How to become a deckhand (plus soft skills and careers)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A deckhand is responsible for carrying out tasks that involve the exterior section of a boat, such as repairing onboard equipment, assisting with docking or supervising lifeboats. Depending on their experience, skills or professional interests, they can work on varied types of vessels, such as private yachts, ferries or freight ships. By reading this guide, you could learn how to acquire the soft skills, experience and certifications required to establish yourself in this industry. In this article, we provide a step-by-step guide explaining how to become a deckhand, detail four skills relevant to this job and discuss career options.

How to become a deckhand

The section below includes a four-step guide explaining how to become a deckhand:

1. Review the position's responsibilities

If you wish to become a deckhand, it's important to understand the varied tasks that you could perform on a regular basis. As a deckhand, you're responsible for protecting your ship's exterior against erosion caused by rainfall, ropes or waves. This may involve varnishing wooden panels, painting external walls or removing salt water from the ship's deck. You could also provide emergency assistance to passengers, to ensure that they can safely enter and depart via a lifeboat. On smaller vessels, you may also serve passengers during evening meals or on-board leisure events.

A deckhand's routine duties often include the following:

  • mopping water from the ship's external decks to prevent slippages

  • repainting external walls or railings

  • cleaning external machinery, such as anchors or lifeboat winches

  • repairing or replacing external ropes

  • using ropes to tightly fasten lifeboats to the main vessel

  • instructing passengers about how to use emergency equipment, such as life jackets, radios or flares

  • helping passengers to detach lifeboats from the main vessel

  • using rigging to adjust sails

  • loading heavy objects, such as passenger luggage, safety equipment or machinery

  • serving food or drinks to passengers

2. Earn certifications

If you remain interested in pursuing this career, you may show employers that you're suitably skilled to work in this field by earning certification. By taking this approach, you can acquire both useful subject knowledge about this industry and legal proof that you're entitled to apply for jobs as a deckhand. One certification that you may earn is the STCW Basic Training Certificate, regulated by the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers. During your studies, you can complete five intensive modules covering the basic aspects of maritime safety, such as providing first aid or preventing fires.

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3. Build up practical experience

After qualifying to work as a junior deckhand, it's useful to establish yourself in the industry rather than securing further certifications. By taking this approach, you may build up vital practical experience of working onboard a boat, making it easier to take on greater responsibilities in the future. To increase your chances of securing an entry-level role, you could review online job listings, pick out keywords and reflect them in your CV. You could then persuade recruiters that you're well-suited to a career as a deckhand, boosting your chances of finding work quickly.

For example, if a job listing specifies that applicants be 'team players', recruiters want to hire individuals who are clear and confident communicators. In response, you could highlight your own communication skills and how you may apply them to tasks that require leadership, such as directing an evacuation.

Related: 151 CV words to enhance your application (and pass the ATS)

4. Earn specialist certifications

After establishing yourself in the industry, you could benefit from earning more specialist certifications. By taking this approach, you can accrue the technical expertise required to progress to a more responsible and higher-paid position. Depending on your professional interests, the specialist certification that you may wish to earn can vary significantly. On useful certification is the Proficiency in Security Awareness Certificate, regulated by the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers. During your course, you can find out how to report maritime security incidents, implement security-related contingency plans and identify various types of offensive weapons.

Alternatively, you could benefit from earning the Proficiency in Fast Rescue Boats Certificate, regulated by the same institution. During your studies, you may learn how to construct and operate fast rescue boats, recover casualties during emergency situations and prevent boats from capsizing when moving at speed.

Related: How to list certifications on a CV: template and examples

What soft skills do deckhands possess?

Besides certifications, you may also benefit from having several key skills relevant to this career. As you often work closely with other deckhands, it's useful to have skills that make it easier to work effectively as part of a team. Given your duty of care to passengers, it's also vital to possess skills that enable you to provide clear leadership in a crisis.

You could find it useful to develop the following soft skills:

  • Communication: As you're responsible for helping passengers during an emergency, it's essential that you can communicate safety instructions in a clear and calm manner.

  • Physical fitness: By being physically healthy, you may then find it easier to carry out more laborious tasks, such as carrying heavy luggage.

  • Attention to detail: By being attentive to detail, you could more easily notice a potential safety hazard before it causes a serious problem.

  • Organisation: By being organised, you can manage emergency evacuations in an orderly fashion.

Related: 11 top job skills: transferable skills for any industry

Career options for deckhands

Depending on your experience, desired working environment or certifications, you can pursue varied careers as a deckhand. Five such careers include:

1. First mate

National average salary: £21,245 per year

Primary duties: A first mate is responsible for performing safety-related and administrative duties on behalf of the ship's captain. They may monitor the ship's surroundings during both voyages and docking procedures to prevent collision with other objects, such as piers, rocks or other vessels. At the end of a journey, they may use both navigational markers and their own judgement to identify a good location to stop, before anchoring the ship to the seabed. They're also responsible for regularly updating a ship's logbooks, to ensure that crew members can present a detailed record of journeys to regulators for assessment.

2. Instructor

National average salary: £22,854 per year

Primary duties: Instructors often provide safety training to passengers, to make sure that they could protect themselves in an emergency. They might lead regular drills, recording passengers' presence on a register and teaching them to carry out basic safety tasks, such as fitting their child's life jacket or entering a lifeboat. They can also teach passengers about what they can do to remain safe once their lifeboat departs, such as issuing a distress signal or providing first aid. Besides protecting passengers, instructors can teach passengers to use onboard leisure equipment, such as jet skis or fishing hooks.

Related: How to provide leadership in crisis (plus tips and advice)

3. Seaman

National average salary: £26,323 per year

Primary duties: A seaman is responsible for carrying out general maintenance and repairs to the ship's external machinery, engine and safety equipment. Before a voyage starts, they can help colleagues to attach lifeboats to the main ship's outer hull, using rope pulleys to prevent them from detaching unexpectedly. They may also adjust the ship's rigging systems to suit changing wind conditions or the desired sailing speed, preventing the ship from being blown off course. Seamen can also repair the ship's internal machinery, such as its plumbing system.

Related: 9 interesting jobs on the ocean (with duties and salaries)

4. Boat captain

National average salary: £26,364 per year

Primary duties: Boat captains are the most senior mariner aboard a vessel, offering the leadership required to encourage junior colleagues to work efficiently during a long voyage. They often control navigational tasks, such as setting the ship's general course, operating its radar or steering around obstacles. They can also alter navigation plans in response to disruptive events, such as harsh weather or fuel leaks. They can also monitor the boat's inventory logs, to make sure that they can account for all freight after docking.

Related: How much does a cruise ship captain make? (Plus skills)

5. Safety coordinator

National average salary: £27,738 per year

Primary duties: Safety coordinators create crisis management strategies designed to protect passengers and colleagues in an emergency. They're responsible for making sure that all colleagues comply with existing safety regulations, to protect passengers and avoid potential lawsuits. They can also design training schemes to educate new colleagues about how to operate onboard equipment, such as cranes, winches or anchors. If a serious accident occurs, they can investigate the event and gather supporting evidence, before passing this information to law enforcement.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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