What Skills Would you Assume an Inexperienced Mate Has?

Some captains don’t turn over the conn to the mate until the turn around the sea buoy is made and the ship is steady on the GC course. As a result many mates have limited experience with anything except turns in the open sea.

For example many mates don’t know how to watch the relative bearing change of an aid (such as a buoy) to maintain steady range during a turn

Mates, even C/M unaware of concept of the ship’s pivot point, don’t know to avoid something at close quarters (for example fishing gear) opposite rudder must be used to keep the stern clear.

No understanding of advance and transfer. No feel for how much room the ship needs to turn.

Not able to estimate, for example how long to cover 1 mile at various speeds.

Worse case I’ve seen, new third mate couldn’t figure out how to adjust course for leeway.

No understanding of how to monitor traffic by watching the bearing change of other vessels.

Don’t know how to give helm commands.


I think the most important skill is to know when to wake me up, or as John Wayne might say, they are a man (or woman) who know their limitations.

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I would say the best skill for a mate, captain, or any officer really is to stay humble and recognise you are ignorant of many things, and always will be, you will never know everything, you are not gods gift to the ocean.

Also Don’t get all high and mighty thinking you are beyond doing “deckhand” work. I’ve seen plenty of bridge officers think they are above such menial tasks as doing some cleaning, or painting, or, God forbid, an hour or two of rigging.

I’ve seen deckhands turn into mates and become tyrannical task masters that were never treated even remotely as poorly as they treat their subordinates.

It’s sad. And it’s wrong.

Don’t be a dick. That’s the long and short of it.



As a C/M on a tanker that as of recent has had a string of VERY green 3/M’s, I try my hardest to get it through their head to call me whenever they have a question. Luckily they’re on watch during the day so I can keep an eye on them, but inevitably I’ll walk in and they’ll say “Oh I was just about to call you.” Right. You already should have.

Working on offshore vessels good Captains lets their inexperienced mates manually drive around a port, alongside berths and off the berths, under closed supervision if they are complete novices of course. It’s a good skill to practice driving without using a stern thruster, only using engines and rudders to control stern movements. The best way for inexperienced mates to learn is by doing something themselves and not watching someone else do it, you don’t learn anywhere near as much by spectating.

That’s all assuming a Captain has the ability to manually drive a vessel themselves, I’ve heard concerning reports of growing numbers of Captains who aren’t proficient at ship handling and have to use DP to get alongside a berth.

Yes, that’s what I’'m asking. What would you assume a mate would know? I know a green third mate is likely to make the mistake of not calling when they should. I never occurred to me that a mate with 10 or 12 years sea time would not understand the basics of how a ship turns.

I’ve changed the title of the thread.

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Aren’t they supposed to learn all that stuff in school? Or is the Navy not the only one losing track of what seamanship means?

They should know how to read. They should be reading every thing they can get their hands on that is related to their job. Review charts, read coast pilot, LNM, Seamanship texts…

No, a brand new third mate arrives aboard ship ready to soak up knowledge, like a brand new sponge. But did you ever notice you’ve got to get a new sponge damp first?


Honest question: as C/M why would you want calling for anything other than cargo related items? Surely the green mates should be calling the Captain?

I mean for cargo related questions. But on these short runs that the coastwise tankers do, we spend more time at the dock doing cargo than we do at sea.

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I agree in principle but I don’t think they should let them pick out what to look at, not entirely at least. New mates need to be told specifically what they need to know, what to watch out for, how to understand what they are seeing.


Assume nothing!!


That’s why I keep an eye on things from my office using a wifi connected ipad with a nav program.


I hope I never see one of these “unicorns” that everyone hears about but nobody can name, and I sure as hell never want one on my boat.

As for the OP question, I assume nothing and keep an eye open until I’m comfortable signing them off in ISM as watchstanders, and make sure they know to call me anytime they’re in doubt.

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It think this answer is as accurate as it can get.

I have seen mates that are more proficient than some Masters. In reality, I have become doubtful of skillsets until I have seen the individual perform. Too many times has someone been sent to the vessel and have a very subpar level of either handling or operations in general. (I assume this would be the same for almost anyone coming into a new industry so it is not held against them)

Also, there is a huge difference in the individual who is willing to learn and the individual who cannot perform yet thinks they are highly skilled…

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Easier said then done.

Better to assume errors will be made. Make plans based on the severity of the consequences if things go wrong.

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There are mates out there that lack the skills that the average dumb pleasure boater learns and masters? (A boat steers from the stern, unlike a car). Seems like a lack of pride in ones profession to not possess basic maneuvering skills.

A retired master told a story that he used his engineers to do all lifeboat and small boat maneuvering for PSC tests. “The engineers are all Mainiacs that spend their off time on lobster-boats…” I’ll omit the comparison of some of his mates’ navigation ability to a greasy/grumpy engineer LOL.

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It’s not uncommon for an older experienced tugboat engineer to know a lot more and be a lot more capable in navigation, boathandling, and decisionmaking, than the Mate.


I don’t get it please explain