A Guide to Merchant Navy Ranks

The field of merchant navy involves a certain order of hierarchy with the seafarers holding different ranks on ships. This ranking system ensures smooth coordination of onboard operations and promotes proper management strategies.

Being a line of work that requires a very high degree of professionalism wherein lax performance can result in drastic consequences, the hierarchy is essential to an economically viable model for shipboard operations with a shore-based support framework.

The nomenclature of the merchant navy ranking system is universally accepted by shipping companies and commercial vessels around the world.

The ranks and responsibilities that come with it are somewhat similar across the whole industry with minor changes in names and duties assigned to specific positions varying among shipping companies and the system of the nomenclature they follow. As mentioned above, essentially it is almost all the same.

In general, the ranking system on merchant vessels mainly divided into the following categories:

  1. Deck Department
  2. Engine Department
  3. Catering Department 

The bridge of a vessel is a hub that is fitted with critical equipment for the safe navigation and watchkeeping of the merchant ship.

Owing to the advanced and specific nature of the bridge equipment, a requisite skill set is imperative for an individual to control all the equipment and thereby safely navigate the ship.

Seafarers under the deck department of the ship are vested with the responsibility of managing ship navigation, along with handling cargo operations and berthing instruments present on the deck of the ship.

Related Reading:

Similarly, seafarers working in the ship’s engine room fall under the engine department. This mainly includes marine engineers and ratings responsible for operation and maintenance of ship’s machinery.

The engine room houses the part of the ship that fuels/propels the vessel altogether and needless to say, a specific set of skills is essential to the engine room personnel as well.

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The third department, or the catering department, is responsible for the preparation of meals and general housekeeping for crew and passengers.

The number of people employed in this department (which is under the purview of the Master, as with everything else) varies among ships and obviously, a passenger ship will have far more catering staff than a cargo ship owing to the number of people that need to be serviced.

A vessel thus requires a definite system of merchant navy ranks that would enable the distribution of assignments in a professional and formal manner.

Merchant Navy Ranks 

The Captain

The Captain (or Master) of the ship is the final authority of the ship and is the highest rank that one can achieve onboard. He shoulders total responsibility and oversees all shipboard operations.

The Captain is in command of a merchant ship at all times and regulates the proper daily transactions and handles the legal affairs on maritime issues.

In the unlikely event that the Master is not present on board, the Chief Mate is assumed to be interim in charge of shipboard operations.

The Deck Department 

  • Chief Officer/Mate
  • Second Officer/Mate
  • Third Officer/Mate
  • Deck Cadets

Deck Rating (non-officers) 

Chief Officer / First Mate

Chief officer occupies the second responsible position after the Captain of the vessel. He is the executive head of the deck department and executes the order of the Master at the operational level (although the rank itself is a more managerial position).

He supervises the vessel’s crew and looks after the various deck operations which include, but not limited to the daily ongoings of the deck as per the work schedule as well as the cargo operations to be carried out while in port.

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The Chief Mate prioritises the security and safe functioning of the vessel and is responsible for the welfare of crew and passengers (if on a passenger ship) on board.

Additionally, the correct working of the hull, the accommodation section, the cargo gearing, the security appliances and the fire prevention equipment is managed by the Chief Officer.

Chief among all of his duties is the safe navigation of the ship for which he is an OOW for the navigational watches between 0400-0800 hrs and 1600-2000 hrs.

Already burdened with a lot of work in the port, the Chief Mate usually does not keep port watches as he is constantly overseeing the cargo work.

merchant navy
Representation Image – Photograph by Jose Jacob

Second Officer/ Mate

The 2nd Mate is an OOW responsible for the charts & publications on board and their maintenance. Also, he is the medical officer on board responsible for the upkeep and administering of all medically related services onboard.

Being an OOW, the navigational watch timings for him are 1200-1600 hrs and 0000-0400 hrs while at sea. In port, his watches are from 1200-1800 hrs and 0000-0600 hrs

Third Officer/ Mate

The 3rd Mate is in charge of all the LSA and FFA onboard and is assigned the duty to upkeep and maintain them onboard. Apart from that, he has to handle all the port documents for use by the Master along with handling the bond store onboard.

Being an OOW, the navigational watch timings for him are 0800-1200 hrs and 2000-0000 hrs while at sea. In port, his watches are from 0600-1200 hrs and 1800-0000 hrs

Deck Cadet

The deck cadet is the trainee officer onboard, fresh out of the Institute. His sole job is to learn, comprehend and apply skills for the process of becoming a skilled officer in the future.

