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What Are the Different Types of Sailors' Jobs?

By Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There are many different types of sailors' jobs, ranging from deckhands to cooks to captains. Seamen may work for a government's military or for a private company. They may work on aircraft carriers, cruise ships, or ferry boats. Some types of sailors' jobs require that they be away from home for long periods at a time, while others allow them to return home each day, such as a ferry boat job. The specific job descriptions of these occupations will vary from country to country, and from employer to employer.

A deckhand, sometimes simply called a sailor, is responsible for the general operation of the ship and the equipment on board. When the vessel departs or enters a port, deckhands handle the lines and keep a lookout for any obstructions in the water. The captain of the ship may ask a deckhand to check the depth of the water, and maintain the anchors and lifeboats. Experienced deckhands working on large, seafaring ships may be promoted to the position of boatswain, which is the head deckhand.

Other common sailors' jobs include the position of mate, or deck officer. Larger vessels that have more than one mate have a strict chain of command. There will be a chief mate, who is in charge of the others, a second mate, and so on. Mates are in charge of directing the activities of the deckhands. When the captain is off duty or incapacitated, the chief mate takes over the ship.

With the assistance of the mates, the captain commands the entire vessel. He is in charge of supervising all personnel below him, enforcing safety protocols, and keeping the ship's records. The captain sets the course of the vessel, oversees its position with the use of navigational aids, and supervises the crew who are operating and steering the ship.

More types of sailors' jobs that are essential to the piloting of the vessel includes motorboat operators, harbor pilots, and pilots. Motorboat operators can carry a handful of passengers on fishing trips. They may also ferry people from the shore to a ship, and vice versa. Harbor pilots assist specifically with guiding ships in and out of a port. Pilots are responsible for steering ships in the open ocean, in confined waterways, and around obstacles like reefs.

No large ship would be complete without at least one ship engineer, who is responsible for operating and maintaining the engines and other heavy machinery on board. Large vessels also have many different cooks who prepare and serve meals. Just like the different types of sailors' jobs, the cooks also have a strict hierarchy in the galley. There will likely be a chief cook, who is in charge of overseeing the entire galley, and he will likely have an assistant, who plans the menus. The rest of the cooks will be designated the first cook, the second cook, and so on.

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