Become a Chief Mate: Step-by-Step Career Guide

The chief mate is a deck officer and typically second-in-command on a merchant marine vessel. Responsibilities of the chief mate include crew safety, navigation, ship maintenance and cargo operations. Individuals may become chief mates by receiving the necessary credentials issued by the U.S. Coast Guard. View article »

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  • 0:00 Become a Chief Mate
  • 0:54 Transportation Workers…
  • 1:38 Meet Chief Mate Requirements
  • 2:06 Complete Training
  • 2:53 Pass the Deck Exam
  • 3:21 Apply for the MMC

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Video Transcript

Become a Chief Mate

A chief mate is a maritime professional who is generally the second-in-command to the captain. A chief mate is responsible for many of the same duties as the captain including deck crew management, navigation, and customer service if passengers are on board.

Degree Level Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC)
Experience 1 year of experience and second mate endorsements
Key Skills Customer service, hand-eye coordination, mechanical skills, hearing ability, manual dexterity
Salary (2015) $83,150 (Median salary for all captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels)

A Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) in addition to at least one year of experience and second mate endorsements are required.

Key skills include: Customer service, hand-eye coordination, mechanical skills, hearing ability, and manual dexterity.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for all captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels was $83,150 as of May 2015.

Let's take a look at the steps to become a chief mate.

Step 1: Transportation Workers Identification Credential

Individuals who want to become a chief mate will need to receive officer endorsements on their Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC). To do so, applicants must complete several steps. First, applicants must obtain the Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC), which shows that applicants are not security risks. TWIC applicants undergo security evaluations performed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and FBI. The security assessment includes terrorist threat, immigration and criminal history checks.

Step 2: Meet Chief Mate Requirements

Chief Mates must be at least 21 years old. They'll need at least one year of work experience on motor or steam vessels and must have received second mate endorsements. All sea experience must be on a vessel over 200 gross register tonnage (GRT) and half of the year-long experience must be on ships over 1,600 GRT.

Step 3: Complete Training and Watchkeeping Requirements

Aspiring chief mates must earn the Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) certificates. Certificate requirements include completing management level training courses approved by the Coast Guard. Courses include advanced meteorology, ship management, advanced navigation, cargo handling and advanced ship handling.

STCW certificate applicants must also complete programs designed to teach safety, communication and navigation skills. The Basic Safety Training course is a 5-day program consisting of first aid, firefighting, safety and survival training.

Step 4: Pass the Deck Exam

Chief mates are members of the deck crew and must pass the Coast Guard's deck examination to receive endorsements. The exam for chief mates is composed of nine tests, each with its own minimum score. Applicants are tested on subjects such as rules and regulations, ocean and near coastal navigation, deck safety, navigation problems and environmental protection.

Step 5: Apply for the MMC

Upon completing all necessary endorsements, applicants for chief mates may apply for their MMCs. Along with their application, they must also submit forms showing they have passed medical, physical and drug tests. The Coast Guard requires candidates to present letters from employers or discharge certificates to verify sea experience. The MMC application also requires three letters of recommendation: one from a master and two from licensed officers on a vessel in which the applicant had served.

A chief mate is generally second-in-command to the captain, with a median annual salary of $83,150.

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