Shipboard Organization: Seafarers’ Ranks, Duties, and Salaries

by | Last updated May 9, 2024 | Career Guide | 0 comments

A shipboard organization is similar to the government structure we have in our countries.

Vessels have worlds of their own. They are like mini kingdoms having a very small population with each person holding specific duties. The duties vary depending on the crew’s rank.

20 strong men run a normal seagoing merchant vessel on average. They are divided into three departments namely Deck, Engine, and Catering. These departments have various tasks during drills, emergencies, and security duties.

Knowing the importance of a shipboard organizational plan gives you an overview of the way a vessel functions.

Shipboard Organizational Chart

To better understand how the chain of command flows on board, one must look at the vessel’s organizational chart. This chart shows various departments running the ship including their department heads.

Each of the crew functions based on the ranks outlined in their job description. The shipboard organization makes it easy for everyone to identify the degree of responsibility of every person on board.

Lastly, you can tell the level of salary of each seafarer when looking at the diagram.

Shipboard Organization structure
Shipboard Organization Structure.


On every ship, the overall command goes to the Master. Under him are the three departments: Deck, Engineering, and Steward or Catering. The chart above best describes this hierarchy.

However, there are companies in which the Catering department is under the umbrella of the Chief Officer.

Not only that, there are shipboard organizational structures that consider the Cadet as part of the officers. Others however put him in the lowest rank just below the Ordinary Seaman or Wipers.

There are no wrong answers here as each company has a different policy. As long as the crew runs the ship safely and complies with various rules and regulations, this should not be a problem.

In this article, we shall use the three departments directly under the Master’s umbrella.

The Master

On top of every shipboard organization is the Master. He is the overall commander having absolute authority on board.

This absolute authority means he has the overriding decision against the desires of the company and charterers. Of course, his judgment is always based on the safety of the vessel her crew, and cargo.

Interchangeably, he is also called the Captain of the ship. Even when there are superintendents, shipowners, and inspectors on board, he still has absolute command.

A Captain wearing his white uniform with a necktie and a black shoulder board with four golden stripes and an anchor.
The Captain is the highest-ranking officer on board.

These visitors can not interfere with the ship’s operation without permission from the Captain.

When there are accidents, incidents, or deficiencies, the Master will be deemed responsible for it unless he can prove otherwise.

This is one reason why he’s paid $10,000.00 on average!

Deck Department

The Deck department is the unit responsible for navigation, watchkeeping, maintenance of the ship’s hull, cargo hold preparation, and loading and unloading of cargoes.

Additionally, they are also responsible for keeping the lifesaving and fire fighting equipment in good order.

Mooring, un-mooring, anchoring, and ballasting operations fall under the care of the deck department.

Generally, the deck crew conducts surface maintenance of the deck including its fittings and equipment.

Chief Officer

The Chief Officer is the Master’s second in command. He is the person to take over the control of the ship whenever the Master is incapacitated.

Sometimes called the Chief Mate, First Officer, or First Mate, he is primarily responsible for everything related to cargo operations.

He is the training manager, garbage manager, rest hours supervisor, disciplinarian, and job administrator.

Some ships have three Junior Officers making the Chief Mate a day worker- 8 am to 12 noon, 1 pm to 5 pm. However, there are still ships with only 2 Junior Officers.

A caricature posted on board about the jobs of a Chief Officer.
Jobs of Chief Officer

This makes the Chief Mate a 4 to 8 watchkeeper (AM/ PM) despite the huge jobs he has. His salary ranges from $6,000.00 to $12,000.00.

Second Officer

Typically stands at 12 to 4 watch (AM and PM), the Second Officer is also called the Navigational Officer. From what we see on the organizational chart, he is the rank below the Chief Mate and just above the Third Officer.

Since he is the navigational officer, his main duty revolves around the bridge. He is in charge of fixing the voyage plans, chart corrections, and publication updates.

More importantly, he makes sure that all navigational instruments and light signals are working and tested regularly.

The duty of a second mate includes cargo operations, ballasting operations, and mooring/ unmooring of the ship. On some ships, he is also designated as the Ship Security Officer (SSO).

