Everything You Need to Know About Chief Officer Jobs

Oct 29, 2020 · 21 mins read ·

Jobs at Sea
AI generated image of a Chief Officer on a container ship

If you’ve been wondering what a seafarer’s job is and are interested in finding out what are some examples of maritime jobs, our series of blog posts exploring different seafarer ranks and jobs at sea should help.

In this article we’re going to be taking a look at Chief Officer jobs and seeing what they entail.

So, if you’re interested in a career working in seafarer jobs, keep reading and we’ll tell you everything you need to know about this high ranking seafarer rank and what you’ll be doing if you work your way up to being a Chief Officer.

Everything you need to know about Chief Officer jobs

The Chief Officer (sometimes also referred to as the First Officer, Chief Mate or First Mate) is the highest ranking officer in the Deck Department and is its head.


The CO has ultimate responsibility for the way the vessel is run - ideally with high efficiency! They are assisted by the Second and Third Officers.

cadets saluting at the start of their maritime career

The Chief Officer is second in command to the ship’s Master in terms of seafarer ranks and he or she reports directly to them. The CO will take control if the Master should be absent or incapacitated, for example if they are taken ill.

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Marine Pilot Jobs

In the merchant navy you can find Chief Officer jobs on many different types of vessels including container ships, car carriers, LNG vessels, oil tankers, cargo ships, heavy load carriers, bulk carriers and more.

What are a Chief Officer's duties?

For anyone wondering what is a seafarer’s job, if you’re talking about a Chief Officer, you are talking about quite a lot of duties!

A CO certainly isn’t short of things to do, and as one of the top paying seafarer jobs they have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders.

Let’s look at some of the Chief Officer’s duties and tasks.

Cargo operations when in port - i.e. loading and unloading, as well as cargo planning - are the responsibility of the CO. Cargo planning is the way that goods that are being transported by the vessel are distributed onboard, both in the cargo compartments and on the upper decks.

A plan will be created and followed and this will detail the types of cargo, its volume and the amount of room that is allocated to it, as well the containers’ destination.

In addition to this, the Chief Officer will also be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the cargo handling equipment.

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Navigation Officer Jobs

A vessel’s stability also falls to the CO as well as running the ballast and deballasting operations. Also under their remit is ensuring that accommodation is kept in a decent condition, that trash is adequately managed, both in the accommodation and on deck.

They see that the vessel’s hull is well maintained, and that all of the fire fighting and life saving equipment is in good working order and ready to use, should it be needed.

a cargo ship moving through water

A big part of Chief Officer jobs at sea is performing navigational watches, meaning that they will often be working when almost everyone else onboard the ship is asleep.


They also serve as the Ship Security Officer (SSO) and have responsibility for the vessel’s security, whether the ship is at sea or in port.

High ranking seafarer jobs, such as Chief Officer jobs, come with a lot of different responsibilities and tasks and as well as all of the above duties, a CO also has a good deal of administrative work to take care of.

As the head of the Deck Department, they coordinate with other departments - such as the Engine Department to help ensure that everything is running smoothly and that any issues between them are resolved.

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Electro-Technical Officer Jobs

The CO also plans and schedules workloads and then distributes jobs to their deck crew. They are also responsible for the safety and welfare of the crew members of their department.

Part of managing the deck crew is ensuring that they are trained in, and are adhering to, the latest rules and regulations.

This includes those stipulated under ISPS (The International Ship and Port Facility Code), STCW (International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers),  MARPOL (The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships), and SOLAS (International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea).

And we’re still not through with the list of duties performed by the Chief Officer as they are also tasked with looking after paperwork on behalf of the shore-based management while they are onboard.

This includes everything from cost control records to requisitions to purchase orders to keeping track of any overtime worked by their crew.

What do you need to become a Chief Officer?

So there you have it: the life of a Chief Officer working in cargo ship jobs at sea.

Do you think you’ve got what it takes to work your way up through the seafarer ranks to become a CO?


