How To Become a Successful Deckhand

Are you interested in working on boats or large ships, but don’t know how to begin?

The federal government predicts the demand for water transportation workers will grow over the coming years. The maritime world offers unique and exciting opportunities. If you’re interested in working on the water, becoming a Deckhand is a good place to start. In this quick guide, we take you through how to get into the maritime industry, what it’s like to work as a Deckhand and some of the benefits and disadvantages of working on the water.

How to enter the maritime industry
  1. Attend a maritime training school. …
  2. Apply for entry-level positions. …
  3. Learn about deckhand duties. …
  4. Understand the structure of the deck. …
  5. Obtain certification. …
  6. Look for opportunities to hone your skills. …
  7. TCW certifications. …
  8. Technical certifications.

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Working conditions for a deckhand

Deckhands have varied duties depending on the function of the vessel they are working aboard. For example, a deckhand working aboard a fishing vessel may require skills and knowledge of using scuba equipment, lines, and pots. Hospitality services, such as caring for cabin patrons, bar services and table preparation, may be required in a transportation or recreational vessel. Deckhands spend long hours at sea and can work under any weather condition. As a deckhand, you may be required to operate under cramped conditions and during odd hours. Deckhands working under tight conditions may only have at most four hours of sleep and rest.

How to enter the maritime industry

You can become a deckhand on a large ship or boat with no experience. However, anyone looking to secure a higher ranking job in the maritime industry may need to attend a naval training school or apply for entry-level positions.

1. Attend a maritime training school

Enrolling in a maritime training program equips you with the knowledge and skills needed to start a career as a deckhand on a merchant vessel or large ship. The training will also improve your understanding of maritime safety practices. Training fast-tracks your career and equips you with the knowledge and skill needed to climb the professional ladder.

Maritime training programs are best suited for professionals aspiring to work aboard large vessels, such as container and cruise ships. Trained deckhands are also well-positioned to climb the professional ladder and become senior captains, engineers and deck officers. Several career paths are open to individuals trained as deckhands, and there are specialized training programs to help you achieve your career goals.

2. Apply for entry-level positions

The easiest way to become a deckhand is by applying for maritime positions that dont require specialized licensing and training. Most unskilled professionals in the marine industry are assigned roles aboard inland vessels. Working as a deckhand aboard an inland ship doesnt require a license or certification and presents an opportunity to explore how the maritime industry operates. However, just because you arent working aboard a container or cruise ship doesnt mean you cant advance your career. Most deckhands who start their career working aboard inland vessels use their time to earn experience and skills to advance their careers.

3. Learn about deckhand duties

It is essential to understand your duties and responsibilities before searching for a job as a deckhand. Being a deckhand is a physically demanding career requiring hard work and determination. The key to becoming a successful deckhand is learning from experienced crew members as you work aboard an inland or large ship. Duties of a deckhand change depending on the schedule and function of a vessel. Deckhands are responsible for general maintenance, lookout duties, tender driving, and cleaning a ship.

4. Understand the structure of the deck

Deckhands are the most junior members of a deck crew. When starting, deckhands should be aware of their surrounding while they learn from the experienced crew members. Respect the experienced crew members and always fulfill their requests to the best of your ability. Experts encourage asking questions for clarity to ensure you operate safely. The structure of a deck varies depending on the function and size of a yacht or ship. The responsibilities of a deckhand of a small vessel can never be the same as those of a deckhand working aboard a cruise or container ship.

5. Obtain certification

The next step after understanding what it takes to be a deckhand is obtaining the necessary certification. You will qualify for highly-ranked positions and well-earning roles once you hold the necessary documentation and certification. For example, a deckhand will require a visa before traveling to maritime hubs to attend interviews. Registering with crew agents is also crucial to becoming a deckhand as you will have access to plenty of open positions in the marine industry. You will also require an extensive network with individuals in the maritime sector and a positive reputation.

