When one watches movies of ships and boats, the name of a boatswain or a bosun stands out quite clearly. This is because the bosun is a very important member of a ship’s crew and his role, duties and scope are the essentials that cannot be done without.
The name bosun is actually a derivative of the original term boatswain that was used to describe these professionals for the first time in England in the 15th century. In today’s times, however, both bosun and boatswain are used commonly to describe the people working in this profession.
The main duties of bosuns revolve in the deck area of the ship. These duties include supervising the deck sailors to see whether they are performing their jobs efficiently. In some cases and in some ships, it is the boatswain who acts as the watchman or guard of the ships for the captain and other superior officers in the ship. Other duties also include allotting work to the deck sailors on an everyday basis. In simple terms it can be said that the boatswain is a middleman in the hierarchy of the ship’s crew. His role is to ensure that the lowermost workers are effective in their duties and that the ship’s superiors are able to carry out their quota of work without any problems.
Bosuns are required to be experienced because when it comes to the deck sailors they are the superiors. The more experience a person has being a boatswain, the more helpful he will be to maintain the efficiency and the promptness required on the deck. This is why almost every ship asks for an experienced person to apply for the position of a boatswain. The experience to become a bosun is gained by the years one puts as a deck sailor.
It has to be noted that since the responsibility of bosuns is quite large, the pay given to them is also high. The pay is decided by the Unions set up specifically for professionals who are existing bosuns or aspire to be bosuns. In certain situations, it also happens that after gaining years’ worth of experience, a boatswain is promoted to become a second or a first officer (also known as Mate) in a ship. This promotion would put a professional directly in second or third command position after the captain of the ship.
Initially, before ships were fitted with equipments like GPS and computers and other technologies, the boatswain was also required to have technical knowledge about a ship’s geographic positioning and many other important details. But after these equipments came to be used extensively, the technical know-how for bosuns has stopped to be compulsory requirements.
Bosuns have been a requirement in ships right from the olden days and will continue to be a requirement in the shipping sector for the days to come. The role and scope might change and alter but the presence of a boatswain will never be absent from a ship.
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McLeod, William Reynolds (2000). The Boatswain”s Manual. Glasgow: Brown, Son and Ferguson, ltd