What is a Chief Mate?

First officer or first mate and chief officer and chief mate (CM) are known to be one in the same. Passenger liners are known to carry both.  The CM is the head of the deck department of a merchant ship and is licensed. The title used varies with the ships type, nationality, trade and employment

Watchstanding or watchkeeping refers to qualified personnel who can operate the ship. Overseeing the ship’s cargo and deck crew.  

The captain relies on the CM for the safety and security of the vessel. This includes the welfare of the crew and their training in safety, search and rescue, and firefighting.

The deck officer commonly second in command on a merchant marine vessel is the CM.

To become a Chief Mate on a merchant marine vessel, issued U.S. Coast Guard credentials are required. CM’s are responsible for ship safety, maintenance, navigation and cargo operations.

In less formal vessel operations the CM is more commonly called the first mate. Within the commonwealth, chief mate is not normally used.

As a maritime professional the CM is the captains second in command and is accountable for the same responsibilities as the captain. Managing the deck crew, customer service to passengers on board and navigation.

The median salary for captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels, with Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC), is more than $80,000.

Your MMC, one-year experience and second mate endorsements are required.

Skill set: Hearing, dexterity, hand eye coordination, mechanical and customer service


Steps to become a chief mate.

1 Transportation workers identification credential

You will need endorsements on your Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC).

To do so you need to show you are not a security risk by obtaining the Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC). The security evaluation is extensive, performed by US Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. Both organizations consider criminal history, immigration and terrorist theat.

2 Requirements

Must be at least 21 years old to be a chief mate.

One year of experience with second mate endorsements

Sea experience must be on a vessel over 200 Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) and 6 months experience must be on ships over 1,600 GRT.


3 Finish training and watchkeeper requirements

The Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) certificates.

Coast guard approved management level training courses. Advanced ship handling, ship management, cargo handling, meteorology, and advanced navigation.

In addition to complete programs created to teach safety, navigation and communication.

Basic safety: Safety and survival training, firefighting, and first aid.


4 Deck Exam

As a member of the deck crew you must pass US Coast Guard deck exam to be considered for endorsements. This is a series of nine tests each with their own minimum score.

Subjects include environmental protection, navigational problems, deck safety, rules, regulations, ocean and near ocean navigation


5 MMC application

After completion of necessary endorsements, CM’s can apply for their MMC.

With your application you need to submit passed forms for medical, physical and drug tests.

The USCG requires letters from employers or discharge certificates to confirm sea experience.

Letters of recommendation from a master and two from licensed officers on a vessel you have served.