Deck Department Vs. Engine Department

For those that are initially joining the merchant navy, there is always a great deal of confusion with regard to the various departments on the ship and which one to choose. Although each and every person contributes to the overall smooth functioning of the vessel, the two departments are demarcated as per the responsibilities that go with them. While there is no specific answer as to which one is ‘better’, it is important to know which department suits one better in terms of career progression as well as career prospects outside of the merchant navy (if that is the long term goal for the individual).

While in the process of choosing which course to pursue at an institute and deciding between engine and deck departments, we ask students to keep these five things in mind before joining merchant navy. In relation to understanding both the aspects better it is also necessary for prospective students to understand the difference between Nautical Science and Marine Engineering. At the very base level, students who choose to pursue ‘Nautical Science’ end up choosing the path of a deck officer while those that choose ‘Marine Engineering’ end up choosing the path of an engineer onboard.

While the smooth operation of a ship is intricately entwined in a team effort, each department comes with the essential skill set that is applied once the candidate joins a ship as engineer cadet or a deck cadet.  Knowing about various subjects one has to learn in each of these streams helps to get rid of most of the doubts involved with deciding between the two departments.


To make this write-up more comprehensive, the career progression for a deck officer is as follows (in ascending order):

Deck Cadet – Third Officer – Second Officer – Chief Officer – Master/Captain.

That for the engineer officer is as follows:

Engineer Cadet – Fourth Engineer – Third Engineer – Second Engineer – Chief Engineer.

While this is the general career progression, different companies have different designations; for example, many companies nowadays have an additional/junior third officer as a rank that is an interim rank towards becoming a third officer.

A career in merchant navy is unlike any other career and every person planning a career in the same would know about it. In case you don’t, read them here –Reasons as to why a career in merchant navy is unlike any other.

People confused between engine and deck sides, often have queries regarding the following aspects:

  1. Salary structure (difference between salaries of both the departments)
  2. Job profile
  3. Future prospects
  4. Placement and job availability
  5. Availability of shore jobs – Some people even think about the prospect and availability of shore jobs once they have worked for certain years on ships and wish to pursue other interests

Let’s look at each aspect individually.

Salary Structure

The salary structure of both engine and deck departments is almost the same. While there were some differences earlier with regard to salaries, both departments have commensurate salaries in relation to their rank on board.  This means that officers at corresponding rank in both the departments earn almost equally, that is to say, that the Chief Engineer and the Master have almost similar salaries (sometimes the Master has a higher pay but nothing too significant in terms of the difference). The article on the average range of salaries of officers on ships would help to resolve the doubt.

Job Profile

Though the job profile and nature of duties of officers in both the department are different, at the end it an individual’s choice as to what side to choose. It is duly important to note that the Master is eventually the ultimate authority on the ship and all work onboard has to be under his purview.

It is not possible to thoroughly compare both job profiles as deck officers are navigating officers with a different skillset while the engineering officers have a different skill set. As mentioned before, the smooth operation of the ship is entirely dependant on the harmony between the two departments wherein the every person does the work assigned to him without being too nosy about another’s assigned task!

The Chief engineer has officers under him to maintain all the workings in the engine room and other associated work whereas the Chief Officer (under the complete purview of the Master) ensures the safe navigation and cargo operation of the vessel. Both departments are ultimately answerable to the Master as the Master has the final word.

Work profile in both engine and deck departments is challenging and rewarding. It’s the person’s prerogative to decide between engine side and navigation side.

Future Prospects

A ship cannot run without engine officers and/or deck officers. The engineers are experts with the engine and the navigating officers handle their area of expertise with regards to safe navigation and cargo operation. Thus the need for both the type of officers will always be there (unless they come up with totally unmanned ships; even, in this case, there will always be a human element involved that can never be totally negated). Both the sides have bright and respectable futures.

Placement and Job market

This is one aspect which bothers the most especially to those who are just entering the field. Though there are several reasons because of which deck cadets and junior marine engineers are not getting jobs, the situation can be expected to improve soon. Shipping is very well known to be a cyclical industry with boom and bust cycles depending upon the existing status of the economy and industrialisation in the world. With the boom comes more trade, more ships and more jobs and corresponding to the bust is a downturn in the shipping industry with lesser jobs, pay cuts etc.

However, it is to note that employment problems are prominent in every field at the starting level and it’s the same with merchant navy as well.

Officers of higher ranks from both engine and deck departments are always in demand in accordance with the expertise they come with.

Onshore Opportunities

For those who also consider on shore job, prospects must note that there are several opportunities on shore for merchant navy officers.

