Ministry of Business and Innovation - Occupation Outlook

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Job Prospects

Job Prospects... At a glance

Job prospects for deckhands are quite good. Salaries are good, especially for more experienced workers. Employment is projected to increase over the next few years, This is an occupation where little theoretical education is required to get started, and most certifications are based on practical assessments.

How to become a deckhand

What they do

Deckhands work on ships in coastal and international waters. They are the labourers who perform basic tasks around the ship. What tasks they perform depends on the type of ship they work on. On fishing vessels they typically work on catching and processing the fish, and doing maintenance on the vessel. On cargo vessels they help with loading, unloading and maintenance. On passenger vessels they can help attend to the passengers.

Their tasks may include:

  • handling ropes and wires, and operating mooring equipment when berthing and unberthing
  • standing lookout watches at sea and adjusting the ship's course as directed
  • assisting with cargo operations using on-board equipment and stowing and securing cargo
  • patrolling ships to ensure safety of the vessel, cargo and passengers
  • performing routine maintenance and checks on deck equipment, cargo gear, rigging, and lifesaving and firefighting appliances
  • attaching gear and fastening towing cables to nets
  • casting and lowering nets, pots, lines and traps into water
  • preparing lines, attaching running gear and bait, and setting lines into position
  • hauling in fishing gear and removing fish and other marine life
  • sorting, cleaning, preserving, stowing and refrigerating catch.


There is no entry requirement to work as a deckhand. Deckhands can, however, obtain certificates that prove their competence. These are completed while working at sea. There are also pre-employment courses that can be useful for people seeking employment as a deckhand. Two relevant entry level certificates are Qualified Deck Crew (QDC), and Deck Watch Rating (DWR). Seafarer certification in New Zealand is the responsibility of Maritime New Zealand.

One way to get qualified as a deckhand is to apply directly to Maritime New Zealand after having completed the necessary training at sea, and then pass the final exam. There are also medical, character and other requirements that need to be met.

Another way to get certified is to do a pre-employment course at a polytechnic. This is good for people who are looking to get into the industry. There are also courses for people already employed in the maritime industry who want to gain a more advanced qualification.

Deckhands are also required to be medically fit and have good eyesight in order to get qualified.

Cost of study

Certificate Application Fee

*Fee varies for the different qualifications. Other costs may apply for training courses, medical examinations etc.

The least expensive way to train as a deckhand is to learn on the job and obtain the qualifications independently. Some employers will sponsor the cost of their employees’ qualifications.

Studying at a polytechnic may be more expensive, although some polytechnics may have zero-fees schemes.

Rents vary from place to place. Estimated market rents by region, city and suburb are available on the MBIE Tenancy Services website.

The StudyLink website provides general budget advice for students, and the Sorted website provides help with detailed budget planning.

Tenancy Services: 

Where to study

The training pre-requirements for certificates can be completed on vessels in New Zealand or international waters.

Certificates and diplomas in maritime subjects are offered at different levels at Manukau Institute of Technology, Waiariki Bay of Plenty Polytechnic, Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, Westport Deepsea Fishing School and Coastguard Boating Education.

Completed qualifications

The number of students completing a Level 4 certificate in ‘Marine Craft Operation’ has fluctuated over the last few years, but around 400 qualify at Levels 4 - 7 each year.

Qualification completions chart

Source: Ministry of Education

Income and employment prospects


The average annual income for deckhands is estimated to be around $62,000. Inexperienced deckhands and new trainees are likely to start out at the minimum wage. Deckhands with more advanced qualifications will generally earn more money, and crew on larger ships generally earn more than crew on smaller ships.

Estimated Average Income

Source: MBIE estimates based on Statistics NZ Census and Labour Cost Index

Employment and skill shortages

Deckhands’ employment

HistoricProjected Growth
2006 2013 2021 2026
1,938 1,860 2,100 2,300
  -0.6% 2.0% 1.5%

Source: Statistics NZ Census and MBIE projections. Percentages are compound annual growth rates.
* Growth projections are based on the wider category “Miscellaneous Labourers”.

The number of deckhands in employment fell slightly from 2006 to 2013. Employment is projected to increase by 2.0% until 2023, and thereafter by 1.5% to 2028. An additional 150 to 200 workers will also be required each year to replace older workers as they retire.

Employment chart

Source: Statistics NZ Census and MBIE projections

Deckhands are not on Immigration New Zealand's skill shortage lists.

Immigration NZ, skill shortage list:

Where to find job vacancies

Deckhand vacancies are advertised through public media such as the Trade Me Jobs and Seek websites. Employment in this industry can also be found by proactive job searching.

Trade Me Jobs: 

Career path

Deckhands can pursue further qualifications and move up the ranks on ships. They can complete qualifications that allow them to have more responsibility. After years of experience and further training some become skippers and ship’s officers.

Competenz have more information on career opportunities in the maritime industry.


Related occupations

The following occupations are related roles or alternative titles. Some of the roles may require a higher level of skill than entry-level deckhands.

  • Able Seaman
  • Bosun
  • Captain
  • Maritime Engineer
  • Motorman
  • Oiler
  • Ordinary Seaman
  • Ship's Master
  • Ship's Mate
  • Ship's Officer
  • Skipper
  • Steward

Other information


More information on deckhands is available on the Careers New Zealand website and through the "Just the Job" videos.

Careers New Zealand:
Just the Job video clip: A Career in Deep Sea Fishing - Deckhand
Just the Job video clip: A Career in Deep Sea Fishing - Engineering
Just the Job video clip: A Career in Deep Sea Fishing - Processing


The Australian New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) is the official classification of occupations in New Zealand.

The occupation of deckhands has been coded to the following ANZSCO code for their purpose of this report:

8992 – Deck and Fishing Hands