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Things You Should Know About Ship's Crew

If you’re looking to join a merchant navy ship’s crew, but not sure what to expect when it comes to the people you’ll be working alongside day in and day out. Well, get ready to become fast friends with folks from all walks of life and specialties. 

From the engineering room to the bridge, you’ll be rubbing elbows with enlisted sailors and officers assigned to departments like engineering, navigation, operations, communications, and deck. It takes all kinds to run a tight ship. And while you may not see eye to eye on everything, you’ll need to work as a team when it matters most. This is your new family, so start getting to know who’s who. The bonds you form will be as strong as the hull keeping you afloat.

The Key Roles and Responsibilities of a Ship's Crew in the Merchant Navy

The Captain

As the master of the vessel, the captain is responsible for the safe and efficient operation of the ship. They oversee the crew and ensure that the proper maritime rules and regulations are followed. The captain also navigates the ship and monitors critical equipment and cargo.

The Chief Officer

The chief officer, or first mate, assists the captain in operating the ship. They help navigate, stand watch, and supervise crew members. The chief officer takes command when the captain is off duty or incapacitated. They also handle administrative duties like maintaining logs, handling cargo paperwork, and ensuring the ship meets safety and legal standards.


The engineering crew operates and maintains the ship’s engines, generators, pumps, and other mechanical and electrical equipment. The chief engineer leads this department and ensures that all systems are running properly so the ship can function. Engineers perform routine maintenance, troubleshoot issues, and repair damage to keep the ship in working order during its voyage.

Additional Crew

Deck crew members handle lines, operate equipment, and keep the ship in good condition. Stewards prepare meals, clean cabins, and assist passengers. Communications officers operate radio equipment and navigation technology. Together, the crew works as a team to operate the ship and complete its mission. With many roles and responsibilities, coordination and cooperation are essential.

Departments on a Merchant Ship: Engineering, Navigation, Operations, Communications, and Deck Crews Engineering Department

The engineering department operates and maintains the propulsion plant and all mechanical and electrical equipment on board. As a marine engineer, you’ll spend most of your time monitoring engine equipment and systems to ensure optimal performance. It can be tough work, often requiring long hours in hot and noisy environments, but for those with technical skills, it offers an exciting career path.

Navigation Department

The navigation department is responsible for safely navigating the ship to its destination. Navigating officers, like the captain and mates, use charts and advanced equipment to determine the ship’s position, course, and speed. They monitor weather conditions and vessel traffic to avoid collisions and get passengers and cargo to port on schedule. If you have a knack for organization, decision-making, and remaining calm under pressure, a role in the navigation department could be a great fit.

Operations Department

The operations department oversees cargo loading, discharging, and transferring activities. Cargo officers and crew carefully plan and monitor the loading and unloading of cargo to ensure it’s properly distributed and secured for safe transit. They use special equipment like cranes, conveyors, and cargo freighters to move goods on and off the vessel. For those interested in logistics and physical work, the operations department offers many entry-level roles to get started in the merchant marine industry.

Communications Department

The communications department facilitates ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communications. Radio officers operate communication equipment like VHF radios, satellite systems, and wireless internet to connect the ship’s crew with port operators, vessel traffic systems, weather services, and in emergency situations, search and rescue responders. Strong communication and technical skills are essential for roles in this department.

Deck Department

The deck department is responsible for equipment and areas on the ship’s deck like anchors, rigging, and lifeboats. As deck crew, you’ll perform manual labor like chipping and painting, handle mooring lines during docking, load cargo and supplies, and maintain deck equipment. Entry-level roles like able seaman or ordinary seaman are a great way to start a career at sea for those who don’t mind physical work and hands-on jobs.

FAQs: What You Need to Know About a Ship's Crew in Merchant Navy

Have you ever wondered who operates and maintains those massive cargo ships and oil tankers that crisscross the oceans? A merchant navy crew consists of enlisted sailors and officers assigned to various departments such as engineering, navigation, operations, communications, and deck.

What do the deck officers do?

As a deck officer, you’ll be in charge of everything happening on the deck and bridge. This includes navigation, cargo operations, safety drills, and supervising deck sailors. The Captain (or Master) has the highest rank, followed by the Chief Officer and lower-ranking deck officers.

What about the engineering officers?

Engineering officers operate and maintain the ship’s engines, generators, and other technical equipment. Led by the Chief Engineer, engineering officers monitor engine performance, conduct repairs, and ensure there are no equipment failures. They have a critical role in keeping the ship running efficiently and safely.

How are the crew’s living conditions?

Living on a merchant ship can be challenging. Crew members typically work long hours, 7 days a week, for the duration of their contract, which usually lasts 6-9 months. They live in close quarters, eat together in a mess hall, and have limited communication with family back home. However, the job can also be rewarding, allowing crew to travel and earn a stable income. With the right mindset, life at sea as a merchant mariner can be an exciting adventure.

The crew on a merchant ship have demanding yet vital jobs that ultimately keep global trade and economies moving. Despite the challenges, many find it a fulfilling career path and an opportunity for adventure on the high seas.

Now you know all the main things about a ship’s crew in the merchant navy. From the different departments they work in to the roles and responsibilities, rank structure, and life at sea, it takes a diverse team to operate these massive vessels. While it’s not a career path for everyone, for those drawn to adventure and life on the open ocean, it offers a unique opportunity. The comradery and strong bonds formed between crew members is special. If you think you have what it takes, look into maritime academies or crew training programs. Who knows, you may just find yourself part of a merchant ship’s crew one day, sailing to ports near and far.

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