As first and second in command respectively, skippers and mates are responsible for managing the safe operations of a fishing vessel and its crew.
As skippers gain more qualifications and experience, they can progress from commanding vessels in inshore waters to fishing worldwide. The duties of mates and skippers are similar on all types of fishing vessels:
Skippers are responsible for all aspects of health and safety, as well as crew and vessel management. This includes the location and selection of fishing grounds, operation of fishing gear, vessel navigation, selection of fishing methods, management of business arrangements, and maintenance of all ship records and catch logs.
Mates use their expertise in health and safety, watchkeeping, fish-finding instruments, radio communications, and fishing techniques to assist the skipper. Mates are often responsible for ensuring that fishing gear operates correctly, and that the catch is properly stored.
However, different kinds of mate and skipper positions will have different entry requirements, and offer different opportunities for promotion. On vessels of 16.5m and above, mates and skippers are required to hold Deck Officer Certificates of Competency. More information about training for fishermen can be found here.
Skipper (under 16.5m)
This is a voluntary qualification introduced by Seafish to improve safety in this sector of the fleet.
In order to apply experienced fishermen must have completed all mandatory training courses and prove sea time of at least 18 months. In addition, the following courses must have been completed:
- Two-Day or Five-Day Navigation
- One-Day or Two-Day Engineering
- One-Day Intermediate Vessel Stability
- One-Day GMDSS Short Range (Radio Operator) Certificate
There are two grades of qualification available:
- Silver, for those who complete the Two-Day Navigation and One-Day Engineering courses, which covers skippers fishing within 20 nautical miles from a safe haven.
- Gold, for those who complete the Five-Day Navigation and Two-Day Engineering courses, which covers skippers fishing beyond 20 nautical miles. The gold qualification enables holders to undertake other 'non-fishing' commercial activities. It also enables holders to 'take a watch' on fishing vessels of any size. These additional benefits mean that holders can supplement their income from fishing by diversifying into other maritime activities, if they wish.
More information can be found in this guidance note.
Experienced fishermen or skippers of under 16.5m vessels may want to gain advanced qualifications in order to become Deck or Engineer Officers working on larger fishing vessels. They may also choose to move into engineering roles, or to shift into other maritime careers.
Skipper (limited area) and Mate (unlimited area)
To become the skipper of a fishing vessel of 16.5m and above operating in the limited area or the mate on a fishing vessel of 16.5m and above operating in unlimited waters, it is necessary to complete the MCA Deck Officer (Fishing Vessel) Class 2 certificate, which includes approved medical first aid, long range radio operation, Electronic Navigation Systems and advanced fire fighting courses. Candidates also need to be experienced in seamanship, electronics, engineering and meteorology and have a sound business mind to ensure the best returns from catches.