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The deck officers on board any seagoing craft have responsibility for the smooth running of all matters above deck. While their colleagues in the engineering department have roles that pertain to ensuring the propulsion and inner working of the ship as a unit, deck officers are involved more with ensuring that anyone working above board can discharge their duties sufficiently. On a merchant vessel, the deck crew tends to consist of the following (apart from the Captain or the Master who is in overall command)
- Chief Officer
- Second Officer
- Third Officer
- Able and Ordinary Seamen
- in some cases a Boatswain.
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Boatswains & Seamen
The Boatswain’s job is to act as supervisor to the deck crew. If judged necessary, he will act as the chief mate’s go-between to the rest of the crew. In some cases, the tasks ordinarily delegated to a Boatswain will be entrusted instead to one of the Able Seamen in order to obviate the need for an individual Boatswain. IMO regulations do not designate that a Boatswain is required, but do call for at least three able seamen on the larger cargo and passenger ships. The work of the deck crew is generally concerned with maintenance of on board systems that allow free movement and ensure the comfort of the passengers and other crewmembers, as well as the safety of any cargo the ship may be carrying.
Marine Deck Officers
When the ship is in transit, the duties of marine deck officers will be to ensure that the journey goes off without any problems. An able seaman, for example, will be called upon to perform emergency duties, such as life saving and the operation of safety equipment, and repair any damage caused to the systems on deck. Able Seamen are generally unlicensed, but semi-skilled workers and play a major part in the unloading of cargo and containers from a ship, often by use of winches and other deck machinery. For this reason it is important that they have an awareness of how to operate and mend machinery. They are also required to have training and certification for the operation and deployment of a ship’s lifeboats.
Officer of Watch
Ships also require a Deck Watch Officer. This is one of the most important Maritime jobs as the Deck Watch Officer – referred to in port as the Petty Officer of the Watch – has the job of overseeing the safety of all on board. Spotting hazards on the horizon or closer by, they will keep up communication with the ship’s commanding officer to stop situations from developing that might endanger the safety of passengers, crew or cargo. These dangers may be presented by human factors such as piracy or other ships, or by detritus or other hazards that float in the sea below. The Deck Watch Officer may also be the first to spot a situation requiring action under the Convention for Safety on the High Seas, where a search-and-rescue operation may be required.
A good deck crew will work together to ensure the smooth running of on-deck operations, and collaborate with the engineering crew to ensure the correct handling of on-board equipment.