Classifications of Maritime Crew Members

On vessels, seamen operate within different ranks. Offshore worker classifications help further the mission of the vessel by giving crew members specific duties and responsibilities. Crew members are primarily placed into four different departments: the deck department, the engineering department, the steward's department, and other. Below, we explain the classification of crew members within each department.

Steward’s Department

The Steward’s Department manages and maintains the eating and living spaces on the ship.

Chief Cook

This individual is a senior unlicensed crew member in the steward's department; he or she oversees the preparation and serving of the meals, as well as ensures that operations meet scheduled serving times—similar to a cook in a restaurant. The chief cook may also be responsible for designing the menu, purchasing necessary ingredients, and more. They also must oversee the cleanliness of the kitchen to avoid bacteria buildup, preventing unnecessary illness aboard the ship.

Chief Steward

An individual classified as a chief steward is responsible for instructing and managing personnel, preparing meals, ensuring cleanliness, and overseeing inventory control. While a chief steward wears an officer's uniform, s/he is not a licensed Merchant Marine officer.

Engineering Department

This team collectively monitors and repairs all mechanical and electrical systems on the ship.

Engineering Cadet

An individual ranked as an engineering cadet is a trainee engineer officer who reports to the second engineer. They are responsible for observing, learning, and helping however they can. They cannot hold their own watch but can assist other engineers with theirs. They are on board in order to prepare themselves for a future career in the engineering department.

Fourth Engineer

Crew members classified as fourth engineer or third assistant engineers are the most junior marine engineers aboard. They are responsible for electrical, sewage treatment, oily water separation systems, and more. Some academies have four-year programs that lead to a Bachelor of Science in Marine Engineering Technology and a Coast Guard-issued license as a third assistant engineer.

Third Engineer

Individuals ranked as third engineers (also known as second assistant engineers) are responsible for overseeing boilers, fuel, auxiliary engines, and more. Should the third engineer hold a Person in Charge (PIC) endorsement, they may also be responsible for fueling and bunkering.

Second Engineer

Second engineers (also called first assistant engineers) report directly to the chief engineer and are licensed members of the engineering department. They are responsible for supervising the daily maintenance and operation of the engine department, which includes refrigeration systems, main engines, and more. They are also responsible for preparing the engine room for arrival, departure, and standby. For this reason, second engineers are usually some of the busiest individuals on a vessel.

Chief Engineer

The chief engineer is a licensed mariner and the highest-ranked crew member in the engineering department; they are usually referred to as "The Chief." They are responsible for overseeing all operations and maintenance of the ship's engineering equipment. The chief engineer may also be responsible for compiling an inventory, overseeing all major maintenance, and even preparing the engine room for inspection by authorities.

Deck Department

The Deck Department serves numerous functions, mainly taking charge of safely receiving, discharging, and storing the ship’s cargo.

Ordinary Seaman

Individuals classified as ordinary seamen (OS) are unlicensed, entry-level deck department workers. They help with the general operation and upkeep of the deck department. OS are required to work a specific amount of time to acquire "sea time" before they are permitted to become certified as able seamen.

Able Seaman

Crew members classified as able seamen (AB) are deck department members who possess a mariner's document. They must have specific training and experience, and they must meet specific requirements such as passing a medical exam, serving at least six months, and more.


These are senior crew members responsible for all components of the vessel's hull.

Deck Cadet

Seafarers ranked as a deck cadet are officers under training; they are trained in navigation, ship and cargo handling, as well as maritime law. They report to the chief officer and help the deck officers while also observing and learning from them.

Third Officer

The third officer, also known as the third mate, is responsible for overseeing the safety of the ship and the crew. They are the fourth-in-command aboard the ship.

Second Officer

As third-in-command, the second officer or second mate is in charge of the navigation of the ship and serves as the ship's navigation officer.

Chief Officer

The chief officer (also known as the first mate or chief mate) is the leader of the ship's deck department and is second-in-command of the entire vessel. Their responsibilities are varied, and include a vessel's cargo operations, stability, and deck crew supervision. They are also responsible for the ship's safety and security and are in charge of training crews and cadets. Should the master be absent or incapacitated, the chief officer will take command of the ship.


The highest-ranked officer on board a vessel is known as either its captain or the master. They are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the vessel and ensure that all departments are running smoothly.

Contact Us

Get a Completely Free Evaluation of Your Case

  • Please enter your first name.
  • Please enter your last name.
  • Please enter your email address.
    This isn't a valid email address.
  • Please enter your phone number.
    This isn't a valid phone number.
  • Please make a selection.
  • Please make a selection.
  • Please enter a message.