Deck officers in the merchant marines, also known as mates, supervise Able Seamen and oversee maintenance on board ship. They assume the duties of captain when they stand watch, charting the course of the vessel and maintaining a ship's log. The Merchant Marine operates on both inland waterways and overseas, transporting commercial cargo and passengers on barges, ferries, ships, cruise ships, tugboats and other privately-owned vessels.
In 2011, the median wage for a merchant marine deck office, or mate, was $30.86 an hour, or $64,180 a year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top 10 percent of people holding this position earned $56.40 an hour, or $117,310 per year, while the bottom 10 percent earned $14,76 an hour, or $30,690 annually. Merchant marines typically work 12-hour days while on a voyage.
In addition to their salary, merchant marine deck officers usually receive health insurance, life insurance, paid vacation and retirement benefits. For example, in Michigan, merchant marine deck officers receive 20 days of paid vacation for every 60 days they work, and they may take full retirement after 20 to 30 years, depending on the company they work for. Their housing and all their meals are provided as part of their compensation while they're at sea. Merchant Marines can also sign on as part of the U.S. Naval Reserve, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, or U.S. Merchant Marine Reserve, which conveys additional pay and benefits.
Deck officers who work on ships involved in the oil and gas extraction industry, in freight transportation or on scientific research vessels earn higher wages than merchant marines in other industries. The highest average wages are for jobs in Texas and Louisiana where many merchant marines work for oil and gas company vessels. You can earn extra pay on ships that haul dangerous cargo or where working conditions are more hazardous. During wartime, merchant marines may also receive extra pay.
You may advance to the position of deck officer in two ways. Some people start out working as deck hands, become seamen and work their way up to deck officer. Other people attend the four-year program at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in New York or the state Merchant Marine academies in Maine, Texas, Massachusetts, California, Michigan or New York. Whichever approach you choose, you much pass a licensure exam and obtain an MMC endorsement from the U.S. Coast Guard.