Everything You Need to Know About Messman Jobs

Apr 01, 2021 · 16 mins read ·

Jobs at Sea
man in boiler suit hoovering

We’ve been taking an in-depth look at different examples of maritime jobs in this series of blog posts.

So far we’ve covered everything from entry level cargo ship jobs such as Deck Cadet, DeckhandElectrical Cadet, Engine Cadet and Wiper to other seafarer ranks like Marine Electrician and Ordinary Seaman through to finding out a Bosun’s duties and responsibilities right up to taking a look at the top maritime jobs such as Chief Officer jobs and ship’s Master jobs.

We've also looked at some seafarer jobs which are more commonly found on passenger and cruise ships such as carpenter, waste operator, plumber, Steward and Stewardess and Chief Steward.

‘What is a seafarer’s job?’ is the question we’ve been aiming to answer and if you’ve read any of our other seafarer job posts, you’ll know that this is a very tricky question that doesn’t have a definitive answer.

Read more: What is a Seafarer’s Job?

Seafarer jobs are hugely different in duties and responsibilities, in the training that is needed for different seafarer ranks, and in the skills and aptitudes required.

All we can really do is take a look at each seafarers job and explore a little more about them to gain a better understanding of what the position entails, the seaman requirements, and how you can work your way towards becoming a member of a crew onboard a vessel.


In this post we’re looking at one of the entry level ship jobs. Like everyone onboard, this seafarer job has a crucial part to play in the crew, but due to the nature of the work, they are often overlooked.

What seafarer job are we looking at? It’s time to find out more about that unsung hero: The Messman.

Everything you need to know about Messman jobs

First of all, depending on the vessel and the nationality, a Messman might go by a couple of different names. Some will refer to the position as Messboy, Steward, Steward’s Assistant, General Steward, Galley Utilityman or even Waiter.

Don’t be fooled by the term ‘waiter’ though as there is a lot more to a Messman’s duties and responsibilities than simply serving food a couple of times a day!

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

No prizes, though, for guessing that the Messman works in the Steward’s Department on a vessel. They are also unlicensed and the rank is considered to be an entry level cargo ship job.

What are a messman’s duties and responsibilities?

Basically the Messman is ‘the go-to guy (or girl)’ on the vessel when it comes to anything related to food serving and general hygiene and cleanliness.

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

Their list of tasks is long and can involve all or any of the following: helping the ship’s Cook to prep meals, especially easy dishes such as salads and deserts as well as serving meals and waiting on tables.

The Messman will also set tables, prepare coffee and other drinks and handle tasks such as ensuring water coolers have a fresh supply of water.

After mealtime is done, he or she will clear the tables, clean the mess area, and wash the dishes, pots and pans, cutlery and other cooking utensils.

As well as spending time in the galley, pantry and mess, however, the Messman’s job is also a seafarer job that involves making the Officers’ beds and cleaning and maintaining their quarters, mess and cabins.

This will include sweeping, polishing, changing bed linen, general household duties, and emptying the trash cans.

The Messman is also responsible for stocking and taking inventory of supplies related to the Steward’s Department - for example, food and beverages, utensils and kitchenware, linens, bathroom soap, cleaning products, and laundry detergent etc.


He or she may also be responsible for issuing linen to the crew - which means they can keep a tally of their supplies of sheets and pillow cases.

While a lot of the Messman’s time is spent prepping, serving and cleaning - the mess, galley, and pantry on a vessel are difficult to keep hygienic, tidy and organized - they might also be assigned other tasks.

Other jobs that usually fall under the responsibility of a Messman include cleaning and defrosting the galley’s refrigerators and freezers and keeping the laundry room and linen lockers clean and organized.

Depending on the vessel, they may also be tasked with keeping woodwork, paintwork and brightwork (metals and varnished wood) clean and free from smudges, grease marks and fingerprints.

The Messman might also be sent to clean other parts of the vessel such as the radio room, the office, passageways, storerooms, lockers and stairways.

A typical day in the life of a Messman

So by now you might be realizing why ‘what is a seafarer’s job’ is such a tough question to answer!

Our hardworking Messman is simultaneously an assistant cook, a waiter, a cleaner, a maintenance person, a porter, and a stock controller.

Depending on where their superior seafarer ranks want to assign them, the Messman could find themselves anywhere from the pantry to the Chief Officer’s cabin, to the laundry room, to the mess, to the Officer’s saloon to any given stairway!

So what would a typical day look like for the Messman?

