What does a Deckhand do?

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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2019
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A deckhand is a sailor, or mariner who helps with the various operations it takes to run a ship. The vast majority of deckhand jobs are for vessels used in a commercial operation. Though some larger private ships may have deckhands as well. In addition to helping with the day-to-day operation of the vessel, deckhands may also be responsible for safety and security.

The jobs a deckhand performs vary greatly, depending upon the ship, and the experience level of the individual. Those just starting out on a ship may be mainly responsible for looking after lines used to moor the ship to the dock, and general maintenance duties such as painting, and cleaning. In fact, cleaning may account for most of what a deckhand does until he or she gains more experience.

Most deckhands aspire to do more than the monotonous tasks of cleaning the ship, and handling lines. Therefore, many will take turns on the bridge, learning from more experienced sailors and operators. In time, deckhands may spend time at the wheel of the ship, relieving others who have done a shift. In such cases, deckhands will usually only handle a ship when it is in open water and requires less skill to navigate safely.


On cargo ships and passenger ships, a deckhand may also be responsible for security. Cargo ships are in constant need of watching, not only from those on the ship who may be tempted to help themselves to the cargo, but also from the outside. In the open ocean, piracy can be a problem. In port, unauthorized persons on the ship may pose a threat. Keeping a watchful eye is one of the best ways to prevent both situations.

Some deckhands on vessels that carry passengers will also perform customer service duties. For example, on a deep sea fishing boat, the deckhand may help customers bait hooks, remove fish, and keep track of their catches. In addition, they will be responsible for all the other duties associated with the job, including cleaning up the boat at the end of the trip, and making sure it is secured once back at the docks. On a cruise ship, a deckhand may help people find their way around the vessel as well as offering other assistance as needed.

Finding deckhand jobs is not difficult, but some are more competitive than others. Those who want to work on a freight vessel or cruise ship may find there are plenty of opportunities. Turnover at such jobs is generally high because people are away for long lengths of time, working hours are long, and conditions are sometimes harsh. There will likely be more competition on vessels doing day trips, because it offers the employee a chance to be home every day or night. The trade off is the pay is usually higher for those willing to go on longer, more difficult trips.


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What does the work involve for an SG2 in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary? And what is the interview like?

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