World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Article Id: WHEBN0000599416
Reproduction Date:

Title: Boatswain  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Able seaman, History of Russian military ranks, Seafarer's professions and ranks, Ordinary seaman, Rigging monkey
Collection: Marine Occupations, Nautical Terms, Titles, Transport Occupations
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


The boatswain aboard a modern merchant ship stands cargo watch as freight is lowered into an open hatch.
Other names bosun
Department Deck department
Licensed No
Requirements typically Able seaman certificate
Watch (at sea) On smaller vessels (varies)
Watch (in port) On smaller vessels (varies)

A boatswain (, formerly and dialectally also ), bo's'n, bos'n, or bosun, is the senior crewman of the deck department and is responsible for the components of a ship's hull. The boatswain supervises the other members of the ship's deck department, and typically is not a watchstander, except on vessels with small crews. Other duties vary depending on the type of ship, her crewing, and other factors.


  • History 1
    • Royal Navy 1.1
  • Naval Cadets 2
  • Job description 3
  • Notable boatswains 4
  • Scouting 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Boatswain of the Royal Navy, c. 1820

The word boatswain has been in the English language since approximately 1450. It is derived from late Old English batswegen, from bat (boat) concatenated with Old Norse sveinn (swain), meaning a young man, a follower, retainer or servant. The phonetic spelling bosun has been observed since 1868.[1] This latter spelling was used in Shakespeare's The Tempest written in 1611, and as Bos'n in later editions.

Royal Navy

The rank of boatswain was until recently the oldest rank in the Royal Navy, and its origins can be traced back to the year 1040.[2] In that year, when five English ports began furnishing warships to King Edward the Confessor in exchange for certain privileges, they also furnished crews whose officers were the master, boatswain, carpenter and cook.[3] Later these officers were "warranted" by the British Admiralty. They maintained and sailed the ships and were the standing officers of the navy.[3]

The Royal Navy's last official boatswain, Commander E W Andrew OBE, retired in 1990.[2]

Naval Cadets

The rank of Cadet Boatswain, in some schools, is the second highest rank in the combined cadet force naval section that a cadet can attain, below the rank of coxswain and above the rank of leading hand. It is equivalent to the rank of Colour Sergeant in the army and the royal marines cadets, it is sometimes an appointment for a senior petty officer to assist a coxswain.

Job description

The boatswain works in a ship's deck department as the foreman of the unlicensed (crew members without a mate's licence) deck crew. Sometimes, the boatswain is also a third or fourth mate.[4] A bosun must be highly skilled in all matters of marlinespike seamanship required for working on deck of a seagoing vessel. The bosun is distinguished from other able seamen by the supervisory roles: planning, scheduling, and assigning work.[5]

As deck crew foreman, the boatswain plans the day's work and assigns tasks to the deck crew. As work is completed, the boatswain checks on completed work for compliance with approved operating procedures.[5]

Outside the supervisory role, the boatswain regularly inspects the vessel and performs a variety of routine, skilled, and semi-skilled duties to maintain all areas of the ship not maintained by the engineering department. These duties can include cleaning, painting, and maintaining the vessel's hull, superstructure and deck equipment as well as executing a formal preventive maintenance program.[5] A boatswain's skills may include cargo rigging, winch operations, deck maintenance, working aloft, and other duties required during deck operations. The boatswain is well versed in the care and handling of lines, and has knowledge of knots, hitches, bends, whipping, and splices as needed to perform tasks such as mooring a vessel. The boatswain typically operates the ship's windlasses when letting go and heaving up anchors. Moreover, a boatswain may be called upon to lead firefighting efforts or other emergency procedures encountered on board. Effective boatswains are able to integrate their seafarer skills into supervising and communicating with members of deck crew with often diverse backgrounds.[5]

Originally, on board sailing ships the boatswain was in charge of a ship's anchors, cordage, colours, deck crew and the ship's boats. The boatswain would also be in charge of the rigging while the ship was in dock. The boatswain's technical tasks were modernised with the advent of steam engines and subsequent mechanisation.[4]

A Boatswain also is responsible for doing routine pipes using what is called a Boatswain's Call. There are specific sounds which can be made with the pipe to indicate various events, such as emergency situations or notifications of meal time.

Notable boatswains

A number of boatswains and naval boatswains mates have achieved fame.

  • CorPun website on corporal punishments
  • Boatswain at

External links

  • Hayler, William B. (2003). American Merchant Seaman's Manual. Cornell Maritime Press.  
  • McLeod, William Reynolds (2000). The Boatswain's Manual. Glasgow: Brown, Son and Ferguson, ltd.  
  • Oregon University System (2004). "Classification Number: 4512 Boatswain". Position Descriptions. Oregon University System. Archived from the original on 2008-03-27. Retrieved 2008-04-28. 
  • United States Naval Institute (1996) [1902]. The Bluejackets' Manual (21st ed.). Annapolis, MD: United States Naval Institute.  


  1. ^ "Boatswain". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2007-05-25. 
  2. ^ a b "HMS Victory". Archived from the original on 2007-01-13. Retrieved 2007-05-26. 
  3. ^ a b  
  4. ^ a b  
  5. ^ a b c d Oregon University System, 2004
  6. ^ "Ship's Namesake". USS Reuben James Official Website. Archived from the original on 2007-05-09. Retrieved 2007-05-26. 
  7. ^  
  8. ^  
  9. ^  
  10. ^ "CPO Stephen Bass, U.S.N.". Retrieved 2007-05-26. 
  11. ^ See quote from "The Complete Annotated Gilbert & Sullivan" at [3].
  12. ^ See quote from S.W. Gilbert in "The story of the H.M.S. Pinafore" at [4].
  13. ^  
  14. ^ a b Clinton, George (1828). Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Lord Byron. London: James Robbins and Company. p. 8. Retrieved 2007-05-27. 

This article incorporates text from public-domain sources, including the Naval Historical Center and/or other U.S. Government websites. For specific sources of text, see notes.


See also

Quartermaster is the highest Rank in the Sea Scouts, BSA, an older youth (13-21) co-ed programme. The youth can also elect a youth leader, giving that youth the title "boatswain" A Boatswain (Bootsman) is in the Netherlands the patrol leader of a Sea Scout patrol (Bak), in Flanders it is the assistant patrol leader of a Sea Scout patrol (Kwartier).


There are also a handful of boatswains and boatswain's mates in literature. The boatswain in Lord Byron had a Newfoundland dog named Boatswain.[14] Byron wrote the famous poem "Epitaph to a Dog" and had a monument made for him at Newstead Abbey.[14]

were Royal Navy boatswain's mates. John Harrison, and Henry Curtis, John Sullivan, John Sheppard recipients Victoria Cross [10].Stephen Bass recipient Navy Cross were U.S. Navy boatswain's mates, as was [9]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.