His salary is approximately $2,500.00 to $5,000.00.

Third Officer

A Third Mate’s watch is from 8 to 12 (AM-PM). He is usually the safety officer on board. This means that his duty involves the care and maintenance of all lifesaving and firefighting equipment.

Whenever there are on-signers, the third Mate is in charge of their familiarization. He gives them a tour of all the safety and fire fighting equipment once on board.

In cooperation with the Chief Mate, his duty also includes updating the Muster list and assigning the crew’s duties and responsibilities during emergencies.

Like the second officer, his job also involves cargo operations, ballasting operations, and mooring/ unmooring of the ship.

A Third Mate’s salary is around $2,000.00 to $4,500.00.

Bosun (Boatswain)

The Bosun is the head of the unlicensed deck department. With direct supervision from the Chief Officer, his main duty is to keep good maintenance of the ship’s hull.

The Bosun’s job revolves around the deck area. After getting the job order of the day from the Chief Mate, he usually delegates the tasks to the deck crew.

He then switches to supervision mode while performing some work that he can manage himself.

The Bosun works closely with the Chief Mate. We mentioned that the Chief Officer is also the garbage manager and disciplinarian. Well, that job is designated to the Boatswain too.

Though the Chief Mate is the head of deck maintenance, the hands and feet are the deck crew. The Bosun heads the nitty-gritty stuff on deck together with the ratings.

On average, a Bosun earns around $2,000.00 per month.


You can find the rank of a Pumpman in tanker ships. Sometimes, his salary is equivalent to that of a Bosun. In other companies, his wage is a bit higher by $100.00 to $300.00.

A Pumpman assists the Chief Officer during loading, discharging, and crude oil washing. Additionally, his duty also involves assisting in ballasting, de-ballasting, inerting, purging, gas-freeing, and tank washing.

His responsibilities revolve around the deck area with the cooperation of Bosun and other deck crew.

However, he’s mainly focused on the maintenance of cargo equipment, PV valves, IG valves, deck seal, tank gauging equipment, and connecting/ disconnecting of cargo hoses.

Able-bodies Seaman (AB)

The ABs are usually the ones steering the vessel during pilotage. They are either watchkeepers or day workers. As watchkeepers, they are partnered with the deck officers respectively.

They are the ones doing all the maintenance jobs on deck like chipping, buffing, painting, washing, and greasing. Together with the Bosun, they do the nitty-gritty jobs like climbing and entry into enclosed spaces.

During cargo operations, they are the eyes and ears of the officers in the deck area. Their duties include checking the cargo lines for leaks, tendering the mooring lines, and watching the gangway.

An Able-bodied Seaman’s salary is about $1,550.00.

Ordinary Seaman (OS)

An Ordinary Seaman is an entry-level rank in the deck department. His duty is very much like the ABs. However, he requires much supervision, especially the new ones. Hence, he normally works with an experienced AB.

An ordinary seaman is not allowed to steer the ship even if they have the necessary certificates. He is also not permitted to perform working aloft and tank entries.

However, he is permitted to do those things with the direct supervision of a responsible crew or an officer.

His main duty is assisting the ABs while learning about the job so they can be ready to get a promotion.

An OS’s salary is about $1,200.00.

Deck Cadet

On some shipboard organizations, the Deck Cadet is positioned just before the Third Officer. However, some organizational charts place him at the bottom of every department either deck or engine.

A Deck Cadet’s duties depend on the culture of the ship. On some vessels, he spends his time mostly on deck doing maintenance together with the ratings.

Meanwhile, some ships assign deck cadets only on the bridge. Still, a few follow the program laid out in their Training Record Book.

The main duty of a Cadet is training. He must learn the different jobs on board. He can achieve this through immersion.

Therefore, his training supervisor assigns him together with the officers. Additionally, he also sends him to the Pumpman and Bosun to get an overview of the various jobs on deck.

A Cadet’s salary is about $600.00.

Engine Department

The engineering department is the term used referring to the crew working below deck or inside the engine room.

A ship is equipped with various machines, electrical equipment, and a propulsion system. It is the engine crew’s job to keep them running and in good working order.

