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Deck officer

What’s it like working as a Deck Officer?

Working in an executive department responsible for the navigation, manoeuvring and safe handling of the ship, communications between ship and shore, the handling and delivery of cargo, and the operation of all lifesaving devices, the role of a Deck Officer is vital onboard a merchant vessel.

As the highest ranking Deck Officer, the Chief Officer – also known as the First Officer – will have the ultimate responsibility for the handling of cargo and the efficient running of the ship. With the assistance of lower ranking Deck Officers, all of whom have to be certified by examination after completing the appropriate qualifying sea time, this team keeps the ship and its crew safe, secure and in business.

As part of the deck department team, Deck Officers spend time on the bridge navigating the ship and out on deck where weather conditions can be dark and stormy, or beautifully warm and bright. On-board, Deck Officers usually have their own internal cabin with en-suite facilities, and on larger ships they may have access to leisure facilities.

As work patterns for Deck Officers are in shifts for between a few weeks and several months at a time, Deck Officers spend long periods away from family and friends. However, holiday leave is generous in order to compensate for the time spent away from home.

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What kind of work can I do?

Deck Officers are often responsible for management of the Ratings (some of whom may not understand much English), navigation using satellite and radar systems, managing and using communication systems, and supervising the safe loading, storage and unloading of cargo. They can also be in charge of monitoring and supervising the maintenance of the ship’s safety and firefighting systems and equipment, making stability calculations, record-keeping, and training. In essence, Senior Deck Officers handle the administrative, financial, legal and commercial matters relating to the ship, in comparison with the ship’s Master who has overall responsibility for operations.

Where can I work?

As there is no central hub for Deck Officer recruitment, potential candidates must approach ship owners and managers or training organisations directly to find sponsored training opportunities. Deck Officer training incorporates onshore studies in shipboard familiarisation, navigation, collision regulations, first aid, firefighting, personal survival and safety, and at-sea training in the form of shadowing experienced officers at sea as Deck Cadets.

After training both onshore and at sea and sufficient sea time, Deck Officers will start their career onboard as a low ranking Officer, which depending on the size of the ship might be Third, Fourth or Fifth Officer. Promotion is possible from Third Officer to Second Officer, to Chief Officer and, ultimately, to Master. With a clear career path from the start, becoming a Deck Officer puts you on first rung of the ladder to becoming the Master of a ship.

What are the shore-based opportunities when I am ready to leave the sea?

There are many opportunities for people with seafaring experience in ship management and other maritime-related occupations ashore:

Opportunities include:

  • Ship management and fleet operations
  • Surveying ships to check seaworthiness, for repair and maintenance purposes, to check cargo details
  • Ports and harbour work
  • Training the seafarers of the future
  • Ship repair, marine equipment production
  • Marine insurance, ship classification, maritime law and arbitration

There is a great demand for those with seafaring skills and experience!

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Case Studies

Meet New Yorker, Amanda Brown, straight from ‘The Big Apple.’ A graduate of SUNY Maritime College, Amanda earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Marine Transportation, which included a minor in Ship Management. Amanda has a U.S. Coast Guard Second Mate License of Unlimited Tonnage Vessels and has been working on ships for the past 3 years all over the world – from the US East Coast to Eastern Europe.

Women Offshore spoke with Second Mate Brown, where she divulged an interesting tidbit about a very unique crewmate of hers, named Barney.

Amanda, what inspired you to work on the water?

“I aspired to do something not all that common. Oh, and of course, for the ability to travel the world!”

What sorts of challenges have you faced in your career?

“When I first signed onto my current ship in 2015, I was the first female crew member they’d had over the previous 10 years. I was worried about how the crew was going to handle my presence. Fast-forward to 2017: I had an incident with a contractor; a ‘low-level’ character who had, verbally, crossed the line. The crew caught wind of it and kicked the man off of our ship. They were very supportive. All who were involved gave statements towards a sexual harassment investigation that was launched. I know I can count on them, which is important: If you can’t rely on the people that are with you for 6 months of the year, then how are you able to feel a sense of peace?”

What do you think can be done in your industry to encourage more women to pursue similar careers?

“Honestly, I think it is just about getting the word out there. Granted, this line of work isn’t for everyone, yet being vocal in educating our next generation of females on the career options that are out there for them, the numbers will, inevitably, rise.”

Who is Barney and how did he end up joining your crew?

“Barney is my Corgi dog! My captain actually approached me with the idea of bringing him along with us on deployments. He gets along with everyone and most definitely boosts spirits of the crew while we are out at sea for long stretches. So far, he has been on two of my deployments. He has a little more than a year’s worth of sea time!”

A dog with a year of sea time – not bad for a pooch! How does Barney handle being at sea? Does he get seasick?!

“Barney does not get sea sick and we have hit some pretty bad weather. He definitely has his sea legs! I try and take him ashore as much as I can, depending on the rules of the specific country that we are in at that time.”

What has been your greatest adventure with Barney at sea?

“Well, I cant speak for Barney, but I would have to say that our greatest adventure/experience would have to have been in Italy. We were anchored off the Italian Coast and the ship was having a BBQ and swim call*. I put him in his little doggie life jacket, just in case, and lowered him down to the water. This was the first time he had ever gone swimming, by the way! He is such a mama’s boy that he swam by my side for the majority if the time we were swimming.”

*Swim Call: “Swim call on a ship is when the ship stops in the open ocean and allows for a couple hours of swimming in the waters around the ship. It’s a time honored tradition on all classes of ships for hundreds of years. Prior to the availability of a continuous supply of fresh water, it was the only opportunity to bath as well.” – Charles Green, Retired USN Submarine Service.

For further case studies please visit: Women Offshore