How to become fisherman

What does a fisherman do?

Deckhands and mates are part of the crew of sea-going fishing vessels ranging from single-handed boats to factory ships crewed by up to 20 people. It is usual to start as a deckhand and progress to mate then skipper. (For information on the role of skipper see the fishery vessel officer/skipper profile).

Duties include preparing the deck and equipment for the catch as well as:

  • Operating equipment used for shooting and hauling
  • Repairing fishing nets and equipment
  • Gutting and storing fish
  • Unloading the catch when the vessel returns to harbour.

Deckhands also help to ensure the vessel is kept clean and tidy, and may cook for crew members.

The range of tasks depends on the size of the vessel. Those working on smaller inshore vessels sometimes work alone, so are fully responsible for the vessel and its maintenance at sea, as well as fishing activity. On large factory ships there may be additional duties involved with handling and freezing the catch.

Mates have additional responsibilities, such as reading charts and navigating, using more advanced equipment and deputising for the skipper.


What's the working environment like as a fisherman?

Hours vary according to the size and purpose of the vessel. Small inshore vessels usually go to sea on a daily basis. Larger vessels may go to defined areas around the UK coast (limited area) or to more distant fishing grounds (unlimited area). These are likely to be away at sea for anything between several days to weeks or months at a time. Time is also spent ashore maintaining nets and repairing the vessel.

Fishing vessel staff work in a challenging environment, mainly out in the open. The work is physically demanding and can be hazardous, especially in freezing weather, storms and gales. Conditions on board are often cramped, with basic facilities, although this varies depending on the type and age of vessel.


What does it take to become a fisherman?

To be a deckhand or mate you should:

  • be physically fit, with stamina and good manual dexterity
  • be able to work as part of a close-knit team, often in cramped and difficult conditions
  • be safety- conscious
  • be able to follow instructions and give clear explanations to others
  • be willing to spend time away from home, sometimes for long periods.


Fisherman career opportunities


Further information

If you would like to learn more about becoming a fisherman that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

Seafish Training
Sea Fish Industry Authority
St Andrew’s Dock
Tel: 01482 327837

Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA)
Seafarer Training and Certification Branch
Spring Place
105 Commercial Road
S015 1EG
Tel: 023 8032 9231