Ship's officers' duties

Carl Ireton

Dec 3, 2005
Hi, I'm still relatively new to this, so I hope I'm following the rules. I put this together just out of interest, and if there is something I'm missing, please somebody let me know. Anyway, I'll start with the bridge crew. With the Titanic, you had the Captain, the Chief Engineer, the Purser, the Chief Officer, followed by First through Sixth in seniority. Normally the bridge had the helmsman, quartermaster, and two O.O.W., or Officer of the Watch. Now I probably won't have their duties in order, but I'll start with the officer reporting for duty on the bridge for his four hour watch. Before being relieved from duty, the previous O.O.W. reports to his relief what has occurred during his watch, the weather reports, and what to look for. The newly arrived officer will probably retire to the chartroom to check the ship's progress and tracking on the map. His job is to maintain heading and speed, or to make certain changes per the Captain or Chief Officers orders. He will then go back to the bridge and occasionally check the binnacle for a course reading. He'll occasionally check on the helmsman. Not a word is spoken. He'll take his binoculars and walk out on the bridge wing and scan the horizon for ships, the weather, or anything out of the ordinary. Sometime during the watch he will order a bucket to be lowered to the sea and brought back up to check the sea's temperature. He'll take the ship's sextant and take a position reading from the stars or the sun accordingly. When his shift is over, he gives his relief a report of his shift, then goes on assigned rounds to make certain security checks. He will dine in the officer's mess, then most likely report to his cabin and turn in for the night/day until it's time for his next shift. I think that's all in a nutshell. Again, if I'm missing anything, somebody please let me know.
As for the Captain, he reports to the ship on sailing day. The ship goes through an inspection process by the B.O.T. (Board of Trade) inspector. The inspector checks to see if the lifeboats are in working order, the proper safety equipment and fire fighting equipment are in proper condition. Upon completion of the inspection, the captain signs a document by the inspector ascertaining the ship is ready for sea and seaworthy. The B.O.T. inspector disembarks and the ship's officers are placed at various places on the ship. As the orders are passed between them, the lines holding the ship at the dock are cast off. A tugboat pulls alongside and the pilot boards. He is in command of the ship and gives orders to the tugs as they carefully steer the ship down the river towards the open sea. Upon arriving at the departure point, the pilot turns over command to the captain. He disembarks and the ship is now onto her next destination. The captain's duties involve course and speed, course and speed correction when necessary. He is required to have the personal skills necessary in dealing with passengers (Later, shipping lines would adapt a new office, the staff captain, to their ships to handle the social aspects of the passengers and free the ships captain to his navigational and other more official duties). Alot of times the captain will dine alone in either his cabin or the dining room. On certain occasions he will be joined by passengers especially selected by the purser. On Sunday morning there is a Sunday morning service where the captain officiates with a service provided him by the company handbook. Anyone from all class structures on the ship are invited to attend. After services, the captain conducts a thorough ships inspection, followed by senior ships officers. Day five of the voyage. As they near the Hudson River estuary, they meet the pilot near the Nantucket lightship. The pilot boards and takes over command and escorts the ship via the tugboats up the Hudson River (the Hudson River had to be dredged especially so that the Titanic and the Olympic would have enough draft to sail upriver)to her pier where the passengers embark. If anybody reads this, I would appreciate any corrections or anything else somebody would wish to add. Thanks, Carl Ireton

Carl Ireton

Dec 3, 2005
I have discovered an error in my description of bridge officer's duties. The helmsman would have been the quartermaster. So there would have been the two watch officers and the helmsman on the bridge. I am open to any criticism or corrections if one wishes to do so. Carl Ireton

Dave Gittins

Mar 16, 2000
Actually, at any time there were three officers on the bridge, plus two quartermasters. (I count the wheelhouse and chart room in this. There was only one person on the open bridge).

The senior officer kept watch on the open bridge and generally supervised. When celestial sights were taken, he wielded the sextant. The observations were timed and reduced by one of the two junior officers. This officer also did other navigational work, notably checking the compass by celestial observations. The other junior officer supervised the quartermaster at the wheel and generally assisted as needed.

Each quartermaster steered for two hours of his four hour watch. He spent the other two hours standing by to assist, perhaps by carrying messages about the ship.

An important point is that the junior officers worked the old-fashioned four hours on and four hours off, plus the dog watches. They were thus in a poor state in which to do complex navigational calculations. Most lines had abandoned this practice, but White Star was behind the times.

