Merchant Navy Ranks


A career at sea offers a unique way of life and a challenging and rewarding career – it is an exciting job. Merchant Shipping is a vital national industry for many countries worldwide – on an average over 90% of everything that comes in and out of country involved in international trade goes by sea. Merchant ships operate all around the world and include modern ferries, large container ships, luxury cruise liners, oil, gas and chemical tankers and support vessels for the offshore exploration industry.

The main jobs on board are:-


Deck (Navigation), Engineering and Electrical Officers.


Support staff who assist officers.


Support personals who assist in catering and housekeeping services.


Ships Officers generally work in two departments – Deck and Engineering and this begins when you enrol as an officer trainee! The training for both disciplines uses a mixture of academic work which is combined with practical training both at college and at sea. At any time you may wish to move to a job ashore, your experience as a ship’s officer will stand you in good stead. Technical and managerial skills learned at sea are readily transferable and can be developed by further training.


As a deck officer (usually called a navigation officer), you’ll be a vital member of the ship’s management team, and with the prospect of sophisticated and expensive vessels, valuable cargo or passengers in your charge. This is big responsibility! While on duty (called a ‘watch’), it will be down to you to make decisions on steering and manoeuvring the ship, controlling navigation and communications. Using the latest technological systems, you’ll have control at your fingertips. In port you’ll be responsible for cargo handling and ship stability. As a senior deck officer, you’ll be a leading member of a small team of skilled, professional seafarers, including junior officer and ratings. You’ll direct and supervise the work of your team – maintaining the ship and its equipment at optimum efficiency. Your ultimate goal on board would to become the Master (Captain).

  1. Captain / Master : Captain is a licensed mariner in ultimate command of the vessel.The captain is responsible for its safe and efficient operation, including cargo operations, navigation, crew management and ensuring that the vessel complies with local and international laws, as well as company and flag state policies. All persons on board, including officers and crew, other shipboard staff members, passengers, guests and pilots, are under the captain’s authority and are his or her ultimate responsibility.
  2. Chief Officer / First Mate: Chief officer occupies the second responsible position after the Captain of the vessel. He acts as the leader of the deck department and mainly engages in the cargo affairs. He also supervises the vessel’s crew and looks after the various deck operations. The Chief Mate prioritizes the security and safe functioning of the vessel, and is concerned about the welfare of crew and passengers (if passenger ships) on board. Additionally, the correct working of the hull, the accommodation section, the cargo gearing, the security appliances and the fire prevention equipment is managed by the Chief Officer.
  3. Second Officer/ Mate: He is the primary officer behind the navigational section of the vessel (Navigation chart preparation and paperwork) and his designation implies that he is third-in-command. His main responsibility is the standard 12-4 navigation watch duty.
  4. Third Officer/ Mate: He is basically employed with the security measures on board, and therefore is greatly answerable to the Captain for maintaining the safety of the particular ship and its crew. After the captain, he is appointed as the fourth-in-command. Usually, the Third Officer handles the standard 8-12 watch duty.
  5. Deck Cadet: The role of a deck cadet is quite important on ships as he can be assistance to all the officers. He is basically new to the ship and is on ships for the training purpose. Prior joining he has to undergo several courses to avoid disasters and accidents on the vessel, along with knowledge on firefighting equipment, first aid and other security measures. Special training is meted out to the Deck Cadets under the maritime law, and they prove their worth in the navigational section, besides dealing with the cargo. A newly appointed Deck Cadet needs to report to the Chief Officer of the ship, from time to time. A Cadet must observe and lend a helping hand, and try to gain as much of knowledge as possible. His ineligibility for the “Certificate of Competency” award implies that he has no permission to keep watch. He accompanies a senior officer while they stand in watch, instead.
  6. Bosun: Bosun takes care of the crew on the deck and also assist chief officer in daily routines of the ships.
  7. Able seaman: According to the modern nautical terminology, an able seaman (AB) possesses a merchant mariner’s document and is eligible to assist the deck department. Know more about the rank of Able Seaman here.


As an engineer officer, you’ll operate and maintain all the mechanical and electrical equipment throughout the ship. You’ll be responsible for power generation and distribution systems and for other equipment such as lifts, refrigeration plant and pumping and ventilation systems. Via a bank of high-tech instrumentation, you’ll monitor mechanical, electrical, hydraulic and control equipment, and have charge of sophisticated engine management systems.

