Seafaring is a profession that requires ranks and duties to be specific, so that everyone onboard will know what to do, as several procedures have to be conducted at the same time; Thus, each one of these roles carries unique responsibilities which are crucial for the successful operation of a vessel.
Specifically, the ranks on a vessel are divided into three categories:
- the deck department
- the engineering department
- the steward’s / catering department
In 1978, IMO adopted a landmark Convention for all seafarers across the world to establish high standards of competence and professionalism in their duties on-board. The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, the STCW Convention in brief, establishes the minimum basic requirements on training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers on an international level.
Captain: The captain or master is the ship’s highest responsible officer, acting on behalf of the shipowner. He/she is responsible for all operations onboard.
Chief mate: The head of the deck department on a merchant vessel, second-in-command after the ship’s Master. This position is responsible for cargo operations, the vessel’s stability, the deck crew and the safety and security of the vessel. The chief mate is the one to train the crew and cadets on various operations, such as safety, firefighting, search and rescue, and various other contingencies.
Second mate: The one that holds this position is a qualified Officer in Charge for Navigational Watch (OICNW), responsible for directing the bridge and navigating the ship. The second mate is the third most experienced deck department officer after the Captain/Master and Chief mate. One of their priorities is to update charts and publications, keeping them current, making passage plans, and all aspects of ship navigation. Additional duties include directing line handlers, cargo watches, directing anchor detail and training and instructing crew members.
Third mate: The third officer is responsible for the maintenance of life-saving equipment and fire-fighting equipment under Safety Officer`s instruction. Also, the third mate conducts the drilling operations and handles all the port documents on behalf of the Master.
Deck cadet: Also known as the Trainee Navigational Officer or Nautical Apprentice is an apprentice who must learn the basic duties, comprehend and apply the new skills learned.
Deck cadet ratings
- Bosun (head of the rating staff)
- Welder/Fitter (this rank onboard renders his services to both the deck as well as the engine department)
- Able Bodied Seaman (AB)
- Ordinary Seaman (OS)
- Trainee OS
Chief engineer: This person is the one overseeing the engine department and gives work orders for the ones operating in the engine room.
Second engineer: This rank is responsible for supervising the daily maintenance and operation of the engine department, directly reporting to the chief engineer.
Third engineer: The third engineer or second assistant engineer is the one dealing with boilers, fuel, auxiliary engines, condensate and feed systems, always reporting to the second engineer.
Fourth engineer: The fourth engineer or third assistant engineer is junior to the second assistant engineer/third engineer in the engine department.
Steward’s / catering department
Chief cook: The chief cook is the senior unlicensed crew member working in the steward’s department of a ship. Their duty is to prepare meals regularly for the crew and passengers, inspects the galley and equipment ensuring all cleaning and proper storage operations are in line.
Chief steward: This position is the one handling the catering department, by directing, instructing and assigning personnel for preparing and serving meals. Also, this rank plans the menu, orders the supplies along with the Master.