What are the different crew positions onboard a ship? (2023)

Have you wondered what positions are on every ship, regardless of whether we talk about cargo vessels or cruise liners?

Here we will explain who does what onboard.

There is a slight difference between working structures on merchant and passenger ships.

In addition, there are slight differences in ranks, their names, and even the duties of some of the positions, but we'll go through and explain each role for both types of vessels.

Cargo ships hierarchy

Life on board a vessel differs from any other shore-based job or organization.

Each crew member has a particular rank and carries specific responsibilities to maintain successful vessel operations.

Mainly, the vessel's crew has two types of seafarers: officers and ratings. Both these types of crew members can work either on deck or in the engine room.

In general, a large cargo ship has a crew who performs the following positions:

The deck department typically includes a Master, Chief Officer (or Chief Mate), Second Mate, Third Mate, Bosun, Able Seamen, and Ordinary Seamen.

The engine (or technical) department usually consists of Chief Engineer, Second Engineer, Third Engineer, Fourth Engineer, Fitters (usually one), Motormen, and Wipers (or Oilers). Many large ships also have an Electrician, and tanker ships have also assigned pumpmen.

Some ships also have Steward, and there is also a Cook on most ships. On tiny vessels, where the number of the crew is minimal is possible for the cook's role to be assigned to someone from the crew or performed on a rotational basis between each crewmember.

What are the different crew positions onboard a ship? (1)

The Deck crew onboard a merchant vessel

The Deck crew is in charge of the vessel navigation, watchkeeping, maintaining the ship's hull, cargo, gear and accommodation, and taking care of the ship's lifesaving and firefighting appliances.

The deck department is also responsible for receiving, discharging and caring for cargo. According to the vessel's hierarchy, the deck officers are as follows: Master, Chief Officer, Second Officer, Third Officer and Deck Cadet (deck officer to be).

The supreme authority on board a merchant vessel is the Master.

The entire crew is under his command. He is responsible for the vessel's safety, use and maintenance and ensures that every crew member carries out his work accordingly. He is also in charge of the following: payroll, the ship's accounting, inventories, customs and immigration regulations, and the ship's documentation. To become a Master, a seafarer must have several years of experience as a deck officer and as Chief Officer.

According to the vessel's hierarchy, the first deck officer and the head of the deck department after the Master is the Chief Officer or Chief Mate. He is in charge of the vessel navigation, watches duties, charging and discharging operations. The Chief Officer also directs all the other officers on deck, creates and posts watch assignments and implements the Master's orders to maintain safe operations and the vessel.

The second Officer or Second Mate is the next in rank after the Chief Mate and is the ship's navigator, focusing on creating the ship's passage plans and keeping charts and publications up to date. Apart from watchkeeping, the Second Officer may also be designated to train the cadets on board or to fulfil the rank of security, safety, environmental or medical officer.

The Third Officer or Third Mate is the fourth deck officer in command and is usually the Ship's Safety Officer, responsible for ensuring the good functioning of the firefighting equipment and lifesaving appliances.

He undertakes bridge watches and learns how to become a Second Officer.

A Cadet on board a merchant's vessel receives structured training and experience on board and learns how to become a deck officer.

Apart from the officers, the deck department crew also consists of ratings, such as AB (Able Body Seaman), OS (Ordinary Seaman) and Boatswain.

The AB is part of the deck crew and has duties such as: taking watches, steering the vessel, assisting the officer on watch, mooring and unmooring the ship, deck maintenance and cleaning. The AB also secures and unsecured the cargo and carries our deck and accommodation patrols.

OS is the crew member whose primary duty is to maintain the cleanliness of the whole ship and serves as an assistant for the AB. Being an OS is considered an apprenticeship, a period called "sea time" to be allowed to take courses and training for AB.

Both AB and OS are usually supervised by aBoatswain, who is also a rating, in charge of examining the cargo-handling gear and lifesaving equipment. The Boatswain usually holds an AB certificate as well.

The structure for the deck department on board merchant vessels is mainly the same on all vessel types.

The Engine crew onboard a merchant vessel

Theengine crewis responsible for operating, maintaining and repairing the propulsion and support system when required. The engine department is also responsible for repairing and maintaining other systems, such as refrigeration, air conditioning, separation, fuel oil, electrical power, etc.

According to the vessel's hierarchy, the engine officers are as follows: Chief Engineer, Second Engineer, Engine Watch Officer, Electrician Officer and Engine Cadet.

