Shipboard Departments

Good Day to you intrigued reader!

Today, I am going to talk to you about the different departments we can find on a cruise ship. You will see that a cruise ship is basically a mini-city. A lot of different activities are present onboard, so I won’t talk about them in details, otherwise, this post will be way too long.

Of course, all cruise line companies have their own organisation. And it is exactly the same “rule” than a land-based organisation: organisations are different because of the type of customers, type of ships, company culture, values, destinations, products, etc. There isn’t a single organisation for all ships on this world.

Most of the time, we can find these following departments. The names and the organisation of these departments depend on the companies/structures.
Please note that I am just going to talk to you about the organisation and I won’t talk about the hierarchy and the stripes. I already did in another post.


We all know this person, or at least we have all heard of this position. The Captain. In the large majority of the companies, the Captain is part of the Deck department. But I would like to put her/him apart from the list.
For one simple reason: the Captain is the highest position on the ship. Even if he/she eventually belongs to the Deck department, the Captain will also be the manager for all departments onboard.

I can probably do a specific topic about this complex position. So let just say that the Captain is responsible for the ship. The itinerary, the safety, the people, the operations, the customers, the benefits, the costs, etc. Everything.
Also, the Master is responsible for his/her ship in all situations. The Captain is here to make sure the ship respects all maritime laws and all port regulations around the world, at all time.

So, basically, the Captain doesn’t belong to any department and needs to stay neutral and above all positions onboard the ship.

With this amount of responsibilities, you will see this person everywhere around the ship: bridge, engine rooms, medical center, restaurants, galley, etc. The Captain will walk around and make sure the crew and the guests are happy and will observe the crew when they follow policies and procedures.

Deck / Marine / Nautical

Manager: Staff Captain

The main duty of the Deck department is the navigation. The officers “drive” the ship and choose the best itinerary depending on the weather, the traffic, the danger… Most of the time, the ship follows the trajectory entered in the computer. The automatic pilot is on and the officers just have to be “on watch”, meaning they will stay on the bridge to control but won’t physically drive the vessel. The officers will take the “wheel” (it’s actually just a joystick now) to maneuver the ship in port.

When they are not on the bridge, the Deck department is responsible for the ship’s safety and maintenance. They organize the decks’ cleaning, maintenance of lifejackets and all safety equipment. They plan the safety drills and make sure to create a different scenario each week.
Of course, as they are the safety experts, they train the crew on each safety procedure, equipment, operation, etc.

Another very important mission for this department: security. The security of all passengers and crew is crucial of course. Several thousands of people, confined in one place, represents a target. The risk becomes higher when the ship is at sea, away from the coasts. The security team will control each passenger/crew member/visitor/vendor when they embark and when they debark the ship. The team will also control the goods that come onboard and will be engaged in conflicts resolutions between passengers and/or crew members.

They are also in charge of many other things that I won’t detail: mooring operations, loading/offloading operations, ballast water, refuelling, ship’s balance, etc.

Technical / Engine / Engineering

Manager: Chief Engineer

The Technical department is in charge of the… Engines! Easy, right?! They are responsible for the maintenance of all engines (yeah you can imagine that according the size of the ships nowadays, we have several engines onboard). My current ship, the Disney Dream, has 5 engines. Not bad. 77 MW (for your information we can find 70-Megawhatt power plants around the world) … Not bad at all!

They are also in charge of the ship’s maintenance. Like plumbery, electricity, etc. But… Just imagine the pipeline and cable network that we have on a ship. Thousands of rooms, cabins, offices, bathrooms, etc. All connected to these networks with toilets, showers, sinks, phones, computers, etc. Yep… The workload is just huge.

Another area of expertise is… The ventilation! You can realize that we are confined on a ship, we need air everywhere. And we need to control the temperature when the ship is in Bahamas or in Antarctica. But, basically, we need cold rooms for the food as well.

The ship is in operations all the time and doesn’t have to stop a long time in port for repairs, so our Engineers order spare parts and complete the work at sea.

Hospitality / Hotel

Manager: Hotel Manager / Hotel Director

This is the biggest department on the ship. Well, a cruise ship is basically a flotting hotel. Customers sleep in rooms, inside the ship, and they eat the restaurants.
You will find several sub-departments within Hotel, but this team is certainly the only one your can easily recognize on land as well. Same jobs. Same purpose. I think you already understand the missions and I don’t need to detail this one.
Housekeeping, Food and Beverage, Restaurant, Galley, Front Desk, Room Service, Administration, Stores (and you better have experienced people who know their job when the ship is at sea for several days without the possibility to restock – would be a mess to have not enough food onboard for 5000 people or more and 2 remaining days at sea, ain’t it?!).

