What they do

A coxswain navigates and steers a small commercial vessel under 12 metres in length, operating within the limits of sheltered and inshore waters, that is, in waters within 15 nautical miles of the coast.

As master of a small fishing or trading vessel, they are responsible for supervising other crew and passengers. They are also expected to lead a crew and make decisions under pressure, such as taking appropriate actions in an emergency. Other tasks for a coxswain includes maintaining the operations of engines (less that 250 Kw), updating vessel log books, assisting in mooring and unmooring vessels, and keeping watch. Commercial vessels under the command of a coxswain can include small passenger vessels, charter vessels, water taxis, tourist craft, and fishing vessels.

Working conditions

A coxswain will be expected to apply their seamanship skills when manoeuvring the small vessel they command. These skills include using ropes and chains, rigging gear and loads, operating winches and windlasses, stowing and securing anchors at sea, securing a vessel in rough weather, maintaining water tight integrity, lashing and securing equipment, and towing and being towed.

They can be expected to work irregular hours, including shift work, and can be expected to remain on duty for long periods. Conditions on board may be uncomfortable and dangerous in rough weather. Living in close quarters with the crew, the coxswain needs good communication and team working skills to assist in maintaining morale.

Tools and technologies

A coxswain needs to have a working knowledge of the small vessel they command, including knowing how to service auxiliary systems, and carry out servicing of low voltage electrical systems and propulsion systems on board. They work with navigation equipment and marine radio and telephone equipment.

How do I become one?

Education and training

To become a coxswain, you usually need to gain a qualification in maritime operations.

The Certificate I in Maritime Operations (Coxswain Grade 2 Near Coastal) and Certificate II in Maritime Operations (Coxswain Grade 1 Near Coastal) are offered at TAFE colleges and other registered training organisations throughout Western Australia. Browse courses through Jobs and Skills WA and search on the My Skills website to find a registered provider near you.

You can also undertake a traineeship in maritime operations - coxswain. The traineeship usually takes six months to complete, and is available as a school-based traineeship.

Apprenticeships and traineeships

As an apprentice or trainee, you enter into a formal training contract with an employer, enabling you to complete training towards a nationally recognised qualification. You spend  time working and learning practical skills on the job and you spend some time undertaking structured training with a registered training provider.

You can do an apprenticeship or traineeship if you are a school-leaver, re-entering the workforce or as an adult or mature-aged person wishing to change careers. You can even begin your apprenticeship or traineeship while you're still at school.

If you are still at school you can access an apprenticeship through your school. Talk to your school's VET Co-ordinator to start your training now through VET in Schools. If you are no longer at school you can apply for an apprenticeship or traineeship and get paid while you learn and work.

Required registration and licensing

To work as a coxswain in Western Australia, you will need to obtain a Coxswain Grade 1 Near Coastal or Coxswain Grade 2 Near Coastal Certificate of Competency from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.


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