The Chief Engineer is the first engine officer in charge of the engine department.

He takes complete control of the engine room and must ensure that every system and equipment run by the book is suitable for inspection. The Chief Engineer also maintains up-to-date inventory for spare parts, extra fuel and oil and delegates the tasks to the officers under his command.

To become a Chief Engineer, a seafarer must first be a Second Engineer with at least two years of sea time experience.

What are the different crew positions onboard a ship? (2)

After the Chief Engineer, in charge of the engine room, is the Second Engineer, who also has a management-level position.

He assists the Chief Engineer in keeping the vessel running efficiently, supervises the daily maintenance and operation in the engine room and prepares the engine room for arrival, departure or other operations. He reports directly to the Chief Engineer.

The Third Engineerand/or Forth Engineer usually keep the Engine Watch Officer position. This is an operational-level job.

The Third Engineer is usually responsible for changing boilers, fuel, auxiliary engines, condensate and feed systems. The Fourth Engineeris the most inexperienced officer, with duties assigned by the Second Engineer. His responsibilities include engine watch, air compressors, purifiers and other auxiliary machinery.

Another officer working in the engine room is the Electrical Engineer, overseeing and ensuring the maintenance and proper functioning of all the electrical systems and machinery.

The Electrical Engineerresponds directly to the Second Engineer and the Chief Officer and has the proper training to do this job.

Some merchant vessels also have an Engine Cadet or Electrical Cadetamongst their crew members. They receive structured training and experience on board and learn how to become an engine or electrical officer.

Apart from the officers, the engine department crew also consists of ratings, such as Motorman, Fitter, Electrician, Pumpman and Oiler/wiper.

TheMotormanis the engine rating that keeps watch and assists the engine officers in performing maintenance tasks. He also maintains and repairs the main and auxiliary engines, pumps and boilers.

On board vessels, theFittercarries out daily maintenance and engine cleaning jobs and specializes in fabrication, welding or repairing.

The Electrician on board a merchant vessel is the rating working on the electrical equipment and systems, wiring and high voltage panels.

Mostly on tanker vessels, we may also find aPumpmanresponsible for the liquid cargo transfer system, pumps, stripping pumps, filter valves, deck machinery involved in the liquid cargo transfer etc. His main job is to keep the liquid cargo system on a tanker running accordingly.

The OilerorWiper on board is the rating in charge of cleaning the engine spaces, machinery, lubricating bearings and other moving parts of the engine. In addition, they assist the engine officers in the general maintenance of the machinery, etcetera.

Although the crew structure in the engine room is mainly the same, some vessels only have a part of the mentioned crew. This is due to the size of the boat or financial reasons.

Passenger ships hierarchy

The hierarchy on cruise ships slightly differs from the structure adopted on cargo ships, and here we'll explain the duties of each role.

Bear in mind that on a cruise (or passenger) vessel, apart from the Deck department and Technical/Engineering department exist, another one, usually known as the Hotel department.

On a typical merchant ship, the Hotel Department consist of the Cookand the Steward (if these roles exist onboard the ship). The Hotel department consists of several sub-departments on cruise ships and large yachts.

As a rule of thumb, the Hotel department is the largest onboard, and its sub-departments all form the overall guest service operations.

What are the different crew positions onboard a ship? (3)

Deck crew positions onboard a cruise vessel

The Deck Department on a cruise ship is a part of the Marine Operations division.

The primary responsibilities of the Deck Officers and Ratings are the safe navigation of the vessel plus all safety and security aspects of the ship's operations, including guests, officers, crew and staff members. Although the head of the department is the Staff Captain, the highest ranking person aboard - the Captain/Master of the ship, is considered a member of the Deck department.

The deck department has two different positions - Deck Officers and Deck Ratings.

Deck officers include Captain; Staff Captain; First, Second and Third Officers,

Safety Officer; Environmental Officer, Security Officer,Deck Cadet.

The Deck ratings positions include Boatswain/Bosun, Able Seaman Unlimited, Ordinary Seaman Entry Level and Deckhand.

The Captain

In-command and overall in charge of the ship. Assumes total responsibility and overriding authority, especially in safety, security and environmental protection.

What are the different crew positions onboard a ship? (4)

The Staff Captain

The Staff Captain is the head of the Deck department and second in command of the ship. Oversees maintenance, security, safety and navigation. On smaller vessels, the Staff Captain and Chief Officer roles may be merged into one.

First, Second and Third Officers

The roles of the First officer, Second officer and Third Officer are identical in both cargo and cruise ships.

