What Does the Deck Department On a Commercial Vessel Do?

Apr 11, 2024 · 10 mins read ·

Jobs at Sea
A man standing on the deck of a ship

Have you ever wondered what life is like working on a cargo ship? To the uninitiated, it might surprise you to know that just like many land-based businesses, commercial vessels also have departments that are responsible for different duties and responsibilities on the ship.

In this post we’re going to take a look at the Deck Department, find out which seafarer ranks work in that department and take a look at what these people do to keep the vessel safe and on course.

What does the Deck Department do on a ship?

In the Merchant Navy / Merchant Marines, the Deck Department  is managed by Deck Officers who oversee navigation, communications, crew management, cargo handling, and the general operation of the ship. 

Deck Officers working on cruise ships or ferries are also responsible for the welfare of passengers aboard and will even participate in social activities on the ship to keep guests happy and entertained.

Who are the Deck Officers on a ship?

Bear in mind that the term ‘commercial vessel’ refers to any boat, ship or watercraft that works for its living, including everything from a container ship to a cruise ship and from an oil tanker to a ferry. 

The size of the crew and the specific ranks on a vessel will depend on the type of craft it is. For example, modern container ships will have a surprisingly small crew onboard, perhaps consisting of just twelve, thirteen, fourteen or fifteen seafarers. A cruise liner, however, will have hundreds of crew members including everyone from engineers and officers to retail staff and entertainers. 

Generally speaking, a commercial ship will have the following Deck Officers onboard:

  • Master (the term used in commercial shipping for the ship’s Captain)
  • Additional Master (if it’s is a large vessel/crew)
  • Chief Officer (also known as the Chief Mate)
  • Additional Chief Mate
  • Second Officer (also known as the 2nd Mate)
  • Third Officer (also known as the 3rd Mate)
  • Additional Third Officer (additional 3rd Mate)
  • Cadet (a Trainee Officer)

Who is the Deck Crew on a ship?

Alongside the officers in a deck Department on a ship, you will also find the crew. Generally the crew will include one of more of the following:

  • Pumpman (a seafarer rank specific to tankers)
  • Deck Fitter (specific to bulk carriers)
  • Bosun
  • Able Seaman (also referred to as Able Bodied Seaman or just AB)
  • Ordinary Seaman (also known as the OS)
  • Trainee Ordinary Seaman

What are a Deck Officer’s duties and responsibilities on a ship?

Seafarer jobs come in all different shapes and sizes and there is no one set definition for what a job at sea entails. Below is a summary of what each seafarer rank in the Deck Department does and what they are responsible for.

The Master

The Master, or Captain, of a commercial ship is an extremely highly qualified mariner who assumes overall charge of the vessel. 

The Master holds the highest authority on the ship, overseeing all operations and guiding the crew towards improved performance. This role includes managing the vessel’s daily operations, navigation, taking care of maritime legal matters, ensuring safety and security, managing the crew and adhering to regulations. 

Should the Master be absent or incapacitated for any reason, the Chief Officer assumes command and takes over the Master’s responsibilities.

Chief Officer

The Chief Officer serves as the head of the Deck Department, directly reporting to the ship's Master. 

This position entails significant responsibilities, including waste management, ensuring crew familiarity with maritime regulations (SOLAS, MARPOL, STCW), and serving as the Officer on Watch (OOW) during specific hours. 

The Chief Officer is also the ship's security officer and oversees the safety of passengers (if there are any onboard) and the crew, as well as the maintenance of the ship's structure, cargo handling, and emergency equipment.

Second Officer

The Second Officer is tasked with navigation and monitoring the ship's position, speed, direction, and weather conditions. 

This means that he or she will be trained in using radar, satellite, and computer systems. They also carry out watch duties at sea (1200-1600 hrs and 0000-0400 hours) and in port (1200-1800 hours and 0000-0600 hours).

Second Mates are also designated as the onboard medical officer, overseeing medical facilities and services.

Third Officer

The Third Officer is responsible for maintaining all firefighting and life-saving equipment on the ship. As a watchstander, the Third Officer often acts as the ship's safety officer and is the fourth in command, actively participating in safety drills.

Deck Cadet

The Deck Cadet is an entry level ship job and the starting position for aspiring Officers in the Deck Department. 

Deck Cadet duties and responsibilities include manual tasks such as cleaning and maintenance on deck, basic paperwork such as taking printouts, being on cargo watch and navigation.

A big part of working as a Deck Cadet is learning how to work on a ship, both on the bridge and out on deck.

What are the Deck Crew’s duties and responsibilities on a ship?


The Bosun, sometimes known as the Petty Officer, is the boss of the unlicensed deck crew. Unlicensed seafarers, or Ratings, being those who hold seafarer jobs in the Deck Department but who are not Officers.

The Bosun will oversee the maintenance of the ship's exterior and equipment, including anchors, cables and small boats onboard, and will report directly to the Chief Officer, keeping them informed about tasks and work in progress.

This role also involves coordinating daily work schedules, mooring, anchoring, and ensuring the deck crew performs their tasks efficiently.

Able Bodied Seaman

An Able Seaman performs various navigational and maintenance duties. This includes measuring water depth, maintaining visual lookouts and conducting watches, steering the ship, and overseeing the condition and operation of lifeboats and the ship's exterior.

Ordinary Seaman

The Ordinary Seaman executes general maintenance tasks such as cleaning and painting. They are involved in deck repairs, cargo handling, and the operation and maintenance of lifeboats, ensuring the ship's readiness and safety.


Found mainly on oil tankers, Pumpman jobs encompass a wide range of duties and responsibilities, not least the responsibility for the safe and correct operation of the vessel’s liquid cargo transfer system. That means that he or she needs to make sure that the cargo of oil is flowing into the necessary pipes and collected without any issues.

Deck Fitter

Usually found on bulk carrier vessels, a Deck Fitter is responsible for fitting, maintaining and repairing any damaged parts on a vessel’s decks. This is an ongoing process and Deck Fitter jobs are crucial in helping to keep a vessel safe and seaworthy while on a voyage.

Is working in the Deck Department on a ship the life for you?

Like all seafarer jobs, life in the Deck Department on a commercial vessel can be hard work. Manual labor, unsociable hours when on watch, and long months at sea can all take their toll, both physically and mentally.

It’s important to understand the realities of working on a cargo ship or other vessel in the merchant navy before embarking upon a career at sea and you need a specific personality and skill set to be able to forge a successful maritime career.

Having said that, working at sea can be a fantastic opportunity for those who don’t relish the idea of working 9 to 5 or sitting in the same office day after day. The ability to travel, be at one with nature, and forge some great friendships with others in the same line of work can’t be overlooked.

And if you’re looking for your next job in the Deck Department - or in any of the other departments on a ship -  take a look at Martide’s maritime jobs board now and see if we have a Chief Officer job, Deck Fitter job, Second Mate job or even a Master job for you!

And don’t forget to download our seafarer job app for iOS or Android from the Apple App Store or from Google Play either!

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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