Their work includes inspection, maintenance, and repair of all machinery. These include the main engine which is the heart of the ship.

Additionally, they are also in charge of power generators, emergency generators, air-conditioning plants, sewage systems, water distillation units, lighting, and electrical fixtures, and cooling units.

We can categorize the Engine Department into two: the licensed members called the marine engineers and the unlicensed crew called engine ratings.

The Auxilliary Engine inside the Engine Room.
The Engine Room.

Chief Engineer (C/E)

The head of the shipboard engineering department is the Chief Engineer (C/E). He is overall in charge of engine room safety, machinery operation, maintenance, bunkering, and technical administration.

Specifically, he pays very much attention to the paperwork, checklists, and managerial tasks within his departments. He answers directly to the Captain.

Additionally, he is responsible that the Engineers make proper entries into the Oil Record Book and Engine Log Book.

The Chief Engineer also monitors the fuel and lube oil consumption. This means that the machinery in operation must achieve good and safe performance with economical consumption.

His salary is about $7,500.00 to $15,000.00 depending on the ship type.

Second Engineer (2/E)

Sometimes called First Assistant Engineer (1AE), the Second Engineer is the rank below Chief Engineer. He is the Executive Officer of the ship’s Engine Department.

Since the Chief Engineer is buried with paperwork, the Second Engineer does the planning, scheduling, delegating, and directing of the maintenance plan inside the engine room.

Of course, those jobs must be in consultation with the Chief Engineer.

As the second in command, he earns around $8,000.00 on average every month.

Third Engineer (3/E)

The 3rd Engineer is responsible to the Second Engineer for normal maintenance and watchkeeping duties. In other ships, he is also called Second Assistant Engineer (2AE).

He is responsible for the general maintenance of the machinery and equipment. Under the supervision of the 2nd Engineer, he ensures that there are sufficient bunkers in the day tanks.

Additionally, his work includes the upkeep of the main proportion, engines, boilers, and diesel generators as per the Planned Maintenance System (PMS).

A Third Engineer’s salary is between $2,500.00 to $5,000.00 a month depending on the company.

Variation of Shipboard Organizational Plan still with the Master having the overall command.
Variation of Shipboard Organizational Plan

Fourth Engineer (4/E)

A 4th Engineer’s job includes studying and practicing the 3rd Engr.’s duties. His day starts with a toolbox meeting with the other engineers and crew. The Second Engineer normally gives him the job for the day.

As the lowest engineer ranking on board, some of his duties include the maintenance of purifiers, air compressors, sewage treatment, and general maintenance.

His responsibilities may overlap or interchange with the other engineers due to different company regulations.

In some ships without an electrician, he is also in charge of electrical fixtures, water systems, and the sounding of bilges and tanks.

Sometimes referred to as 3rd Assistant Engineer (3AE), his salary is similar to that of the Third Officer. It is about $2,000.00 to $4,500.00.

Electrician or Electro-Technical Officer (ETO)

The Electrician is one of the most vital technical ranks on board. Since automation mostly runs a ship, an ETO plays a major role in keeping them running at all times.

In the vessel’s organizational hierarchy, the electrician reports directly to the Chief Engineer. He normally does not have a watch but is a day worker and can be called at any time.

He also works in the deck department, especially with the Chief Officer.

An ETO’s job includes UMS test schedules, alarm tests (fire, smoke, heat), battery checks, and refrigeration and air-conditioning units.

But that’s not all. Nearly all sorts of electronics and electrical problems even those found inside the bridge a jobs for an electrician.

Sometimes called the Electrical Engineer, his pay starts at $2,000.00 to $8,000.00 depending on the ship type and company.


A Fitter’s job on board is well, fitting a ship. But that’s too broad and too narrow at the same time. Fitters are highly skilled workers and are usually found inside the engine workshop.

They are strong and adept at using various measuring tools and cutting tools.

Their expertise includes riveting, grinding, welding, drilling, and the use of lathe machines. They are very good at assembling, disassembling, reassembling, and building new parts of a machine.