The senior officers nominally worked four hours on and eight off. Their watches were really a bit longer than four hours, because they ended each watch by making rounds of the ship to see all was well.
Mar 22, 2003
Chicago, IL, USA
On the Titanic they had 3 QMs in each watch. As Dave said, one at the the helm and another as standby on the forebridge. They swapped jobs after 2 hours with one at the helm becoming the standby, and standby taking over the helm. The 3rd QM of the watch was stationed on the afterbridge for the full 4 hours. All QMs rotated these responsibilities. Just to clarify one other point, there is only 1 OOW in a watch and that is a senior officer. On the WSL ships, the C/O was OWW from 2-6, the 2/O was OOW from 6 to 10, and the 1/O was OOW from 10 to 2. Other lines like Cunard had the seniors in sync with the normal deck crew watches of 12 to 4, 4 to 8, and 8 to 12. The Titanic also carried 6 seamen who were assigned as lookouts. They worked in pairs up in the crow's nest for 2 hours, then off for 4 hours. Thus they were on duty four separate times in a complete day. And those days were a little longer going westward and little shorter going eastward by about 45 to 48 minutes for a ship like the Titanic. The Captain stood no watch.

Down below they had a Chief engineer who, like the Captain, stood no watch. They also had a senior 2nd engineer and a senior assistant 2nd engineer who stood a watch 4 hours on 8 off. The other two watches of 8 on and 4 off down below was headed by one of two junior 2nd engineer and one of two junior assistant 2nd engineers. The 2nd engineer normally had charge of the engine rooms while the 2nd assistance engineer had charge of the stokeholds. To assist all of them there were a number of 3rd and 4th engineers on board as well.

Carl Ireton

Dec 3, 2005
Hi, everyone, thanks for your added input. And thanks for your corrections. You see, no matter how many years I've spent studying the Titanic, I always learn new things, courtesy of knowledgeable people like yourselves. Thanks again. Carl Ireton
Jun 16, 2006
I seem not to be able to find satisfying information about the general duties of the officers. I've still got a very limited Titanic "library" (due to the fact that I'm unemployed and simply cannot spend as much money as I'd like) and therefore depend a lot on what I can track down on the net. Are there any websites describing the officers' duties except from when the ship is sinking? I've found several websites explaining that "except from the normal duties, this night was more demanding" etc. but never really found a thorough explanation of what those "normal duties" really was.

I have understood that the officers were responsible for the "wellbeing" of the ship, and of course the navigation. Had they anything to do with the loading of food supplies and/or cargo?

I recall someone (Lightoller?) in Cameron's movie saying he'll be off on his round, or something like that. Is this correct, and if so, what was that "round"? Taking a tour around deck checking if everything's ok?

Appreciate any help on this!

Lynda Franklin

Well your not the only one who has limited resources I will check my books.
Oct 28, 2000
The information you want is in the International Mercantile Marine Company's publication "Ships' Rules and Uniform Regulations," issued July 1st 1907

Under SEA WATCHES it specifies that the Chief Officer stands the 2 to 6 watch; the Second Officer the 6 to 10 watch; and the First Officer the 10 to 2 watch both AM and PM. The First Officer relieves the Second for breakfast; the Second relieves the first for lunch. Contrary to Lightoller's testimony no dinner relief was needed under the company rules.

Junior officers stood watch-and-watch with the crew, rotating every four hours. The crew was divided into the "Port Watch" and "Starboard Watch" so that only half would be on deck at a time. The Third Officer had charge of the port watch, and the Fourth Officer the starboard. The Third and Fourth Officers were "go the rounds" every hour during watch on deck.

Chief Officer -- he was the "Executive Officer" of the ship responsible for cleanliness and discipline throughout. His duties included having the decks washed down and the brass polished by 8 a.m. Of course, he also stood a deck watch as noted above. In that respect the Chief Officer was jointly responsible with the Commander for the safe and proper navigation of the ship. It was the Chief Officer who was designated to make an inspection of the ship at 8 p.m. each evening.

In addition to standing his deck watch, the First Officer was given charge of the navigation instruments and winding the chronometers. He was specifically told to make sure that the clocks on the bridge and in the engine room agreed. When docking, he was designated as officer in charge of making sure nothing fouled the ship's propellers.

The Second Officer stood a deck watch and had certain port duties regarding cargo.

The junior officers were to "afford every assistance in the navigation of the ship" and to "attend strictly to the instructions of the Officer in Charge."

