Joining a union as a senior deck officer

I am looking to transition from the gulf to deep sea and have some questions. If anyone with firsthand knowledge could weigh in it would be very much appreciated.

I hold an Unlimited Master, Tankerman PIC and am trying to decide between MMP and MEBA. Looking to sail RORO or Container ships.

I have spoken with the halls over the phone and they are both promising me the world. Would it really be possible for me to sail as a CM right away without experience on ROROs or Boxboats or are there required training/classes to work on these vessels?

Are the open boards really full of senior level positions that they are having a hard time filling? If so are these jobs permanent?

What union is the best choice for someone with my license looking to join? Why?

Thanks again for any info.

1 Like

It probably is possible to get a relief Mate job off the board but it probably wouldn’t be a great idea. There is going to be a huge learning curve.


Why even allow them to take the job then? If you made this transition would the master try and torpedo you and act like he was sent a bomb by the Union?

Would starting as 2nd mate be any better? Or are you saying you’d have to do some hitches as 3m to understand the job.

I would recommend you actually visit the halls of each union and see what is currently available. There is no specific training or classes other than the license requirements. Would it be possible to snag a CM job right away?..Yes, if it went open and no one with higher seniority grabbed it. That said, I would hope you are confident in your abilities to learn fast, make sure the basics get covered, and hope to God the captain and others are willing to help you as you progress up the learning curve.

We’ve had green, first time Chief Mates make relief trips. Some did well, others not so much. All had a bit to learn with regards to the ship in general, stability software, cargo operations, ships procedures, and the like. Those that did well had the support of the Captain, bosun and crew. If you don’t have that it can be tough sledding, experienced or not.


If the company and the union have agreed to a contract that does not allow company selectivity for relief Chief Mates then it’s allowed. That part’s not complicated.

As for the job, it would depend on how quickly one could learn:

  • a bridge they’ve never been on
  • licensed and unlicensed contracts they have never seen, including work rules, pay rates, etc for eight to ten members of the department
  • stowage and stability software they haven’t seen before or in a long time
  • a ballast water treatment system and environmental regs they may not have seen before
  • a safety management system they haven’t seen before
  • cargo and port ops they haven’t seen before or not in a long time
  • a planned maintenance system they haven’t seen before or not in a long time

Better to start at 2nd or 3rd? I’ll leave that up to those that have come in a done it.


This is a huge one for someone coming from the Gulf… dealing with OT and all its variations in a contract is enough to make seasoned CM’s heads spin.

Hell, as a 3M I learned real fast not to EVER touch the autopilot on the tanker I was on if I didn’t want the CM yelling at me about having to pay my ABs an hour of penalty OT for “taking their work.”


All good points. Seems like a huge dice roll. But I think after a hitch as 2M trying to shadow and learn from the CM any competent motivated person could make the leap.

Yes you can ship out right away as a CM coming from the GOM. I know someone who did it before. However, it wasn’t intentional. He took a junior officer job then the ship needed a c/m so they bumped him up. He was stressed but managed. Sometimes the best way to learn is to jump right into it.

In terms of getting a c/m job you will have better luck as an applicant with the MEBA. There are some openings right now with the MEBA that are temporarily being held by MMP reliefs thatd you be able to take. MMP within the last 6months only had 5 c/m containership or roro jobs taken by applicants.

But it also depends on what you want. Getting a permanent spot with MEBA is easier. But maybe you want access to a lot of night mate jobs, travel the country from hall to hall and like the thrill of competing for jobs. - then the MMP is your style. Or if you really want a west coast containership then MMP is your only bet because the containerships for MEBA are on the east coast. There’s roros for both unions on both coasts. If you don’t live near a hall and to hold a permanent job sooner then the MEBA is a better option.

Yikes! That’s not good. Smells like SUP.

Just fucking send it. If they don’t want to pay enough to get permanent guys and standby relief guys then they’re gonna have to expect guys with no experience on the vessel.

Don’t take the shitty job the dispatcher pushes. Look through the pay scales and take the highest paying one.

1 Like

This is pretty much how I look at it. Not your fault that they have nobody experienced to take the job. And if they don’t want someone from a different background they should require training or proven experience on the platform.

The solution would be to PAY MORE and then you wouldn’t have this problem.

1 Like

You’d be rolling the dice. There’s reputational risk, you might get lucky have everything align favorable but I’ve seen two C/Ms come on the car ships cold and they are 0 for 2.

People tend not to see things that way after the fact.

Would a box ship be easier or harder?

Haven’t worked box ships, son has at sea and ashore. Very familiar with oil transport in my career. Both have their complicated challenges in different ways,. As a green CM on either without prior experience will more likely than not be problematic

Wonder why unions let those jobs go open then. Feel like they should be in house just like master jobs.

Let? Some fight for it.

And then the same people crap on ISM for being a ridiculous paper exercise.

1 Like

Lack of qualified Candidates is probably the reason.

Because they are following the shipping rules.

Sometimes there are a few wrinkles involved however

The company may have a specific person they want to fill the job but that person is not permanent or on the select list. That person will be told what hall and what day that job is being called.

At job call there’s nothing stopping another member with a better card from taking the job but they will be discouraged from doing so.


Thanks for all the good info here. My plan is to get into the halls as suggested and possibly try and night mate first. If then I feel like it would be possible for me to do the CM job I’m just going to go for it.

That being said what are the best halls to night mate out of? Does MEBA even offer this option for their deck guys?

Many years ago when Viet Nam was over, American WW 2 vintage break bulk ships were laying up. New container ships carried more cargo than several of the older vessels with smaller crews. U.S. Flag carrier not unusual to se a crew crew list every deck officer had a Masters License all the way down to 3rd. Not so much Engineers suspect they found shore side employment.

The bubble worked itself out, many retired or found jobs on shore, Stevedoring companies, surveyors, Port Captain cargo superintendent etc.

Not many companies will hire a master with little experience their specific type of vessel. Scandinavian I worked for latter required 5 years experience minimum 1st officer before they could work as a Port Captain. Less experience required as Cargo superintendent.
Difference Port Captain was qualified planning stow & stability calculations in advance of port call & subject to vessels master approval. Superintendent managed the discharge/load at the berth in consultation with the Port Captain who handled the vessel entire voyage from a central location & few port calls, always attending on sailing foreign last port.

Supers that stayed with it generally moved up to Port Captain .


This is an entirely different thing. If I was aboard a unfamiliar ship as a junior officer and I was offered a job as C/M I’d jump on it. Provided I thought the situation was acceptable.

I would probably not join an unfamiliar ship type as C/M cold.

There’s nothing particularly technically difficult about sailing C/M, it’s that there can be a lot going on that the CM is responsible for and often not much time available to get it done,

Getting the job done right requires being efficient and that takes a while to learn in a new sector,