Until now, we have exhaustively talked about the deckhand position and its respective duties on a superyacht. But there are other places besides a superyacht that are hiring deckhands. So, what is a deckhand exactly in South Africa? And what kind of different duties or responsibilities may they bear? Let us find out in this article.

What or Who is a Deckhand in South Africa?

A deckhand is the most junior part of a ship’s crew. The ship in question could be a superyacht, a cruise ship, a container/cargo ship, or even a fishing trawler. A deck is a platform or flooring on the ship. There could be multiple decks on a ship or a single deck. The ‘hand’ in question refers to the helping hand. Hence, the term deckhand refers to someone who assists with day-to-day tasks on a ship’s deck.

Apart from deck operations, however, a deckhand carries out a variety of extra operations, such as cleaning or maintaining the exterior of the ship, taking care of a ship’s equipment or other emergency gear, and keeping a lookout.

How does one become a Deckhand in South Africa?

As a junior role, you do not necessarily require extensive qualifications to be a deckhand. However, to climb up the rank ladder, you will have to work hard and get extra qualifications as you proceed.

For example, a junior deckhand can become a Bosun or Boatswain on a Superyacht, given they have enough qualifications. Apart from the basic STCW certification, ENG1 medical certification, and an RYA Powerboat Level 2 license, a bosun will also need Efficient Deckhand (EDH) and RYA Yachtmaster Offshore for yachts < 200GT at minimum. But yes, this differs from industry to industry. 

If you plan on joining the industry, having the STCW qualifications (has to be renewed every 5 years) and the ENG1 medical certificate are necessary requirements regardless of your qualifications.

Climbing the Hierarchy as a Deckhand

While deckhands in entry-level positions do not need extensive experience, they do need to have experience and certifications to climb the ladder. A deckhand’s usual promotional ladder is deckhand, bosun, first mate, operator of the watch OR third/second/first officer, and ultimately, captain. As you climb the ladder, you will require extensive certifications plus additional experience that complies with the position. We have mentioned this extensively in our Deckhand Hierarchy article (for superyachts).

While the article was written with the superyacht industry in the focus, this hierarchy generally applies across all kinds of ships, sometimes with different jargon. Some ships, especially smaller ships like a tugboat or a trawler, may not even need such a hierarchy. It all depends on the ship you work on.

Responsibilities and Working Conditions of a Deckhand

As a deckhand, your core responsibility mainly remains the same across all kinds of ships. Crew assistance, deck cleaning and maintenance, and periodic watchkeeping. However, as the ship changes, so will your other responsibilities. For example, a superyacht requires a deckhand to appear formal and know the strings of hospitality. The same cannot be said for a deckhand working on a cargo ship. In this scenario, it is more important for a deckhand to understand the safety and security of the cargo ship. Meaning, keeping the cargo secured, precautions during loading and unloading the cargo, maintenance and cleaning of the cargo bay, and so on.

While the general lookout on the working conditions of a deckhand is generally viewed positively, it is not for everyone. Salary, workload, and working conditions differ from ship to ship. Naturally, a deckhand does work up to 13 hours a day on a ship. Sometimes, the shifts even extend to 16-18 hours a day. This usually happens during emergencies (such as loading containers, dire situations with containers on the ship and so on), or unusually high guest traffic (on superyachts).


That is the answer and some additional information for the question ‘What is a deckhand exactly in South Africa?’. The most basic, yet core part of a ship’s crew, deckhands are the backbone of the maritime industry. As an entry-level deckhand, you may not need many qualifications on the paper, but you certainly need a burning passion and resilience to be a successful one.

If you are looking for becoming a deckhand in South Africa, feel free to connect with us. We are a SAMSA-accredited marine institute based in Cape Town, South Africa and we will gladly assist you with your endeavours.