Being a fresh candidate, a cadet is assigned tasks that give him a gradual understanding of the ship and her ongoings which come to use when preparing for the “Certificate of Competency” examinations to assume responsibility as an OOW in the future.

Aside from the deck work that he needs to grasp, the major chunk of a cadets learning pertains to assisting an OOW in carrying out a safe navigational watch


Bosun is the head of the rating division on deck and carries out the scheduled work on deck in liaison with the Chief Mate

Able seaman

According to the modern nautical terminology, an able seaman (AB) possesses a merchant mariner’s document and is eligible to assist the deck department. Know more about the rank of Able Seaman here.

Ordinary seaman

The post of an ordinary seaman, denoted by OS,  serves the vessel’s deck department. An OS is usually busy with tasks such as buffing, scaling, cleaning the deck and occasionally painting the superstructure, above the main deck.

An ordinary seaman can undertake activities like overhauling, splicing ropes, wiring, rigging, etc and conduct repair work on the deck.

It is the Ordinary seaman’s job to ensure the secure handling of cargo gears and loading or dismantling cargo as directed by the Bosun/Chief Mate. A trainee OS is like a cadet but for the rating section. Know more about Ordinary Seaman here.  

The Engine Department 

  • Chief Engineer
  • Second Engineer/First Assistant Engineer
  • Third Engineer/ Second Assistant Engineer
  • Fourth Engineer/ Third Assistant Engineer
  • Fifth Engineer/ Engine Cadet
  • Electrical Officer

Engine Room Rating 

  • Fitter
  • Motorman
  • Wiper
  • Trainee Fitter / Trainee Wiper

Chief Engineer

ChiefEngineerr is the head of the engineering department on a vessel.  The required qualification for this position is loosely referred to as the “Chief’s Ticket”. Alternatively, he can also be alternatively termed as the “The Chief” and usually draws similar pay as compared to the Captain, although the complete responsibility of a particular vessel falls solely on the Captain’s shoulder. Chief engineer gives orders for operation and maintenance of ship’s machinery system and is responsible for the engine room department.

Second Engineer/ First Assistant Engineer

He is associated with the day-to-day activities in the engine room, and he is accountable to the Chief Engineer. Duties include constantly supervising the proper functioning of all engine room machinery systems and also assigns jobs to the other engine officers and crew. The Second Engineer generally keeps watch on the engine room, during the day time

Also Read: Duties of 2nd Engineer on Ship

Third engineer/ Second Assistant Engineer

This is the next position after the Second Engineer and is assigned jobs to look after machinery ordered by the chief engineer, along with daily watch keeping. He reports to the second engineer

Fourth Engineer/ Third Assistant Engineer

This is the most junior rank in the engineering department. The Fourth Engineer is concerned about the correct working of the machinery systems assigned to him and also carry our watch keeping. He reports to the second engineer.

Also Read:  Duties of a 4th Engineer on a Ship

Fifth Engineer/ Engineering Cadet

Fifth engineer is a trainee under the Second Engineer officer, and he assists and learns while observing and carrying out activities in the engine room. He would accompany a senior officer (mostly second engineer) during the watch duty.

All the engine room ratings report to the second engineer. The engineering cadet spends his time on board with the chief objective of learning the requisite skills to becoming a competent engineering officer in the future (by clearing the requisite “Certificate Of Competency examinations to obtain the license to be a certified engineer)

The Catering Department 

  • Chief Cook
  • Trainee Cook
  • Steward

Chief Cook

Chief cook falls under the catering department of the ship. It is his duty to prepare meals regularly for the crew and passengers. He is also in charge of the food stores. The Chief Cook assists the Third Mate/Cadet in preparing the requisition for any/every food items to be forwarded to the company HQ to be procured onboard. The Chief Cook also inspects the equipment needed to keep the ship clean and uncontaminated in the galley area.

Trainee Cook

The trainee cook assists chief cook in preparation of meals and managing provision


The steward, as the name suggests, is assigned tasks include cooking and serving meals on time, sweeping and maintaining the living quarters of the officers, and stocktaking the stores. It is also the job of a steward to manage the grocery accounts, planning menus, and documents the cost control issues.

It is to note that a galley on passenger ships would involve several other ranks as well. Read here about galley jobs.

