Merchant Navy Deck Officer

Job Description:

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

Job Category:
Aerospace & Defence

What you will do:

Your day-to-day tasks will depend on your rank:

  • as third officer, you’ll be responsible for safety equipment and lifeboats
  • as second officer, you’ll navigate the ship using radar, satellites, computers and weather reports
  • as chief officer, you’ll manage other officers and handle financial, legal and commercial matters
  • as master or captain, you’ll have overall responsibility for the efficient running of the ship and the safety of the crew, passengers and cargo


You’ll need:

  • knowledge of public safety and security
  • to have a thorough understanding of computer systems and applications
  • the ability to operate and control equipment
  • business management skills

As well as:

  • the ability to work well with others (teamwork skills)
  • concentration skills
  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail (organisational skills)
  • patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations
  • the ability to use your initiative
Illustration of employee looking at workspace

Entry Requirements:

To become a Merchant Navy Deck Officer, you’ll typically need specific educational qualifications and meet certain eligibility criteria. Merchant Navy Deck Officers play a vital role in the navigation and management of ships at sea. Here are the general guidelines for the GCSE (or equivalent) subjects and other qualifications you might need:

  1. English Language and Mathematics: Good grades in English Language and Mathematics are typically required, as these subjects are crucial for effective communication, navigation, and performing calculations on board a ship.
  2. Science: Courses in science subjects, such as physics or biology, can be beneficial, as they provide a foundational understanding of scientific principles and may be relevant to certain aspects of maritime navigation.
  3. Physical Education (optional): Physical fitness is important for deck officers, as they may be involved in physically demanding tasks, including handling mooring lines and lifeboats.

Post School

You can get into this job through:

  • a sponsored university course
  • an apprenticeship
  • direct application
  • pre-cadetship courses

You can start your career as a Merchant Navy officer-cadet (deck) on an industry sponsored foundation degree, higher national diploma or degree, at a maritime college or university.

Courses usually include onboard practical training. Subjects offered include:

  • nautical science
  • marine operations
  • navigation and maritime science
  • mechanical and marine engineering

You could do an intermediate apprenticeship as an able seafarer (deck). This will usually take around 18 to 24 months to complete, including time at sea.

With experience your employer may support you to complete rating to officer training.

Direct Application
If you have been in the Navy, or have transferable skills from professions like mechanical engineering, you may be able to apply directly. You will still need to find a sponsoring company to take you through the training needed.

Other Routes
If you do not have the right qualifications to go direct to an officer programme you can do a pre-cadetship course. This lasts around a year and will develop your skills to get you ready for an officer level course in the Merchant Navy.

Working Hours and Environment:

Typically you could work 52 to 54 hours a week, occasionally including evenings, weekends, or holidays.

You could work on a ship.

Your working environment may be at height, outdoors in all weathers, cramped and you may spend nights away from home.

You may need to wear a uniform and protective clothing.

Career Path & Progression:

The Merchant Navy has clear progression routes through its ranks.

You could find onshore and offshore positions with shipping companies, port authorities, maritime insurance companies and shipping brokers. Roles include logistics and fleet coordination, training and general management.

You could work for shipping companies based overseas.

You could also become a manager in other sectors.