The Safety Officer

The safety officers report to the staff captain. They plan, oversee and conduct safety training onboard. Safety officer works with managers and supervisors to confirm that they are aware of their safety responsibilities.

The Security Officer

The security officers report to the staff captain. The primary responsibilities of the security officer are: Implementing and maintaining the ship security plan, Conducting security inspections at regular intervals to ensure that proper security steps are taken. Making changes to the ship security plan if the need arises. The security officer is assisted and in charge of the security team, comprising themselves and security guards.

The Environmental Officer

The environmental compliance officer regularly checks to ensure that the procedures concerning the environmental aspects of the ship and pest control are implemented correctly.

Technical crew positions onboard a cruise vessel

The Engine Department of a cruise ship is part of the Marine Operations Division.

The Engine Department team is primarily responsible for the safe and smooth operation of the ship's propulsion systems and all technical operations and mechanical equipment onboard the cruise ship - electrical system, safety and fire fighting systems, HVAC and waste disposal systems.

The Engine department aboard a cruise ship offers jobs for two types of personnel: Engine Officers (Chief Engineer; Staff Chief Engineer; First, Second, Third Engineers; Hotel Services Engineer; Electrical Engineer; AC Engineer; Engine Cadets) and Engine Ratings (Engine Storekeeper, Motorman, Fitter, Plumber, Oiler, Wiper or Engine Utility).

Chief Engineer

The Chief Engineer is responsible for the vessel's entire technical operations, including engineering, electrical, and mechanical divisions.

The Chief Engineer is the head of the whole Engine Department aboard the cruise ship and the highest-ranking officer within the department.

Staff Chief Engineer

The Staff Chief Engineer (the deputy of the chief Engineer) is the second in charge and second highest-ranking officer within the Engine Department of a cruise ship.

The Staff Chief Engineer must be fully conversant with all of the Chief Engineer's functions and be able to assume their duties and take charge of the ship's Engine Department if required.

First Engineer

The First Engineer is responsible for the daily maintenance and operations of the engineering and technical aspects of the vessel as directed by the Chief Engineer and Staff Engineer.

Second Engineers

The Second Engineer performs duties delegated by the Chief Engineer and the Staff Engineer.

The Second Engineer acts as Senior Engineer Watch Officer in the engine control room overseeing the operation, maintenance and repairs of subordinate engineers and engine ratings members of their watchkeeping team.

Third Engineer

The Third Engineer performs duties delegated by the Chief Engineer and the Staff Engineer. Third engineers, as junior engineers, are usually assigned to engine room watch duties and, in this case, assist the Second Engineer, who usually is known as Senior Engineering Watch Officer.

Engine Cadet / Fourth Engineer

The fourth engineer/enginecadet closely follows the instructions of the First Engineer and attends the engine control room, usually as part of the First Engineer's watch. The Engine Cadet assists in various operations.

Hotel Services Engineer

The Hotel Services Engineer manages the entire hotel technical department of the cruise ship. The Hotel Services Engineer is responsible for maintaining and repairing all machinery, equipment and systems outside the main engine room. The Hotel Services Engineer is in charge of equipment serving the guests onboard, such as gally, laundry, bar or restaurant equipment.

Chief Electrician / Chief Electrical Engineer

The Chief Electrical Engineer/ Chief Electrician oversees the operation and maintenance of the electrical plant and associated electrical systems throughout the cruise ship.

Electrical Engineer / Electrician

The Electrical Engineer is responsible for the proper maintenance and repairs of the electrical systems on board the cruise ship as directed by the Chief Electrician.

Electronic Engineer

The Electronic Engineer is responsible for the maintenance and repair of all electronic equipment and systems aboard the cruise ship and works under the supervision of the Chief Electrical Engineer.

The Electronic Engineer Officer (EEO) is directly responsible for the maintenance and repair of the ship's communication systems, such as satellite communication systems, C-Band satellite communication, telephone System, ship's internal communication systems, including portable VHF radios and pagers, satellite TV system and public address system.

IT Officer

With the use of technology and computer systems increasing on a cruise ships, people with extensive knowledge of how they work and the ability to troubleshoot problems are in higher demand.

The IT Manager (IT Officer) ensures that all computer systems and hardware are functioning correctly. The IT Officer/IT Manager reports to the Chief Electrician onboard.

