A Bosun is an unlicensed head of the Deck Rating Department. He is primarily responsible for various deck operations on board. Generally, his job is to keep the vessel’s hull in good condition.
Although he’s in charge of deck maintenance, he is also under the direction of the Chief Officer and eventually the Master. He coordinates his daily jobs with them and ensures that they are done safely. His main duty is of organizing, delegating, and supervising the tasks given to the ABs and OS.
Sometimes called the Boatswain, a bosun comes with a few different names. He is also known as Bos’n, Boss, Bossie, Maestro, Teacher, or Maestro Amo in Spanish.
In Filipino ships, he can be called Bokyo or any of the names mentioned above. But here, we will interchangeably call him Bosun or Boatswain.
Movies Mentioning the Bosun or Boatswain
In most movies involving ships, the Captain is usually given the spotlight through Deck ratings are seen on screen but he is usually seen mostly in action. Only quite a few films mention bosuns or even gave them a big role.
The Finest Hours movie stars Chris Pine as a Boatswain’s Mate First Class of the US Coast Guard. During bad weather, his team rescued the crew of the Pendleton T2 oil tanker which broke in half.
In The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Cursed of the Black Pearl, Bosun is shown with Barbossa and Elizabeth Swann.
Still, in the same series, Joshamee Gibbs, or Master Gibbs, a subordinate of Captain Jack Sparrow, is also a former Bosun of the British Royal Navy.
What Does a Bosun Do?
The Bosun is deemed to be the most experienced or skillful of all the deck crew. He knows many different knots, hitches, bends, and rope works. He is an expert of paint applications, working aloft, working over the side, and many other deck operations.
A Bosun’s job is very broad. But it can be summarized into one single activity: exterior maintenance on deck.
The Chief Officer normally gives the day’s task and it highly depends on whether the ship is at sea or in port, or if there urgent jobs in the PMS.
A typical day at sea would start something like this:
Before eight o’clock in the morning, the Bosun goes to the bridge to meet with the Chief Mate. There, they plan and discuss the job for the day including a short recap of yesterday’s work.
They take everything into account including the state of the weather, overdue jobs in the maintenance plan, and even drills. The bottom line of all these is finishing the job as safe as possible.
Delegation and Supervision
Once he gets the job orders, he meets with the deck crew- the Able Seamen (AB), Ordinary Seamen (OS), and the Cadet.
His team of deck hands does the jobs for the day. O do this, he delegates the work to the right person taking into consideration of their skills and experience.
The most skillful crew usually performs the most challenging duties. He may also assign them in teams depending on the complexity of the job.
This includes working aloft in the mast, over the ship’s side, under the bridge wings, and many others. The Bosun is also primarily involved in these tasks while overseeing them at the same time.
After delegation, a boatswain’s duties become supervisory, making sure the activity is carried out safely and properly.
Problems on deck never run out and there is one person who can help you fix that.
Want to know where a certain tool is located? Ask Bosun!
Did a crewmember or an officer broke something on deck? Call Bosun.
Need to ask what kind of paint to use in the ballast tank? Find Bosun!
That’s right. He is the go-to help of his fellow crew mates or even the officers concerning jobs on deck.
Duties and Responsibilities
A bosun’s duties revolve around the deck area. Normally, he is a day worker which means he works 8 hours on deck, specifically from 8 am to 12noon and 1 pm to 5 pm. He may also be called outside these working hours when an urgent job needs to be done.
Sometimes, he works longer hours to solve a very urgent job especially when a vetting inspection is imminent.
In some small ships, the bosun may have watches in port during cargo operations.
Here are some of his duties and responsibilities:
The Bosun is responsible for the following jobs on board.
- Follow company policies and procedures.
- Meet with Chief Officer daily in the morning to discuss the progress of work.
- Efficient working routine of deck ratings.
- Cleanliness of the vessel and the garbage management of the Deck Department.
- Maintenance of mooring ropes and wires, all other cordages, running gear, and lifting wires and ropes.
- Participating in-holds preparation for loading (Dry Cargo) or tank cleaning operation and hoses connection (Tankers).
- Maintenance of anchors, chains, windlasses, and winches such as greasing and lubrication.
- Maintenance of steelwork and paintwork of the entire ship (except the engine room and steering gear room), deck-safe closed areas, posts, derricks, masts, davits, cranes, etc.
