What Do People Do Onboard Cargo Vessels?
Have you ever seen a cargo ship gliding across the horizon and wondered what goes on inside? These modern marvels carry most of the world's traded goods, but life onboard can seem like a complete mystery to many individuals. Today, we're cracking the code and exploring the world of the crew members who keep Canadian cargo vessels running smoothly.

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Being part of a crew is very much a team sport, with each position having a vital role. The strong sense of camaraderie and teamwork onboard creates a close-knit community. Here's a look into some key positions:

Marine Navigation Officers: Picture them as the ship's managers. They're responsible for everything from navigating the ship safely using sophisticated technology to overseeing cargo operations and ensuring the crew follows safety protocols. Marine navigation officers on Canadian ships have different ranks starting at third mate, second mate and chief officer all the way up to the captain, each with different responsibilities to ensure the smooth running of the whole voyage.

Marine Engineering Officers: The engine room is their domain! These highly skilled professionals keep the ship's engines and other mechanical systems running impeccably. Marine engineering officers also have different ranks starting from fourth, third, and second engineer all the way up to chief engineer. In particular, the chief engineer oversees the vessel and the engine room’s operations as well as takes care of all mechanical and electrical systems on board.

Ratings: These skilled seafarers play a key role tackling various important jobs across all departments:

Able-Bodied Seafarers (AB): These crew members take on this position after obtaining a Bridge Watch Rating (BWR) certificate. They can act as helmsman or lookout, and during cargo operations, they perform deck duties as directed by the Officer of the Watch. They also serve as watchkeepers, monitoring the ship's course and systems, and responding to emergencies as needed.

Ordinary Seafarers (OS): Under instructions, these crew members perform the overall maintenance of the vessel such as chipping, painting, washing, cleaning, and greasing of all the equipment on board. The O/S is an entry-level position, and their duties vary depending on the ship and the needs of the crew.

Chief Cook & Second Cook: Often referred to as the most important positions of all on a cargo ship! The chief cook is responsible for managing the galley, preparing menus, as well as inventory control, food safety and making sure that everybody on board the ship is well-fed at all times. The Second Cook reports to the Chief Cook and is mainly responsible for the pastry preparations in the kitchen as well as any other assigned functions.

Mechanical Assistants/Engine Room Ratings: These crew members maintain temperatures, pressures and proper oil and water levels in the engine room of the vessel. The engine room rating holds an engine room certificate.

Tunnelman/Cargo Handler: Often responsible for securing the ship’s cargo and getting it where it needs to go, the Tunnelman reports to and acts as instructed by the Head Tunnelman.

Electrician: The ship’s electrician is responsible for the installation, maintenance and repair of the ship's electrical systems and equipment. They report to the chief engineer and work closely with other members of the engineering team.

But what do people do when they’re not working?

A day at sea isn’t all work and no play. Crew members have designated rest periods, amazing meals cooked for them and access to recreational activities. Today’s ships often have gym equipment and common areas with games and entertainment systems. Vessels are equipped with Wi-Fi, allowing crew to stay connected with loved ones back home. Depending on how long it takes to load or unload the cargo, crew members also have short breaks at ports (called shore leave) to stretch their legs, go for a bike ride, hit the shops or visit a friend or family member nearby, before the ship leaves for the next destination.

While life on the water offers adventure and stunning views in the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence, Arctic and Canadian coasts, it also comes with different work schedules than a typical office job. You could be sailing for several weeks to a few months at a time, and then have extended periods off to spend time with loved ones or pursue your interests. To be a successful seafarer, you must also be prepared to work outdoors in all sorts of weather conditions.

If you crave responsibility, love fixing problems, and have an adventurous streak, a career within Canadian marine shipping could be your perfect match. It is a constantly changing field with tons of room to grow, and you get to travel in different parts of Canada while playing a key role in the nation’s economy.
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