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Merchant navy officer: Job description

The Merchant Navy is the collective name for the UK’s commercial shipping industry. However, it is actually composed of individual companies who are responsible for their own recruitment and training.

Merchant Navy officers are employed on the many types of vessels that make up the UK commercial shipping industry. These include:

  • ferries and cruise ships;
  • cargo container ships;
  • oil, gas and chemical tankers, and other bulk cargo carriers;
  • specialised supply, support and rescue vessels.

Merchant Navy officers are primarily leaders and managers. However, as well as managing staff, senior officers are still expected to perform practical tasks with their colleagues.

Typical work activities

Your rank and the size of the vessel you are working on will affect your duties. On a smaller ship, activities will be more hands-on, whereas on a larger ship, the role tends to be more managerial.

A deck/navigation officer's typical work activities include:

  • navigating the vessel using a range of satellite and radar systems and equipment;
  • checking weather and navigation reports and taking appropriate action;
  • coordinating the safe loading, storage and unloading of cargo;
  • managing the care and safety of passengers (if working on a ferry/cruise ship);
  • supervising the operation and maintenance of deck machinery, e.g. winches and cranes;
  • managing ship communication systems;
  • monitoring and maintaining safety, firefighting and life-saving equipment;
  • overseeing the ship to ensure that the highest levels of health and safety are maintained;
  • maintaining legal and operational records, e.g. the ship's log;
  • keeping up to date with developments in maritime legal, commercial and political matters.

An engineering officer's typical work activities include:

  • directing others in the operation and maintenance of the mechanical and electrical equipment on board;
  • managing power, fuelling and distribution systems; 
  • repairing and upgrading systems and equipment, e.g. air compressors, pumps and sewage plants;
  • implementing regular equipment inspections and maintenance programmes;
  • keeping up to date with developments in the marine engineering field.

The role of electro technical officer (ETO) is fairly new and may be merged with the engineering officer’s job. It typically includes:

  • monitoring all the electronic and electrical equipment onboard, focussing on the ship’s safety and efficiency.

The activities of all officers include:

  • undertaking essential administration, including budgets, accounts and records of stock, cargo and passengers;
  • managing the work of ratings and providing training and support for officer trainees.
Written by AGCAS editors
July 2013

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