- Proper storage, maintenance, inventory and stocking of paints and deck stores.
- Assist the Ch. Officer in keeping relevant records and inventories.
- Keeping deck store rooms, paint rooms, and forecastles clean and in good housekeeping.
- Keeping all deck maintenance, equipment, and tools in good order, and ready for use.
- Crew organization and discipline.
- Securing all items and equipment on deck or elsewhere before the vessel proceeds to sea.
- Operation of anchors and windlasses when vessel anchoring or mooring.
Aside from the duties listed above, he is also the connecting link between the deck crew and officers.
There are instances when deck ratings have valuable insights or suggestions but are not sure if their ideas are good. Or it’s a good idea but they don’t know how to express it to the officers.
In this case, they can ask the bosun to be their spokesperson.
Or if a crew wants something from the officers like cash advance, minor complaints, next slopchests, reliever news, and the like, they can ask the boss for assistance.
So its not only deck operation and exterior maintenance. He is also a spokesperson and a messenger of news.
Drills and other Duties
Since the job description above is not exhaustive, the Master at his discretion may assign additional duties for the safe and smooth operation of the vessel.
For example, when the ship passes or goes into pirate-infested areas, the Bosun may be given watch duties at sea or in port.
In case of drills or emergencies, he may have additional duties added to the rest of the deck crew.
There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to his duties and responsibilities. On some ships, he is a firefighter. On my previous vessel, he is a member of the Technical Squad. That’s why it is very important to check the Muster List upon embarkation.
How Does Someone Become a Boatswain?
During my first time on board, I met a few people who said that one of the skills necessary to become a bosun is to tie a Bosun’s Chair!
They were half joking, of course.
But seriously, attitude and skillsets are the determining factors in becoming one. Next, comes training certificates, availability of reliever, and a go signal from the Captain and the company.
Much is expected of you if you are on this rank. You must have the skills and initiative, especially during critical times and emergencies. Your job description on paper may look static but they are very dynamic since you need to adapt to every situation.
So let us look at how someone advances to this rank.
Bosun Career Paths
Any member of the deck crew can become a Bosun. This rank doesn’t need any exams like the officers do.
A seafarer starts from many different paths. Some begin their career as Messboys, Deck Boys, Cadets, or OS. But any of them can become boatswain if they choose to.
After becoming an Ordinary Seaman, the next rank in the Deck Ratings Department is the Able-bodied Seaman or AB. ABs must know steering, watchkeeping, and sufficient experience in deck works.
Bosun or Pumpman?
An AB’s next career advancement is either an Officer (if he has a license), Pumpman (on tanker ships), or Boatswain.
If he wants to become a boatswain, he must show his seamanship skills to his fellow crew, the Chief Mate and the Captain. It’s not very difficult to do this actually.
They will observe his knowledge of various deck works including paint mixing and application, surface preparation, use of tools and knots, splices, and the various deck operations mentioned above.
Moreover, they will evaluate his crew organization skills, communication skills, and the strength to keep calm and focus under tension. These abilities are built through time and experience.
Experience is a very crucial factor. People on board can see who is ready to get promoted by merely observing his work performance.
How Much is a Bosun’s Salary?
One of the motivations why an AB wants to become a bosun, is the technical know-how of the job, readiness for responsibility, a salary increase, or a combination of all three.
A boatswain’s salary is determined by the type of ship. Tankers tend to give higher offers than bulk carriers and yachts. Additionally, company salary arrangements, union guidelines, and the nationality of the crew play a role in their wages.
I’ve written an article about seafarer’s salary including wage variation for different nationalities. On that post, their median monthly salary on tanker ships is USD2,275.00. Product tankers offer the lowest at USD1,950 and Chemical ships with the highest at USD2,600.
On cargo ships (bulk, container, car carriers), the median pay is USD 1,800 with the lowest on bulk carriers (USD 1,600) and highest on car ships which is USD2,000.00.
A Bosun is an integral part of a ship’s crew. His tasks may look simple but there are jobs that need his expertise. This is what separates them from their prior ranks.
I learned a lot of things from different boatswains even though some of them are tough and a bit challenging to understand. As they always say, take the good and leave the bad behind.
Whether you are a seafarer contemplating to becoming a bosun, or a crewing manager who’s looking for one, I hope this article helps you in some ways.
May the winds be in your favor.