Skipper article illustration


Skippers are the highest authority on board or inland waterways; they are in charge of the vessel and are held responsible for the safety and well-being of the clients and crew. They are licensed by the responsible authority and will determine the vessel’s operations at any time. They are the ultimate instance responsible for the crew, the ship, the cargo and/or passengers, and the voyage.

Excludes people working with fishing vessels.

The responsibilities of a skipper typically include, but are not limited to:

  • Planning the entire passage to the proposed destination, possibly over a number of days.
  • Navigating the vessel
  • Knowing how to operate and maintain all the equipment on board.
  • Taking care of the safety of the vessel and the crew.
  • Management of the vessel in all respects.
  • Following the national and international regulations and maritime laws.

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to skipper:

boat captain
ship captain

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.

Skipper is a Skill level 3 occupation.

Skipper career path

Similar occupations

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

deck officer
maritime pilot
ship captain
marine surveyor

Long term prospects

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

inland water transport general manager
maritime instructor
front of house manager
warehouse manager
intermodal logistics manager

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

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

  • Physical parts of the vessel: Detailed knowledge of the different physical components of the vessel. Provide maintenance and care to ensure optimal operations.
  • International regulations for cargo handling: The body of conventions, guidelines and rules which dictate the activity of loading and unloading cargo in international ports.
  • International waterways: The international waterways used for maritime navigation, the geographical location of currents, maritime waterways, and harbours.
  • Functions of vessel deck equipment: Know and control deck and safety equipment and vessel lifting facilities.
  • Inland waterway police regulations: Understand waterway rules, legal requirements, and relevant police regulations. Handle and maintain buoys, marking systems, and day and night signs.
  • Vessel fuels: Know and understand characteristics of fuels and lubricants, and the fuel loading specifications of various types of vessels.
  • Multimodal transport logistics: Understand logistics and multimodal transport as the planning and control of the movement of goods or people, and all related logistical supporting activities.
  • National regulations on handling cargo: The national regulations governing the loading and unloading of cargo in ports within that country.
  • Vessel stability principles: Thoroughly understand the principles of vessel stability; follow safety requirements during loading and unloading of cargo.
  • European classification of inland waterways: Understand the European CEMT classification of inland waterways; use modern information systems to compare the dimensions of the waterway to those of the vessel.
  • Inland waterway ship building: Understand inland waterway ship building and construction. Operate vessel in compliance with construction legislation.
  • 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.
  • Passenger transport regulations: Have knowledge of passenger transport conventions and regulations.
  • Environmental aspects of inland waterway transportation: Consider ecological aspects of the operation of ships in order to use vessels in an efficient and environmentally friendly manner. Understand environmental aspects when navigating inland waterways.
  • Principles of cargo stowage: Understand the principles of cargo stowage. Understand procedures by which containers should be efficiently loaded and unloaded, taking into account gravitational forces that are exerted during transportation.
  • Distinguish ship construction methods: Distinguish various methods of constructing vessels and how this affects their behaviour in the water in terms of strength and stability.
  • National waterways: Know the national waterways used for inland navigation, know geographical location of rivers, canals, seaports and inland harbours, and understand the relationship with cargo flows.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of skipper.

