The Hierarchy in Merchant Navy on-board a Ship

8 mins read  Sealuminati TeamJune 29, 2021

The merchant navy is a hierarchical field, with seamen holding various levels on ships. This ranking system facilitates efficient onboard operations coordination and encourages sound management tactics. Due to the high level of expertise required in this line of work, where sloppy performance can have dire implications, the hierarchy is critical to developing a commercially viable model for maritime operations with shore-based assistance.

In general on ships, the Merchant Navy Officer Ranks are classified as follows:

  • Deck Department
  • Engine Department
  • Catering Department

The deck and engine departments work together to guarantee that the ship sails smoothly and efficiently. These departments employ a range of personnel with varying levels of authority. Various officers are allocated distinct responsibilities to ensure that no one is confused about who is responsible for what. This significant distinction enables trouble-free operation in high-stress conditions such as those aboard a merchant vessel/ ship.

Deck Department in Merchant Navy

Deck officers in the merchant navy are responsible for the navigation, communications, personnel, cargo, and overall operation of the ship. They also assist with the care of passengers on ships and participate in social events held onboard.


  • Captain
  • Chief Officer
  • Second Officer
  • Third Officer
  • Cadet (Trainee Officer)


  • Pumpman (On tankers) / Deck fitter (on bulk carriers)
  • Bosun
  • Able Seaman
  • Ordinary Seaman

Captain/Master in Merchant Navy

A sea captain is a highly qualified licensed mariner who is in charge of a merchant vessel's ultimate command and responsibility. The captain is the ship's highest-ranking officer. He has enormous duties and oversees all activities onboard the ship. He deals with major concerns and advises the staff on how to improve their performance.

The Captain remains in command of the vessel at all times, regulating proper daily transactions and handling the legal concerns of maritime affairs.

Among his responsibilities are the ship's seaworthiness, safety and security, cargo operations, navigation, crew management, and legal compliance. He is also in charge of the ship's personnel management and legal compliances.

If the Captain is not onboard, the Chief Officer is immediately tasked with taking over the Captain's duties and acting as the ship's executive officer.

It goes without saying that you cannot instantly become captain of the ship.You must first join the merchant navy as a deck cadet before being promoted to captain of the ship.

Chief Officer in Merchant Navy

Chief Officer is the head of the deck department and one of the most senior positions onboard a ship.

The Chief Officer reports directly to the ship's Captain. The chief officer is in charge of waste management. He is responsible for ensuring that the crew is conversant with SOLAS, MARPOL, and STCW. Between 0400-0800 hrs and 1600-2000 hrs, he is the Officer on Watch (OOW) responsible for watchkeeping and navigation.

The Chief Officer or first mate is also the Ship Security Officer (SSO). He is responsible for the crew's and passengers' safety. He is responsible for maintaining the ship's hull in top condition.

He is in charge of cargo and is responsible for the maintenance of the ship's LSA (lifesaving appliances) and FFA (firefighting appliances).

Second Officer in Merchant Navy

In the commercial ship industry, a Second Officer is a licensed officer of the deck department who holds a Second Mates Certificate of Competency that has been approved by the administration.

He is in charge of navigation, which includes the use of radar, satellite, and computer systems. Additionally, he would also keep track of the vessel's position, speed, and direction, as well as weather reports.

Watchkeeping responsibilities for a Second Officer while-

At sea:

1200-1600 hrs

0000-0400 hrs

At the port:

00000-0400 hrs

1200-1800 hrs

0000-0600 hrs

An additional responsibility of a Second Officer is that of a medical officer on board, who is responsible for the upkeep and administration of all medically related services onboard.

Third Officer in Merchant Navy

The third officer is responsible for maintaining all firefighting appliances (FFA) and life-saving appliances (LSA) on a ship. When not on watch, the third mate acts as the ship's safety officer and fourth-in command, according to the convention. Third mates are also expected to take an active role in fire and boat drills on a regular basis.

Deck Cadet in Merchant Navy

Deck Cadet is the entrance point for anyone aspiring to become a captain. You can join as a deck cadet by one of the two routes: B.Sc in Nautical Science or D.N.S leading to B.Sc in Nautical Science.

