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Merchant Navy deck officer

Merchant Navy deck officers look after the day-to-day running of ships, and take care of passengers and cargo.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: £20,000 to £80,000 average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: 35 to 40 per week

1. Entry requirements

You can join the merchant navy from age 16 as an officer cadet or marine apprentice and start training as a deck officer. You'll need at least 4 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), including English, maths and physics (or combined science).

You could also do an industry-backed HND, foundation degree, or degree in a subject like nautical science or marine engineering.

If you already have a degree, you'll usually be able to join a graduate programme and train as an officer in a shorter time.

You'll need to pass an eyesight and medical exam.

Careers at Sea has more information about training routes as a merchant navy deck officer.

2. Skills required

You'll need:

  • the ability to lead and motivate
  • excellent maths for navigating
  • calmness under pressure

3. What you'll do

You may work on deck, below deck or on the bridge of a range of different ships.

Your day-to-day tasks will vary depending on your rank.

  • as a 3rd officer you'll deal with safety equipment and lifeboats, help the 2nd officer and carry out watch duties
  • as a 2nd officer you'll look after navigation, using radar, satellite and computer systems, and carry out watch duties
  • as a chief officer you'll help oversee deck operations and maintenance, cargo handling and storage
  • as a master or captain you'll look after the running and safety of the ship, crew, passengers and cargo. You'll also handle legal and commercial matters

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

4. Salary

Starter: £20,000

Experienced: £42,000

Highly Experienced: £80,000 or more

Your salary will depend on your ship type and rank. Your employer may pay for food and accommodation at sea and some travel costs when onshore.

These figures are a guide.

5. Working hours, patterns and environment

Merchant Navy ships operate around the clock and you'll work shifts, known as watches, that vary according to the size of ship. On a large ship, you'll usually work 4 hours on duty, 8 hours off.

Your time at sea could vary from a few days to several months. Periods of leave also vary.

If you work with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, you may work in combat zones.

The job is physically demanding.

6. Career path and progression

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

You could also become a manager in other sectors.

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Last updated: 18 August 2017