  • Use radar navigation: Operate modern radar navigation equipment to ensure safe vessel operations.
  • Provide on-board safety training: Develop and implement on-board safety training programmes.
  • Use modern electronic navigational aids: Use modern navigational aids such as GPS and radar systems.
  • Assess trim of vessels: Assess the trim stability of vessels, referring to the stability of a vessel while it is in a static condition.
  • Conduct analysis of ship data: Collect information from a vessel’s management software and cross reference it to analyse the data from different points of view. Analyse data and apply judgement to inform decision-making.
  • Instruct crew in operations of technical shore-based facilities: Instruct crew members in the pre- and after activities relating to the operations of technical shore-based facilities. Understand safety regulations required to work with shipboard electrical systems.
  • Use meteorological information: Use and interpret meteorological information for operations dependent on climatic conditions. Use this information to provide advise on safe operations in relation to weather conditions.
  • Restrict passenger access to specific areas on board: Delimit access points for passengers on board and implement an effective protection system; prevent unauthorised access to restricted areas at all times.
  • 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.
  • Prepare and execute regular safety exercises: Plan and perform regular safety exercises; maximise safety in potentially dangerous situations.
  • Compose stowage plans: Compose stowage plans; knowledge of ballast systems and cargo loading process.
  • 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.
  • Secure cargo in stowage: Secure cargo stowage with basic knowledge of stowing methods; ensure efficient and safe transport of goods.
  • 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.
  • Ensure integrity of hull: Ensure sure that water does not break the hull; prevent progressive flooding.
  • Undertake navigation safety actions: Recognise unsafe situations and perform follow-up actions according to the safety regulations. Immediately warn ship management. Use personal protective and rescue equipment.
  • Assess stability of vessels: Assess the two kinds of stability of vessels, namely transversal and longitudinal.
  • Manage vessel cargo activities: Manage and oversee the safe and punctual loading and unloading of cargo from vessels in port.
  • Monitor crew members operating engines: Monitor the staff that operate the engines during operations. Communicate with them in order to obtain information relevant to the general steering of the ship.
  • Analyse reports provided by passengers: Analyse reports submitted by passengers (i.e. on unforeseen occurrences or incidents such as vandalism or theft) in order to inform strategic decision making.
  • Navigate european inland waterways: Navigate European waterways in accordance with navigation agreements.
  • Steer vessels: Operate and steer vessels such as cruise ships, ferries, tankers, and container ships.
  • Ensure safe loading of goods according to stowage plan: Monitor and ensure the safe and secure loading of materials and goods, as specified in the stowage plan.
  • Ensure vessel compliance with regulations: Inspect vessels, vessel components, and equipment; ensure compliance with standards and specifications.
  • Conduct water navigation: Ensure that a vessel carries up to date and adequate charts and appropriate nautical documents. Lead the process of preparing the voyage report, the vessel passage plan, daily position reports, and the pilot’s information sheet.
  • Communicate mooring plans: Prepare crew briefings on mooring plans and division of labour. Provide the crew with information on protective gear such as helmets and safety goggles.
  • Recognise abnormalities on board: Identify anomalies and abnormalities on board, evaluate them, and take appropriate actions to restore normal operation of ship. Check all (safety) systems for operational functions. Organise actions to be taken in the event of an identified problem.
  • Distinguish various types of ships: Recognise and name various types of vessels common in European maritime transport; understand the different characteristics, construction details, and tonnage capacities of different vessels.
  • Read stowage plans: Read and comprehend content of stowage plans; basic knowledge of how to stow various types of cargo.
  • Adhere to traffic regulations on inland waterways: Understand and apply traffic rules in inland waterway navigation in order to ensure safety and avoid collisions.
  • Calculate the amount of cargo on a vessel: Determine the weight of cargo on tanker ships and cargo vessels. Calculate the exact amount of loaded cargo or cargo to be discharged.
  • 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.
  • Coordinate the itineraries of vessels: Develop, manage, and coordinate the itinerary of vessels worldwide together with other stakeholders.
  • Assume highest level of responsibility in inland water transportation: Understand the responsibilities that accompany the position of skipper. Assume responsibility for the integrity of ship’s crew, cargo, and passengers; ensure that operations run as they should.

Optional skills and competences

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

  • Act reliably: Proceed in a way that one can be relied on or depended on.
  • Manage staff: Manage employees and subordinates, working in a team or individually, to maximise their performance and contribution. Schedule their work and activities, give instructions, motivate and direct the workers to meet the company objectives. Monitor and measure how an employee undertakes their responsibilities and how well these activities are executed. Identify areas for improvement and make suggestions to achieve this. Lead a group of people to help them achieve goals and maintain an effective working relationship among staff.
  • Show confidence: Demonstrate degrees of maturity by fully understanding one’s own qualities and abilities which can serve as sources of confidence in different situations.
  • Create a work atmosphere of continuous improvement: Work with management practices such as continuous improvement, preventive maintenance. Pay attention to problem solving and teamwork principles.
  • Maintain updated professional knowledge: Regularly attend educational workshops, read professional publications, actively participate in professional societies.
  • Analyse ways to reduce travel time: Analyse prospective improvements in journey efficiency through reduction of travel time by modifying itineraries and outlining alternatives.
  • 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.
  • Have computer literacy: Utilise computers, IT equipment and modern day technology in an efficient way.
  • Implement environmental protection measures: Enforce environmental criteria to prevent environmental damage. Strive for the efficient use of resources in order to prevent waste and reduce costs. Motivate colleagues to take relevant steps to operate in an environmentally friendly manner.

ISCO group and title

3152 – Ships’ deck officers and pilots

  1. Skipper – ESCO
  2. What does skipper do? – Skipper course
  3. Featured image: By Dleighuk – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Last updated on March 12, 2023