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.
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.
To be a Merchant Navy deck officer you should:
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.
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