What do Captain and Chief do all day?

I will occasionally check in with a few classmates from school and see what’s up and have had the conversation about “this captain I sailed with on this ship didn’t know shit” from someone who has been blissfully sailing as second mate their entire career. I have definitely played devil’s advocate and given them several hypotheticals as to what may or may not have been going through that person’s decision making process and the amount of factors that come into play. Not to say that the job is insurmountable, but there is simply no comparison between junior officer and senior officer in the current state of the industry.
Makes you want to slide back down the ladder every now and then…


Damn Yankee, that’s a good idea staying in touch. Hearing from someone you trust on the challenges of sailing Captain and/or Chief Mate is certainly a good way to impact junior officers opinions on those Captains that “don’t know shit or don’t do shit” I used to hear that same rhetoric when I sailed as 3rd & 2nd Mate and believed some of it, but of course when sailing as Mate and then Captain you gain a much better appreciation for all that those ratings entail. Even the difference between sailing Mate & Captain is substantial. That difference as was best described to me once is “the difference between a suggestion and a decision”. If ”Ladder” does indeed get promoted to Mate and/or Captain, he will become another advocate for how hard the senior ratings work and how much responsibility that they have. Sadly, if he doesn’t, he will most likely continue holding the same opinion and bad attitude, neither which makes life onboard productive.

All the best,


If you know you know…

A former master of mine said he’s paid for what he knows not necessarily what he does. I think this sums it up pretty nicely.


I once had a master like that. He was an awfully smart man, and he knew an awful lot. Only trouble is, about everything he knew just ain’t so.

All kidding aside, most important part of the job is using a combination of common sense, experience, technical knowledge, and good judgment to solve problems under conditions of uncertainty.

Once upon a time, I worked for a midsized tugboat company that put a sign in the wheelhouse of every boat which said:

“A superior captain uses his superior judgment to stay out of situations that require the use of his superior skills.”

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I usually sit on my ass all day, ready to be leaned on for advice or suggestion, making an overriding decision if I unfortunately don’t guide you to the proper decision on your own, and standby as the fall guy for you, the rest of the crew, and the office. But hey, go ahead and bitch, we all know you can do better.


Best to worry about yourself and not what the senior officers are doing. They have the ultimate burden of responsibility. I always look at it this way. You must be doing something right if they are not around. I’ve rather have it that way than them up my ass.


I remember when we had a new Second Mate, and he told another crew member that all the Captain and Chief Engineer do all day is stand watch and play cribbage. . .really? I mean, yeah, we did that. . .and a hell of a lot more. . . sheesh. . .

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Short answer … paperwork


Paperwork and make shift psychologist/HR


I imagine they are taking care of large amounts of paperwork each day, paperwork that the office could likely do a significant amount of but instead pawn it off on the Master and C/E

As a sailing CE you answer emails from shore side people as soon as you wake up and then if possible have video meeting with the same people, half of whom are trying to justify their existence. Much easier if assigned to new projects at shipyards.


The Chief spends his day avoiding the Master and the Master works to avoid any mention in gCaptain.


I retired a couple of years back, but had this “worklist” that I gave to a new Chief Mate who would be sailing Captain. Things may be different with other companies, but this is what was identified as the Captain’s responsibilities working for Maersk at the time. I’m sure none of the paperwork has been eliminated and only more added. Some of the Captain’s obvious duties which I guessed are taken for granted are: safe shiphandling ie: arrival/departures/anchoring/docking/undocking; weather routing; Oversee proper Vessel Stability at all times; maintain the ship proforma schedule; dealing with any and all ship-related equipment problems/failures (incl. engine room issues); Stewards Dept - where to begin, with a very good Chief Stwd, this job is relatively easy, without a competent steward, be prepared to do inventory/food ordering/menu planning/deal with dept issues. This alone has caused Captains to retire; management/coordinate vessel inspections, PSC, Class, keep current (not allow to expire) the multitude of vessel documents & certificates; prepare all entry arrival official paperwork. Enoa’s & Enod’s, a simple mistake on these have gotten Captains fired. If you’ve never had to do paperwork for ports in the Mid-East, consider yourself very lucky, especially when Captain could no longer pass out cigarettes to port & immigration officials; manage crew safety training and drills; maintain/operate slopchest; Bunker ordering, yup, not a good idea to run out of fuel, but don’t order too much because you’ll be scolded for “wasting” $$$; Payroll/Voyage End Payoff/Ship Budgets ie: Department OT-Ship Repairs-Food/Draws/Overtime/Allotments/ordering cash/Articles/USCG Discharges/STCW maintenance & recordkeeping/Foreign Repairs reporting, yup, all of that falls on the Captain as well. Those are the basic responsibilities, but here is what Maersk identified as the Captain’s responsibilities a couple of years back, again I believe nothing has been eliminated, but new tasks added:

Responsibilities of the Master (from GSMS)

