Beating a dead horse: Engine and deck decision

Planning on going to one of the maritime academies this year (either SUNY, Mass, or Maine). I’ve been thinking a lot about whether to go for a deck or engine license and scouring the internet and this forum reading how it has been for people but am still undecided. Originally I envisioned myself as a deck officer but now that I think about it I feel like I might get bored doing the job and also engineering seems a lot more useful in everyday life. (fixing shit around the house, car problems, HVAC, etc) especially if I ever bought my own boat. As well as maybe having a better chance of employment on land if I ever want that. The curriculum looks a lot more interesting too but also difficult. Regardless of which I choose I want to learn at least basic stuff about the functioning of the ship. I feel like it would be criminal to drive it with zero understanding of that.

My questions:

What do y’all like about being either a mate or engineer and what made you decide on one or the other?

Are there any of you who if you could go back and do it again would pick a different route/regret the choice you made? Why?

Do engineers still have opportunities to go up and see the bridge, ocean, sunsets/sunrises, stars, etc. and breathe fresh air?

Are there any health risks (immediate or long-term) associated with working in the engine room? Obviously theres lots of working with potentially harmful chemicals and fumes and stuff but is it safe? Is it also tough on the body?

Do any of the captains/deck officers find the work boring/tedious? I’ve read on here some people (engineers haha) saying its a lot of just looking out the window all day, sipping beverages, doing paperwork, and not being able to sleep due to the watch schedules. Also, on watches are you able to do things like read or are you expected to have eyes glued to the horizon 24/7?

I know this is a long post if anyone can provide an answer (or answers) it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Side Note: Does anyone have any thoughts on the development of AI and what it could mean for people with careers/jobs in the maritime industry?

That’s definitely true.

No, they’re only allowed out of the engine room to eat meals and they’re escorted the whole time to make sure they don’t escape.


If you work in the engineroom you will lose your sense of humour.


Reading on watch? While underway? Steaming? No books, but e-readers/phones are certainly acceptable.

(Until you get caught)

That was sarcasm

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Not a deep sea guy here, but i can tell you from a guy that’s done both, let me say I’d much rather be a mate. Less physically demanding and fun, especially since I LOVE boat handling. Opportunities for advancement and better money have come much quicker for me with my engine license as opposed to my deck license too, but added stress comes along with that. For me, the weight of responsibilities is heavier as an engineer.

Very true. Can’t speak for the land job transition, but I will also say engineers are more in demand than deck guys. Some jobs on the same tier, engineers get paid more i.e. a 2nd assistant may make more per day than a 2nd mate some places. Qmeds make more than ABs generally. Everyone likes to crack the jokes that the engineer is keeping the batteries fresh in the galley tv remote, but he’s the guy that will fix the sewage system and go bilge diving when need be. He’s also supposed to be the jack of all trades and master of all. Everything is fine and dandy till something breaks then the fun begins.

Generally speaking, yes. Once again, not a deep sea guy but in the tug/osv world the bridge usually doesn’t mind visitors…assuming you aren’t a distraction. A lot of engineers get nosebleeds going above the 01 deck though so you may get some weird looks when you first visit. If you wanna just get some fresh air and take in the view without going to the bridge, shouldnt be a problem either especially off watch. As an engineer, you will encounter some kind of repair/maintenance out on deck at some point.

Always wear your PPE to mitigate those risks.


got a good laugh from that. truth is the engineers dont want to associate with the guys on the bridge.


i gave up my deck licsence and went to the engine room right after they put Hazelton in jail.

unless you got a magic pipe going or are forging the engine logs you’ll not be in a position of liability. typically, unsavory engine room antics require you to be ratted out by someone in your department as the USCG for instance in no match for and engineer.
when you come ashore you can get snapped up as a marine surveyor, make good money and sleep in your own bed every night unless you are doing draft surveys

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I’d disagree.

Most engineers ive worked with all had some kind of background working on stuff. Not necessarily a past job, more of a hobby. Stuff like car stereos, cars, homes, one guy built guitars as a hobby, bikes, etc. We all liked tearing stuff apart or putting it back together. And most of us knew the deck side was a non-starter.

