Day In The Life Of A Cruise Ship Deck Officer

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To give you an idea of my perspective of the cruise ship life, I thought I’d fill you in on what I do in a day!

This is the actual schedule I followed recently – and it’s also pretty typical of my time on board.

Our schedules can vary wildly depending on where the ship is (at sea, at anchor or docked) and what else is happening around the ship. No two days are ever the same!

11:30pmWake up! That’s right, my day starts before the day itself does… I’m not a morning person, so waking up is pretty tough. A quick shower, put on my uniform, then a nightmare commute… walking 250 meters (almost the full length of the ship). It’s even worse when traffic is bad in the elevators!
12:00 am (midnight)Taking over the bridge navigational watch. Our bridge team changes at midnight, so it is important that we allow time to hand over any information we need. We use checklists extensively for both routine and emergency operations, so we’re sure we don’t miss anything important. This time also lets us adjust to the darkness on the bridge – at night we need our displays as dark as possible, to allow us to see out the window properly.  
12:25amCOFFEE!! Now is the time to get the first caffeine kick in – thankfully we have a wonderful machine for the bridge! Double espresso anyone?
12:48amFire alarm! A smoke detector has been activated in our steering gear room. We dispatch a ‘First Responder’ to find out what is going on – though we do have a camera in the room, we can’t see the area we need so having someone on location is important. They quickly report back a problem with an air compressor in the area, but that there is no risk of a fire. We don’t need to sound an alarm and wake the whole ship this time!
02:00amWeather observation sent. Our ships operate as mobile weather stations, sending data to the global network of weather forecasting services such as NOAA in the USA, or MetService in New Zealand. We keep accurate equipment on board, and often we are the only source of information in the middle of the ocean. The better our observations are, the more accurate the forecasts provided will be.
03:12amOverboard discharge restrictions are implemented. As we sail, we enter and exit areas with different rules for what we can and cannot discharge into the ocean. An example of this is Food Waste or Ballast Water. We keep clear communication with our Engine Control Room and work together to ensure we meet or exceed the limits each country impose.
04:00am1 hour notice to the local pilot – before we arrive at a port, we need to communicate with the local pilot so they know we’re on time. As well as emails sent well ahead of our voyage, we use VHF (very high frequency) radios to talk to the pilots or the Harbour Master. We can confirm any arrangements that need to be made for the pilot to board, the weather conditions in the port, and how our arrival fits with other ships that may be scheduled.
04:15amCalling the next watch, the Captain and our team for embarking the local pilot for our port. Even though we are often ready with the gangway out by 08:00, it can be several hours to actually sail into a port and tie up the ship to the dock. The bridge is responsible for having the right teams in place at the right time.
04:45amHanding over to the next watch, and briefing the Captain on our current situation. The Captain is always on call to support the bridge team whenever necessary, and having the local pilot board is one of these situations. Our team can be further strengthened by the second in command (Staff Captain or Chief Officer), particular for when we are actually sailing within the port and coming alongside the dock.
05:00amCostume change! I need to have my safety shoes on, and my ‘dirty’ work uniform for mooring stations. We have a team of sailors (Deck Ratings) led by a Deck Petty Officer (the Bosun or Assistant Bosun) at each end of the ship (Forward and Aft Mooring Stations) who work with the mooring lines and winches to safely tie the ship up to the dock. A Deck Officer will take charge, ensuring the safety of our crew and maintaining communication with the bridge.
06:45amAll tied up, and time for a debrief. After major operations like an Arrival or Departure, we bring everyone involved together to discuss how everything went, what went well, and if there was anything to improve upon. In most cases our operations go smoothly, but sometimes there is an opportunity to work safer, or to work more efficiently, and this is our chance to find out.
07:00amBreakfast (or lunch for me?). Even though I’ve been awake for hours, the ship’s meals are still laid out according to the conventional work day. If you’ve ever wanted to eat breakfast food in the middle of your day, work night duty on a ship!
09:00amHaving had a few hours to relax (maybe a quick power nap!), shower and change again, it comes time to prepare for another part of my work – crew training. Deck Officers have responsibilities outside of their bridge watch keeping, and mine is making sure all 800 crew members are properly trained for their emergency functions, and for workplace safety. Before meeting the crew members, I need to prepare attendance sheets, and review the training material so I’m sure of what we need to cover.
09:30amGalley First Response Training – our galleys are high risk areas for fire, so the crew that work there need to be aware of what the risks are, and how to deal with them. This includes everything from raising the alarm, the use of fire extinguishers, our fixed firefighting systems such as sprinklers, and emergency shut down systems like fire doors and electrical cut-offs. Thankfully our team is pretty experienced, so it is easy to refresh their knowledge.
10:00amCOFFEE!! The bridge team has a morning meeting where we can discuss the upcoming voyage, any news or reports from the company, and just catch up with each other! As many of us work different schedules, it can be difficult to have the whole team in one place at the same time – but 10am is usually a good time for everyone.
10:30amLifeboat Crew Training – as well as weekly Fire and Abandon Ship Drills for our crew, we take the time to train them in their emergency functions. For our lifeboat crew, they are responsible for accounting for each guest assigned to their lifeboat, as well as being able to use all the equipment in the boat itself. For this training, I work with small groups of crew so everyone has a chance for hands-on experience, and to ask any questions they have. With 16 lifeboats on the ship, it’s a big time commitment but it’s worth it for the safety of our guests and crew!
11:30amLunch time (wait… dinner time!). On night duty, this is my main meal, as I’m usually sleeping through the normal dinner time. Lunch is also a great opportunity to catch up with other crew from around the ship – our Engineering Officers, Electrical Officers etc. that I don’t usually get to see a lot.
12:30pmPaper work… a few minutes at the end of my day to file the attendance sheets from my trainings, and to prepare for the day to come. As I interact with every crew member and every department on board for my drills and trainings, effective communication is key to success. Making sure that the schedules are sent out well ahead of time, and any training materials are ready to go, will make my life much easier, especially if anything unexpected comes up.
01:00pmDONE! That’s it – my work day complete! I normally work around 10 hours, broken up by meals and perhaps a break during my day. Some of our crew work more, some work less, but everyone has a key part to play in the entire operation.

So there you have it – a normal, run of the mill day for a Deck Officer on a cruise ship. You can see that our work is varied, and this is only one part of our responsibility as Deck Officers – others in my team work with the voyage planning for the ship, maintaining our firefighting and lifesaving equipment, and administering the crew emergency functions when we have crew changes on board. Of course the first priority for our team is to make sure the ship is always safe and secure, both in port and at sea.

The shipboard operation continues 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We don’t have weekends, so we rotate our schedules so nobody spends too long on one watch. The best part of Dog Watch (night duty) though? I finish around lunch time, so there’s time for me to explore the ports we visit! As long as I’m back in time to sleep, and be ready to start it all again at 11:30pm.

Tell your cruise ship story, or ask more questions at CrewsShip.com on Facebook!

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