Ships master


Also known as:

  • Coxswain
  • Ship's Captain

What they do

A ship's master is in charge of all aspects of a ship's operation, while at sea and in port. These workers are responsible for overseeing activities such as the loading and unloading of cargo, repair and maintenance work, the receipt and transmission of information, navigation and all other activities essential to the safe, efficient and effective running of a ship. They are also responsible for managing a ship's budget and expenditure, as well as preparing voyage plans. A ship's master must also record the daily activities in the ship's log, including the course and any alterations, the ship's position, any repairs and the weather conditions.

Specialisations include: Dredge Master, Ship's Pilot, Tug Master

Working conditions

Ship's masters serving on larger merchant vessels or deep water fishing boats spend long periods at sea, which are usually followed by equal time ashore. Those serving on smaller, coastal ships, such as ferries, may return to shore each night. While at sea, a ship's master generally works in shifts, sharing time on duty, or watch, with the ship's other officers, however, they must be prepared to deal with emergency situations which may arise at any time. They generally work in all weather conditions, which can include storms and rough seas. Those working on coastal vessels and other ships which return to port each night, may remain in port during severe weather.

Tools and technologies

Ship's masters usually work in the cabins and control stations of a ship. They use specialised navigation equipment, such as radar, sonar and satellite navigation, to plot a course and determine their precise location, as well as that of any obstacles. Ships use a range of communication technologies, including radio, morse code and other signalling equipment, such as flags. The ship's master will also need to be familiar with medical and emergency equipment, such as flares, fire fighting equipment and lifesaving equipment.

How do I become one?

Education and training

To become a ship’s master, you usually need to gain a qualification in maritime operations.

Several vocational education and training qualifications in maritime operations (master or coxswain), structured according to the size and class of the vessel, are offered at TAFE colleges throughout Western Australia. To find a registered provider near you, browse the TAFE Admissions full time studies guide website and the My Skills website.

You can also complete a traineeship. The maritime operations – coxswain 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 ship’s master in Western Australia, you will need to obtain a Certificate of Competency from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).