It may sound like you need a lot of knowledge, and while that’s true, it is knowledge that can be gained through ample sea time, work experience and training.

a man sitting at a laptop writing in a notebook

It is unlikely that you will walk straight into a Chief Officer’s job right off the bat and you will need to train to become a Deck Officer first.

This will include studying such subjects as navigation, familiarization with types of vessels, first aid, firefighting, rules and regulations, and personal survival and safety.

These will be studied on land while you may also undertake training at sea by becoming a Deck Cadet and shadowing an experienced officer onboard.

After your studies and after gaining some experience at sea and clocking up some sea time, you will then be able to apply for seafarer jobs for lower ranking officers.

It depends on the size of the vessel as to how low down in the seafarer ranks you start: you could start as a Fifth Officer on a large vessel, a Fourth Officer on a slightly smaller one, or a Third Officer on yet a smaller container or cargo ship.

From there on you can undertake more training and gain more sea time and experience to start working your way up the career ladder in jobs at sea to become a Second Officer then a First, or Chief Officer.

You may even want to aim for the very top of the seafarer ranks and ultimately become a Master one day.

A ship's Master working in a job at sea

Personality traits and other skills needed for jobs at sea

As well as the training and experience you need to work in seafarer jobs, there are other skills that you need to have a successful career in jobs at sea.

Physical strength is one - cargo ship jobs can be very demanding work. But alongside this, you also need to have mental strength.

Consider this: you will be spending weeks or months away from your friends and family. You need to be able to cope with that distance and the potential occasional feelings of being homesick.

You definitely need to have the right personality traits to be able to work in maritime jobs!

You will also need to be a good communicator to work in a Chief Officer’s job because you will be managing and training your deck crew, as well as being responsible for interacting with other departments and the Master. This means that having a good command of the English language will also be very beneficial.

What are some examples of maritime jobs?

Maybe you don’t think that becoming a Chief Officer is something you want to follow and if you are interested in finding out more about what is a seafarer’s job, keep on reading our series to learn more about some examples of maritime jobs.

You might like to learn what being an excavator driver or a Chief Cook on a vessel is all about. Or know what Shipfitter jobs, Motorman jobs, Marine Electrician jobs or Pumpman jobs involve - or maybe seafarer jobs such as Bosun or Chief Marine Engineer would be of interest to you.


Or how about learning more about entry level cargo ship jobs such as Junior Engineer, Electrical Cadet, Engine Cadet, Wiper, Messman,  Oiler, Junior Electrician, Deckhand or Ordinary Seaman and then working your way up to being an Able Bodied Seaman?

Maybe you like the idea of working on a passenger or cruise ship and you're good with your hands. In that case, jobs such as ship's plumber, ship's carpenter, or waste disposal operator might be of interest. Meanwhile if your customer service and hospitality skills are second to none, you could find work as a Steward or Stewardess and work your way up to Chief Steward or Chief Stewardess.

How Martide can help you find cargo ship jobs

If you’re already a qualified seaman or woman and you’re looking for jobs at sea, take a look at Martide’s maritime job vacancies and see if we have something you want to apply for.

We have entry level cargo ship jobs as well as vacancies for officers and other higher level seafarer ranks.

Advert for Martide's maritime jobs website showing phones with seafarer jobs on the screens

And to find seafarer jobs while you’re on the go, download the free Martide app for seafarers. It’s available from Google Play for Android and the App Store for iOS.

Meanwhile to carry on reading our series about “what is a seafarer’s job?” take a look at the following articles:

Read the previous article in this series: Everything You Need to Know About Ship’s Master Jobs

Read the next article in this series: Everything You Need to Know About Deck Cadet Jobs

Eve Church

Eve Church

Eve is Martide's content writer, publishing regular posts on everything from our maritime recruitment and crew planning software to life at sea. Eve has been writing professionally for more than two decades, crafting everything from SEO-focused blog posts and website landing pages to magazine articles and corporate whitepapers.


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