours off duty. This cycle runs seven days a week, often with additional hours of overtime during the weekdays.

Certification and Training

To become a Second Officer, a prospective seafarer must earn the Officer of the Watch Certificate of Competency (CoC). This certification is achieved after completing a cadetship at a maritime academy, which includes 12 months of sea service as a cadet.

Certain companies may promote a seafarer directly to Second Officer after obtaining this certification, while others require some time in the role of Third Officer first. From there, promotion to Chief Officer requires at least 12 months of sea time, although some flag states may require as much as 24 months.

It's important to note that these requirements can vary by company and often depend heavily on the competency of the individual officer. Some Second Officers choose to transition to shoreside roles at this stage in their careers, seeing it as a viable alternative to spending additional years at sea. However, the opportunities available at this stage are typically less lucrative than those available to Chief Officers or Captains and often involve positions in the operations or crewing departments of shipping companies.

Physical and Mental Challenges

A Second Officer's life is not just about administrative duties and navigating the high seas. It involves a great deal of physical and mental exertion. The physical challenges come into play during cargo operations, mooring the vessel, dropping anchor at the port, and maintaining vigilance during your shift on the bridge.

Keeping an 8-hour watch, handling paperwork, preparing for port arrivals, and managing inspections can be mentally demanding. The disrupted sleep patterns due to 4-on and 8-off duty shifts and further interruptions during passages and inspections can add to the stress. The pressure escalates when you are in port due to the additional responsibilities that come with cargo operations and vessel mooring.

The physical and mental challenges are slightly different on cruise ships compared to cargo ships. On cruise liners, Second Officers typically work longer hours, but the work schedule is more rigid and predictable. Managing these diverse responsibilities efficiently requires not only stamina and strength but also adaptability, presence of mind, and resilience. Discover more in our article about Seafarer Wellbeing.

Leadership and Team Management

As a Second Officer, you play a crucial role in the ship's command hierarchy. On a cargo ship, you report to the Chief Mate for work-related matters and to the Master for navigation.

You are responsible for managing lookouts and crew members during tasks such as mooring and cargo operations. On a cruise liner, the line of command is typically longer, and you may not have direct interactions with the Master. Regardless, your role is pivotal in ensuring the efficient operation of the vessel and the safety of everyone on board.

Impact of Technology

In the digital age, technology has permeated every industry, including maritime. As a Second Officer, you will need to adapt to using digital navigation tools, cargo handling technology, and safety equipment. This includes working with Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS), a navigation information system that has become an integral part of bridge operations.

While technological advancements have automated some aspects of a Second Officer's duties, the role remains critical. The need for someone to keep watch on the bridge of a massive vessel is not going away anytime soon. In fact, as technology continues to evolve, so will the responsibilities and skills required of a Second Officer.

In the next section, we will delve into the role-specific risks, liabilities, emergency responsibilities, and compliance with regulations and international maritime laws associated with the position of a Second Officer.

If the digitalisation of the seafaring profession interests you, you can read more at: A Seafarer's Guide to the Digitalised Maritime Industry.

Role-Specific Risks and Emergency Responsibilities

In the life of a Second Officer, each day comes with its own challenges. The shipboard environment is a complex one with multiple operational risks. These can range from dangerous cargo handling to navigation in adverse weather conditions or high-traffic zones. The Second Officer is also in charge of life-saving appliances and firefighting equipment, adding to the critical nature of this role.

However, the stakes are raised even higher during emergencies. It falls on the Second Officer to lead one of the emergency response teams. The responsibility of ensuring the crew's safety during crises requires a clear head, firm decision-making, and the ability to stay calm under pressure. This also involves comprehensive knowledge about safety drills, disaster management, and emergency protocols.

Compliance with Regulations and Maritime Laws

As a Second Officer, a significant part of your work involves compliance with maritime safety and security laws. This compliance is crucial because it impacts not just the operations of the vessel but also the safety and security of the crew and the environment.

Knowledge about the latest international maritime laws and regulations is a must, as it's your responsibility to ensure that the ship operates within these laws. Moreover, you must ensure compliance with safety and security standards during regular operations and in the event of inspections.

Job Market Trends

Second Officer is a common rank among officers, and the demand for this role is average. However, the opportunities typically go to those who have completed their cadetship and obtained their Certificate of Competency (CoC) at the same company. This situation arises because many Able Seamen obtain their CoC with three years of sea time and take the tests, leading to many individuals competing for this role.

Thus, shipping companies can afford to be selective, and demonstrating competency is key, especially if you're an Able Seaman who obtained your CoC via the practical route and are switching companies.

In the concluding section of the article, we will discuss the average salary, work-life balance, differences per ship type or industry, and how Liveseas' role can help Second Officers in their maritime career.

Salary, Work-Life Balance, and Career Progression

A Second Officer's salary is significantly influenced by several factors:

  • Ship Type: The type of ship you work on plays a crucial role in determining your salary. For example, the nature of cargo vessels is different from passenger ships like cruisers, which can impact the remuneration.
  • Industry: The industry you're in also influences your salary. The oil tanker sector, for instance, might offer higher compensation compared to the container shipping or cruise industry.
  • Company: The shipping company you work for can significantly impact your salary. Some companies might offer better pay packages than others, which could be influenced by the company's industry/sector, size, reputation, and financial health.
  • Nationality: In most cases, the nationality of the seafarer can also play a role in salary determination. For example, on American-flagged vessels sailing from and to US ports, salaries can be more than 10 times higher than salaries on coastal vessels in Indonesia or the Philippines.
  • Experience and Competency: The years of experience you have, along with your competency, can impact your salary significantly. The more competent and experienced you are, the higher salary you can command.

For Second Officers, the salary usually falls within the range of $4,000 to $7,000 per month. However, these numbers can fluctuate depending on the factors mentioned above.

Unfortunately, shore leaves tend to be rare for the Second Officer, adding to the challenges of maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Differences per Ship Type or Industry

The role of a Second Officer can change subtly depending on the type of vessel and the industry. On merchant vessels, the responsibilities tend to be quite standard across different types of ships, with only the cargo operations changing.

For cruise liners, the Second Officer position is merely a step in a long career progression towards becoming a Captain. A variety of tasks can be required but usually involves working in 4-hour on and 8-hour off shifts, seven days a week, with some overtime.

NOTE: For more info on how seafarers in other ranks are paid, check out our general article on Seafarer Salaries.

Liveseas: Your Maritime Career Partner

Whether you are a seasoned Second Officer looking for new opportunities or a maritime professional aspiring to become a Second Officer, Liveseas can provide you with the platform to reach your career goals.

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.

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.


Becoming a Second Officer is a rewarding step in a seafaring career, offering opportunities for professional development and attractive remuneration. It comes with its unique challenges and responsibilities, but with the right preparation and mindset, it can be an exciting and fulfilling journey. Remember to leverage platforms like Liveseas to connect with opportunities and make the most of your maritime career.