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.