What Does the Stewards Department Do On a Commercial Vessel?

Apr 30, 2024 · 9 mins read ·

Jobs at Sea
A chef preparing food

The maritime industry offers a huge range of seafarer jobs, each playing a crucial role in ensuring the smooth operation of a ship. And, just like the majority of workplaces, the crew that makes up the workforce is divided into departments. 

On commercial vessels, whether they’re oil tankers, cargo ships or cruise liners, hierarchy is strictly adhered to onboard, and that filters down to the individual departments too.

The two departments on ships that probably spring to mind are the Engine Department and the Deck Department. However, there is one team of unsung heroes who are fundamental to the running of the vessel: the Stewards Department.

These crew members might not keep the engine up and running, but they certainly keep the crew fueled - with food and drink! 

What does the Stewards Department do on a ship?

The Stewards Department focuses on the wellbeing and comfort of both crew and passengers (if there are any). The department is especially vital on cruise ships, where the quality of life and sustenance onboard directly impacts the overall voyage experience. 

Here, we delve into the roles and responsibilities of the Stewards Department, shedding light on the lesser-known but equally essential seafarer jobs at sea.

Who works in the Stewards Department on a ship?

Bear in mind that this will vary from ship to ship. Obviously a cruise liner, or even a ferry, is going to have a much larger Stewards Department than a container ship with its crew of less than twenty. 

Overall, roles within the Stewards Department are:

  • Chief Steward 
  • Chief Cook 
  • Cook/Second Cook 
  • Baker 
  • Steward/Stewardess 
  • Utility Worker/Dishwasher/Messman/Messboy

What are the Stewards Department’s duties on a ship?

This is an overview of what each crew member in the Stewards Department on a ship is tasked with under normal circumstances.

Chief Steward

Found on cruise and other leisure ships, the Chief Steward leads the department, overseeing all catering, housekeeping, and hospitality services on the vessel. This role involves menu planning, inventory management, budgeting, and ensuring compliance with health and hygiene standards. 

The Chief Steward also coordinates with other departments to ensure the crew and passengers' needs are met efficiently.

Chief Cook

You will find Chief Cooks on both vessels such as tankers and cargo ships as well as on cruise ships. The Chief Cook is responsible for preparing meals for the crew and passengers, adhering to nutritional standards and dietary preferences. 

This role demands creativity and versatility in menu planning, food safety knowledge, and inventory management of kitchen supplies. The Chief Cook also supervises the galley (kitchen) staff, ensuring all meals are prepared on time and to a high standard.

Cook / Second Cook and Baker

You may also find a ship’s Cook on some larger ocean-going cargo vessels but this is a seafarer job that is more often found on a passenger ship. The Cook or Second Cook supports the Chief Cook and assists in meal preparation. They may specialize in certain types of dishes or cuisines. 

The Baker, often a separate role, focuses on making bread, pastries, and other baked goods. Both positions require a good understanding of food handling procedures and the ability to work under pressure.

Steward / Stewardess

Often seen as one of the more glamorous jobs at sea, Stewards and Stewardesses are the frontline staff in the Stewards Department, directly interacting with passengers and crew. 

A team of them will be found onboard cruise ships and other passenger vessels. Their duties include serving meals, cleaning cabins and public areas, and attending to passengers' needs. Excellent customer service skills and attention to detail are crucial for this role.

Utility Worker / Dishwasher / Messman / Messboy

What this seafarer job is called really depends on the company that owns or operates the ship as well as the type of ship. On passenger ships, Utility Workers or Dishwashers, as they are often referred to, and as the name suggests, handle the cleaning of the galley and dining areas.

On a cargo ship or similar vessel, the role is usually referred to as Messman, with a Messboy being an entry level cargo ship job and a role that can be used as a footing to build a maritime career at sea.

Whatever they’re referred to and whatever vessel they are working on, duties and responsibilities include washing dishes, cutlery, and galley equipment. This role is essential for maintaining hygiene standards onboard and requires diligence and a strong work ethic.

The importance of the Stewards Department on a ship

Working on a ship entails more than just navigating the oceans, standing watch, hauling the anchor and on- and offloading cargo. Some seafarer jobs also encompass creating a livable, comfortable environment for those onboard. 

The Stewards Department plays a pivotal role in achieving this, ensuring high standards of cleanliness, catering to dietary needs, and providing hospitality services that make life at sea as enjoyable and comfortable as possible. 

For those considering working in a job at sea, the Stewards Department offers various opportunities, from culinary arts to hospitality management. Best of all, having a solid background working in restaurants, bars or hotels can be a great stepping stone to working in a seafarer job in the Stewards Department.

Seafarer jobs can be a gateway to adventure

Jobs at sea, particularly within the Stewards Department, provide a unique blend of challenges and rewards. These roles offer the chance to travel the world, meet people from diverse cultures, and develop a wide range of skills. 

From the Chief Steward to the Utility Worker, each member of the Stewards Department contributes to the overall voyage experience, ensuring safety, comfort, and satisfaction for all onboard.

Whether your plan is to start as a Messman and work your way up the ranks on a container ship or you feel that working on a cruise ship or superyacht is more your thing, there’s plenty to think about.

One word of warning though - particularly if you see yourself living a life of leisure onboard a floating hotel or yacht: ALL seafarer jobs require commitment and hard work, no matter what type of vessel you are working on.

Yes, cruising around the Caribbean while serving cocktails may sound like it’s a lot more glamorous than sweeping the crew mess on a chemical tanker that’s crossing the North Sea, but trust us, there’s no room for slacking off anywhere on board!

Find out more about working in a job at sea in the Stewards Department

If that hasn’t deterred you and you’re interested in finding out more about seafarer jobs, including those in the Stewards Department, and you relish the opportunity to showcase your culinary talents, hospitality skills or excellent service, take a look at the following blog posts for more insight into these jobs at sea:

Everything You Need to Know About Cruise Ships

Everything You Need to Know About Messman Jobs

Life on a Merchant Ship: The Perfect Menu for a Happy Crew (a guest blog post written by an actual Chief Cook on commercial vessels - not to be missed!)

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for your next job on a ship, whether you’re a Messman, Chief Cook or a Steward, check out our online seafarer jobs board and see if we have something that interests 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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