Pecking order?

The narrative in Memel’s post rings true to me.

In my experience the ships I worked on were both non-hierarchal but with little ability to cooperate between departments, the worse of both worlds. The ships are run more based on personal relationships than through the command structure.

Years ago I happened to be down in the engine room late one night looking at one thing or another when I noticed it was just the engineer-on-watch and me down there. I asked the engineer where the Oiler was. He shrugged his shoulders saying it wasn’t his job to keep track of him. I had a big problem with that. We had a bit of a come to Jesus meeting where it was made very clear to him that as Engineer-on-Watch he supervised the unlicensed Oiler on his watch. If he was unwilling or unable to fulfill those duties I would get someone who would. A similar meeting was held with the Oiler to reinforce the concept of teamwork with the EOW as his supervisor. I did not like what I was seeing where there were 2 guys down there (in the engine room) each doing their own thing with only occasional interaction.


Pecking order is not a good way to think about it. It’s more situational.

One of the 5 main points made in the book Managing the Unexpected: Assuring High Performance in an Age of Complexity is the idea of dereference to expertise.

Aboard ship there is planning / problem solving and there is execution. The approach the captain uses conning the ship in a tight spot (execution) is not going to be same as during a discussion with the chief scheduling major maintenance (planning).

Here is one take on HRO:

The fact that an HRO must be open-minded rather than judgmental leads to the idea that the culture of the HRO defers to expertise. The key point, however, is that the “expert” involved is the person with hands-on knowledge of the operation at the point of a failure, not the “expertise” conferred by hierarchical authority.

In the HRO, the expert has access to upward reporting, and there is no intimidation from authority to impede the communication. The openness required for the HRO to succeed depends on accurate information from every source.

Not every organization will adapt every HRO principle, at least in the short term. Many organizations can improve continuous operational reliability by adapting the pieces that fit. Over time, more and more of the organization can be improved this way, moving toward the “perfect reliability” objective of the HRO.

Incorrect, the Chiefs are each in charge of their department and the master is in charge of the vessel as a whole.

And the bosun runs the deck…

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Which is what I figured. But after hearing this on several boats I decided to dig around in the company policies and wondered if maybe there was some legal exception to the rule somewhere for certain circumstances. The chief certainly makes more than the mate. I’m thinking this was a company policy somewhere in the past and is not a thing anymore. I did find something in ISM that said the next in command is the Mate unless otherwise specified by the company specific SMS.

Still though, I’m going with the chain puller answer.

So what!? Pay scale has absolutely zero to do with the issue. You guys got to stop talking like pay has something to do with chain of command or accession.


Fair enough, I agree with you and I have never given the pay scale much heed. It’s some of the people I work with that make a thing of it.

So what is the normal pecking order for pay (with and without overtime) on unlimited ships?

The master gets the highest base rate, the C/E next then guy with the most brains and greatest responsibility - the 1st Assistant Engineer - gets the fattest paycheck.

When the 1st gets a chief’s job his brain cells begin to atrophy and he has to rely more and more on the 1st.


I stand corrected Capt Phoenix. Both Chiefs head of their dept but in practice the day to day tasking of the CM appears more in line with the 1/AE and are frequently paired in other matters as well, perhaps just appearances. Disturbing in another later comment is that some SMSs apparently leave it open that the company may direct a different successor than the CM. However having said that, if the CM and Master both are down, I would think that the Cheng though not in command accession by statute, but being still management level would “administratively” be acting as the company rep onboard and direct if not already obviously assumed that the 2M take the Conn and proceed in all haste to insure navigational safety and arrival as directed by the firm or USCG. CHENG has a special relationship to/with the master besides usually residing on the same deck. CM appears not to have that dotted line relationship until that time the old man/lady is down for the count. Just my observation. Another issue that always bothered me that the Merchant marine is the unlicensed Steward being a department head and many times at odds with the CM. The CM is powerless usually to overrule and the C/Stwd (there is only one true chief on ship, CHENG) frequently plays the master like a violin.

Yes, my thoughts exactly.

Sure is a lot of talk & contingency plans for when the captain is dead. I think something’s a brewing…

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I know I’m locking my door tonight


Careful. . .the cook has an odd look in his eye and is saying that he cooked up something “special” for everybody. . . .

In my experience by SMS the C/E is responsible for and already reports directly to the port engineer with regards to the status of the ship’s machinery.

If the voyage has already been planned it’s more or less trivial to complete it. Just need to get to a pilot station.

Traffic might be the biggest concern but expertise there is still going to be in the deck department.

What would a company rep do administratively? Maintain order? Keep the ship’s routine? Is the chief going to do the eNOAD? Or payroll?

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This whole conversation is very Navy/Old USMM, now a days we have satalite communication directly with the office. You’re not gonna have some power struggle between the CHENG and the Deck department, whether it’s the CM or the 2M, on whether you should proceed in haste to the nearest port or if you should continue on to your destination. I’m not worried about a torpedo taking out the master and CM, and then me as a deck officer having to confer/argue with the CENG on what we should do.


Do some of these different opinions come from the older Navies and their strict hierarchies by grade?

Often, gunners and aviators, or even kamikazes, aimed at the bridges.
It arrived that the whole bridge team was killed (in combat situations, the bridges were well populated…).

Then, the highest-ranking surviving officer on board, from whatever specialty, took over the command. Most often, he had just to keep contact with the fleet and supervise damage control, evacuation or waiting for outside help.

An example is the Japanese carrier “Kaga” at Midway. An exploding Avgas cart killed everybody on the bridge. The air wing commander took command of the ship - in this case onto evacuation and sinking.

I find the “arguments” with regards to the CE taking over if something happened to the captain to be nonsensical. No matter how it is presented it will not happen, and only a very foolish CE would ever consider it. Several years ago when the captain aboard the Horizon Reliance was found dead at his desk (heart attack) the CM took over and got the ship to port. That is how it works. I have not doubt the CE gave whatever assistance and/or advise that was asked of him but that is the way it should be.

With regards to the navy; most if not all officers aboard are officers of the line. They are therefore eligible for command positions. If something happened the bridge team, yes the next highest survivor would take over…if they were line officers.

From the WW2 history I have read, the senior officers on the bridge of the IJN carrier Kaga were killed from a direct hit by a bomb dropped by a SBD Dauntless dive-bomber. This is not to say many, many others weren’t killed when the burning avgas set off the bombs and torpedoes that were on the hanger deck.

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A post was merged into an existing topic: The many errors of Mitsuo Fuchida’s Midway

I agree here 100%. If something happened to the captain I would expect the chief to assist how and when he could. I also expect that he’d do the same thing for me on a routine voyage. It’s in both of our interests that things run smoothly.

I’m also going to support the chief as required. If we have technical problems I am not going to have a good trip. For one nothing gets the attention of shoreside like going off-hire, it’s going to be endless emails.

There is sometimes not much space between a command and advice. For example “don’t run that pump” is a command. “If you run that pump it’s going to destroy itself” is advice, but likely the same outcome in each case.