To advance from Deck Cadet to Third Officer, you must pass the Second Mate Exam. There is a straight promotion from the level of Third Officer to the rank of Second Officer.

Furthermore, in order to be promoted to the level of Chief Officer, you must sit for the Chief Mate Exam. To become the ship's captain, you must clear the Master's examination conducted by GOI.

Deck cadet duties include cleaning and mopping, filling TRB but only during off-hours, paperwork such as copy-pasting and taking printouts, cargo watch and navigation, learning corrections and chart work, and learning deck work from a bosun or senior cadet.


Bosun, alternatively known as Petty Officer, is the supervisor of the ship's unlicensed deck crew. He is in charge of the ship's hull and all of its components, such as rigging, anchors, cables, sails, deck upkeep, and small boat operations.

The deck crew is overseen by the boatswain. His primary responsibilities include:

  • maintaining the ship's deck (chipping, painting, polishing, etc.)
  • informing the chief officer on the progress of deck work being performed
  • mooring/anchoring
  • ensuring that the task allocated to the crew is completed.

Boatswain is responsible for planning the daily work schedule under the supervision of the Chief Officer and assigning the necessary duties to the relevant deck crew members, etc.

Able-Bodied Seaman

A Naval Rating of the Deck Department of a commercial vessel with more than two years at sea and regarded "fully accustomed with his duty" is designated an Able Seaman.

The Able Seaman's responsibilities include the following:

  • Measures water depth in shallow or unknown waterways using a leadline and communicates information to the bridge through telephone or yell.
  • Breaks out, rigs, overhauls, and stores cargo-handling equipment, stationary rigging, and running gear.
  • Keeps a lookout from the bow of the ship or the wing of the bridge for any obstructions in the ship's course.
  • Steers the ship in accordance with the orders from the ship's captain or navigating officer, or directs the helmsman to steer in accordance with the designated course.
  • Overhauls lifeboats and lifeboat equipment, as well as lowers and raises lifeboats using a winch or falls.
  • When the ship is on autopilot, he stands by the wheel and checks the correctness of the course by comparing it to the magnetic compass.
  • Provides instructions to the team cleaning the wheelhouse and quarter deck. Cargo is stowed or removed from the ship's hold.
  • While in port, keeps a ship's log and maintains a gangway guard to prevent unauthorized passengers from joining the ship.

Ordinary Seaman

An ordinary seaman (OS) is a navy rank of a ship's deck department. An OS is frequently busy with activities like buffing, scaling, cleaning the deck, and occasionally painting the superstructure, which is located above the main deck. An ordinary sailor can perform tasks such as overhauling, splicing ropes, wiring, rigging, and so on, as well as deck repair. It is the Ordinary Sailor's responsibility to guarantee the safe handling of cargo gears and the loading or unloading of cargo. He is personally responsible for the proper launch and recovery of the ship's lifeboats.

Engine Department in Merchant Navy

Merchant Navy engineering officers maintain the mechanical and electrical machinery and instruments onboard a ship.


  • Chief Engineer (Bada Saab)
  • Second Engineer
  • Third Engineer
  • Fourth Engineer
  • Fifth Engineer (Trainee engineer)
  • Electrical Officer


  • Motorman
  • Fitter
  • Wiper
  • Trainee wiper

Chief Engineer in Merchant Navy

On a ship, the Chief Engineer is in charge of the engineering department. He is in charge of the entire department and is in charge of its general management and responsibilities.

A chief engineer's responsibilities include the following:

  • The Chief Engineer plans, directs, and executes the activities of the Engineering Department in carrying out its assigned roles and responsibilities as needed.
  • To oversee his or her colleagues in the department while also offering job training and coaching to their colleagues as assistant engineers.
  • A Chief Engineer must ensure that the ship's mission is completed successfully by supervising or directly doing extremely complex or challenging technical labor and activities.

Second Engineer/First Assistant Engineer in Merchant Navy

The second engineer is in charge of ensuring that the engine department is kept up to date and running well on a daily basis. He is the second-in-command of the ship's engine department, following the chief engineer.

