When one watches movies of ships and boats, the name of a boatswain or a bosun stands out quite clearly.The name bosun is actually derived from 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. For the purposes of this article, we will use the word Bosun hereon.
To understand the role of the Bosun, we must first look at the career progression for the same. A trainee OS (ordinary seaman) after having gained the appropriate experience becomes an OS. Following that, after gaining further experience, the OS is promoted to the rank of an AB (able bodied seaman).
When the AB is deemed by the company to be well experienced and in possession of the requisite skills to be one, he is promoted to the rank of the Bosun. A bosun has to be thorough with seamanship practices and must possess considerable knowledge in the the aspects of knots, hitches, bends, whipping, and splices for anchoring the vessel, among other things.
The main duties of bosuns revolve in the deck area of the ship. The Bosun is a member of the deck department and his duty, among others, is to supervise the deck crew of the vessel. The bosun is also involved, under the purview of the Chief Officer (and eventually the Master), in the planning, scheduling and assigning of work to the deck crew on ship. To further simplify his role, a Bosun has to ensure that the lowermost workers are effective in their duties and that the ship’s officers are able to carry out their quota of work without constant direct involvement with the crew’s deck work and all other aspects involving the deck crew.
Bosuns are required to be experienced because when it comes to the deck crew 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. 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. Shipping companies usually pay the Bosun a premium amount as compared to other deck crew seeing as his experience and responsibilities are considerably more. The pay is decided by the Unions set up specifically for professionals who are existing bosuns or aspire to be bosuns.
Initially, before ships were fitted with equipment 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 equipment came to be used extensively, the technical know-how for bosuns has stopped to be compulsory requirements.
General Duties Of The Bosun
- Planning the daily work schedule under the purview of the Chief Officer and assigning the required work to the appropriate members of the deck crew. For example, a job that requires more experience will be assigned to an AB rather than an OS
- Seeing that the work assigned to the crew is realised to the end
- Maintaining the deck of the ship; tasks involve chipping, painting, buffing etc and overall maintenance of the deck
- Maintenance of the windlass of the ship to ensure its optimum performance during stations. Also, to perform repair work on board as required
- Being thorough with the firefighting aspects of the ship and ensuring that other deck crew are thorough as well
- Responsible for the ship’s deck stores, paint locker, Bosun store and other such areas as assigned to the Bosun by the Chief Officer
- Ensuring that the mooring operations, anchoring or the vessel is carried out efficiently
- Inform the Chief Officer of the progress of the deck work being carried out
- Being the connect between the officers and the crew with regard to shipboard work
To categorise the general duties of the Bosun, they can be classified under the following headings:
- Supervision: As mentioned above, the Bosun supervises the deck crew for the work that they carried out and to ensure that the work carried out is of appropriate quality and is done on time
- Maintenance: A couple of points cover this aspect; to reiterate the importance of it, the Bosun ensures work is out carried out in the assigned areas to ensure that the deck is maintained properly. Aside from preventive maintenance, the Bosun also is a guide to the junior members of the crew to understand the importance of deck work and its effective execution
- Mooring/Anchoring: From the time when the mooring lines are laid out deck prior to reaching port, right to the time when the ship is cast off, the Bosun plays a crucial role in efficient operations of the vessel. The same applies to anchoring of the vessel
To sum it up, the Bosun plays a vital role in ensuring that the ship is seaworthy. Being the proxy between the officers and the crew, the Bosun is essential and imperative to the smooth functioning of the ship.
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