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How to become a Merchant Navy Deck Officer

merchant navy deck officer careers

What does a Merchant Navy Deck Officer do?

Merchant Navy deck officers are part of the management team responsible for steering and navigating a ship.

They use satellite and radar equipment and computer systems to check the ship's position, monitor speed and fuel consumption, access weather reports and input navigation routes.

Deck officers also supervise support workers (ratings) on deck, making sure that the ship runs smoothly and is properly maintained.

On passenger ships deck officers help with hosting social functions. Senior deck officers handle administrative, legal and commercial matters relating to the ship.

Deck officers in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (civilian-crewed ships that are operated by the Ministry of Defence) may be responsible for monitoring the movement of helicopters, specialised navigation, nuclear biological chemical damage (NCBD) control, and sometimes situations involving armed combat.

What's the working environment like working as a Merchant Navy Deck Officer?

Merchant Navy vessels are continuously in operation. Deck officers work shifts (known as ‘watches’), which vary according to the size of the ship. On a large vessel, officers may work four hours on duty followed by eight hours off duty. Periods of work vary between a few weeks and several months, depending on the type of ship and its trading patterns. Periods of leave in between voyages will also vary.

A deck officer will spend time on a vessel either on the bridge, or on deck where weather conditions can be stormy. Officers in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary sometimes have to work under conditions of warfare.

Deck officers have their own cabin and bathroom and, on larger ships, access to leisure facilities. Smaller ships have more basic facilities.

What does it take to become a Merchant Navy Deck Officer?

To be a Merchant Navy deck officer you should:

  • be confident, able to assume responsibility and to inspire confidence in crew members
  • be interested in, and able to understand and use, the latest vessel technology
  • be able to cope with being away from home, often for long periods of time
  • be able to work in a team
  • have excellent mathematical ability - this is of great importance for making navigational calculations
  • have good spoken and written communication skills
  • be calm and decisive in emergencies
  • be enthusiastic and self-reliant.

Merchant Navy Deck Officer Career Opportunities

There are currently not enough cadets to meet employment demands so opportunities are good. Around 20 companies sponsor cadets, a list of these can be obtained from the Merchant Navy Training Board (see Further Information section).

The work and lifestyle on board ship will depend on the type of company, size and type of vessel, distances travelled and trading area. For instance, a cruise ship carrying holidaymakers may visit holiday destinations around the world. Oil tankers will travel the shipping routes between ports catering for industrial cargo. Some ships travel world-wide, whereas others travel only in Europe.

Consideration for promotion is based on length of service and on merit, together with possession of the relevant MCA Competency Certificate.

Experienced officers are in demand for both on-shore and off-shore positions, with shipping companies, port authorities and other employers needing seafaring experience.

Further information

If you would like to know anything about Merchant Navy Deck Officer that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

Merchant Navy Training Board
Carthusian Court
12 Carthusian Street
Tel:0800 085 0973

A Career at Sea

Marine Society and Sea Cadets
202 Lambeth Road
Tel: 020 7654 7000

Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service (RFA)
Recruitment Officer
Officer of the Commodore
RFA Flotilla
Lancelot Building
Postal Point 29
HM Naval Base
Tel: 023 9272 5923

Courses to help you become a Merchant Navy Deck Officer