You’ll overhaul and maintain equipment throughout the ship, where your engineering problem-solving skills will be your greatest asset. At sea, if equipment goes wrong you can’t just pull in to the nearest garage! It will be up to you to diagnose the fault, get the equipment dismantled, repaired and reassembled and back into operation. As a senior engineer officer, you’ll lead a team of professional engineering personnel and supervise their work at sea and in port. You can aim for the top position in the engineering department – the Chief Engineer.

1. Chief Engineer: Chief engineer is the head of the engineering department on a vessel. The required qualification for this position is loosely referred to as the “Chief’s Ticket”. Alternatively, he can also be alternatively termed as the “The Chief” and usually draws the same payment as the Captain, although the complete responsibility of a particular vessel falls solely on the Captain’s shoulder. The Chief Engineer cannot take over the ship’s charge, unless such a situation arises which has been documented under the safety measures. Chief engineer gives orders for operation and maintenance of ship’s machinery system and is responsible for the engine room department.

2. Second Engineer/ First Assistant Engineer: He is associated with the day-to-day activities in the engine room, and he is accountable to the Chief Engineer. He stays extremely busy most of the time on board, as he needs to constantly supervise the proper functioning of all engine room machinery systems and also assigns jobs to the other engine officers and crew. The Second Engineer generally keeps watch on the engine room, during the day time.

3. Third engineer/ Second Assistant Engineer: This is the next position after the Second Engineer, and is assigned jobs to look after machinery ordered by the chief engineer, along with daily watch keeping. He reports to the second engineer.

4. Fourth Engineer/ Third Assistant Engineer: This is the most junior rank in the engineering department. The Fourth Engineer is concerned about the correct working of the machinery systems assigned to him and also carry our watch keeping. He reports to the second engineer.

5. Fifth Engineer/ Engine Cadet: Fifth engineer is a trainee under the Second Engineer officer, and he assists and learns while observing and carrying out activities in the engine room. He would accompany a senior officer (mostly second engineer) during the watch duty.


Electrical Officers are responsible for monitoring all electronic and electrical equipment onboard to maximise the operational safety and efficiency of the vessel. As an electrical officer, you’ll work in close association with deck and engineering officers for all electrical and hydraulic technology and machinery related challenges. You’ll be responsible for power generation and distribution systems and for other equipment such as lifts, reefers and electrical bus systems.

  1. Electro-technical Officer (ETO): Officer who is responsible for the maintenance of electrical and electronic equipment.
  2.  Electrical Officer: Officer who is responsible for the maintenance of electrical equipment, but not electronic equipment such as radars, VHF etc.


Ratings are personnel who assist officers in all departments. Ratings are skilled seafarers who carry out essential tasks in the day-to-day running of the ship. A rating is also trained in fire prevention and sea survival skills. In an emergency a rating helps to deal with hazardous incidents, for example, as a member of a fire-fighting party or fast rescue boat crew.

Deck Ratings

Steer the ship and assist the deck officer in other navigational duties. In port, they secure the ship to the dock, carry out maintenance and contribute to the security of the vessel.

Engineering Ratings

Maintain shipboard machinery. They carry out routine oiling, greasing and servicing, and strip, repair and fit equipment parts. Experienced ratings help the engineering officers to monitor the main plant and other equipment to make sure it is run safely.


Support Staff assists personal on-board merchant vessels with catering and housekeeping jobs.


Provide a variety of catering services for the crew and passengers on cruise and merchant vessels. Most cargo-carrying vessels have a cook or cook-steward on board.

  1. Chief Cook: Chief cook falls under the catering department of the ship. It is his duty to prepare meals regularly for the crew and passengers. He is also in charge of the food stores, and he can utilize or replenish them. The Chief Cook also inspects the equipment needed to keep the ship clean and uncontaminated in the galley area.
  2. Trainee Cook: The trainee cook assists chief cook in preparation of meals and managing provision.


Housekeepers, stewards, cleaners, porters, laundry personnel, carpenters & joiners, concierges.

1. Steward: The steward, as the name suggests, is assigned tasks include cooking and serving meals on time, sweeping and maintaining the living quarters of the officers, and stocktaking the stores. It is also the job of a steward to manage the grocery accounts, planning menus, and documents the cost control issues.