A Guide to the Work and Role of a Mariner

by Johan Schild

Merchant Mariners transport cargo and passengers through waterways and the open sea. The vessels they operate include tugboats, towboats, ferries, barges, supply ships, cruise ships, and deep-sea merchant ships.

The captain commands the vessel and holds responsibility for following proper procedures and safety guidelines, as well as for the well-being of passengers and cargo. The captain keeps logs of the movement of the ship and of its cargo.

The mates, or deck officers, are responsible for the routine operations on the ship. They are typically ranked as first mate, second mate, and third mate, with the first mate having the second highest command on a ship, just below the captain. The first mate would stand in for the captain if it became necessary. The mates also keep watch of the movement of the ship.

An experienced sailor, or able seaman, works within the deck department and has Merchant Mariner certification. The duties of an able seaman generally include standing watch, executing rudder orders, and maintaining the ship’s course.

A seaman or sailor is an entry-level position that entails keeping watch, maintaining and operating deck equipment, handling lines, performing routine chores on the ship, and measuring water depth when the vessel is in shallow waters.

Many ships also have an engineering department that assumes responsibility for keeping all equipment in good operational order. Some larger ships also have a steward’s department that prepares, cooks, and serves meals.

About the author: Johan Schild has more than 45 years of maritime experience including positions as a Captain, Port Captain, Salvage Master, Marine Consultant, and Marine Surveyor. Johan Schild currently serves as the President of Mooring Masters, a division of Marine Consultancy, LLC, in Spanish Fort, Alabama.


The Role of Ship’s Captain: An Interview with Johan Schild

With more than 45 years of experience, Johan Schild has served as a Port Captain, Salvage Master, Marine Consultant, and expert witness, as well as a Deck Officer and Captain for many shipping companies. Here, Johan Schild explains the job of a ship’s captain and what it takes to become one.

Question 1: What role does the captain play in maritime transportation?

Johan Schild: The captain supervises all of the operations and the work of the officers and crew on the ship. He assumes command and ensures that all procedures are practiced safely. The captain also maintains the vessel’s logs and records. The captain oversees the loading and unloading of cargo and passengers and ensures that the machinery and equipment on the ship are in good working order. In essence, the captain holds ultimate responsibility for everything on the ship at all times.

Question 2: How does one become the captain of a ship?

Johan Schild: Generally, before becoming a captain, a person must attend a maritime academy and partake in officer training courses. The individual must have 360 days of at least four hours a day of documented time on the water over the past five years. He or she will need references and must pass a drug test and a physical exam. The candidate also must have CPR and first aid training. The person must also pass a series of exams and have notable leadership qualities. A love for the open water in addition to good vision, balance, and dexterity are also key components.

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