Third Officer Onboard Responsibilities

Third mate

A Third Mate (3/M) or Third Officer is a licensed member of the deck department of a merchant ship. The third mate is a watch stander and customarily the ship's safety officer and fourth-in-command (fifth in some ocean liners). Other duties vary depending on the type of ship, its crewing, and other factors.

Duties related to the role of safety officer focus on responsibility for items such as firefighting equipment, lifeboats, and various other emergency systems.

Watch standing In port, the watch focuses on duties such as cargo operations, fire watches, security watches, monitoring communications and monitoring the anchor or mooring lines International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulations require the officer be fluent in the English language. This is required for a number of reasons. Examples include the ability to read charts and nautical publications, understand weather and safety messages, communicate with other ships and coast stations, and to successfully interact with a multi-lingual crew.


Emergencies can happen at any time. The officer must be ready at all times to safeguard passengers and crew. After a collision or grounding, the mate must be able to take initial action, perform damage assessment and control, and understand the procedures for rescuing persons from the sea, assisting ships in distress, and responding to any emergency which may arise in port. The officer must understand distress signals and know the IMO Merchant Ship Search and Rescue Manual. Controlling ship operations. The officer has special responsibilities to keep the ship, the people on board and the environment safe. This includes keeping the ship seaworthy during fire and loss of stability, and providing aid and maintaining safety during man overboard, abandoning ship, and medical emergencies.

Understanding ship's stability, trim, stress, and the basics of ship's construction is a key to keeping a ship seaworthy. The mate must know what to do in cases of flooding and loss of buoyancy. Fire is also a constant concern. Knowing the classes and chemistry of fire, fire-fighting appliances and systems prepares the officer to act fast in case of fire.

An officer must be expert in the use of survival craft and rescue boats, their launching appliances and arrangements, and their equipment including radio life-saving appliances, satellite EPIRB's, SART's, immersion suits and thermal protective aids. In case it is necessary to abandon ship, it is important to be expert in the techniques for survival at sea techniques.

Officers are trained to perform medical tasks and to follow instructions given by radio or obtained from guides. This training includes what to do in case of common shipboard accidents and illnesses.

Sea watch

At sea, the mate on watch has three fundamental duties: to navigate the ship, to safely avoid traffic, and to respond to any emergencies that may arise. Mates generally stand watch with able seamen who act as helmsman and lookout. The helmsman executes turns and the lookout reports dangers such as approaching ships. These roles are often combined to a single helmsman/lookout and, under some circumstances, can be eliminated completely. The ability to smartly handle a ship is key to safe watch standing. A ship's draught, trim, speed and under-keel clearance all affect its turning radius and stopping distance. Other factors include the effects of wind and current, squat, ow water and similar effects. Ship handling is key when the need arises to rescue a person overboard, to anchor, or to moor the ship. The officer must also be able to transmit and receive signals by Morse light and use the International Code of Signals.


While a ship is underway, the officers navigate it, typically in three shifts or watches. Celestial, terrestrial, electronic, and coastal navigation techniques are used to fix a ship's position on a navigational chart. Accounting for effects of winds, tides, currents and

estimated speed, the officer directs the helmsman to keep to track.The officer uses supplemental information from nautical publications, such as Sailing Directions, tide tables, Notices to Mariners, and radio navigational warnings to keep the ship clear of danger in transit.Safety demands the mate be able to quickly solve steering control problems and to calibrate the system for optimum performance. Since magnetic and gyro-compasses show the course to steer, the officer must be able to determine and correct for compass errors.

Weather's profound effect on ships requires the officer be able to interpret and apply meteorological information from all available sources. This requires expertise in weather systems, reporting procedures and recording systems.

Traffic management: Avoiding collisions can be challenging in heavy traffic.

The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea are a cornerstone of safe watch keeping. Safety requires one lives these rules and follows the principles of safe watch keeping.An emerging focus in watch keeping is maximizing bridge teamwork, including the practice of Bridge Resource Management.

The main purpose for Radar and Automatic Radar Plotting Aids (ARPA) on a ship's bridge is to move safely among other vessels. These instruments help to accurately judge information about prominent objects in the vicinity, such as:

range, bearing, course and speed, time and distance of closest point of approach, and course and speed changes.

These factors help the officer apply the COLREGE'S to safely maneuver in the vicinity of obstructions and other ships.Unfortunately, radar has a number of limitations, and ARPA inherits those limitations and adds a number of its own. Factors such as rain, high seas, and dense clouds can prevent radar from detecting other vessels. Moreover, dense traffic and course and speed changes can confuse ARPA units. Finally, human errors such as inaccurate speed inputs and confusion between true and relative vectors add to the limitations of the radar/ARPA suite.

Under the best conditions, the radar operator must be able to optimize system settings and detect divergences between an ARPA system and reality. Information obtained from radar and ARPA must be treated with scrutiny: over reliance on these systems has sunk ships. The officer must understand system performance, limitations and accuracy, tracking capabilities and limitations, and processing delays, and the use of operational warnings and system tests.

In-port watch

In port, the watch focuses on duties such as cargo operations, fire watches, security watches, monitoring communications, and monitoring the anchor or mooring lines.

Cargo handling

The ship's officer must be able to oversee the loading, stowage, securing and unloading of cargoes. He must also understand the care of cargo during the voyage. Of particular importance is knowledge of the effect of cargo including heavy lifts on the seaworthiness and stability of the ship. The officer must also understand safe handling, stowage and securing of cargoes, including cargoes that are dangerous, hazardous or harmful.

Safety officer

The third mate is usually responsible for the upkeep of lifesaving and firefighting equipment.This includes a responsibility for some or all of the ship's boats, and particularly the lifeboats. The third mate is also generally an active participant in fire and boat drills.

Working conditions

Merchant mariners spend extended periods at sea. Most deep-sea mariners are hired for one or more voyages that last for several months; there is no job security after that. The length of time between voyages varies depending on job availability and personal preference.

At sea, these workers usually stand watch for 4 hours and are off for 8 hours, 7 days a week.

People in water transportation occupations work in all weather conditions. Although merchant mariners try to avoid severe storms while at sea, working in damp and cold conditions is inevitable. While it is uncommon nowadays for vessels to suffer disasters such

as fire, explosion, or a sinking, workers face the possibility that they may have to abandon their craft at short notice if it collides with other vessels or runs aground. They also risk injury or death from falling overboard and hazards associated with working with machinery, heavy loads, and dangerous cargo. However, modern safety management procedures, advanced emergency communications, and effective international rescue systems place modern mariners in a much safer position. Most newer vessels are air-conditioned, soundproofed from noisy machinery, and equipped with comfortable living quarters. For some mariners, these amenities have helped ease the sometimes difficult circumstances of long periods away from home. Also, modern communications, especially email, link modern mariners to their families. Nevertheless, some mariners dislike the long periods away from home and the confinement aboard ship and consequently leave the occupation.

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