Role & Responsibilities of a Third Engineer at Sea

31 August 2023

Role & Responsibilities of a Third Engineer at Sea

Serving as the first line of defense in engine alarms and taking on an array of operational and maintenance duties onboard a ship, the role of a Third Engineer is both critical and demanding. In this article, we delve into the comprehensive range of responsibilities, necessary certifications, potential career paths, and the various challenges faced by a Third Engineer at sea.

Introduction to the Role of a Third Engineer

The maritime world is vast and complex, and the position of a Third Engineer is integral to the functioning of any vessel. The Third Engineer is typically responsible for watchkeeping, operating a ship's machinery, and maintenance duties onboard. This position often serves as the entry point for engineering officers and forms the backbone of the ship's engine room operations.

Operational and Maintenance Duties Onboard

Working as a Third Engineer on a cargo ship involves a multitude of tasks that keep the ship in prime operating condition. Key responsibilities include operating the main and auxiliary engines, purifiers, fresh water generators, and more. The Third Engineer is also accountable for managing one or two ratings, ensuring that the machinery is regularly inspected and that the ship's planned maintenance system is followed.

Depending on the type of ship, the Third Engineer may hold an engine room duty for 8 hours on and 4 hours off if the ship has a manned engine room, and 24-hour periods if the ship is of Unmanned Machinery Spaces (UMS) type. They perform maintenance work daily when at sea and are always ready to respond to any engine-related alarms or emergencies, making them vital to the ship's smooth operation.

Required Certifications and Training for the Role

To fulfill this role, a Third Engineer must possess a valid Engineer Officer of the Watch Certificate of Competency (CoC). Achieving this certification is a demanding task that requires a significant amount of study, including subjects ranging from physics and maths to practical marine engineering. To be eligible for this certificate, one must complete an approved training program at a maritime academy and acquire 12 months of sea time as an engine cadet. Alternatively, experienced ratings can also become eligible by completing 36 months at sea in an approved training program.

The requirements may vary by country. For instance, the UK requires seafarers to undergo a full week of additional training in human element and management, workshop skills like welding, and other aspects like abrasive wheel training. This rigorous process ensures that the Third Engineer is equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to effectively perform their duties.

In addition to the CoC, the Third Engineer must also complete basic and advanced STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers) courses. These courses provide comprehensive training in personal survival techniques, fire prevention and firefighting, elementary first aid, and personal safety and social responsibilities. The Third Engineer may also need to undergo specific training based on the type of ship they will be serving on, such as tankers.

Sea Time and Training for Promotion

A career at sea is marked by continuous learning and advancement. As part of this journey, the Third Engineer acquires extensive practical experience and develops their core engineering skills. The sea time required for promotion, coupled with a deeper understanding of the ship's systems and operations, prepares them for more senior roles.

For instance, 36 months of sea time as an Oiler can provide the necessary practical experience required to qualify for the EOOW tests, while 12 months of sea time as an Engine Cadet can lead to acquiring the CoC. Therefore, a combination of sea time and rigorous training forms the path to career advancement in this field. In addition, many companies provide training seminars to their Third Engineers off-contract, which can help them stay updated with the latest developments in maritime operations.

Professional Development and Career Progression

As junior engineers on a ship, Third and Fourth Engineers have a critical role to play in maintaining and operating a ship's machinery. This hands-on experience serves as a learning ground for developing core engineering skills. Additionally, this role provides a platform to understand the intricacies of the ship's systems and operations, which are crucial for career progression.

Third Engineers are considered the first responders to engine alarms and engage in essential maintenance work like cleaning diesel engine filters and overhauling purifiers. Such responsibilities provide a rich learning environment, and taking the initiative in these situations often equips engineers with the necessary skills for future roles.

Management skills also start to develop in this role. As a Third Engineer on duty, one is responsible for commanding the engine room personnel. Over time, these responsibilities and experiences pave the way to promotions, with the Second Engineer role being the next step. The Second Engineer position carries significantly more managerial responsibilities, making the experience gained as a Third Engineer invaluable.

Moreover, after gaining some sea experience, especially those with specialised knowledge such as naval architects, may find good opportunities ashore. Maritime academy graduates typically have to reach at least the Second Engineer rank to be considered for a role as a technical superintendent ashore. To learn more about the ranking structure, you can refer to our article on Ranks & Positions in the Engine Department of a Cargo Ship.

Daily Challenges and Work-Life Balance

The role of a Third Engineer comes with its fair share of physical and mental challenges. The daily schedule on a cargo ship at sea is demanding and can be physically and mentally exhausting. A typical day might involve waking up early, inspecting the engine room, attending toolbox meetings, doing maintenance work until late in the afternoon, and then standing by for duty, sometimes for 24 hours at a stretch.

In port, the engineers often stand by to operate any machinery required by the ship's operation. They keep watch during bunkering (refuelling) and operate the cargo pump system in 6-hour shifts if on a tanker. In the case of container vessels, port calls can provide downtime for maintenance work on the main engine.

