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Merchant navy deck officer

Merchant navy deck officers are responsible for navigation, communications, crew and cargo onboard.
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What does a merchant navy deck officer do?

The merchant navy is the UK’s commercial shipping industry. It includes:-

  • cruise ships
  • containerships
  • high tech ferries
  • high quality oil, gas and chemical tankers
  • modern bulk carriers carrying ores, grain and coal
  • specialised support vessels

Merchant navy deck officers handle the navigation, communications, crew, cargo and overall running of the ship. They also look after passengers on ships and take part in on board social events.

As a deck officer, you would work at one of four levels, depending on your experience:

  • Master (Captain) – you would have full responsibility for the overall running and safety of the ship, crew (ratings), passengers and cargo. You would handle legal and commercial matters and keep all the ship's records up to date
  • Chief Officer – you would assist the Master and oversee deck operations and maintenance, cargo handling and storage. You would also manage work schedules and supervise other officers
  • Second Officer – you would be responsible for navigation, using radar, satellite and computer systems. You would also monitor the vessel's position, speed, direction and weather reports, and carry out watch duties at sea and in port
  • Third Officer – this would usually be your first post after training, dealing with the ship's safety equipment and lifeboats. You would assist the Second Officer and carry out watch duties.

Some very large cargo ships and passenger liners may have a fifth officer level.

As a deck officer in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (civilian-crewed ships operated by the Ministry of Defence), you could be responsible for monitoring helicopter movements, specialised navigation and nuclear biological chemical damage (NCBD) control.


What do I need to do to become a merchant navy deck officer?

You can join the merchant navy from age 16 onwards as an officer cadet or marine apprentice and train as a deck rating. You will at least four GCSEs (grades A-C), or equivalent qualifications. These should include English, maths and physics (or combined science).

You must have good eyesight and be physically fit, as you will have to pass a medical before you can start training.

You can also start your career after completing an industry-backed foundation degree, HND or degree at university. These courses usually include on board practical training.

Relevant subjects include:

  • nautical science
  • navigation and maritime science
  • marine engineering.

You would normally need A levels or equivalent qualifications, which includes maths and/or science.

You would also usually need to find a sponsoring company to put you through initial training.

Related skills

  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork

Essential qualifications

  • You will need at least four GCSEs (grades A-C), or equivalent qualifications. These should include English, maths and physics (or combined science).

Where to find out more

Merchant Navy Training Board

Careers at Sea 

Royal Fleet Auxiliary 

Marine Society & Sea Cadets 


Where could I be working?

You would work on deck, below deck and on the bridge, in all weather conditions. If you work with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, you may work in combat zones.

You could find both onshore and offshore positions with shipping companies, port authorities, maritime insurance companies and shipping brokers.


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