Experienced marine engineers and deck officers can get jobs in the management department of shipping companies which includes operations manager, ship broker, chartering department, Manning department etc

Marine engineers can take up shore based jobs as teachers at institutes, Design/Seismic/Maintenance Engineers. They can also take up the job of trainee surveyors. By default of the precise level of work carried out by them on ship which includes handling mega engines, boilers etc. their demand on shore is also very good (for example, luxury hotels hire many engineers from the merchant navy to handle their machinery with attractive pay commensurate to pay on shore)

Nautical officers, as well as marine engineers, are also required in Chartering / Ship Brokerage firms. Masters are in great demand for teaching jobs at institutes.

However, it is advisable to sail for certain years and have a good amount of experience before shifting to shore jobs.

Those who are interested in future studies can do an MBA in Shipping and improve their job options on shore. It is widely known that MBA candidates with a merchant navy background automatically have a profile that stands out; this is not a very common job and there is always an ‘added interest’ or ‘intrigue’ component from the admissions committee when they realise the extent of responsibility that comes with being an officer onboard (handling a multi million dollar ship with a billion dollar worth cargo isn’t everyone’s cup of tea!). Owing to the sheer level of work carried out onboard, shippies are often accepted into some of the best MBA schools around the world, sometimes even with a low GMAT score which is compensated for by their work experience.

Thus, a career in both engine and deck department is a rewarding and challenging one. At the end, it is up to the individual to decide what he or she is more passionate and interested about. While both contribute equally to the safe operation of a vessel, each has their own specialised area of study and the same applies on the job. It is a matter of personal preference as to which holds a greater degree of attraction for the candidate.

You may also like to read – How Deck Officers Can Use NP 294 to Keep Admiralty Products Up-To-Date?

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. 

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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.

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  1. which companies are still accepting cadets to work with them……….. please guide me.

  2. Info regarding salaries is becoming obsolete.
    These days, specially in offshore industry, deck officers get much, much more,
    than counterparties from the engine room.
    As example:
    DPO – 500
    1st ENG – 450.
    SDPO (Chief Mate) – 750

    DPO is not even a senior officer whereas SDPO = 1st ENG (should people forget).

  3. i hve done my btech in mech engg……
    how could i join gre ?????
    is there any entrance xam for that????

  4. i have completed my B.E in may 2014 from mechanical branch how can i join in merchant navy when will the admissions open and plz name some good instutions names

  5. Sir I want to become merchant navy so please tell me the government and private best colleges

  6. Wht is the minimum height needed to join the merchant navy??
    plzzz rply as soon as possible..!!

  7. @Isha : As per DG shipping rules, the minimum height requirement for male candidate is 157 cm (5’2″) and for female candidates its 152 cm (5′)

  8. hiii anish sir
    my self harish ..sir i have interested to join merchant navy …sir i want know one thing ….my frnds told that merchant navy is contract based job…suppose i got 2years contract in deck department…. after 2 years ..what can i do……i mean ..again im searching place ment…??????? in another company..
    plz sir rply me ….in my mail ( harishglance21@gmailcom)
    thank you sir

  9. Sir I want to join merchant navy

    I m 12th pass out with PCM

    Can u suggest me plz for more querry

  10. Sir , i want to know that are tattoos allowed it Merchant Navy ? Please do rwply as soon as possible

  11. Can I change from deck to engine department if I have not sailed yet,but have been registered on seafarers profile as nautical.

  12. Sir I have just passed 10 with good marks I want to join merchant navy deck department white uniform job can i
    Plzz reply help me to decide my path

  13. You should mention that chain of command only goes down the deck side.
    The engineering department will never be in command of the vessel

  14. I observed for more than 40 years and surely found that during 1st year of marine universities, there is always a wave of Eng. dept students manage their ways to flock into Deck dept. and never found out a Deck student finds his way to join Eng Dept. The answer is so easy and clear!

  15. i saw this in my school, deck exams were much easier; engine exams are ridiculous

  16. Sir I am currently studying in class 12 and want to opt Merchant Navy as my career . Therefore i was keen to know the required weight for female candidates for selection.

  17. is the enginer officer Ive seen on your article is other name for MARINE ENGINEER??

