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merchant navy deck officer

Merchant Navy deck officers work in the shipping industry aboard container vessels, bulk carriers, tankers, cruise liners and ferries. They are responsible for controlling a ship's navigation, communications, crew and cargo; they also look after people on passenger ships and take part in onboard social events.  

Deck officer jobs are normally split into four levels:

Master (Captain) - holds full responsibility for the overall running and safety of the ship, crew, passengers and cargo. They handle legal and commercial matters and keep all the ship's records up to date.

Chief Officer - assists the Master and oversees deck operations and maintenance, cargo handling and storage; they also manage work schedules and supervises other officers.

Second Officer - is responsible for navigation, using radar, satellite and computer systems to set a course; and monitors position, speed, direction and weather reports.They use radio and satellite communications on the ship's bridge to speak to other ships in the area and onshore. They also carry out watch duties at sea and in port.

Third Officer -  is usually the first post taken after training and deals with the ship's safety equipment and lifeboats. They assist the Second Officer and also have watch duties.

Deck officers also supervise crew members (ratings) on deck, making sure that the ship runs smoothly and is properly maintained. See the profile for Merchant Navy Rating.

Some very large cargo ships and passenger liners may have a fifth officer tier.

Deck officers in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (civilian-crewed ships operated by the Ministry of Defence) may be responsible for monitoring the movement of helicopters, specialised navigation and nuclear biological chemical damage (NCBD) control.

Hours and Environment

Merchant Navy vessels operate continuously. Deck officers work shifts, known as 'watches', which vary according to the size of the ship. On a large vessel, officers may work four hours on duty followed by eight hours off duty.

Officers spend a lot of time at sea and can travel all over the world. Time spent at sea varies from a few days or weeks to several months, depending on the type of ship and its trading patterns. Periods of leave between voyages also vary. 

Deck officers work on deck, below deck and on the bridge. They have to work in all weather conditions. Officers in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary sometimes have to work in combat zones.

Deck officers have their own cabin and bathroom and, on larger ships, access to leisure facilities.

Skills and Interests

To be a Merchant Navy deck officer, you should:

  • be confident, able to assume responsibility and to inspire confidence in crew members
  • be interested in, and able to understand and use, the latest vessel technology
  • be able to cope with being away from home, often for long periods of time
  • be able to work in a team
  • have excellent mathematical ability - this is very important for navigational calculations
  • have good spoken and written communication skills
  • be calm and decisive in emergencies
  • be enthusiastic and self-reliant.

Entry

There are different routes into the Merchant Navy, depending on your qualifications and experience. These are outlined below but all recruits are sponsored by a shipping company or training provider. The Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB) in Further Information has a list of organisations currently providing sponsorship.

You can enter the Merchant Navy from age 16 onwards as an officer cadet or marine apprentice if you have at least four GCSEs (A-C)/S grades (1-3) or equivalent. These should include English, maths and physics (or combined science). For details, see the Marine Society and Sea Cadets' website below.

You must have good eyesight and be physically fit, as you will have to pass a medical examination before you can start training.

You can also get into the Merchant Navy through a foundation degree, Scottish Professional Diploma or as a science graduate. The entry requirements for these routes depend on the university and course you choose. The courses have onboard practical training built into them.

Applicants with relevant experience will be considered, and former Royal Navy officers will also be considered.

The Merchant Navy Training Board and the Career at Sea websites provide information about this career, which includes a list of course providers. For details, see Further Information.

Training

Your training combines onshore college-based study with sea-going placements to gain practical experience of working on a ship. You work towards a foundation degree and Officer of the Watch Certificate of Competency, awarded by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). It normally takes around three to four years to qualify as a junior officer (Third Officer). 

Training includes seafaring skills, ship safety, practical work-based projects and academic study, for example, nautical science. 

Once qualified, you can take further training to enhance your qualifications and skills and move up through the officer grades. Each grade requires specific MCA certification for that level.

If you are a graduate entrant, you will train on an accelerated development programme aimed at reaching the higher officer ranks in a shorter timescale.

For more information about training providers, courses and certification see the MNTB and Career at Sea websites in Further Information.

Opportunities

Opportunities are good and very varied, with seaborne trade predicted to rise substantially in the next 10 to 20 years.

Experienced officers are in demand for both onshore and offshore positions, with shipping companies, port authorities, maritime insurance companies and shipping brokers. Officers can also use their skills to transfer to managerial roles in other industrial and commercial sectors.  

Consideration for promotion is based on length of service and on merit, together with possession of the relevant MCA Competency Certificate.

Annual Income

Figures are intended as a guideline only.

Whilst part of the cadet training scheme the salary is between £5,000 and £8,000 a year.
Qualified junior deck officers earn between £20,000 and £22,000 a year.
Experienced officers earn from £22,000 to upwards of £50,000 a year, depending on rank.

The employer will pay for food and accommodation whilst at sea, and for some travel costs when onshore.


 

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The information contained in our Career Profiles Database was correct at time of publishing, but since publication certain details may have changed so please use this section as a research tool and in some cases further research may be required.

Careers Database Information By Learn Direct Advice