The three senior officers stood watch on the bridge, which they "must on no account leave, either night or day, without being relieved." The Officer of the Watch was given the primary duty of maintaining a good look-out. Not even fixing the ship's position for navigation was more important than look-out. Paragraph 252(e) stated, "He must call the Commander at once if it becomes foggy, hazy, if he does not think he can see a safe distance, of if in doubt about anything.

Every half hour the Officer of the Watch was to steady the ship on course by the standard compass and to compare the compasses every watch.

-- David G. Brown

[Moderator's Note: This message and the two immediately above it, originally posted as a separate thread, have been moved to this pre-existing thread addressing the same subject. MAB]

Andrew Y Liu

Sep 4, 2006
I heard and read that all the deck officers had time shifts. Does anyone know what time each of them were on the deck for watching? According to JC's film, it showed Murdoch on deck like at almost all the time and the other officers weren't on deck watching at all times. Could someone please help. I am kind of confused.

Inger Sheil

Feb 9, 1999
Hallo Andrew -

Yes, Murdoch does seem to be a bit ubiquitous in the movie!

There has been some discussion of the watches before on the board (as I learned many years ago from a friend in the merchant marine, never call them 'shifts'):

[Moderator's note: Edited post to remove link - the thread that Inger was referring to is the one you are reading now. JDT]

As First Officer, Murdoch stood the 10:00 - 2:00 watches, both AM and PM.

Dave Gittins

Mar 16, 2000
The traditional watches, kept by the junior officers, were--

Midnight to 4-00am. The middle watch.
4-00am to 8-00am. The morning watch.
8-00am to 12-00 noon. The forenoon watch.
Noon to 4-00pm. The afternoon watch.
4-00pm to 6-00pm. The first dog watch.
6-00pm to 8-00pm. The last dog watch.
8-00pm to Midnight. The first watch.

The pairings were Boxhall/Moody and Pitman/Lowe. On 14 April, Pitman/Lowe started the sequence.

The seniors kept----

Wilde 2-00pm - 6-00pm.
Lightoller 6-00pm - 10-00pm.
Murdoch 10-00pm - 2-00am.
Wilde 2-00am - 6-00am.
Lightoller 6-00am - 10-00am.
Murdoch 10-00am - 2-00pm.

The seniors had to make rounds of the ship after each watch. There was also a certain amount of relieving for meals, evidently by friendly arrangement.

[Moderator's note: This post and the two immediately above it, originally posted as a separate thread, have moved to the pre-existing one discussing the same subject. JDT]
On Sunday morning there is a Sunday morning service where the captain officiates with a service provided him by the company handbook. Anyone from all class structures on the ship are invited to attend.
Are you sure about this bit? I thought Third Class was kept "away" especially because of health inspections. I really think they weren't invited to the Divine service in the First Class Dining Saloon.

Bob Godfrey

Nov 22, 2002
That's right, Ana. Segregation was the rule for all Classes, so the 2nd Class passengers would not have been welcome either. They had a separate service in their own dining room.


Jul 15, 2016

I would like to know if someone have a link or a book about the role of different officers (difference between 1st, second, third etc. officer).

Same question for the other members of the crew. Where could I find the specific role of each ?

Moreover, the role of the crew was the same on all boat, or it's different for each boat ? For example, is the role of second officer on the Titanic the same than on the Carpathia ?

Thanks for your answers,

Oct 28, 2000
The following excerpts are taken from the IMM/WSL book of rules and regulations dated July 1st, 1907. The particular book copied was the property of J. Bruce Ismay and now in the documents pertaining to the Limitation of Liability hearings.

-- David G. Brown

101. – Commanders must distinctly understand that the issue of these regulations does not in any way relieve them from the responsibility for the safe and efficient navigation of their respective vessels, and they are also enjoined to remember that they must run no risk which might by any possibility resut in accident to their ship. It is to be hoped that they will ever bear in mind that the safety of the lives and property intrusted to their care is the ruling principle that should govern them in the navigation of their vessels and that no supposed gaining of expedition, or saving of time on the voyage is to be purchased at the risk of accidents.... No precaution which insures safe navigation is to be considered excessive.

114. Night orders. – The Commander is to enter in ink in the Night Order Book the course to be steered, and all other necessary instructions, particularly as to being called in case of need, or doubt on the part of the Bridge Officer. The book is to be kept by the Officer in charge of the Watch, who will in turn pass it on to his relief, each Officer initially for his Watch.

The ship’s position is to be worked up every evening at 8 p.m. and entered in the night order book.

