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.

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