⚙ Should I be an Engineer or Deck Officer?
When you are planning to start a career at sea, there is always a question of which department should you go into - Deck or Engine? Besides the usual criteria e.g. physical fitness, minimum academic qualification, personal interest, etc. which determine if you can be considered as a candidate to get accepted into the course you want, there is also the career path and type of work which you would like to do when you step ashore from sea in the future.
The work nature of each department onboard is different and may influence your decision to continue sailing after your initial sea experience. If you complete your sailing till Class 1 Certificate of Competency (COC), the opportunities ashore for deck and engine officers are different and worth considering to get a more fruitful career in marine industry. The various roles onshore will be covered in separate articles.
Work nature of Engineer Officer:-
The engine department consists of Chief Engineer, Second Engineer, Third Engineer, Electrical Engineer, Fourth Engineer, Cadet Engineer supported by engine crew or ratings such as two oilers or greasers or motormen and one fitter.
Chief Engineer is responsible for all maintenance and equipment. Second Engineer supervises the daily work plan for the team beside taking charge of the main propulsion engine. Third Engineer is in charge of the auxiliary engines and boiler. Fourth and below covers the various auxiliary equipment such as pumps, purifiers, etc. The aforesaid responsibilities vary from ship to ship and company to company.
The junior and cadet engineers as well as some of the engine ratings may not be present depending on the ship manager and condition of each vessel. Some ships also sail without Electrical Engineer.
Nowadays most modern ocean-going vessels operate on unmanned machinery space (UMS) system except for special operations such as transit through heavy traffic sea lanes, Panama/Suez canal crossing, entering or leaving port, etc. In other cases, it may also be downgraded temporarily to watchkeeping system when the UMS system or engine control system is faulty. In some cases, the ship manager may decide to go for watchkeeping system for various other reasons.
UMS means a day shift work schedule only just like in onshore workshop. And watchkeeping schedule works on 4 hours on 8 hours off shift.
Engineers carry out maintenance on various equipment or machinery during their day work while main propulsion engine is running during a voyage.
Working environment in machinery space is very noisy at sea. It gets very warm and sweaty in summer and cool in winter.
At night during voyage, the duty engineer is required to do his round check in machinery space for abnormal condition such as heavy pipe leakages before retiring for the day.
When there is a breakdown in critical machinery, the engineers will have to work round the clock to repair and keep the ship moving.
Any report of breakdown or defective mechanical/electrical equipment will be attended to by engineers.
Work nature of Deck Officer:-
The deck department consists of Master, Chief Officer, Second Officer; Third Officer, Cadet Officers and the deck crew or rating. The Master is overall in charge of the ship. Chief Officer manages the daily operations and maintenance plan. The deck crew is headed by a bosun who manages the 3 able-bodied seaman and 1 or 2 ordinary seaman. Like the engine department, the set up varies from ship to ship. Not all ships employ cadets.
Deck officers always work in watchkeeping schedule 4 hours on 8 hours off in any type of vessels whether the ship is en route, at anchorage or in port.
Deck officers cover operations such as mooring, ballasting, cargo operations and navigation. Maintenance work generally revolves around chipping and painting of weather decks, in cargo spaces, accommodation, etc.
Working environment on deck maintenance is more pleasant than in machinery space especially in summer, spring and autumn. In winter, the coldness is demanding and very uncomfortable. In foul weather, maintenance work on deck is suspended for safety reason.
The officers maintain a watchkeeping and look out at navigation wheelhouse for 4 hours each. During the night, the wheelhouse will be in darkness except for the instrument and equipment's dimmed indication lights so as not to affect safe navigation at sea. A night watch is usually manned by an officer and a deck crew. The environment is quiet and pleasant - good time for star gazing and reflection.
In the day time, the wheelhouse is typically manned by one officer only; the crew will be on deck helping out on the maintenance. The Second and Third Officer will be carrying out weekly maintenance on life-saving appliances and fire-fighting appliances respectively after their day watchkeeping section end.
In some regions, the job title, "First Engineer" is used instead of "Second Engineer" after Chief Engineer. They mean the same thing and each has similar job scope and responsibilities.
There are more to write about their job nature. However the above is sufficient to give a general idea of what's life at sea is all about for the two departments.