What is the difference between a Ship Captain and Master Mariner?ñ-

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 | James Foong

  • Publicada el 10 de abril de 2019
UK and Ireland, Masters and Mates, Certificates, 1850-1927

UK and Ireland, Masters and Mates, Certificates, 1850-1927

James Foong AFNI MBA

James Foong AFNI MBA

Master Mariner | Council Member of The Nautical Institute UK

Article #2

Very often, the terms master mariner and ship captain tend to be used as synonyms. It has to be noted that, while the terms are in a way similar, there is however, quite a bit of difference between the two. In simple words, it can be said that even though ship captains and master mariners engage in the same profession, they are like teachers who teach different grades.

The following points mentioned below will elaborate and highlight the difference between ship captains and a marine captain:

  • Qualifications: The qualifications that are required to become a master mariner are different from that of a ship captain. This is because being a master mariner allows an individual to pursue the profession of being a marine captain in any sort of naval vessel. In order to achieve the status of being a master mariner or a marine captain, one has to give an exam for licensing. This exam is known as the unlimited master’s certificate or as it is more popularly known – the master mariner’s certificate. 
  • Experience: The level of experience that separates a marine captain from ship captains is also important. While in order to become a ship captain, basic educational qualifications of Bachelor in Science is enough with the subjects like maths and science; whereas in order to become a master mariner or a marine captain, one needs to have at least 1000 hours of experience being a deck officer. This level of experience coupled with a Masters’ degree from any universities that provide the required Masters’ course, allows a person to be a marine captain than a ship captain. 
  • Vessel Size: The involvement of vessel size also needs to be considered when it comes to determining the difference between a marine captain and ship captains. The aspect of gross tonnage is the measurement that is used to indicate the size of a ship and thereby the limit of the ship, that an individual can captain. A person who possesses the qualification of a master mariner can be the captain of any ship of any size in any part of the globe. Ship captains, on the other hand are restricted by vessel size and therefore can be captains in only limited and specified areas. 

It also needs to be noted, in addition to the above specified points that various countries across the seafaring world use the terms specified very loosely. Only in nations like the United Kingdom and the United States is the difference seen more specifically. In addition to the above two terms, the term skipper is also used as a synonym for a ship captain.

Going by all the explanations, it can be simply said that being a marine captain means shouldering more responsibility on the part of an individual. This is the reason why there are no restrictions in terms of the vessel size and area covered along with the additional qualifications and work experience that is demanded.

The duty and the scope of the profession are quite unique and completely unlike any other regardless of whether an individual is a master mariner or a ship captain. There are risks involved not just to the professional’s crew, passengers and cargo but also to the individual himself. This aspect of risk-taking is what makes the job of a marine captain or ship captains worth appreciating and raising a proud salute.

Coming closer to modern times the term 'Master' was enshrined in the British Merchant Shipping Act of 1865 and now, of course, in the Navigation Act and internationally in the Convention on Standards of Training, Competency and Watchkeeping.

Thus it can be said with certainty that for well over one thousand years the term 'Master' has been conferred by Law upon the person in charge of a ship.

It should be noted however that the term Master is used in many connections and apart from the obvious connections mentioned above it is the conjunction with the term 'Mariner' that makes it so important.

Latterly there seems to have been some movement to replace that ancient and honourable title by more anonymous terms. At one stage there was a suggestion that the Master be known as Ship Manager though this seems to have faded with the trend to smaller crews. One can only hope that these efforts come to nought. Perhaps the day may yet come when newly promoted Master Mariners will be as proud to put the letters MM after their names as members of other professions do with theirs.

Some questions, nobody answers. There are questions that maybe, nobody knows the answer to. That is the closest answer I could think of at this time of writing.

Thank you for spending your time reading this.

James Foong

Disclaimer: Please note that all views expressed here are entirely my own and are not reflective of any of my present or past employers.

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