It is important to remember that while the shipboard hierarchy is almost the same across the industry, variations might exist depending on the nomenclature system followed in a specific company as well as the type of ship in question.

Having said that, the above gives a robust idea to the reader as to the existing norms with regard to the hierarchy in every department of merchant ships.

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Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendation on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

The article or images cannot be reproduced, copied, shared or used in any form without the permission of the author and Marine Insight. 

About Author

Shilavadra Bhattacharjee is a shipbroker with a background in commercial operations after having sailed onboard as a Third Officer. His interests primarily lie in the energy sector, books and travelling.


  1. Sir,
    I have comleted my Btech. in mechanical engineering and I decided to do 1 year PG course in Marine engg.
    So can you please suggest any good college and I also request you to provide me with salary package for different ranks.
    Thank you:)

  2. Dear Shezin,

    You can opt for those college who provide Sponsorship such as AESM, Univan Maritime etc. Just ensure you get a sponsored sear before getting the admission to get initial training onboard. For salary, please check the following link-https://goo.gl/N5mqpi

  3. Sir,
    Thanking you for helping me out with the above information.I would also like to know whether:
    1.there are management seats in AEMA and fee details
    2.the salaries you mentioned are provided round the year or not
    3.will the shipping industry be able to overcome the current situation you mentioned in the coming two years.
    4.the exams needed to be cleared for promotion is hard or not and how long will it take to climb up to as chief engineer.
    Thanking you once again and waiting for your reply:)

  4. i have passed class 12 can you guide me on what courses i can/should opt for in merchant navy?

  5. Sir,
    I want to choose merchant navy as my carrier. I’m studying in 12 th and im confused. Whether to take engineering or navigating stream. Wt
    I have heard is that engineers have to work at high temperature.
    do u have demand for marine engineers??

  6. hello sir 🙂
    i am a follower of your great blogs
    thank you for guiding us
    my question is that-
    now i am doing diploma in mechanical engneering from a AICTE approved collage and after that i am planing to do DME presea training (2years)
    so, is it good for me?
    and what is the procedure
    as the IMU is not conducting any exam for DME
    how do i go for it?
    thank you 🙂

  7. I am going to start General purpose rating course from renowned institution in mumbai i am very interested in engine department can you please guide me that how can i make to the top with it ?, can i become an officer ?

  8. sir
    I’m about to complete my b.tech in mechanical engineering and now I want to join merchant navy so please suggest me some colleges to complete 1 year course. and how can I get the sponsorship for any good institute.
    please guide me sir

  9. i have worked on cargo ship for 23 months and 21 days as ch.cook on a foreign cdc.I have 3yrs diploma in hotel mangt.Since 2009 i am working as a chef in a 4star hotel in Dehradun. I WOULD LIKE TO APPLY FOR INDIAN CDC FOR COOK .PL.HELP.

  10. sir
    I’m a student of b.tech in mechanical engineering of 8th semester and now I want to join merchant navy so please suggest me some colleges and courses. and how can I get the sponsorship for any good institute.
    please guide me sir

  11. Dear Kamran,

    You can opt for institutes which are run by ship management companies. Some institutes are- Anglo eastern, Univan maritime academy etc.

  12. I have been an ardent follower of Marine Insight two years and running. Keep up the excellent work you have been doing. And thanks for supplying us with immeasurable priceless information.

  13. hi.ser.my.name.Jethwa. lalji.Parstom. ma.g.s.hu.or.mare.pas.indcdc.ha.or.mare.pas.3yers.job.kaya.ha.gs.ma..my.no.9930627977

  14. Sir,
    I have comleted my B.tech. in mechanical engineering with 73%. and I decided to do 1 year PG course in Marine engg.
    So can you please suggest any good college and I also request you to provide me with salary package for different ranks.
    Thank you:)

  15. Hello sir
    This is vinod kumar ,i have completed my masters in mechatronics , i’m interested to work in merchant navy,as per my qualification ,ETO course is the only option to choose ,can i know the future of this course how it i’ll be and career growth in these field ,and after completing this course can i get placement.

  16. I am currently sailing as a chief engineer. Want to go for combined certificate of master and chief engineer. If any possibility to become master mariner. What is the procedure to get Any one of the white listed governments coc of master mariner

  17. Sir Thank u for the information you have provided .
    Sir I want to ask a question about course after BE in Electrical Engineering.
    I m Piyush Yede , currently persuing Electrical Engineering .
    I am in 2nd year right now
    My aim is to become a Marine Electrical Engineer .
    Please guide me for the course after engineering .

