Ship's officers' duties

Divine justice! He was upset because that same morning they were doing the service separately!

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,

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.

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.
Very comprehensive David. I can assure you it did not change for the following 60 years.

I think Ade was curious about the duties in all ships. If so then it should be clear that the duties shown above would be common to all White Star Ships and generally speaking, for all ships in the UK Merchant Navy. However, Titanic was not the normal vessel in that she had 6 bridge officers. Most vessels had 3 or 4 such officers and their hours of duty were different from the officers on Titanic.
On a 3 officer ship, the bridge officers worked 4 hours on 8 hours off, The 1st Officer had the 4 to 8, morning and evening. The 2nd, had the Graveyard Watch - 12 to 4, am and pm, The 3rd, had the Captain's Watch... the 8 to 12, am and pm. If a 4th officer was carried, he usually was on the 4 to 8 with the 1st Officer.
Titanic worked RN Watches...i.e. they had port and starboard Watches and 'dog' Watches. That was a hangover from sailing ship days. These fell out of practice in most British merchant ships where the standard for all crew members except day workers was 4 on- 8 off.
4 on 4 off must have been an absolute killer. We had a thing in the RN known as defence watches which were 6 on 6 off and that was hard work after about 10 days. Never mind having to shovel tonnes of coal for four hours before getting washed, having a bite to eat and then trying to catch a few hours sleep.
4 on 4 off killer worst defence watches I've had in the RN are as Rob Lawes says 6 on 6 off and 7 on 5 off then 5 on 7 off
I just read about there being a mutiny aboard the Oceanic, on which Murdoch and Lightoller were both officers. From what I read, the stokers were rebelling against the officers because of poor working conditions and accommodations. Were these areas that officers would have anything to do with or were the stokers just looking for someone to blame?
I’m just wondering but what did the officer's on the ship even do?
Jane, I think if you start reading from the beginning of this thread you will find your question answered in almost excruciating detail.
In that era in general and on the Titanic in particular, were there clearly defined responsibilities for the two Officers on duty? I understand that the Senior Officer had to remain at his post on the bridge at all times, unless relieved by another SO and the Junior officer had a bit more mobility. If that was the case, whose responsibility would it have been about making sure about things like the fresh water not freezing and so on? Or was it left to the duty officers themselves to handle the issues as they felt appropriate?

I have read that Boxhall was the unofficial 'navigator' of the ship and spent a lot of time in the chart room, far more than others. Was navigation a specified responsibility of the 4th Officer?

Also, were those meal breaks while on duty with relief by a colleague officially endorsed? Who bore responsibility if something happened in that time?
If that was the case, whose responsibility would it have been about making sure about things like the fresh water not freezing and so on
On the night of April 14, Second Officer Lightoller came to relive First Officer Wilde. Because the temperature was so cold, he (Lightoller) called the ship's carpenter and told him to make sure that the ship's freshwater supple didn't freeze over. I believe that the carpenter himself was responsible for the freshwater supply, and Lightoller's call was only a reminder to take extra care given the cold temperature. Sixth Officer Moody, who was also on the bridge at the time, might also have called the carpenter, but in this case I think it was something only Lightoller thought of and he called because he was not too busy, otherwise he could easily have given the task over to the Sixth Officer.

Was navigation a specified responsibility of the 4th Officer?
All the Officers plus the Captain are responsible for navigation. It isn't possible for any Officer or even the Captain to be on the bridge 24/7, so it would be the duty of whoever was on watch to see that the ship stayed her course, which was set out by the Captain. In the case of the Titanic it seems that Fourth Officer Boxhall was the best navigator out of them so Captain Smith put him in charge of the ship's charts, plotting iceberg positions, taking weather reports, that kind of thing. This shows just how much faith the Captain had in his navigational abilities!
Thanks for that, but
On the night of April 14, Second Officer Lightoller came to relive First Officer Wilde
Lightoller relieved First Officer Murdoch and not Chief Officer Wilde
In the case of the Titanic it seems that Fourth Officer Boxhall was the best navigator out of them so Captain Smith put him in charge of the ship's charts, plotting iceberg positions, taking weather reports, that kind of thing
Seems like Boxhall did not do a very good job of it.
not Chief Officer Wilde
No, it was the Chief Officer. The P.M. watches were set as follows:

2P.M. to 6P.M.: Chief Officer Wilde
6P.M. to 10P.M.: Second Officer Lightoller
10P.M. to 2A.M.: First Officer Murdoch

So on 14 April 1912 Lightoller would have arrived on the bridge at 6P.M. to relieve Wilde. That was when he made the call to the carpenter. Moody arrived on the bridge at 8P.M. to begin his watch with Lightoller. Chief Officer Murdoch would have come on the bridge at 10P.M. to take over from Lightoller, which explains why he was on the bridge during the collision while Lightoller was asleep in his cabin.

Seems like Boxhall did not do a very good job of it.
Hm, which part of the disaster are you referring to? If you are talking about the fact that the ship collided with the iceberg at all, you must remember that it was not the poor man's fault. In 1912 there were zero guidelines on how to deal with iceberg warnings. Of the six iceberg warnings that came in the day of the sinking, only two ever made it to the bridge. At least one of those was plotted on the chart by Boxhall (The other one was given to Bruce Ismay who kept it in his pocket for most of the day)

If you are referring to the controversy regarding the accuracy of the Titanic's final position, well, I am about as knowledgeable in seafaring as I am in Ancient Greek (which is to say, not at all) so maybe another old sea dog on here would be in a better position to comment about that :)
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