117. Sea Watches. – Regular sea watches must be kept from the time the ship leaves the port of departure until she reaches the port of arrival. The watches are to be equally divided and the ship is never to be left without and Officer in charge of the bridge. When the Officer of the watch believes the ship to be running into danger it is his duty to act at once on his own responsibility, at the same time he is immediately to pass word for the Commander. The Chief, First and Second Officers are never to give up charge of the bridge during their respective watches unless with the express permission of the Commander. When the Watch is relieved the Officer in charge of the watch going off duty is to be responsible that the correct course is passed with the helmsman relieving. This should be done in the presence of the Officer relieving, who is to satisfy hemself that it is being steered. The thre Seniors are the Bridge Officers, and divide the time into three watches of four hours’ duration, each will have four hours on the ridge in charge of the ship, followed by eight hours below. The Junior Officers, when five or more Officers are borne, will keep watch and watch with the seamen, the Third Officer having charge of the starboard watch, and the Fourth Officer the starboard watch, under the direction of the Senior Officer on watch. They are also to go the rounds every hour during watch on deck, reporting having carried this out to the Senior Officer on watch.

Senior Officers’s Watches: –

Chief Officer ... 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Second Officer... 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
First Officer ... 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

The First Officer relieving for Breakfast.
The Second Officer relieving for Lunch
No dinner relief needed.

Junior Officers’ Watches: –

Midnight to 4 a.m.
4 a.m. to 8 a.m.
8 a.m. to Noon
Noon to 4 p.m.
4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
8 p.m. to Midnight.

Junior officers are not to have charge of a watch at sea except during dayling in fine weather at the discretion of the Commander.


201. Duties – (a) The Chief officer is Executive Officer of the ship; he is responsible for the cleanliness and discipline throughout. He shall have the decks washed down and as dry as possible by 8 .m., paint and brass-work cleaned, and Decks in thorough order. No work that may cause discomfot to Passenger is to be done on Passenger Decks after 8 a.m.

He will take charge of a Watch, and in port will have general superintendence of the ship.

(b) He must make himself thoroughly acquainted witht he Rules and Regulations of the Company, and will be held responsible for any infringement of same by any junior Officer or member of the Deck Department.

(c) He must pay particular attention to the Laws regulating Passenger Streamships, Rules of the Road, Steam Whistles, Signals, etc., etc.

(d) He will have strict attention paid to the moorings, gangways, etc. He will see that the proper Night Watch is set and kept.

(e) He will pay strict attention to the holds, and if unable to make a personal inspection of each hold he will depute other Officers to do so, and will obtain from each Officer a written report of the condition of his hold. He will also have the Steam Fire Annihilators tried each voyage by the Officer of the hold, accompanied by an Engineer and the Carpenter; the hold report to include examination of ports, roses, wells, bilges, scuppers, etc.

202. Responsibility. – The Chief Officer is held jointly responsible with the Commander for the safe and proper navigation of the steamer, and it shall be his duty to make a respectful representation to the Commander if he apprehends danger, when his responsibility shall cease. Any neglect in this respect will not be excused.

203. Inspection. – He will have the ship ready for inspection at the designated hour, and everything is expected to be clean and in thoroughly good order.

204. Stores, Repairs and Alterations. – He must not allow any expenditure of stores in his department without an order signed by himself, and all requisitions for stores in his department must bear his signature. All ordinary requisitions for improvements in, repairs to, and supplies for the Deck Department must be handed immediately on arrival to the Marine Superintendent. These requisitions must contai no requrests for any alterations or new work to any part of the structure of the ship; all such requisitions or suggestions must be submitted in a letter from the Commander to the Management, with reasons therefor. Replacing necessary articles, old and worn out, by new, are repairs.

205. Inspection of Boats. – he is required to personally inspect the boats once a week, cause the covers to be removed, the boats washed, tackle and equipment overhauled, and otherwise satisfy himself that they are in every respect complet, in perfect working order, and ready for immediate use in case of emergency, with water breakers and biscuit locker full, the water sweet and the biscuits sound.

206. Evening Inspection. – at 8-0 p.m.the Chief Officer or Senior Officer of the Watch when relieved, will make an ispection of the ship, satisfy himself that the Fire Gear is ready for use, Sluice Valves shut, Fire Detectors in order, Emergency Boasts clear and ready for lowering, that the proper arrangements are made for closing any Side Ports that may be open on the cattle decks when necessary, and will report the same to the Commander as soon as possible afterwards.