I do wheel watches on my boat and it is the most boring stuff for me. Id rather be covered in fuel or oil and sweating like crazy.


The fact that engineers are in such high demand is evidence for the claim that there’s more land jobs available for them than for deck officers. There are fewer engineer positions in the US flag fleet than deck officer positions yet for every deck officer job opening there’s at least eight engineer openings.

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More shore opportunities for engineers, it’s a fact.
By the time of graduation some people realise sailing is not for them. But what can u do with mate license and zero experience? One guy I know works for insurance company, the other is a truck driver. While as engineer u can get a job with any utility company for example. Railroads, manufacturing, all of that.

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well, i was going to make jokes but he seems so earnest;
engineering is a calling. you need to be versatile with math, (a lot) you’ll eventually learn tubing/pipe sizes, threads, sealants, tools, … it can’t be listed but I’ll just say it is a vocation one is naturally akin to, has the aptitude for.
I’ve never spend ONE day in the deck dept. came up thru the hawse pipe to Chief oceans and probably made more than anyone aboard except the captain but then, I didn’t ask him.
You get use to working shift work, the only thing that makes that hard is getting called out for a emergency situation or having to work well into your sleep time but it’s all part of the job when you can look back over a few years!
dangerous? depends on how unaware or plain stupid you are. Hearing and handling certain fluids were my pet peves, that and eye protection.
yes, the engineer gets all over the ship, and yes, you’ll have to fix stuff on the bridge as well, and climb the highest and lowest places. (you’ll love double bottoms and strainer cleaning when run aground or driving thru kelp fields and other stuff )) It’s the only team aboard that can get the ship underway, and figure out where to go close enough to find something to tie to!!! … ok, that’s enuff!!!


Thanks everybody for the responses it helped me with the decision. In case anyone is curious I am planning on going engine.

There’s a few I’ve met that end up in the office as a port captain or doing qhse.


As a tug captain I can tell you that the paperwork and interaction with “the office” has ruined the job for me. My license and training has all been in boat handling and making decisions and setting policies to ensure crew safety. But the office personnel (none of whom I have ever met in person) are only concerned with the mountains of paperwork and the unrealistic schedule they have in their heads.

Having spent a lot of time in the engine room and being quite familiar with everyone’s role on the boat, I often wish I had gone the engineering route.

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I went deck because it looked more fun, and I told myself I was bad at math, and the engineering program would be too much/ not a good match. Im hindsight I think i would enjoy engineering just as much.

Im not to the end of the story yet, who knows if it was worth it, but i certainly wish I had the shoreside opportunities that the engineers do.

Its all dangerous. For what its worth, the tally that ive heard in my career so far for deaths/ career ending life altering injuries is 3 deck, 1 engine over the last 6 or so years. At the end of the year the union paper publishes all the obituaries, last time i did the math it still averaged out to ~75 years old.

I’m bored out of my mind, dont let anyone hear me saying that though or I’m going to get some dumb busy work.

US Merchant marine seems to be about 20 years behind the curve, so hopefully in 2040 we can use chat gpt to help with some paperwork. /s

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As others here have said, the job opportunities both ashore and off are better for Engineers, they generally make more than their deck equivalents.

I’d have to disagree that they have more legal responsibility, at the end of the day the Master of the vessel has the ultimate responsibility in almost every regard.
As long as you don’t intentionally pump oil overboard and you fill out your ORB properly you stay out of jail.

As far as pay goes…Just as an example at ECO, a 2nd/3rd Mate makes almost $200 less than the equivalent license on the Engineering side and their C/E make captains wages.

In short, If I had to do it again I would go Engine.

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There’s are way more mates than engineers though. You have a chief engineer and an assistant engineer that stands their own watch. The CE makes Captain pay and the AE makes Chief Mate pay because they’re roughly equivalent in responsibility. If they had shit tons of extra engineers down there like they have extra mates on the bridge then they’d be paid less than the ones in charge of the watches too.

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Who has shit tons of extra mates?