A chief engineer (commonly referred to as “The Chief” or just “Chief”) is responsible for all operations and maintenance that has to do with any and all engineering equipment throughout the entire ship.
Under many jurisdictions the Chief Engineer is of equal rank to the Captain, with responsibility being split between the two posts. The Chief Engineer taking responsibility for engine room and maintenance and the Captain taking responsibility for navigation and deck operations.
The chief engineer determines the fuel (if necessary), condition of the reactor, and other consumables required for a voyage. The chief engineer also compiles an inventory for spare parts, oversees all major maintenance, prepares the engine room for inspection by local customs/safety authorities and is in charge of the engine room during emergency situations. This is the short list of a chief engineer’s duties aboard a merchant vessel.
The chief’s primary assistant, the first assistant engineer/second engineer, supervises the daily operation of the engine room and engine department and reports directly to the chief.
Chief engineer’s licenses require years of study and practical experience. Sailing as chief engineer is an immense undertaking of great responsibility.