207. Stewards Repair List At Sea

208. Deck Men

209. Oiling Steering Gear

210. Refrigeratoed Cargo Compartments

211. Stations On Sailing Day

212. Specie

213. Stowaways

214. Attending at American Counsul’s Office

215. Ship’s Log-book. – He must be particular in keeping the ship’s Log, and write it up carefully every day, giving the Officer of the Deck positive instructions to make a note of everything tht is of importance on the Log Slate so tht the log may conform to the requirements of the Company. All damage done to the ship, however small, to be entered in the Log-book.

216. Authentication of Entries in Log-book. – The log-book, when completed by the Chief Officer, is to be initialed by the Officers of each Watch, and the book each day submitted to the Commander for inspection and signature.

217. Alteration in Log-book Forbidden. – A leaf is never to be removed or closed up in the Log-book, nor any erasure made under any circumstances; all errors must be cancelled out by ruling an ink line through them, with initials attached.

218 Delivering Log-book at End of Voyage. – At the end of the voyage the Log-book must be delivered to the Marine Superintendedt, signed by the Commander and Chief Officer.
Oct 28, 2000

251. Station. – At sea the station of the Officer of the Watch is on the Bridge, which he must on no account leave, either night or day, without being relieved.

When the watch is changed, the Officer who is being relieved will remain on the ridge and in charge during the change; he will see that the seamen placed as look-outs do not quit their posts until relieved, and he must deliver to the Officer relieving him all orders wich have still to be executed. He is the resonsible Officer until he leaves the Bridge, and must not leave the bridge until the Officer relieving him has had time to familiarize himself with his surroundings.

252. Duties. – (a) He must remember that his first duty is to keep a good look-out, and avoid running into danger, and though it is desirable to obtain the position of the shaip as often as possible, he must on no account neglect his look-out to do so. He must also preserve order in the ship.

(b) He must not alter the course without consulting the Commander, unless to avoid some sudden danger, risk of collision, etc.

(c) When he believes the ship to be running into danger it is his duty to act at once upon his own responsibility, at the same time he will immediately pass the word to call the Commander.

(d) When it is his duty to alter the course for some approaching or crossing vessel, he must do so in plenty of time, signify by sound signals such alteration, and give such vessel a wide berth.

(e) He must call the Commander at once if it becomes foggy, hazy, if he does not think he can see a safe distance, or if in doubt about anything.

(f) He is expected to make himself thoroughly conversant with the usual Channel courses, and to be thoroughly posted in the run of the ship. Any doubt he may have as to the safety of the position of the ship or of the course steered he will immediately express to the Commander in a respectful manner.

253. Steering and Compasses. – He must pay particular attention to the steering and the course the ship makes. He must steady the ship on her course by standard every half-hour, and must compare the compasses every Watch, the comparisons to be entered in the Compass Comparison Book for reference. He will also ascertain the deviation as often as possible.

254. Look-Out

255. Rounds of Cattle Deck

256. Side Ports, etc.

257. Entries on Log Slate. – All data required for the careful navigation of the vessel must be noted on the Log Slate...

...The Log Slate is to be written up every Watch by the Officer in charge of the deck, whether at sea or in port.

258. Signals and Signalling

259. Ship’s Time. – The officer of the Watch will see that the ship’s time is changed between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., the clocks to be set for Noon before 6 a.m. The Engine Room Clock must at all times agree witht he Clock in the Wheelhouse, and must be corrected accordingly.

260. Duties in Port


301. Duties. – The First or Senior Second Officer will take chare of a watch, and attendto the duties of a Watch Officer. He will also act as Executive Officer when the Chief Officer is absent from the ship.

302. Charge of Navigating Instruments. – Unless the Commander otherwise decides, he will take general charge of the navigating instruments of the ship, including chronometers, compasses, charts, clocks, etc.

303. Winding Chronometers. – Unless the Commander otherwise decides, he will wind and compare chronometers at 8 a.m. each day, and keep a Chronometer Comparison Book. He will also see that the clocks are wound.

304. Optician’s Requistion and Repair List

305. Engine Room and Deck Clocks Agree

306. Duties in Port

307. Station


351. Duties. – The second officer will have charge of a Watch, and attend the duties of a Watch Officer.

352. Duties in Port


371. Duties. – (a) The Junior Officers should exert themselves to afford every assistance in the navigation of the ship by perfecting themselves in the practice of solar and stellar observations, bot for the correction of the compass and for ascertaining the position of the ship.

(b) They will attend strictly to the instructions of the Officer in Charge as to superintending holds, gangways, or in keeping watches, and perform any other duties which may be required of them.

(c) Junio or Petty Officers must supervise the holds during loading or discharging to control the stowage, and prevent stealing and the improper use of hooks and crowbars by the stevedores.