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Staff structure

Officers and crew

There has long been a distinction at sea between officers and members of the crew. This distinction survives, although the smaller numbers needed on today`s ships mean some of the barriers between officers and crew have gone.

The officers manage the ship and are responsible for the discipline of the crew. The deck officers navigate the ship from port to port, and supervise its loading and discharging. The engineering officers ensure its main engine and other machinery and equipment are well maintained. 

Canadian Pacific Officers are photographed on deck

Magnifying glassCanadian Pacific Officers are photographed on deck

Officers usually undergo a cadetship or apprenticeship that led to them getting certificates of competency. The exceptions are coasters and harbour craft. Here, experienced seamen can first become first a mate (or first officer) and then a master without having to study for a certificate. 

Traditionally, those who started as cadets or apprentices stayed with one company throughout their seagoing career. They expected promotion as they gained experience and vacancies arose. Members of the crew, however, were usually engaged for just one voyage. Today, they will usually `sign on` to a ship for a set period.

The members of the crew do much of the routine work. This can be mundane, such as chipping the rust that always accumulates on steel, and repainting the hull. However, seamen`s work can also be highly skilled. For instance, an experienced seaman would steer the ship. He would take orders from the officer on watch, but his skill would ensure the ship was kept on the course. 


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