Fitters are under the direct supervision of the Second Engineer which means that’s where he gets his jobs. Some of their jobs include repairs of piping systems, plumbing, fitting, and hot works. They also help the engineers maintain their machinery.

On average, Fitters earn $2,000.00 a month which is similar to the Bosun.

The Engine Room.
Engine Room

Motorman/ Oiler

A Motorman or Oiler’s job includes inspection and maintenance of pumps, motors, turbines, and condensers on board. His care for this equipment involves greasing, lubricating, de-rusting, and painting if necessary.

He keeps a record of his tasks and is directly responsible for the Second Engineer. Like the rest of the deck ratings, he also helps make the engine room clean and in good order. On some ships, his responsibility includes sounding bilges and bunker tanks.

Both the Oiler and Motorman take part in bunkering operations.

With a salary between $1,300.00 to $2,000.00, you can’t help but notice that they have the same pay and job description as the Oiler.


The Wiper is the Ordinary Seaman’s counterpart in the engine room. His job mainly supports those ranks above him.

On most occasions, he is in charge of the general cleanliness of the engine room, engine workshop, and engine control room.

He can be seen assisting the engineers in cleaning the purifiers, dismantling motors, and doing routine maintenance.

Wipers must study and learn the jobs of Oilers, Motormen, and Fitters. With enough knowledge and experience, he can be promoted to those levels.

Engine Cadet

Like the Deck Cadet, an Engine Cadet’s duty is mainly to learn the different jobs in the Engine department. The Second Engineer normally supervises his training scheme.

Because of the various jobs in the engine room, he is normally paired with the Engineers, electricians, and even the ratings.

A cadet must absorb the learning he encounters in his work. He is a trainee to become an engineer even though his rank is below the engine department’s organizational diagram.

A Cadet’s salary is about $600.00.

Steward Department

In most merchant vessels, the Steward department comprises the smallest number of crew in the shipboard organization.

But that doesn’t mean they’re less important. In fact, the Steward Department is the backbone of the organizational structure. Let’s take a look at what they do.

Sometimes, they are also called the Galley Catering Department. Their main job is to prepare meals for the crew. Not just ordinary meals but delicious and healthy ones.

The Messroom is the only place where all the crew is usually gathered. A tasty meal after a hard day’s job often gets the crew inspired for the next day.

An empty plat and a wine with an apple on the side inside the mess hall.
Dining in the Mess hall

Chief Steward

A chief steward is the highest-ranking member of the galley department. He directs and supervises the planning and preparation of meals. Moreover, he is responsible for cost control and requisition of provisions.

Chief Cook

Some ships employ only a chief steward or chief cook but the same person performs both the job of the cook and steward. This scheme is usually part of a cost-cutting strategy, especially on merchant ships where the crew is only small.

A Chief Cook’s job is to prepare and cook the meals for the crew. He maintains the cleanliness and orderliness inside the galley and the provision room.

His duty also overlaps with the Chief Steward. He also bakes bread and cakes for the crew.

Chief Steward and Cook’s salary is about An empty plat and a wine with an apple on the side inside the mess hall $2,000.00.


While the Officers and Engineers are busy with their work, the Messman is the guy in charge of cleaning their cabins.

His area of expertise is inside the Mess hall where he keeps it clean and orderly. Before meals, he sets the table prepares the plates, utensils, and chairs, and ensures that the ketchup is not empty.

He is also in charge of washing the dishes and filling the fridge with milk, juice, yogurt, bread, and other beverages that the crew needs.

His salary is expected at around $1,400.00.


Every ship follows an organizational structure that may be slightly different from another. The crew’s job is to adapt to the current system on board.

This isn’t hard to do since the job follows a similar approach to your experience. This article doesn’t cover all of the ranks on board like the Deck Boy, Messboy, Welder, Apprentice Mates, and Engineers.

However, you can tell their level of responsibility upon looking at the shipboard organizational chart.

May the winds be in your favor.




  1. MARINA Scraps Mandatory MLC, OLC, ETR and ETO- Here's Why! - […] the shipboard organization, this course is applicable to deck and engine officers […]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *