Deck officer

Ship deck officers


Deck officers or mates perform the watch duties on board vessels like determining the course and speed, manoeuvring to avoid hazards, and continuously monitoring the vessels position using charts and navigational aids. They maintain logs and other records tracking the ship’s movements. They ensure that the proper procedures and safety practices are followed, check that equipment is in good working order, and oversee the loading and discharging of cargo or passengers. They supervise crew members engaged in maintenance and the primary upkeep of the vessel.

Deck officers typically do the following duties:

  • Perform navigation duties, using navigation equipment on board the ship, and maintaining updated navigational charts and ship logs
  • Perform port cargo operations, such as cargo planning and inventory
  • Maintain the cargo loading and unloading machinery
  • Maintain the ship’s hull and accommodations, keeping the ship clean and the accommodations organized
  • Oversee coordination between departments, ensuring that all departments understand their tasks and take part in conflict-solving actions
  • Supervise the proper disposal of garbage on deck
  • Supervise supply restocking when at port, looking after overtime, cost control, purchase orders, and requisition orders with shore management
  • Report to the Captain on the status of their department and any relevant information about conditions on deck
  • Ensure that all members of the deck crew comply with safety regulations, including conducting safety drills
  • Maintain a watch schedule for the deck crew and be on the lookout for any potential hazards while at sea

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to deck officer:

ship deck officer
ship chief officer
first mate
chief mate
ship first officer

Minimum qualifications

Associate’s degree is generally required to work as deck officer. However, this requirement may differ in some countries.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Deck officer is a Skill level 3 occupation.

Deck officer career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to deck officer.

ship captain
fisheries refrigeration engineer
freight inspector
aeronautical information service officer
aviation data communications manager

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of deck officer. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of deck officer with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

maritime instructor
aviation communications and frequency coordination manager
road transport division manager
airspace manager
election observer

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of deck officer.

  • International regulations for preventing collisions at sea: Fundamental aspects of the international regulations to prevent collisions at sea, such as the conduct of vessels in sight of one another, navigation lights and markers, major light and accoustic signals, maritime signalling and buoys.
  • Maritime transportation technology: Understand maritime transportation technology and stay up-to-date with the latest findings in the field. Apply this knowledge in operations and decision-making while on-board.
  • International convention for the prevention of pollution from ships: The fundamental principals and requirements laid in the International Regulation for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL): Regulations for the Prevention of Pollution by Oil, Regulations for the Control of Pollution by Noxious Liquid Substances in Bulk, prevention of Pollution by Harmful Substances Carried by Sea in Packaged Form, Prevention of Pollution by Sewage from Ships, Prevention of Pollution by Garbage from Ships, Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships.
  • Vessel safety equipment: Gain theoretical and practical knowledge of safety equipment used in vessels, including devices such as lifeboats, life rings, splash doors and fire doors, sprinkler systems, etc. Operate equipment during emergency situations.
  • Celestial navigation: Understand the science of celestial navigation and position fixing by using specialised measuring equipment.
  • Global maritime distress and safety system: The internationally agreed-upon set of safety procedures, types of equipment and communication protocols used to increase safety and make it easier to rescue distressed ships, boats and aircraft.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of deck officer.

  • Provide first aid: Administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation or first aid in order to provide help to a sick or injured person until they receive more complete medical treatment.
  • Use water navigation devices: Utilise water navigation devices, e.g. compass or sextant, or navigational aids such as lighthouses or buoys, radar, satellite, and computer systems, in order to navigate vessels on waterways. Work with recent charts/maps, notices, and publications in order to determine the precise position of a vessel.
  • Supervise unloading of cargo: Supervise unloading processes for equipment, cargo, goods and other items. Ensure that everything is handled and stored correctly in accordance with regulations and standards.
  • Supervise loading of cargo: Supervise the process of loading equipment, cargo, goods and other items. Ensure that all cargo is handled and stored properly in accordance with regulations and standards.
  • Ensure vessel security: Ensure that security requirements for vessels are met according to legal norms. Check if the security equipment is in place and operational. Communicate with marine engineers to ensure that the technical parts of the vessel functioning effectively and can perform as necessary for the upcoming journey.
  • Use different communication channels: Make use of various types of communication channels such as verbal, handwritten, digital and telephonic communication with the purpose of constructing and sharing ideas or information.
  • Ensure smooth on board operations: Ensure the trip goes smoothly and without incidents. Before departure review if all security, catering, navigation and communication elements are in place.
  • Assist water-based navigation: Ensure that up-to-date charts and nautical publications are on board the Ship. Prepare information sheets, voyage reports, passage plans, and position reports.
  • Manage personnel: Hire and train employees to increase their value to the organisation. This includes a range of human resources activity, developing and implementing policies and processes to create an employee-supportive work environment.
  • Steer vessels: Operate and steer vessels such as cruise ships, ferries, tankers, and container ships.
  • Assess vessel status: Assess the status of the operating radar, satellite, and computer systems of a vessel. Monitor speed, current position, direction, and weather conditions while carrying out watch duties.
  • Handle stressful situations: Deal with and manage highly stressful situations in the workplace by following adequate procedures, communicating in a quiet and effective manner, and remaining level-headed when taking decisions.
  • Consider economic criteria in decision making: Develop proposals and take appropriate decisions taking into account economic criteria.
  • Work in a water transport team: Work confidently in a group in water transport services, in which each individual operates in their own area of responsibility to reach a common goal, such as a good customer interaction, maritime safety, and ship maintenance.
  • Plot shipping navigation routes: Plot the navigation route of a vessel under the review of a superior deck officer. Operate a ship radar or electronic charts and automatic identification system.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of deck officer. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Communicate with customers: Respond to and communicate with customers in the most efficient and appropriate manner to enable them to access the desired products or services, or any other help they may require.
  • Make independent operating decisions: Make immediate operating decisions as necessary without reference to others, taking into account the circumstances and any relevant procedures and legislation. Determine alone which option is the best for a particular situation.
  • Secure ships using rope: Use rope to secure and untie the ship before departure or upon arrival.
  • Use maritime english: Communicate in English employing language used in actual situations on board ships, in ports and elsewhere in the shipping chain.
  • Tolerate stress: Maintain a temperate mental state and effective performance under pressure or adverse circumstances.

ISCO group and title

3152 – Ships’ deck officers and pilots

  1. Deck officer – ESCO
  2. What does a Deck Officer do? – Talentpedia
  3. Featured image: By U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Ed Early – Public Domain
Last updated on March 12, 2023