The Master, as a shipboard manager, is in overall command of the vessel and personnel on board. Being the highest ranking person, his duties and responsibilities cover the whole ship.

Technically speaking, he is the “owner’s representative”. He is responsible to the relevant Company Managers for all matters pertaining to the safe and efficient operation of the vessel.

Also called the Ship Captain or Ship Master, his decision must always lead to the safety of the ship, her crew, and the environment. That’s the basic. The company expects him to exercise good judgment that prioritizes safety, without regard for commercial considerations.

A Captain has the overriding authority, as well as the responsibility, to take any actions with respect to shipboard safety and pollution prevention. His decisions can be independent of shore intervention if necessary.

Why? Because he knows his ship and the situation better than someone ashore sitting behind a desk.

However, he may request and expect any and all necessary assistance, deemed appropriate, from the company.

Duties Overview

Imagine yourself as the Captain of a merchant vessel. What do you expect your job to be?

Would you be someone having the most freedom while enjoying a huge salary on board?

This may be partly true. But having the biggest pay, around USD12,000.00, also equates to having the biggest obligations.

As a Master, you are responsible for implementing the company’s Safety Management System (SMS). You must ensure the strict compliance of company policies, procedures and instructions. And there are also other parties like the charterers, inspectors, coast guards, and other authorities you have to deal with.

On the security side of the vessel, you also act as the Ship Security Officer, as per requirement of ISPS Code.

A Master Mariner in his chair navigating the ship using bridge equipment, machinery controls, and monitors.
A Master Mariner navigating the ship. Source: Ibrahim Boran on Pexels.

Responsibilities of a Merchant Vessel Captain

Responsibilities with the DPA

Since safety is always at the top of the ship’s priorities, it is important to be fully conversant with the company’s Safety Management System (SMS).

To accomplish that, you must interact with the Designated Person Ashore (DPA) through various means. The most common form is through email and telephone. Sometimes, chat or other forms of electronic communication is also an option if the preferred ones malfunction .

As the ship captain, you must follow his guidance and advice on matters related to safety, security, and environmental protection.

Incident Reporting and Follow ups

Since accidents and near miss incidents happen on ships, part of your job is to analyze and report them. This include non-conformities and/ or hazardous occurrences. In relation to that, you must also know which persons or parties to contact in case of emergency.

With advice and approval from company superintendents, you should recommend and apply corrective actions to prevent its recurrence.

While being a Master Mariner may not be the best job out there, it does offer one of the best salaries. Good email and communication skills are important, as much of the job involves correspondence.

Responsibilities to the Crew

Here are various responsibilities that the Master has towards his crew.

a) Ensuring that all crew members are aware of, and instructed in, the Company’s policies, procedures and instructions.

b) Motivating the crew in observation of such policies while issuing appropriate orders and instructions.

c) Ensuring that safe working practices are in place to minimize risks to the crew, the vessel, environment, and the cargo.

d) The Master is responsible for the safety of the ship and everything in it. He must guarantee that all personnel under his command are suitably qualified and experienced. Furthermore, they must be properly familiarized with their duties and responsibilities especially during emergencies including emergency alarm signals.

e) The Captain is given authority to promote deserving crew onboard. Thus, he conducts periodic evaluation of the deck crew including the Chief Engineer for their performance.

f) Ensuring discipline and harmony among crew members. Discussing with them their individual problems if they want to.

A young Master Mariner bows his head while another Master mariner gives him a medal.
Newly promoted Master Mariner given a medal.

Checklists and Record Keeping

g) Issuing “Night Orders” and ensuring that responsible officers duly acknowledge and implement them.

h) Maintaining the deck log book while recording all relevant events, accidents and incidents. He is duty-bound to take measures that minimize or avoid hazardous situations.

i) Together with the Officers, he is also responsible in overseeing drills, training for fire fighting, anti-pollution, flooding, abandon ship, and other emergencies. These drills must be in accordance to international and national regulations and Company’s policies. Most importantly, it must be recorded in the appropriate log book.

j) Ensuring that pre-arrival and pre-departure checks are carried out. All navigational instruments, machineries, ballasting, anti-pollution and safety devices must be in satisfactory condition. The Master must maintain records in the appropriate record books.

Responsibilities to the Ship

k) Aside from documentations, the Master must also conduct proper and timely maintenance of the vessel. He must pay particular attention to the condition of the hull, all steel works, and safety systems.

l) Safe navigation and operation of the vessel at all stages of the voyage, i.e. from beginning to end. This include reviewing/ approving the passage plan before the commencement of the voyage.

m) Ensuring that the vessel proceeds to sea in a seaworthy condition and that load line rules are adhered to.

n) Since the vessel goes out to sea for long time, the captain must keep the ship always adequately stored. The ship and crew must have enough provisions and supply including enough bunker for the voyage.

o) He must attend to stability information on board. Distribution of cargo and ballast especially during loading, discharging and ballasting operations must be closely monitored. He must also ascertain the record keeping of vessel’s stresses and stability.

A Master Mariner in the bridge during a ship to ship transfer operation.
Master Mariner in the bridge during a ship to ship transfer operation.

Responsibilities to the Company and External Parties

p) Report to the company on the progress of implementation of the policies and procedures. Recommending appropriate improvements, if required.

q) He must adhere and follow all Flag State, international, local, and Classification Society Rules, Laws and Regulations. Thus, he must check that all ships certificates and publications are valid, advising the company for expiring dates.

r) Master’s duty extends beyond the ships. He must ensure effective communication and working relationships between vessel staffs and shore personnel. This include owners, authorities, surveyors, and others having a legitimate business onboard.

s) He must ensure that the vessel performs to the satisfaction of the owners and charterers. Thus, he must give all possible assistance to the Charterers, their representatives, and authorities.

Do you still want to become a Master Mariner?

The duties and responsibilities of a Master are overwhelming. Aside from that, the process of becoming a captain is also difficult.

However, they have the authority to delegate any of the foregoing responsibilities on a day to-day basis.

Thus, his duties are assigned to the Officers whom he considers suitably qualified and experienced. He still retains overall responsibility of the ship at all times.

His main job is actually to “oversee” that everything listed above is followed correctly. That is why he is at the management position on board.

All Masters of merchant vessels share the responsibility of ensuring the safety and well-being of their crew. Although the job orders may be generic, the specific documents and tasks required may vary depending on the type of ship.

Captain on the bridge looking over the deck of the ship while standing behind the windshield.
Captain on the bridge. Image: IamSEAWOLF.

Salary and Risks

Ship Master’s salary ranges from $8,500.00 to $16,000.00 depending on the company, CBA and ship type. It’s actually quite high, and even one of the highest among many profession.

But aside from the responsibilities, there are also risks involved.

If something happens to the vessel, the captain is initially held liable unless proven otherwise.

Remember also that when you sail across high risk areas without armed guards on board and pirates successfully hijack your vessel, they will immediately look for you!

Is the salary still worth the risk?

That’s another topic someday.

If you want to fast track on becoming a ship master, try enrolling in maritime scholarship programs.

May the winds be in your favor.

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