They also delegate responsibilities to unlicensed workers and monitor and document their activities over time. Engine department machinery, equipment, and spaces are under their control. They are also in charge of the conduct and performance of engine department staff. They are also in charge of the efficient use of consumable supplies and storerooms.

A first assistant must be well-versed in the ship's systems, repair schedules, and test results acquired from oil or water samples in order to perform their duties effectively.

Daily, the first assistant engineer reports to the chief engineer and aids him or her with paperwork and administrative tasks as required. Among the responsibilities are safety inspections and chores that the chief may not have time to complete personally.

Third Engineer/Second Assistant Engineer in Merchant Navy

It is the responsibility of the Second Assistant Engineer to ensure that the fire room, boilers, and ancillary equipment and machinery (which may include UNREP cargo systems) are properly operated, maintained, and kept in proper working condition. He works under the supervision of the second engineer. He is responsible for monitoring all pump lines, the provision reefer, the emergency pump lines, as well as the ship's spares and stocks.

In addition, he is in charge of fuel use.

Fourth Engineer/Third Assistant Engineer in Merchant Navy

In the merchant navy, a Fourth Engineer, sometimes known as a Third Assistant Engineer, is an engine officer who is a member of the engine department on a ship. On each ship, the general responsibilities of a third assistant engineer vary from one another.

The Fourth Engineer is in charge of regulating the primary propulsion systems, the water systems, and any other systems that may be assigned to them by the higher-ranking officers in the chain of command.

He is in charge of keeping the plant running, with the command being handed down and responsibility distributed by the person who is on the watch at any given time. It is expected that they will be proficient in a wide range of sectors, including HVAC (heating and ventilation), electronics, Shipboard medical, and the operation of both steam and diesel-driven facilities. The fourth Engineer is expected to handle work in all areas of the ship as they become available, regardless of their location.

Fifth Engineer/ Engineering Cadet on Ship

The fifth engineer is directly under the guidance of the second engineer onboard and is typically tasked with a variety of activities in accordance with the job schedule that has been established. He is a trainee, and his primary responsibilities are to learn new things.

The following are the responsibilities that the fifth engineer must satisfy:

  • The responsibility for checking soundings (levels) of IOPP tanks and reporting the findings to a senior engineer.
  • Learning the functioning principles, starting and stopping processes, assembling, dismantling, and troubleshooting for the Main Air Compressor, Purifiers, and Sewage Treatment Plant.
  • Keeping workshops and other tools in good condition.
  • Learn the proper practices for maintaining Watchkeeping.
  • Learn the process of changing oil filters.

Catering Department on Ship

  • Chief cook General
  • Steward Chief Cook

Chief Cook on Ship

A chief cook is a senior crewmember who works in the steward's department of a merchant ship and is not licensed in any way. His responsibilities include preparing meals for the crew and passengers.

According to the size of the ship and the number of crew members, the head cook may be assisted by an assistant cook to help with the various tasks.

Unless the Chief Steward permits specific alterations or substitutions, the Chief Cook is responsible for ensuring that the authorized menu is rigorously adhered to and that the food is prepared in accordance with the approved recipes. During his time in the galley, he inspects the equipment that is required to maintain the ship clean and free of contamination.

Trainee Cook

As implied by the title, the trainee cook assists the head cook in the preparation of meals and the management of supplies and equipment.


The steward mostly assists the chief cook in the preparation and serving of food to the passengers and crew on board. As part of his responsibilities, he is in charge of sweeping and keeping the officers' living quarters. A steward's responsibilities may include looking after the stores. A steward is responsible for managing the grocery accounts, organizing meal menus, and issuing cost control documents.

So those were the officer-level positions available in the Merchant Navy. In addition, their compensation is relatively considerable. They have a high standard of living. All crew members and officers are provided with complimentary meals onboard, and senior officers are permitted to bring their wives along for the trip.


What are the ranks in the merchant navy?

The ranks in the merchant navy include Captain, Chief Officer, Second Officer, Third Officer, and Deck Cadet on the deck side. While Engine side includes Chief Engineer, Second Engineer, Third Engineer, Fourth Engineer, and Trainee Engineer on a ship.

What is 2nd officer in Merchant Navy?

In the merchant navy, a Second Officer is a licensed officer of the deck department who is overall in charge of navigation.