The Master

Both the deck and the engine room will have a number of ratings to carry out the routine work during the voyage and while loading or discharging.  Some ships still carry a radio officer or, more recently, an electr­onics engineer.  The traditional work of a radio operator is, however, being overtaken by technology with satellites permitting telex, fax, and ordinary telephone conversations from one side of the world to another.  A small group of catering staff com­pletes the crew of an average merchant ship. A few complex ships such as refrigerated cargo carriers and certain specialist tankers whose cargo needs care throughout the voyage will have a ‘Deck or cargo engineers’ department quite separate from the propulsion engine room. Most of the contact between the manager’s office and the ship will be via the Master.  Whilst modern communication enables immediate contact to be made at almost any time between the managers or owners and the Master, his is still one of the most lonely respon­­sibilities in the world.  He has to fulfil three roles, sometimes all at the same time and many of the decisions he has to make cannot be debated with his shore based colleagues, they are his alone to make and they are all equally vital. First of all the Master is responsible for the safe navigation of the vessel.  Not just to preserve his employer’s investment and that of the cargo being carried but the lives of all on board are in his hands. That somewhat melodramatic statement is as true today as it was in the days of sail. True the risks are fewer and further between but even today’s modern ships are no match for the weather at times and a wrong decision by the Master can still be fatal.  So far as material damage is concerned one only has to study the shipping casualty statis­tics to see that navigating a ship safely continues to be a heavy  respon­sibility.