|Your image of the deck department may include swarthy mariners scaling the rigging or their latter-day counterparts stacking up sun loungers. However the real workings of the Deck Department are rather different. One could say that the members of the deck department are ultimately responsible for getting the ship safely from A to B. They include the deck officers navigating on the bridge, the quartermasters at the wheel, the deck ‘ratings’ (non-officers) chipping and painting the hull and the ABs (Able Seamen) manning the launches to shore.|
|The head of the deck department is also the master of the entire vessel, the Captain. He has absolute rights of control over the ship and all those (passengers as well as crew) who sail in her. In other words, what the Captain says, goes. As well as overseeing the navigation, a Captain’s daily routine is largely taken up with paperwork, inspection tours, attending social events and meeting with the various heads of department. Also, international maritime law dictates that only the Captain is allowed to sign verification of the daily entries in the ship’s log book, such entries providing an important record of nautical and navigational data, together with reports concerning passengers and crew.
The Captain’s assistant is the Staff Captain and it is he who is second in command of the vessel. The joke is frequently told that the Staff Captain does all the work and the Captain takes all the glory, and certainly much of the day-to-day running of the ship, together with disciplinary and crew matters, will fall onto the Staff Captain’s desk. The Staff Captain will also be a certified Master in his own right and able to take over command at any time, if necessary.
Third in Command is the Chief Officer, whose responsibilities include overseeing the maintenance of the body of the ship, i.e. the exterior paintwork, the decks and the hull. He may also arrange for supplies of fresh water and fuel and the disposal of sewerage and garbage, vital services to which most passengers remain oblivious.
The First Officer (there may be several of these) will spend most of his working hours on the bridge doing watch duty. The bridge is always manned, even in port, and the navigation and safety of the vessel are the responsibility of the officer on duty.
Watch duties on ships always follow the sea-going tradition of four-hourly cycles, i.e. 8am-12 noon, noon-4pm, 4-8pm, 8pm-12 midnight, midnight-4am, and 4-8am. This way, an officer on the 4.00 to 8.00 watch, for example, must be on duty from 4am to 8am and again from 4pm to 8pm, so that his watch hours total eight in every 24.
The job of Safety Officer is either held by one of the senior officers alongside their other duties or, on larger ships, is a full-time position in its own right. The Safety Officer is responsible for the training and implementing of all safety procedures at sea, including the prevention and combat of fire, possibly the worst hazard on any ship. Note that the master controls for the fire-detection system (including deck plans with indicator lights to locate the problem area) and the watertight doors, which can divide the lower part of the vessel into compartments, are generally located on the bridge.