How do I Become a Chief Mate?

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  • Written By: Vanessa Harvey
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 28 November 2019
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To become a chief mate, also called a first mate or first officer, you will need to earn a degree from a sea service academy or obtain the equivalent work experience. A resident of the United States who aspires to become a chief mate also will need to obtain a license from the U.S. Coast Guard. Requirements for work experience will vary depending on the country in which you live, but approximately five years of experience as a seaman at sea must be gained. Some employers also require a chief mate to receive training in emergency medicine because he or she is a medical officer on a ship.

An example of how the average sailor gains enough work experience to become a chief mate involves accepting a job on a vessel with the opportunity to move up in rank. You would start in an entry level position as an ordinary seaman in which a full year of service must be given. Graduation or promotion to a position often known as Mariner 2 could then be achieved. If three years of service are given as a Mariner 2, you would then become eligible for a promotion to the position of third mate, and finally second mate. At least one year of service, a full 365 days, as third mate and the same amount of time as second mate must be completed before consideration can be given for granting you the title of chief mate.


If you think you might want to become a chief mate, you are advised to begin working on gaining the credentials or experience that you will need. A chief mate has a lot of responsibility, so you must possess excellent organizational and leadership skills. Extensive knowledge of the construction of ships is essential, as is computer literacy. Learning word processing, electronic spreadsheets and how to work with a database management system will prove valuable in your quest to become a chief mate. Sailors who live in the United States are strongly advised to complete training to become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).

In addition to the various skills and experience that you must obtain to become a chief mate, you also will need to make sure that you have organizational and leadership skills. A strong personality and being able to deal effectively with a variety of personalities is essential because of the supervisory duties that chief mates perform on a daily basis. These are skills that can be self-taught, practiced and verified. Look for opportunities to work or volunteer in a position of leadership, and be sure to include that experience in your portfolio.


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