AC / Refrigeration Engineer

The Refrigeration Engineer (HVAC Engineer) oversees and supervises the operation, maintenance and repair of the ship's HVAC equipment/ system, domestic refrigeration plant, ventilation, cooling, freezing, provision equipment, and all air conditioning throughout the vessel.


The Motormen are responsible for the daily maintenance and cleaning of specific engine parts as directed by the Chief Engineer or other senior engine officer.


Fitters are responsible for the daily maintenance and repairs of engines and mechanical equipment as directed by the Chief Engineer or other senior engine officer.


The wiper is an engine department rating position. The job of an Oiler onboard is to assist ship engineers as required. The Oiler participates in general maintenance of the ship's main power plant, auxiliary engines, generators, and other machinery.


Plumbers are responsible for the maintenance and repair of all plumbing and report to the Hotel Services Engineer.

Upholsterers and Carpenters

Similar to what is on the land, the Upholsterers and Carpenters, the ship performs various duties onboard and, as you can imagine, mainly work in the hotel areas.


The technical storekeepers maintain the receiving and storage of spare parts, their condition and order. The storekeeper reports to the Chief Engineers or their deputy.

Medical team positions onboard a cruise vessel

A typical shipboard medical team consists of two doctors and two to four nurses. Larger ships also have paramedics.

All medical staff have officer ranks.

What are the different crew positions onboard a ship? (5)

Senior Doctor

The Chief Doctor/ Physician is the highest ranking Medical Officer and the head of the Medical Department aboard the ship.

Senior doctors oversee and supervise the work activities of the ship's physician, lead nurse, nurse practitioners and nurses.

The doctor reports to the ship's Captain and the Fleet Medical Director at the head office of the company.

Ship Doctor

The doctor (physician) reports to the ship's chief doctor and supervises the ship's lead nurse, nurse practitioners and registered nurses. The physician is responsible for the crew members' essential and emergency medical treatment.

Nurse Practitioner

The Nurse Practitioner provides medical care to passengers and crew members and performs administrative duties in the Medical Clinic aboard the cruise ship. The Nurse Practitioner reports to the ship's Chief Doctor.

Chief Nurse

The Lead Nurse is in charge of the nursing staff aboard the cruise ship and reports to the ship's physician, the ship's Chief Doctor, and the Fleet Chief Nursing Officer at the head office of the cruise line.

Ship Nurse

The ship's nurse is an experienced Registered Nurse (RN) responsible for providing appropriate day-to-day health care to passengers and crew aboard the cruise ship. The ship nurse reports and works under the direction of the ship's lead nurse, ship's physician and ship's chief doctor.


The Paramedic is a part of the medical team aboard a cruise ship and works alongside experienced nurses and doctors. Paramedics are the first line of medical care aboard, respond to emergencies, treat the sick and injured, and continue that respect in the medical centre as part of the cruise ship's medical team.

Hotel crew positions onboard a cruise vessel

Service and Hospitality positions are among the most critical jobs on every cruise ship. The primary duty of the overall service and hospitality onboard belongs to the Hotel Manager (or Hotel Director).

Hotel Manager

The responsibilities of the Hotel Director are many. The Hotel Manager oversees all staff and functions within the Hotel, Galley, and Bar departments, including guest cabins, laundry, dining room services, bar, theatres, cinemas, lounges and the galleys. It also includes some shore-side guest activities.

This person works closely and reports to the Captain about the ship's state. The training and supervising of hotel staff working directly with guests are the responsibility of the Hotel Director. Most importantly, the Hotel Manager works hard to ensure the quality of the ship's environment is on par with the standards of the cruise brand.

What are the different crew positions onboard a ship? (6)

As previously mentioned, the Hotel department onboard a cruise vessel is quite significant in numbers and consists of the following sub-departments:

Hotel and Catering

  • Hotel management and administration (often called pursers): receptionists, bookkeepers, PAs and office-based staff.
  • Restaurant: Maître d'Hotel, waiting for staff and wine stewards.
  • Bars: bar manager, bar staff, cocktail waiters.
  • Kitchen (galley): chefs, catering assistants.
  • Housekeeping: housekeepers, stewards, cleaners, porters, laundry personnel, carpenters and joiners, concierges.
  • Hospitality.
  • Entertainment: cruise directors, dancers, entertainers, DJs, casino staff.
  • Shore excursions: managers, support staff.
  • Health and beauty: hairdressers, beauticians, massage therapists, sports and fitness instructors.

In one of our following articles, we will share more details about each position in the cruise vessel's Hotel and Hospitality department.

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