One of the things I’ve done in my ‘spare’ time is re-write the Waterman job description.

Here’s the old one, which doesn’t really say much:

4 months

deck trainee

  • common deck jobs
  • chipping rust
  • painting
  • rubbish
  • cargo handling

12 months

water trainee or waterman assistant

being taught waterman duties as

  • soundings, fresh and ballast water
  • greasing jobs
  • luggage storage
  • key cutting and lock maintenance
  • fixing shoes
  • improving and developing work procedures

8 months


  • teaching and passing on duties
  • leading the water department of about 2 personnel
  • continuing the regular duty of water supply- maintenance and learned duties

Here’s my proposed replacement, which I think explains better what we actually do. There are two watermen at any point, one of whom is training the other.

  • Making sure the ship has safe, clean, good drinking water. This involves:
    • Loading water (sometimes by trucks, water barges, etc, which can come at any time of day or night, and take up to 13 or more hours to load the specified amount).
    • Sounding all the water tanks every day, reading engine room gauges, and filling in log books.
    • Making sure the ship’s stability as far as ballast tanks and water tanks are ready for voyages.
    • Taking various chemical and bacteria tests on the water when loading and at other intervals.
    • Having a good and thorough understanding of the ship’s freshwater system, including running all the freshwater pumps and valves in the Engine Room.
  • Taking care that the ship does not list from side to side while working, and that the Engine Room watch-keepers are able to transfer water to correct list, that the ship’s draft and trim are good for sailing, and taking accurate readings of them.
  • Preparing ballast and water tanks for inspection and maintenance work (emptying the tanks, opening manholes, maintaining the manhole covers, ventilating and inspecting tanks).
  • Making keys for the ship, maintaining all the locks, taking them apart and cleaning them, etc.
  • Greasing various pieces of deck machinery.
  • Bringing up and down luggage when needed to the baggage locker, and keeping it in order.
  • Mending shoes, belts, bags, etc.
  • Attending deck department devotions at 0900h.
  • Normal deck sea-watches and mooring stations.
  • Some maintenance of valves, tanks, pumps, and pipes.
  • Thinking of creative ways to do things, work around problems, and invent or establish new ways to get jobs done, and passing these on to the next watermen.

    There are usually two watermen, one experienced who teaches/leads the new one.

    There is very fine detail work (reassembling locks) and quite heavy work too (opening man-holes and floor-plates in the engine room, carrying bags, pumps, etc). A lot of the time is spent working alone, so self-motivation and taking ownership is important, but also a lot of the time communicating liaising and working with various departments and others (Chief Mate, Boatswain, Chief Engineer, Personnel Secretary, Purser, Engine Room Watch-keepers, local port workers (who may not speak English), the Shipping Agent, and so on.)

    Many times there will be several jobs running at the same time, with pressure from many people to complete different jobs for them, while there are other responsibilities needed to be taken care of.

    Thinking ahead and taking good care and responsibility are vital as failure to complete jobs or do them well can result in flooding sections of the ship, wasting tons of (expensive) water, breaking expensive deck and engine machinery, causing security and safety hazards, the ship having unsafe or contaminated drinking water, or even causing the ship to not be able to sail.

    Sometimes the watermen need to work very long or strange hours, finishing jobs during the night, loading water, waiting for water barges, getting called down to the Engine Room at 0200h to help the watch-keeper, and so on.

    All in all, one of the most fun and interesting jobs on board.