Merchant navy deck officer

Security, uniformed and protective services

Career outlook for merchant navy deck officer

UK Salary Ranges





Currently employed in Scotland


Salary information is provided by the "National Careers Service". "Oxford Economics" supplies job forecasts and employment figures. Due to COVID-19 the jobs market is constantly changing. Some of the information may not reflect the current situation.

What's it like?

You would navigate across the world’s oceans to ensure your ship’s crew and cargo arrives safely at their destination.

You would be responsible for navigation, communications, crew and cargo on board the ship. You’d also take care of passengers and oversee safety.

You’d work in watches: the system in which a team will work for a few hours and then take several hours off in a rota that runs continually throughout the day and night.

All UK-owned commercial ships are part of the Merchant Navy.

This includes:

  • Cruise ships
  • Container ships
  • High tech ferries
  • High quality oil, gas and chemical tankers
  • Modern bulk carriers carrying ores, grain and coal
  • Specialised support vessels

As a deck officer, you would work at one of four levels, depending on your experience.

  • As Master or Captain you would be responsible for the overall running and safety of the ship, crew, passengers and cargo. You would handle legal and commercial matters and keep all the ship's records up to date.
  • As Chief Officer you would assist the Master and oversee work on deck and maintenance around the ship, cargo handling and storage. You would also plan the work schedules and supervise other officers.
  • As Second Officer you would be responsible for navigation, using radar, satellite and computer systems. You’d also check the vessel's position, speed, direction and weather reports, and carry out watch duties at sea and in port.
  • The post of Third Officer would usually be your first job after training. You would look after the ship's safety equipment and lifeboats. You’d assist the Second Officer and carry out watch duties.

Some very large cargo ships and passenger liners may have a fifth officer level.

As a deck officer in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary you would work on civilian-crewed ships operated by the Ministry of Defence.

You could be responsible for:

  • Monitoring helicopter movements
  • Specialised navigation
  • Nuclear biological chemical damage control – the process used to tackle fires and other emergencies

Working conditions


Merchant Navy vessels operate around the clock and you would work shifts, known as 'watches', that vary according to the size of your ship. On a large vessel, you would work four hours on duty followed by eight hours off.


You would work on deck, below deck and on the bridge, in all weather conditions. If you work with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, you may work in combat zones.


Your time at sea could vary from a few days or weeks to several months. Periods of leave between voyages would also vary.

UK employment status





Self employed


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  • Adaptability
  • Resilience
  • Reliable
  • Attention to detail
  • Analysing
  • Verbal communication
  • Written communication
  • Cooperating
  • Observation
  • Working with numbers

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Getting in

Entry requirements for courses can change. Always contact the college, university or training provider to check exactly what you'll need.


You'll need to complete a deck or engineering officer cadetship. To enter a cadetship, you'll need to be sponsored by a company. Most cadetships require four National 5 qualifications including English, maths and one science subject. 

Your cadetship would last three years. You'd spend time training at sea and learning with a college or training school.
Many cadets work towards an HNC/D qualification (SCQF Level 7/8) and a Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) Certificate of Competency. If you have Highers in English, maths and two science subjects, you may be eligible to complete a Foundation Degree or Professional Diploma (SCQF Level 8/9). 

Sponsoring companies often recruit cadets up to a year before training begins. 

All courses must be recognised by the Merchant Navy Training Board.

Useful subjects

  • Maths (required by most employers)
  • English (required by most employers)
  • Science subjects (required by most employers)
  • Geography
  • Engineering
  • ICT
  • Modern languages

You will also need

You require sponsorship by a shipping company or agency. There are training schools in Scotland to help you do this. 

The sponsoring company may have additional entry requirements to training schools or colleges.

To progress in rank you will have to hold a relevant Certificate of Competency which is issued by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. 

Helpful to have

Qualifications and experience that show relevant skills such as:

  • NC Shipping and Maritime Operations (SCQF level 6) with optional Engineering Units.
  • Skills for Work Uniformed and Emergency Services (SCQF level 4)