One team that we find under the Hotel department, and usually can’t find on land (sometimes in Entertainment), is the Port Excursions. They organize activities for passengers in each port (tours, visits, sports, etc.).

dessert restaurant cruise ship


Manager: Entertainment Manager/Director or the Hotel Director or the Cruise Director

As I said, the ship can be several days at sea. The passengers are not choosing the cruise industry just to eat and sleep on a big flotting building. They are on vacation and want to have fun.

The Entertainment department is in charge of… Entertaining people! Still easy, huh! They have to find activities for the guests, depending on their “tastes”, their energy, their wishes, their interests, their age, etc. And ready to adapt the agenda anytime!
Outdoor activities could be cancelled because of the weather for example. So they need to think quickly about additional events.
The ship is late and will cancel a port? So one or more days at sea without any schedule?! The atmosphere won’t be amazing…

So globally, you will find different groups: technicians, musicians, performers (singers and dancers), cruise staff.
They organize and offer concerts, shows, dance lessons, trivias, etc. all day long so the passengers can never be bored.

party cruise ship disney dream

Revenues / Boutiques / Shops

Manager: Revenue/Services Manager or Director. This position depends a lot on the company's organisation.

The main purpose of a private company is… to make profits! And believe it or not, the cruise line industry does not make so much money with the cruise booking itself.
A huge part of the revenues will come from the additional purchases from the customers. The offer will highly vary regarding the company and the type of guests they expect.
So, the revenues can come from the Casino, the shows (the ones that are not already included with the cruise), the art auctions, the excursions in the different ports, Internet packages (it’s hard to get the 5G in the middle of the Pacific Ocean 😉 so the Wifi comes from satellites and it’s very expensive!), shops (clothes, jewellery, etc.), spa treatments.

Interesting fact to know… You don’t pay taxes on the cruise ships when you buy/sell products while the ship is certain miles away from the coasts, in International Waters. So it’s always interesting for the cruise industry, and the customers, to have shops onboard!


Manager: Senior Doctor

I think you already understand why this department is essential… If the ship is in port, it’s ok, you can call the local authorities. But at sea… It’s a little bit more complicated, right?!

The department includes Doctors, Nurses and Paramedics, and could be a standalone department, or could be under the Deck or Hotel department.

Depending on the ship or company, the Medical team responds to all medical emergencies of course, but can also open a clinic onboard. Customers and crew members can then meet a Doctor for a general consultation, follow a treatment, etc. There is usually a fee for this service (except for crew members).


Manager: Environmental Officer

Most of the time, this department includes only one person. The Environmental Officer is alone onboard and reports directly to the Master or Staff Captain.

The Environmental Officer (usually called “ENVO”) is responsible for the environmental procedures on the ship. He/She is neutral (this is why the Envo reports to the Captain or Staff Captain) and is working closely with the Engine and the Deck department.

The Envo helps with ballast water procedures, refuelling operations, cleaning procedures, garbage offloading, etc. This Officer is here to make sure the ship respects environmental procedures at sea and in port. The most common one is named MARPOL (Maritime Pollution).

garbage room cruise ship

Human Resources (HR)

Manager: HR Manager/Director

Well yeah, I am going to talk about my department. Just a little bit as I already shared a post, talking about my job as Shipboard HR Manager.

The HR and Environmental departments are the youngest teams in the cruise industry. We were created only 10 to 20 years ago in order to comply with the evolving regulations and laws.

The HR department has the main responsibilities to ensure the ship respects the international labour law and the collective bargaining agreements. HR also maintains a good morale within the crew, deals with employee concerns/conflicts, internal promotion, training, learning, career development, payroll, etc.

Of course, if you want any detail on this department, I invite you to read the dedicated post.

Here you go! That was a quick overview of the different departments and different competencies you can find onboard a cruise ship, no matter the size or the itinerary of the ship.
Naturally, depending on the offering or the type of cruise, we can have additional roles like naturalists, pilots, youth counselors, horticulturists, etc.

Finally, I hope reading this post changed a little bit from your routine and all the different posts you can read on the virus.

Stay safe and take care.


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