A newly qualified 'Officer of the Watch' will typically work for four hours on watch, followed by eight hours rest. This could mean the junior Deck Officer starting work at 08:00 hrs, working through to midday and then coming back on watch at 20:00 hrs and working through until midnight.
Whilst on watch, the Deck Officer is responsible for the safety of the ship's crew, its cargo and the vessel itself. Important decisions are made regarding the manoeuvring of the ship, with the objective of meeting tight schedules safely and efficiently. Navigating the vessel involves the use of technologically advanced equipment including sophisticated satellite navigation systems. There are also advanced radar systems able to automatically track approaching vessels and give warning if a risk of collision is detected. The Officer of the Watch will also monitor weather data receiving equipment from which optimum routes can be calculated.
On arrival in port the ship's crew are involved in the complex and exacting task of mooring the vessel. A Deck Officer will be in charge at both the bow and stern, whilst in constant radio communication with the Ship's Master on the bridge. In today's Merchant Navy, many of the largest ships in the world only have very small crews, and a mooring team could involve as few as two or three people.
Whilst tied up in port ships are not generating revenue, so the priority is to unload and load the cargo as quickly and economically as possible. Overseeing this process is the responsibility of the Deck Officer, who will either maintain a sea-going watch pattern or switch to day work, the latter occasionally providing the opportunity for crew members to take an excursion ashore.
The ship's Master is the highest ranking Officer on board and has overall command and responsibility for the vessel, its crew, any passengers and cargo. The Master (Captain) maintains the ship's records and receives and implements instructions from the operating company of the vessel. The Master will also take command of the vessel in inclement weather or any other emergency, and in crowded or narrow waters where the risk of collision is the greatest.
The Chief Mate has direct responsibility for all deck operations including cargo storage and handling, deck maintenance, and deck supplies.
The Second Mate is the ship's Navigation Officer and has the responsibility for maintaining charts and monitoring the navigation equipment on the bridge.
The Third Mate has immediate responsibility for the regular maintenance of emergency survival equipment including lifeboats and life rings.
The Deck Department is supported by ratings whose duties will include supporting the Officer of the Watch, keeping a lookout and steering the vessel when necessary, as well as undertaking maintenance duties whilst not required on watch.
Updated: August 2017.