Crew structure on board merchant vessels – deck departmentStructura echipajului pe vasele comerciale

Life on board of a vessel is very different from any other shore based jobs or organization. Each crew member has a precise rank and carries certain responsibilities in order to maintain the vessel operations successful.

Mainly, the vessel’s crew has two types of seafarers: officers and ratings. Both these types of crew members have the capacity to work either on deck or in the engine room.


The Deck crew is in charge with the vessel navigation, watch keeping, maintaining the ship’s hull, cargo, gear and accommodation, taking care of the ship’s life saving and firefighting appliances. The deck department is also the one in charge with receiving, discharging and caring for cargo. According to the vessel’s hierarchy, the deck officers are as follows: Master, Chief Officer, Second Officer, Third Officer and Deck Cadet (deck officer to be).

The supreme authority on board a merchant vessel is the Master. The entire crew is under his command. He is responsible for the safety, use and maintenance of the vessel and makes sure that every crew member carries out his work accordingly. He is also in charge of the following: payroll, ship’s accounting, inventories, custom and immigration regulations, and the ship’s documentation. In order to become Master, a seafarer must first have several years of experience as a deck officer and as Chief Officer.

According to the vessel’s hierarchy, the first deck officer and the head of the deck department after the Master is the Chief Officer or Chief Mate. He is in charge with the vessel navigation, watch duties, charging and discharging operations. The Chief Officer also directs all the other officers on deck, creates and posts watch assignments and implements the Master’s orders in order to maintain safe operations and maintenance of the vessel.

Second Officer or Second Mate is the next in rank after the Chief Mate and is the ship’s navigator, focusing on creating the ship’s passage plans and keeping charts and publications up to date. Apart from watch keeping, the Second Officer may also be designated to train the cadets on board or to fulfill the rank of security, safety, environmental or medical officer.

The Third Officer or Third Mate is the fourth deck officer in command and is usually the Ship’s Safety Officer, responsible with ensuring the good functioning of the fire-fighting equipment and life saving appliances. He undertakes bridge watches and learns how to become a Second Officer.

A Cadet on board a merchant vessel receives structured training and experience on board and learns how to become a deck officer.
Apart from the officers, the deck department crew also consists of ratings, such as AB (Able Body Seaman), OS (Ordinary Seaman) and Boatswain.

The AB is part of the deck crew and has duties such as: taking watches, steering the vessel, assisting the Officer on watch, mooring and unmooring the vessel, deck maintenance and cleaning. The AB also secures and unsecures the cargo and carries our deck and accommodation patrols.

OS is the crew member whose main duty is to maintain the cleanliness of the whole ship and serves as assistant for the AB. Being an OS is considered to be an apprenticeship, a period called “sea time” in order to be allowed to take courses and training for AB.
Both AB and OS are usually supervised by a Boatswain, who is also a rating, in charge with examining the cargo-handling gear and lifesaving equipment as well. The Boatswain usually holds an AB certificate as well.

The structure for the deck department on board merchant vessels is mainly the same on all vessel types.

Nedcon Maritime recruits deck officers and rating for various vessel types such as general cargo, bulk, container vessels, tankers, offshore vessels etc. Our database consists of highly trained crew members who, apart from the usual requirements, have a series of other qualifications such as: AB Crane Operator, AB Cook, DP Officers etc.

Leave a Comment

We would be glad to get your feedback. Take a moment to comment and tell us what you think.