6. Look for opportunities to hone your skills

The internet has a lot of resources and courses that can guide you to become a successful deckhand. You can also learn from experienced deck crew members and ask them to guide you whenever you get off the track. Always go the extra mile and take advantage of every opportunity to build yourself a strong brand image. Deckhands should also act professionally, knowing that every contact they make may take their career to a higher level. Be prepared for any opportunity that may present itself. Know that you will encounter challenging roles where you can stand out or look like an inexperienced professional. But learn to coordinate with others and be willing to learn.

Employment opportunities for deckhands

Deckhand employment opportunities are plenty in research vessels, fish processing firms, fisheries, fish gear manufacturers and equipment suppliers. Most small fishing vessels are family-operated and owned, so employment opportunities on such vessels are limited. While demand for deckhands on fishing vessels tends to be seasonal, deckhand employment opportunities are also available on commercial, transport and recreational vessels.

Duties and responsibilities of a deckhand

The responsibilities of a deckhand include working underneath, on top and outside the vessel. However, their roles may vary depending on the function of a boat or ship. Here are the general duties and responsibilities of a deckhand:

What certifications do deckhands need to advance their careers?

Several certifications are required to advance a career in the maritime industry:

TCW certifications

The STCW course entails learning the basic deck laws, regulations, technology, safety and ways to handle a vessel. The STCW certification curriculum is recognized globally and will be the core training for all other maritime industry training courses. A deckhand must undergo STCW safety training before obtaining an STCW certificate. The training includes learning basic firefighting and elementary first aid skills, personal survival techniques and social responsibility. STCW training ensures that deckhands are aware of the hazards of working aboard a vessel and can respond appropriately during an emergency. The STCW 95 Code requires all professionals aspiring to work aboard a boat or ship to take training that lasts for five days. Deckhands have to renew this course every year.

Technical certifications

Deckhands have plenty of specialties, with each having a common thread. For example, a vessel communications certification can include training on basic electrical practices. Deckhands will likely get the same training in the first classes of their course, meaning that some of the training you undertake may count towards several other maritime certifications. A combination of STCW and a technical certification can make a deckhand a more valuable crew member. Taking networking classes could further extend your professional network and broaden your career path.

Advanced maritime certifications

The Master is the highest job rank in the maritime industry. Deckhands can work their way up to the status of the Master by taking an advanced degree in management. Masters are responsible for overseeing other specialties, so they must have basic management training. Deckhands undergo the same training as the Master, so a Masters certification may be necessary for their career advancement.

Deckhands undertake a wide range of roles, including communication, storage, hospitality, seamanship and supply. A deckhand should be physically fit to handle equipment such as traps, lines and nets to catch fish. Professionals working aboard a vessel should also work as a team, have a good sense of balance and be aware of maritime safety issues. While anyone can work as a deckhand with no prior experience or qualification, going through deckhand training and obtaining certification can increase your eligibility for higher-ranked roles that translate to a higher income.


What qualifications do you need to be a deckhand?

Deckhands do not have to have boating qualifications but having them is an asset. General seafaring skills are expected. Deckhands should ideally have some knowledge and experience of navigation, boat handling, engines and radio equipment.

How do I become a deckhand with no experience?

As a deckhand with no experience, you also need to have strong verbal communication skills to help ensure the safety of the rest of the crew. Some deckhands must have additional work certification to ensure that they qualify to work on a merchant marine vessel or another maritime ship.

Is a deckhand a good career?

The potential for good pay: While the pay ranges greatly depending on the sector of the maritime industry, many vessels offer Deckhands and officers good pay. Respect: Working aboard a large vessel and working your way up the ranks is recognized internationally as a respectful and interesting career path.

How much does a deckhand make in a season?

The average salary of deckhands on a yacht is $35,880 a year (around $18.40 an hour). Novice yacht deckhands can make about $20,378 a year. Experienced yacht deckhands can make up to $59,659 a year. Yacht deckhand salaries can also depend on how large the yacht is and also in which area you are working.

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