Bearing in mind that vessels, companies, Masters, and even different Steward’s Departments operate differently, it could look something like this:

  • The Messman gets up around 6 or 6.30am and helps the Cook prepare breakfast. Tables are laid and breakfast is served.
  • After breakfast there is the mess to be cleaned and dishes to be washed.
  • Then the Officer’s cabins need to be cleaned and tidied - including stripping the beds if need be and cleaning the shower and bathroom.
  • It’s laundry room time - any bed sheets and clothing will need to be washed, dried and ironed.
  • The Messman might want to take some time to check his supplies: cleaning goods, toiletries etc.
  • It’s almost time for crew coffee break: That means checking water coolers have enough water and changing any empty bottles, setting the coffee to brew and preparing some simple snacks.
  • Coffee break is over which means it’s time to clear away the cups and plates - and start prepping for lunch. Tables need to be laid and the Cook might want some help with preparing a salad or other simple dish in the galley.
  • Lunch is often busy as most crew will eat at the same time. When it’s over the clearing up and washing up starts again!
  • Finally, our Messman should get a couple of hours after lunch to grab him or herself something to eat and take a break.
  • After that, you’ve guessed it - it’s time to prep for dinner!

So what do you think? Have you got what it takes to be a Messman?

What skills or personality traits does a Messman need?

Like all of the examples of maritime jobs we’ve covered in this series, regardless of whether a crew member is working in one of the seafarer ranks with one of the highest maritime job salaries, or in one of the entry level cargo ships jobs, the right personality for a life at sea is crucial.


So whether you're an officer or an excavator driver on a ship, seafarer jobs of all types involve spending months away from friends and family and one of the many seaman requirements is that crew members must be able to deal with this separation without it affecting their mental health and wellbeing.

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

Having the type of personality that can work as a team and get along with people of different cultures, nationalities and backgrounds is also a must.

Basically, being open-minded, adaptable, hardworking, punctual, responsible and physically and mentally fit will stand you in good stead for working in a seafarer job.

Oh, and having a good sense of humor won’t hurt either!

What makes a good Messman?

As well as the above personality traits and personal attributes, a good Messman will know how to wait on tables correctly.

And it is important to remember that no matter whether they are serving the Master and Officers in their mess, or waiting on crew in the general mess, the same level of polite service should be maintained.

This is something that will be helpful to a Messman when they start to move on up out of their entry level seafarer job and start to progress through the seafarer ranks.

For example, although a polite and professional approach should be taken when serving all crew, the respect and discipline shown when serving in the Officer’s mess, should be of the highest order at all times.

And it is adhering to these high standards and levels of discipline that will serve a Messman well as they  and climb the career ladder.

For example, one day they may well be the seafarer giving orders as a Chief Steward (more on that in a moment) and knowing how high they set the bar when they first started out in their career will give them a solid understanding of the value of discipline and why it is important if standards are to be maintained.

A Messman should also pay attention to detail, both in their work and in their own personal hygiene and cleanliness.

In addition, if they have any culinary skills that go beyond preparing salads and simple desserts - such as baking skills for example - they will be highly prized and especially valued by the cook as they will be able to help them out and lighten their workload.

Career progression for Messmen

One thing for Messmen to keep in mind is that this is an entry level cargo ship job and as such it is not generally meant to be a seafarer job for life.

Anyone who wants to begin their career working in seafarer jobs but who might be put off by the tasks assigned to a Messman should bear in mind that a Messman is a Chief Steward in training.

Of course, like all of the departments on a vessel, a level of hierarchy exists and you probably wouldn't jump from working as a Messman for a couple of months to Chief Steward, just as you wouldn’t jump from carrying out Able Bodied Seaman duties and responsibilities to working as a Chief Officer.

A Messman would typically work their way up through the Steward’s Department - and depending on the vessel and industry, would aim for promotion to Third Steward, then Second Steward, before finally becoming the head of the department.


A Chief Steward’s seafarer job and their responsibilities are far removed from the work of a Messman, and the position is a highly skilled and prestigious one on a vessel.

Other examples of maritime jobs

If you’re thinking about a career at sea and are wondering what the best maritime jobs for you are, there are plenty of other options, even if Messman doesn’t appeal.

For example, you might want to consider learning about Shipfitter jobs or finding out what an Oiler does on a ship.

Perhaps you’ve always been interested in electrical engineering, in which case a closer look at entry level cargo ship jobs such as Junior Electrician might be interesting. Or maybe you’d like to work your way up from Junior Engineer to Chief Marine Engineer and need to know more about what that involves.

Martide helps you find seafarer jobs

At Martide we have different examples of maritime jobs that we are hiring for.

From Oilers and Ordinary Seamen to Bosuns and Chief Engineers, if your career in the merchant navy is already off to a flying start and you’re looking for your next contract, take a look at our current seafarer job vacancies.

So, what is a seafarer’s job? Well, we hope we’ve given you some insight into a Messman’s duties and responsibilities and even if we can’t answer the question absolutely, we can tell you the easiest way to find your next job at sea!

Download the Martide app for seafarers today and you’ll have instant access to all of our seafarers jobs wherever you are in the world.

The app is absolutely free and you can find it on Google Play for Android devices and at the App Store for Apple iPhones and iPads.

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

Read the next article in this series: Everything You Need to Know About Motorman 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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