Merchant Navy Institute & Training Center

Carrer Comparison

Life at sea
Working at sea is a very exciting experience; your life style will be entirely different, you will become an international professional who work overseas together with different nationalities.

You are required to work overseas for 6 to 8 months and be home for 2 months leave , which will be paid in lieu before leave commence. You will learn very quickly how to manage your work, cargoes and crew. You will meet many friends from all over the world.

Living lifestyle
Your living lifestyle will be totally different. Because You are required to work overseas for 6 to 8 months and be home for 2 months leave , which will be paid in lieu before leave commence. That is great! The quality of time you spend with your family will be much better. You can go for a tour around the world when you are on home leave. You see your family every day, taking your wife for shopping; taking your kids to school and other activities you are interested in. Then you concentrate on your work on another ship for 6 to 8 months again.

From time to time, you will fly everywhere to join ships by plane, depending upon which company you work with. You will become a real international professional.
Working on board, you don't have to pay for any utilities. But you have to tidy your own cabin (room) and wash you own clothing. You don't have to pay for your meal 's except for your own soft drinks or beer you consume . Water, food , tea or coffee are all free. You will dine at the officer mess room (restaurant), buffet lunch and a proper dinner at night. However, you have to work and live onboard the ship with the same group of people, no matter whether you like them or not. You really have to learn how to respect others and get along with different people on board.

Leisure Life
One may wonder whether ship's crew may actually go ashore and tour around the world. Of course, seaman can go ashore when they are off. On some kind of vessels, when the ship is secured alongside for about a week, seaman may go ashore for shopping, dining and having good time. However, if you work on board a container ship, where the ship is secured alongside the berth for only hours, one may not be able to go ashore at all. It really depends upon which company or which type of ship you work with.

One may also ask what you may do when you are not working; there are a lot of entertainments you may find on board, which will be mentioned in details below. Seafarers can have time relax in the officer's bar, watch a movie or relax in their cabin etc .

Working life
Being an officer on board, you are required to work basically 8 hrs a day every day. You will have other work to do according to your rank . Such as the third officer, who will look after the lifesaving and fire fighting equipment on board after his or her watch. The Second officer looks after the navigational equipment and acts as the doctor on board. And the Chief Officer will look after the shipboard maintenance and cargo operation on board. Should the ship enter or leave ports, you may be required to work twelve hours a day depending upon the type of ship trade.

Let us look at the ship manning structure in details and see what people do on board. There are two major departments on board to keep the ship running 24 hours a day. They are the deck and engine departments. Below is the departmental chart for your reference:-

Nowadays, there are about 18 to 24 persons on board a cargo ship, namely: Captain, Chief Officer, Second Officer, Third Officer, (sometimes)1/2 Cadet Officer, Chief Engineer, Second Engineer, Third Engineer, (sometimes) Fourth Engineer, Electrician/Electronic Officer, Chief Cook, Steward, Bosun, 3 to 4 sailors and 3 to 4 Oilers.

There are three deck officers keeping the navigational watch for the Captain on the bridge. And there are three engineers looking after the main engine to keep the ship running all day.

Job descriptions


Usually known as the Captain, who is the overall command of the ship and is effectively the General manager and ultimately responsible for the safe navigation and operation of the ship. He is also the owner's representative dealing with charterers, port agents and cargo formalities. 

Chief Officer :

Usually known as the Mate , who is responsible for the day to day works of the deck crew and for the stowage, loading, carriage and discharge of the cargo with particular attention to the ship's stability. He is also the operation manager, who is managing all the crew on board to carry out all the day to day operation, such as painting and maintenance of the ship equipments. (Chief Officer is keeping navigational watch from 0400 to 0800 and from 1600 to 2000) 

Second Officer :

Known as the Second mate , who is the navigating officer responsible for updating the charts and passage planning. He is also the ship's medical officer (doctor). (Second Officer is keeping the navigational watch from 0000 to 0400 and from 1200 to 1600) 

Third Officer:

Known as the Third mate, who is the safety officer on board responsible for maintenance of all lifesaving and fire-fighting equipment on board. Of course, all of them have to keep the navigational watch. (Third Officer is keeping the navigational watch from 0800-1200 and from 2000 to 2400) 

Chief Engineer :

is the effectively the ship's technical manager and is responsible for the  operation and upkeep of all machinery, engineering systems and the structural integrity of the ship. 

Second Engineer:

is responsible for the day-to-day management of the Engineers and engine-room crew. He has a prime responsibility for the main engines as well as spare gear and store.

Third Engineer:

is responsible for the ships electrical plant and assist with any main engine upkeep. He may also be the Electrician if there is not one on board.

Fourth Engineer:

is responsible for the maintenance of the Generator and assists with all aspects of machinery upkeep. He is usually responsible for fuelling and daily monitoring of fuel supplier. (Should engine room watch required, Second Eng: 4 to 8 am and pm, Third Eng: 12 to 4 am and pm, Fourth Eng: 8 to 12 am and pm) .

Electrical/Electronic Officer:

is responsible for all electrical and electronic equipments on board. Especially those reefers (refrigerated containers).

Cadet Officer: 

is the trainee officer for both deck and engineering department before they acquire the certificate of competency. They have to work thought all the department to learn the whole shipboard operation, so as to prepare himself for the officer job.

Chief Cook:

is responsible for cooking the food for everybody on board. He is also responsible for purchasing and keeping of all food on board. There were the Chief Steward to do all the paperwork before, but this position has been cancelled nowadays.


is the leader of all ratings on board, who is responsible for all routine upkeep and maintenance of the ship. He is the overall in charge of the crew.


There are three type of rating on board. Deck ratings are the sailors, who do all the maintenance works and moorings on deck. Engine ratings are the oilers, who do all the maintenance works in the engine room, as well as mooring arrangement. And the stewards, who provide all hotel services, such as setting table, cleaning uniform and preparing the food and storing food for the cook.

Social Life
Apart from their works, seamen have so many entertainment s on board such as below :-

  • There is always a library on board. People may read books and magazines
  • There are lots and lots of DVD or video tapes to watch on board;
  • Many ships have bars on board where officers may have a normal social life meeting shipmates, playing darts in the bar etc.
  • Playing computer games , etc.
  • When the ship is alongside or at anchor, it is always a paradise for fishing, people are always surprised what they can catch.

10 Simple Things That Make Seafarers Happy On Board Ships

The merchant navy is a rewarding career. However, more than that, it is also a ‘decentralized’ career. For the lack of finding a better word, the idea behind terming it decentralized is the fact that seafarers are far away from the action of everyday interactions and social milieu associated with the average workplace. Long periods away from the touch of a loved one, the voice of one’s near and dear ones, the late night barrage of texts and phone calls with a partner, a planned night out with friends etc. are the things that seafarers sacrifice for a career that is so romanticized by the general populace.

Owing to its manifestation in popular culture, the ‘outsider’ tends to ignore the extreme monotony and boredom that might set in with regard to a seafarer’s life on board. It is at time such as that, which we turn to the limited range of options that make us happy on board. As opposed to what one might imagine, a shore leave doesn’t alleviate all our problems pertaining to the tough, precise and monotonous life on ships. No, it is not like in Captain Phillips wherein our everyday lives are a projection of the adrenaline packed drama that ensues in the film; it is in fact, much like the workplace on shore, a day of regular responsibilities with a dash of excitement thrown in multiple times! It is indeed a very high-pressure job, simply because of the value of the cargo and lives and the cumulative effect of a whole lot of other things, which is why the occasional entertainment is more of a requirement than a luxury.

Copyright © Merchant Navy Institute & Training Center 2021. All rights reserved.