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What is the Stewards Department on a US Merchant Ship?

By Bronwyn Harris
Updated May 23, 2024
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The stewards department on a ship is not a department that many landlubbers think of when they think of life at sea. However, the stewards department is an extremely important one, since without it, the sailors and passengers would have no food, no clean clothes, and no supplies. The stewards department is responsible for the eating and living areas, and is divided into several domains, all supervised by the Chief Steward.

The purser is in the stewards department and keeps track of the money on the ship. The purser contacts the ship's agent, located shore side, to send a list of supplies that need to be bought, along with the payment. The ship's agent can then go to the chandlery, or ship supply store, to buy the supplies and get them to the ship. The purser is also in charge of the paperwork to get through customs and immigration, and the petty cash supplies.

The cook is another important person on a ship, and one whom sailors quickly learn to treat with respect. The cook, sometimes with his assistant, or second cook, works in the galley, or ship's kitchen. Most ship's kitchens nowadays have a refrigerator in the galley for day use, as well as a walk-in freezer and walk-in refrigerator to keep food for the duration of the journey.

The housekeepers in the stewards department perform many of the same duties on a merchant ship as they would in a hotel or in a house. They clean and straighten up the officers' staterooms, and clean the interior common areas. They are the ones who "swab the deck," which, in the interior of a modern-day ship, is actually nothing more than a nautical term for mopping the floor. Cleanliness and maintenance of the outside deck, as well as other exterior sections of the ship, are taken care of by the ship's deck crew.

The stewards department also has responsibility for the storing and disposal of trash, sanitation - especially before an inspection, and laundry. Although the stewards department may, on the surface, not appear to have the power or authority of a Captain or First Mate, in many was, the stewards department is the department that can do the most for the morale and smooth operation of a ship, or at least for its sailor.

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