    please reply ASAP
    thank you

  18. Hello anish sir.. hope I know me.. last time I uploaded my commnt… This time also uploading my commnt.??.. Actually i have dine my STCW course and already got my indian CDC.. 7 of us was going to flight for iran .. yesterday.. at mumbai airport. Boarding pass checking we cud not able to go. Coz our RPSL was not updated.. Onli after reaching airport Agent told us to say Server down inside airport.. but we cud not able to go…They check out passport. And they say No POE.. dat means RPSL not updated..4 of dem was Cleared but cud not able to go due to boarding closed… Now again website going to sane place.. we have talked to them office… Office the agent they loss 1 lacs of flight ticket…but it was their fault onli… Actually My indian CDC was stamped with four years experience .. going for supply vessel.. as Oiler …so I want to know the main works of oiler.. It’s to maintain ,clean and at sometimes have to work as engine parts…to lubricate the machinery…filtering the oli and purifying … Thus is the oiler duty?????? Or… Can I kno the details..actually my friend went to iran as Engine cadet..but dey got into acTug boat.. there was not sailing experience … They were to work like a labour?? They do loading and unloading when their tug vessel reach the port with Spade,bilcha and all.. ?? I think we wouldn’t get experience like this on the ship with Chipping ,scrapping dan. Without knowing Navigational ,ship details ,COLREGS, Charting ,steering the wheel..Learning Life boat drills,… Engine parts and all.. SOLAS, Equipments…and all…can I know some details sir

  19. After went for sailing as Oiler for 9 months.. can I go As AB in deck department. After updating my Documents. .. ?? Will it be possible. 2nd sailing AB salsry exactly how much will be sir??

  20. @Quiwe: As you sailed as oiler in the engine room, you need to start as an ordinary seaman in the deck side to become Able seaman later.
    AB salary varies from type of ship and company. the average will be from USD 900 to USD2000.

  21. The main duty of an oiler is maintaining, cleaning and, at times, operating ship engine parts, including blowers, compressors, motors, gears, ejectors and other equipment. They are responsible for operating the lubricant filtering and purifying equipment and keeping logs of the oiling.

  22. Sir I have done my deck cadet course and also got my Indian cdc .Now I am searching for a job.How can I get job .old help me out.I am fresher. With regards.

  23. Hello sir i am an AB , i wants to go in engine room as wiper or any rank . Is it possible to do so?
    Can i switch to engine room?

  24. @Nitin: Yes, but you need to start from trainee wiper as most of the company will not allow you to join as wiper.

  25. @Poonam: A marine engineer can work on all types of ship– offshore, coastal, foreign going (after getting required certificates in the designated field)

  26. Sir which department is better for shore jobs that too not of teaching after some years of job in merchant navy? Pls ans asap

  27. @Aditya: You need to ask yourself first – Why to go for a sea job when thinking about a shore job from the start?

  28. Good day sir,

    Actually i have been a part of merchant navy and have been onboard for 2 vessels,

    Now having seen good prospects in ship roking wanted to shift, but can you just tell me that as far as lifestyle is concerned is shipbroking an officejob or what, do brokers goo to their homes or is it just like a vessel and please tell about the regular lifestyle

    Thank you

  29. Hey I finished my 10th with just 40% will I be able to get a job in merchant navy and if i do what kind of job will it be ?

  30. @Sree: if you can do better in 10+2 and get > 60% in PSM, you still have a good chance.

  31. Sir , right now im giving my final year exam of diploma in mechanical ,but i wanted to know that can I join merchant navy as a deck cadet on is there any course for joining deck department after completing diploma

  32. @Arshad: Your qualification allows you to join as Marine Engineer after the GME course. If you want to join as a deck cadet, the diploma in mechanical is of no use. You need to apply on the basis of your 10+2 Marks.

  33. Sir I have recently completed my 12th with 79%. For becoming deck officer is it necessary to clear imu cet or i can directly go to company and submit resume for interview?

  34. @Devil: You need to give IMU CET so that you can get admission in one of the maritime colleges. Post that, you can go to the company for a job.

  35. Respected sir,
    Actually I wanted to enquire that I did not got qualified in my imu cet exam and also I didn’t get 60% in PCM .
    So my doubt is can I join merchant navy as a deck cadet , if yes then what is the procedure???
    And if no,then why ????

  36. Sir I have cleared sponsorship procedure of MSC and dockendale. For which one should I go now. My AIR in IMU CET is 849

  37. @Krishan: Preference: MSC.
    MSC is an expanding company with multiple ship fleet. However, Dockendale has only bulk carrier fleet.

  38. @Mitesh: Just like all other national level exams, IMU CET is for maritime colleges. If you did not qualify it, you cannot join the colleges. However, some colleges do provide NRI quota seats which are way too expensive and looking at the current job market, it is not recommended.

  39. Sir I passed bsc in statistics as a major subject with 82% and in +2 pcm exact 60%. how can i join as a cadet officer? is gp rating course is good for me ? or any other marine course which one is better for me ? plz reply me sir and which college is best for us

  40. My Boyfriend is currently sailing in Engine and want to transfer to deck , so i wish to know that how can he do that and whether he would have to cancel engine watchkeeping or not for this Or will he have to sail on Deck and then get Deck watchkeeping

  41. @CT: If he has done a dual certificate course, he can switch. If not, you need to start all over again from the basic. Get back to nautical college and complete the course to be eligible to sail as a deck cadet.

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