What does a Ship Captain do?

What is a Ship Captain?

The captain of a ship is the leader of the entire vessel, the size of which can range in size from a small yacht to an entire cruise liner. A captain is someone who has vast experience with ships and their operation, and has likely worked their way through the ranks of other ship-related positions. Their duties on the ship fall far beyond the scope of a management position, as the ship captain must be proficient in every aspect of sailing, from ship operation to maintenance, and in the instance of touring ships, playing host to the passengers. The entire success of a ship's voyage lies on the captain's shoulders and how well they manage their crew.

What does a Ship Captain do?

A captain's responsibilities are wide-ranging in expertise and include navigation, operation of the ship's equipment, business functions, and the assignment and monitoring of duties performed by all crew members. Ensuring all equipment receives proper maintenance and follows environmental regulations also falls under their jurisdiction. Lesser, but equally important to their other duties, is the task of keeping regular logs through the journey, and supervising passenger and crew embarking and disembarking. Nearly everything that happens on the vessel must be rigorously documented and checked by the ship captain to keep a formal record of every excursion and the ship's functions throughout. In the instance of international travel, it is the captain's duty to meet the requirements of local and international customs and inspections.

In some cases, the captain must maintain the ship's financial operations and accounting, including cash-on-hand and payroll, in the absence of a purser on board. They must also be responsible for the ship's security, both in terms of basic operation and under extreme circumstances, such as responding to threats from terrorists, pirates, hijackers, and stowaways.

In the instance of trouble during the voyage that results in cargo damage or loss, improper ship piloting, or the injury or death of a crew member, a captain must act as a direct contact to local authorities to aid in the preceding investigation. They must provide thorough documentation and accounts of the event in question and be capable of providing any further information the investigative party may require.

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How to become a Ship Captain

To be a ship captain requires several steps to gain appropriate education and experience relevant to the position. The U.S. Coast Guard regulates the training and licensing of maritime occupations in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, the International Maritime Organization regulates educational and licensing standards. Each organization has a limited number of schools approved to train and prepare for the licensing exam. Qualifications for the licensing exam include earning a 4-year Bachelor of Science degree, with coursework in meteorology, navigation, and cargo management. After meeting these qualifications and passing a licensing exam, candidates may find work as a deck officer or third mate on board a ship.

The process of working up the ranks of the crew is strictly outlined in terms of time served as certain members of the crew. Once qualified to act as the third mate, a year of service is required to become the second mate. After becoming the second mate, another year of service, 13 weeks of classes, and the passing of multiple examinations are required to graduate to chief mate. And similarly, after becoming the chief mate, one more year of service is required to qualify for the master of vessels licensing, a vital step to becoming a ship's captain.

The military provides a second avenue in training to eventually become a ship captain, and often provides on-the-job training for lesser positions, such as officers, quartermasters, and ship operators. Training through the military typically requires a period of committed service and potential combat duties, following completion of the training period.

Whether training is obtained through academic or military experience, the U.S. Coast Guard requires anyone who intends to seek a maritime occupation to receive further licensing. A Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) must be approved and certified through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Certification through the International Maritime Organization will require similar security credentials from the candidate's intended country of occupation. While it is not a requirement for entry-level seamen, a person seeking higher priority positions on a ship must also receive a Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) to be qualified for the job.

Beyond the basic outlined educational experience and licensing, becoming the captain of a ship also requires work experience and certain other licenses. A potential captain must be licensed to operate the particular size and type of boat they intend to supervise, and must have completed licensing in basic first aid and CPR training. Depending on the employer, they must also have logged a certain number of hours on a ship, and pass vision, drug, and physical screenings.

What is the workplace of a Ship Captain like?

A captain's workplace is upon their particular boat, which can vary in type and size depending on their certification. The boat's territory may range from touring at sea, traveling rivers, or navigating various other waterways in between harbours. Because of the nature of maritime travel, a captain's stay at their workplace may be a day-to-day outing, or last for several weeks to months.