  18. Dear Sir
    my name is mohammed hamdulla. Sir I was completed my 2 year marine engine fitter course and gp ratting also…can you please guide me

  19. hi my self shyam. i am going for marchent navy job on b tech how engine crew position & how is seaman position on 10th class

  20. i & my friend going for marchent navy job through sea knights destiny marine service institute how is this inistitute. they provide one month cadet course on engine crew job how it is?

  21. Dear sir,
    I am now a 1 st year student in B.Sc 3 year cource .
    Then what are suggestions for me to join in merchant navy??

  22. hiii i completedsaloon rating and i have indian cdc but i want to chage my rank and join deckside plzz let me know whats the procedure to change the rank

  23. Helli sir,
    Please mention the “promotion” and “salary* of an ETO.
    (Electrical trainee officer.)

    Can i be one day promoted to chief engineer one day just having 4 yrs of graduate degree in electrical engineering?

  24. Salary will be in the range of 3500 – 6500 USD depending upon the experience, company, and type of ship you are working.
    You cannot be promoted to Chief engineer. You will be joining as Assistant ETO or trainee ETO and promoted to ETO.

  25. Hii,Sir I have completed my class 12th course but my subject is PCM(Physics,chemistry,Biology)can I have any stream in merchant navy

  26. Sir my question is i am having crohns disease but its totally controlled so am i eligible for the job

  27. @Amit: If it’s severe or recurrent, you will be considered as incompetent. You need to provide documents showing it is fully controlled with an extremely low likelihood of recurrence.

  28. sir,
    i am studing in 12th std and i want to join merchant navy.
    please provide the information regrading eligibility and information about the exam IMU CET .and its date of online application for the exam.

  29. Sir I am complited ETO.but I have one doubt if I completed ETO then go to another officer is possible or not

  30. @Manoharan: You will be joining as Trainee ETO and after gaining experience and getting the COC, you will be promoted as ETO. You cannot switch to any other department with this qualification.

  31. sir i Sagar parashar i studying in class 11 with pcm and my aim to become a marine engineer .. so i rqst u to make a video on btech.marine enginer with details plz sir this is humble rqst to u.
    and sir when i will complete my 12th i want to contact u so if it happn plz give me ur whatsapp no…
    thanku sir .

  32. Hello sir have a good day
    Gp rating courses .
    Sir I am oiler 24month sea service.
    Now how can get coc

  33. I have completed b-tech in mechanical engineering. I got an opportunity to work as engine cadet by reference.
    How much salary can I expect?
    When can I expect promotion?

  34. hello sir.
    i have open indian cdc. basis of stcw course. if i join as a general steward then how can i get promotion for next rank & how many montha are require.

  35. @G.Mahesh: G.S works in a galley department and you don’t have any other position above it.

  36. Hello sir my name ls jaydep.I have completed my Ccmc presea training in Jan 2018 and now i am sailing in reliance. I want to change my rank from TR GS to TR O.S is it possible please help me

  37. Hello sir. I am studying btech 4th year in mechanical engineering. Sir i eant to join in MN in engine side . Can u plzz tell me wahy is process

  38. Hii sir my name is pinky sir one of my friend is deck cadet he said he is a flying officer in Indian navy. Sir deck cadet can be a pilot is it possible. Bt I hv seen his document in which his rank is given deck cadet. Sir please clear my doubt .

  39. @Pinky: This blog is specifically for Merchant navy and not defense navy.

  40. Pls…..am a Cadet, but I haven’t graduated from my Academy ( Merchant Navy Maritime Academy. Nigeria ) but I need vital information on how to go about my IT and to confirm if we would be paid as a Cadet and also to know the price range…… Am an engineering student.

  41. Dear sir,
    I have completed my 10th class with First Class.
    I want to join Catering Department as a Steward.
    So, what is the process to join merchant navy, what should have to do 1st ?
    Is there any exam for that for direct joining?

  42. What about girls
    And subject and stream girls has to choose
    PCB girl student can also apply for merchant navy

  43. Sir
    I am qualified b.sc (PCM) & B.Ed
    I am join merchant navy
    How to join merchant navy

  44. Thanks for the guidance, I really do appreciate.
    Furthermore, I want to have access to free maritime books, especially on ship board operations, security and safety.

    Thanks in anticipation.

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