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The Chief Mate on a merchant vessel is an indispensable member of the ship’s crew, being as he is responsible for overseeing the safety and security of the ship, and answerable to the ship’s captain in these respects. A chief mate performs the role on the sea that a coast guard performs on dry land, ensuring that the safety of the ship, its crew, its passengers and its cargo are not threatened. This role also entails being responsible for the loading and unloading of a ship’s cargo, and its safe stowage on the ship itself.
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The Cargo Officer
It is for this final duty that the chief mate is also bestowed with the title of Cargo Officer. In this role he must ensure that he takes particular care if the ship is carrying a cargo that is potentially dangerous or hazardous – an undertaking that is of massive logistical importance on dry land, but when on the open seas with a ship by its very nature likely to have significant lateral and linear movement on several axes, it is of even greater importance that it be done correctly. This can call upon the wit of the chief mate to make adequate provision for matters such as ballasting in order that the ship’s weight and balance be correctly calibrated.
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The Watch Stander
The Chief Mate also acts as what is called a “watchstander". What this means in practice is that he or she stands guard ensuring the safety of the ship and all that are carried on it, any cargo included. It is seafaring tradition that the chief mate as watchstander takes responsibility for what is called the “4-8 watch", watching from a suitable vantage point for four hours at a time from 4-8am, and again twelve hours later. This watch will take the form of ensuring that the ship is compliant with regulations and conventions governing the safety of life at sea (including any concomitant search and rescue requirements) and also that the ship is working within pollution regulations. In this respect not only is the Chief Mate responsible for keeping the ship safe from attack or damage, but also that it will not fall under the dissatisfaction of the regulatory bodies.
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Certifications & Salary
On many ships, the chief mate has a “master’s ticket" which entitles him to take over from the ship’s master if for any reason the master is unable to perform their own duties. In these cases the second mate holds a “chief mate’s ticket" allowing him to move up to carry out the chief mate’s duties. The path of progression through which an individual must pass begins at Third Mate, where they must work 365 days, ideally on a near coastal vessel, before they can qualify to be a Second Mate. At this level they must work another 365 days before they can qualify to be a chief mate and so on. Of course the exact duration varies with the type of certification such as Foreign Going, unlimited capacity or coastal vessels
A job description as wide as that of a Chief Mate is undoubtedly quite a large responsibility to take on – for that reason salaries can start at US$ 400 - 450 per day and go upwards.