To ensure that the vessel is seaworthy and ready for the sea before it leaves the port.
To plan voyages and navigation.
Operate the vessel in accordance with applicable customer contracts and requirements
To ensure that charts, navigation manuals, etc. required are available on board the vessel and that they are up to date.
To ensure that amount of bunkers, water and food are sufficient for the intended voyage.
To ensure that vessel certificates are kept up to date.
To ensure that vessel certificates are kept in a safe place and that they are accessible for inspection by various authorities.
To check that all personnel have the qualifications required by STCW, Customers and the Company, and the prescribed manning level for the vessel is complied with.
Ensure all embarked personnel receive appropriate medical care as required and that the company’s medical consultative service is used to recommend treatment for sick or injured personnel. Supervise or perform medical treatment to industry standards for Medical PIC.
To ensure that documentation concerning crew qualification is kept in a safe place and that such documentation can easily be retrieved for inspection by various authorities.
To ensure that loading and unloading of the cargo as well as its treatment during the voyage is performed in accordance with applicable rules, instructions and contracts.
Ensure all required physical security and operational security procedures are enforced in accordance with international, flag state or customer requirements
Recognize a non-compliance with a specific requirement and analyze the reason for the non-compliance. Ensure personnel is aware of the reason for the noncompliance and how same is dealt with initially and permanently eliminated for the future.
To ensure that all correspondence exchanged between the Company and the vessel is filed in a safe and effective manner.
Manage all communications with customers in accordance with existing contracts. Supervise all GMDSS communications ensuring that they conform to international standards.
Ensure that his / her individual work and rest hour planning is done on an ongoing basis and rest hour requirements are complied with to avoid fatigue. Periodically monitor the work / rest hour records for all officers and ratings to ensure that the rest hour requirements are being complied with.
Sighting of Casualty Reports on change of Master as per GSMS Id 1161.
Implementing the health, safety and environmental protection policies aboard the vessel and motivation of all crewmembers to observe their intended and implied requirements.
Issuing orders and instructions to the personnel in a clear and simple manner.
Verifying that the requirements of the GSMS System are observed.
Reviewing the GSMS System yearly and on a continuously ongoing basis in the light of practical experience gained, and to carrying out its on board training, drills and post drill reviews. Reporting deficiencies to the Appropriate Department.
The Master is ultimately responsible for the safe operation of the vessel and for preventing pollution from the vessel.
The Master is empowered in all situations with overriding authority to act decisively and according to his best judgement.
The Master may request assistance from an appropriate person in the Company at any time in order to fulfill these responsibilities.
The Master’s responsibility and authority as it pertains to vessel navigation, management, safety and pollution prevention is detailed in the GSMS System.
The Master shall ensure that publications and documents relating to the GSMS System in the deck department are current and filed. For GSMS System publications and documents of other departments he shall ensure their distribution to that head of department.

The Chiefs that I have sailed with (and I have been very fortunate) have a comparable amount of paperwork and responsibilities as well, plus they have the added job of assisting in hands on maintenance & repairs.

I may have forgotten one or two duties as I’ve been retired for couple of years. I agree with the person that said most Captains sit round all day. To that person, the above list is a sampling of what the Captain is doing while he/she is “sitting around”.


The chief relieves first engineer maneuvering, makes sure you don’t run out of fuel, takes care of ordering parts, gives lock out tag out permission letters, orders :bulk commodities lubes grease, tools, refrigerant , filters, welding gear, new refrigerators for galley. They wear a refs shirt with a whistle to stop eng department crew/officer disputes. Coordinate with deck department to have all port departures/ arrival test completed by sailing time. Argue with port engineer for assistance from equipment repairs from shoreside vendors. Major shipyard dry docking. Yeah he does sit on his ass sometimes. Port state inspections too. ISO compliance. Write evaluations for crewmen and letters of recommendation. Completes the noon report: fuel burned, water made, lube oil consumed, water consumption, waste oil accumulation,


The chief also manages the ships budget.

Well, in the days before email, there were a lot of conversations with the office via side band. . . . and just dealing with the office. . . and clueless crew members. . . .

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This includes myself.
Being the food service manager was never really one I thought of until I got the seat. You find a good Chief Steward and you may as well be married because that is how much you value them.

The rest of this is spot on and trust me, it is the same outside of Maersk. It is the same everywhere… :cry:


I forgot about that. Distance made good, fuel remaining ETA, etc. Does WOM and the others still exist? Surely they do.

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Coastal Transportation Inc.:
Stands a navigational watch. Workday is sometimes 4 & 8. Sometimes 6 & 6. Compared to inspected vessels there’s little paperwork to do. Instead, the captain focuses on the weather. Using Windy and BonVoyage to keep a 25-day turnaround schedule in a part of the world where storms are a commonplace. He’s continually consulting a mental chart of the BC Inside Passage, the Peninsula Inside Passage, and the Aleutians, and calculating when to run and and where to hide.

During the day bookings come in from the Office: orders where to pick up cargo. He’s making loading plans with the chief mate and the cold storage in DH ahead of time, and exchanging info with the Office about hold space remaining. In the Peninsula ports during cargo ops he’s often asleep, in order to take the boat to the next stop and let the mates sleep.

He arranges work schedules for the crew. Average work hours per voyage are below 11 hours/day but it takes doing to work it out. He updates the cook with the meal hours in the next port. Cooks are touchy about this. No use putting out a great spread if it’s cold when the crew sits down…

In Dutch Harbor the captain’s fielding calls from customers who want their cargo, and calling up shore-plants to finalize loading arrangements. Updating the stability program and entering B/Ls into the manifest program. More looking at the weather, gauging the seas for runs up to the Pribilofs or out to Adak/Atka. No use running up to St. Paul if the ice pack is five miles south of it…

Vessel loaded and headed southbound there’s more weather routing to do. There are three basic routes to get to Seattle, two Inside and one outside, and it’s up to the captain’s expertise to mix & match the quickest route with the best ride. He’s calculating ETAs to Bellingham and Seattle, and calling up the stevedore to figure out discharge times. Contacts CCG and USCG with NOAs. Figures out what to to with the next 28 to 72 days off…


I don’t think so, or not at least as they did as marine operators. Remember the entertainment of listening to other’s problems on their calls home? Hang on. . . AT&T High Seas Service - Wikipedia

I know that when I worked with Crowley, we had our own service in both Jacksonville and San Juan. . . WGW comes to mind. When I was on my ATB, the office in Houston set up their own station so we could have “secure” communications. Geez, remember the sound of the Necode ringer?