Everything You Need to Know About Deckhand Jobs

Jan 25, 2024 · 11 mins read ·

Jobs at Sea
Four seafarers leaning on the rail of a deck

Are you thinking about a career in the shipping industry? If so, you’ll need to get your foot on the first rung of the ladder. After all, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to walk straight into a Chief Officer job without a little experience first! And that’s where Deckhand jobs come in.

In this blog post we’ll explain what a Deckhand is and what a Deckhand’s duties and responsibilities are so that you can decide if a life at sea is a life for you.

This is one of a number of articles exploring what a seafarer’s job is and what it involves. The actual answer to that is that there is no one answer. From Chief Steward jobs on cruise ships to Pumpman jobs on oil tankers and from Marine Electrician jobs on container ships to Marine Pilot jobs in ports and harbors, no two seafarer ranks are the same.

What is a Deckhand on a ship?

As a Deckhand you could be working on any type of ship, so you’ll want to decide which direction to take early on. Do you want to be going out to sea for six months on a cargo ship, or would you prefer to work shorter contracts on inland waterways?

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Ship Excavator Driver Jobs

If you want to become a Deckhand on a boat or ship of any size, there are a few different routes you can take. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and first find out more about what it’s like to be a Deckhand.

The Deckhand is an entry level ship job, meaning that you’re starting at the very beginning as one of the lowest paid members of the crew. However, starting at the bottom isn’t a bad thing - it just means you have plenty of opportunities to rise through the ranks.

Other entry level jobs on ships include Wiper jobs, Oiler jobs, Messman jobs and Motorman jobs. And of course, Cadets are also starting out in their maritime career at sea too, whether they’re a Electrical Cadet or an Engine Cadet hidden away in the ship’s engine room  

And like these guys, you’ll also be expected to muck in, roll up your sleeves, and not be afraid of some hard work.

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Chief Marine Engineer Jobs

What are a Deckhand’s duties and responsibilities?

As someone working in a Deckhand job at sea, you will be tasked with carrying out general cleaning and maintenance both to the vessel’s interior and exterior. You’ll also assist with loading and unloading supplies and equipment and will be required to perform any other duties on deck that your superiors ask you to.

Anything from washing the deck and painting to lubricating machinery and equipment to splicing and repairing ropes and cables also falls to the Deckhand.

Deckhands are also usually also responsible for handling and fastening the mooring lines when the ship moors or departs from a port, including making sure that the vessel is firmly secured to the dock. No small responsibility!

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Let’s break it down. Working in a Deckhand position on a ship, you may be doing most or all of the following:

  • Cleaning and maintaining the vessel’s deck and interior areas
  • Cleaning, maintaining and operating machinery and equipment.
  • Assisting in docking and undocking operations.
  • Standing watch, both when the vessel is underway and in port.
  • Securing cargo and rig towing gear.
  • Helping to ensure the safety of your fellow crew members, as well as passengers if you have them onboard.
  • Assisting Deck Officers and senior Deckhands when requested..

Who is in the Deck Department on a ship?

As a Deckhand - and therefore one of the most junior members of the crew - it is important that you understand how the hierarchy on a ship works. Vessels are crewed by different ranks and it is vital that everyone knows their job, their rank, and their position onboard.

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Ship Steward Jobs

This is crucial for the safe operation of the ship; for her safe passage, the safety of the cargo and the safety of the crew. Orders are given for a reason and rules and the chain of command must be adhered to unless otherwise instructed.

Typically, the hierarchy of the Deck Department is as follows:

  • The ship’s Master (also known as the Captain)
  • Chief Officer (also known as the Chief Mate)
  • Second Officer (also known as the Second Mate)
  • Third Officer (also known as the Third Mate)
  • Fourth Officer (also known as the Fourth Mate)
  • Bosun (the most senior certified Deckhand)
  • Able Seaman (the next level of certified Deckhand)
  • Ordinary Seaman (the lowest level of certified Deckhand)
  • Deckhand
  • Deck Cadet

This hierarchy on a ship is not always set in stone as it will depend on the size and type of the vessel as well as upon the duties or services she performs.

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Ship's Plumber Jobs

So while you will always have a Master or Captain onboard (if they are incapacitated for any reason, the Chief Officer steps into their role), a fishing vessel is highly unlikely to have a Fourth Officer, for example. 

The difference between an Officer and Mate really just depends upon how the shipping company in question names or refers to their ranks. 

What skills does a good Deckhand need?

To succeed when working in a Deckhand job and to be able to therefore climb your way up the seafarer ranks and progress in your maritime career at sea, you need a number of distinct attributes.

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In fact, many of these skills and attributes are the same for anyone working in a seafarer job.

You need to be observant and be aware of your surroundings. This is true of all maritime jobs, but as a part of the team who docks the ship, it is crucial because you work with lines and other equipment. 

You may also be tasked with maintaining safety and lifesaving equipment as part of your Deckhand duties, so again, care and attention is vital.

You will also need to be able to take orders, act promptly and do as requested by your superiors. Put simply, if you’re a rebel who doesn’t like authority, a career at sea is probably not for you!

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Shipfitter Jobs

You should be able to work well with others and be dedicated to working as a team. As mentioned, being afraid of hard work is a no-no as a Deckhand’s job is a physically demanding one, and you will mostly be working outside in all weather conditions: Both hot and sunny and cold and wet. 

And if you’re working on an ocean-going vessel you will need to be able to withstand lengthy periods at sea when you don’t see your family and friends back home on land. 

Finally, you will need to have a basic understanding of ship operations, as well as knowledge of the equipment and machinery found onboard, and of deck maintenance. 

Testing the waters of your career at sea in a Deckhand job

One of the great things about working as an entry level Deckhand on a ship is that it’s the ideal way to find out whether or not you are suited to a career in the maritime industry.

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Ship's Carpenter Jobs

If you decide working in a seafarer job isn’t for you, you haven’t wasted years of training while you gain qualifications to climb through the seafarer ranks. You'll still have plenty of time to look for jobs - even maritime jobs ashore - that you may be a better fit for.

If, however, you love working on a container ship or other vessel and have decided to embark on a serious career at sea, you can use the valuable knowledge you've gained to undertake maritime training and acquire the qualifications that will help you advance your career in shipping (and help you to earn a bigger salary while you’re at it!)

Meanwhile if you’re looking for your next job at sea, take a look at Martide’s online seafarer jobs board. From jobs on cargo ships to ship’s Cook jobs and from container ship jobs to Junior Engineer jobs on ships, our Crew Manager clients and Manning Agents are always looking for crew of all nationalities and experience.

Create your account for free and start applying for our seafarer job vacancies now!  

Read the previous article in this series: Everything You Need to Know About Navigation Officer Jobs

Eve Church

Eve Church

Eve is Martide's content writer and publishes regular posts on everything from our maritime recruitment and crew planning software to life at sea.

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