The strain of work, combined with frequent alarms and emergencies, can disturb sleep patterns and cause stress. This combination of challenges makes work-life balance crucial for Third Engineers. While the work can be strenuous, companies are addressing this by offering incentives like shorter contracts to mitigate the seafarer shortage.

Leadership and Team Management Responsibilities

In addition to their technical duties, Third Engineers also have a significant role in leadership and team management. They are typically responsible for one or two ratings during their watch and are accountable for the safety and awareness of anyone working in the engine room. This responsibility extends to informing everyone in the engine room of any impending maintenance work that poses a hazard.

While the leadership skills required at this level are less than those required of a Second Engineer, they provide a strong foundation for future roles. Managing personnel and ensuring the safe operation of the engine room are key responsibilities that contribute to the ship's overall safety and efficiency. For more insights into ship safety, you can check our article on Safer Seas: Safety Advancements for the Shipping Industry.

Impact of Technology on the Role of a Third Engineer

Modern ships are equipped with advanced machinery, and this trend is rapidly increasing. From ballast water treatment systems to nitrous oxide management systems and scrubbers, these new technologies require a comprehensive understanding of their underlying principles for efficient operation. Third Engineers are often tasked with the day-to-day operation of these systems, and as such, they must stay up-to-date with industry advancements.

Conventional systems onboard ships also undergo changes from time to time, making it essential for Third Engineers to engage in continuous learning. Therefore, the role of a Third Engineer is not only physically demanding but also intellectually challenging. Balancing the practical skills needed to perform their duties with the theoretical knowledge required to understand and operate advanced ship systems can be a significant challenge for Third Engineers.

Role-Specific Risks and Emergency Responsibilities

The role of a Third Engineer includes several specific risks. These include overstressing due to the demanding nature of the job, lack of sleep due to odd working hours and emergencies, and working in hazardous areas, often hot and humid for extended periods. Moreover, these engineers are the first line of defence during emergencies, which adds to the inherent stress of the role.

In case of emergencies, the Third Engineer is often tasked with leading one of the engine room teams in firefighting or taking responsibility for starting the emergency generator and fire pump. In the event of an abandonment scenario, they may also be assigned the responsibility to start the lifeboats. Although these tasks seem simple, they require consistent training and preparedness to be performed under pressure. Our article on Navigating Maritime Emergencies: Ship Safety & Preparedness provides more insights into this area.

Compliance with Regulations and International Maritime Laws

As a Certificate of Competency (CoC) holder, the Third Engineer is held to high legal and professional standards. They are legally accountable for any pollution caused directly due to their decisions or incompetence. Hence, they must be well-versed in all job requirements and applicable regulations, especially those outlined in international maritime laws such as MARPOL and SOLAS.

Adherence to these laws is not just a regulatory requirement but also a matter of professional integrity. A breach can lead to severe consequences, both for the individual and the ship owner. Hence, a strong understanding of these regulations and consistent adherence to them is non-negotiable in the role of a Third Engineer.

Job Market Trends for Third Engineers

Unlike their deck department counterparts, Third Engineers are in high demand. The reason lies in the imbalance between the supply and demand of qualified professionals. Many maritime academy graduates find work at sea exhausting and opt for jobs ashore, which increases the demand for this role. Therefore, holding an EOOW CoC essentially guarantees a job in most countries.

Despite the challenges inherent in the role, the job market for Third Engineers remains robust. It is one of the most in-demand positions at sea, which implies promising job prospects for those willing to endure the demands and challenges associated with the position.

Salary, Shore Leaves, and Differences per Ship Type/Industry

The salary of a Third Engineer can vary significantly, typically ranging from 4000 to 7000 USD per month. This largely depends on factors such as the type of ship, the company, the nationality of the seafarer, seniority in rank, and the country that issued their CoC. For instance, specialised tankers like LNG vessels often offer the highest pay, while bulk carriers typically pay the least.

Our comprehensive guide on Seafarer Salaries provides more insights into the factors affecting seafarer earnings.

Shore leaves for Third Engineers are minimal, particularly on tankers. Work-life balance can be challenging as most companies offer only six-month contracts for Third Engineers, reserving their shorter contracts for their senior officers. However, to combat the shortage of seafarers, many companies are offering incentives such as three-month contracts for Third Engineers.

The role of a Third Engineer can also vary depending on the type of ship or industry. In the offshore industry, salaries are comparable to those in the merchant navy. On cruise ships, the role primarily involves watchkeeping as specialised teams handle maintenance. The position of a Third Engineer rarely exists on yachts, except for megayachts exceeding 90 meters, where a full engine department is necessary.

Liveseas' Role

Liveseas serves as a trusted platform for seafarers, particularly Third Engineers, connecting them with potential employers. Whether you're looking for a job or considering a shift to a different company, Liveseas can guide you in making informed career decisions.

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.