What Rank Is A Boatswain Or Bosun? Duties On A Ship!



Seafarers hold a variety of professions and ranks, and each of these roles carries unique responsibilities, which are integral to the successful operation of a merchant ship.

A typical merchant ship complement consists of ranks of officers and ratings working in three departments with the boatswain, usually shortened to “Bosun” one of such ranks within the deck department,

The Bosun is the most senior deck rating and his duty, among others, is to supervise the deck crew of the vessel.

Ship’s Bosun Discussing Daily Job with Chief Officer
Ship’s Bosun Discussing Daily Job with Chief Officer

As the foreman and supervisor of the deck crew, the bosun sets the pace for shipboard crew work. This article takes a look at the role of the bosun and their responsibilities on board merchant ships.

 Who Is A Bosun And What Does His Or Her Job Involve?

It’s very common for jobs at sea to involve a wide variety of responsibilities, and the Bosun, in addition to being responsible for the deck crew, is also expected to have extensive knowledge of the general running of the ship. As a key member of the crew, the bosun plays a vital role in the safe operation of the vessel. This generally involves maintenance, supervision, and playing a key part in “critical” shipboard operations.

To begin with, a Bosun is not an entry-level job but is rather a position attained after progressing on a career path that begins lower down the ladder in the deck department as a certified rating of a navigational watch.

Bosuns are in charge of running things on a ship on a daily basis. They make sure that everyone is performing their duties and that everything is functioning well. They’re frequently in charge of scheduling the team, delegating tasks, and monitoring compliance with safety procedures.

Boatswains are responsible for keeping watch over the ship on behalf of the captain or other senior officers. When talking with the other members of the crew, he acts as a proxy for the ship’s captain and any other supervisors who may be present.

In this way, he ensures that his superiors are able to carry out their responsibilities without the added complications of the crew. The boatswain is responsible for ensuring that the ship is seaworthy at all times.

Maintenance And Safety

Maintenance jobs need to be carried out regularly on ships in order to provide structural protection, maintain vessel appearance and also ensure a safe environment for passengers and crew.  Consequently, a major part of shipboard operations is geared towards ensuring that onboard maintenance (OBM) is carried out efficiently and effectively. 

As a result of salt water’s corrosive nature, there is an ongoing requirement for maintenance onboard ships of deck machinery, gears, and ship deck plating. Accordingly, the boatswain is responsible for supervising the maintenance of the deck and the spaces above the deck, as well as performing daily inspections of the exposed and superstructure ship sections. Deck sailors receive assignments from him that can include everything from cleaning to painting the deck.

In addition to this, he ensures that all of the ship’s and deck equipment is in proper working order by implementing a preventative maintenance program. This need for a fully implemented OBM, supported by sound administration, and a well-trained crew employing good techniques is, therefore, a critical requirement in modern-day ship operation.

It is in this supervisory aspect that the bosun ensures that the work carried out by the deck crew is of appropriate quality, carried out safely and effectively, and is done on time

The Bosun, under the direction of the ship’s Chief Officer, will determine what needs to be done on a day-to-day basis, schedule duties, and then assign them to the deck crew members. For example, they ensure that corrosion brought on by the elements and salt water is resolved as soon as they arise.  Then, they make sure that these activities are completed correctly, completely, and quickly.

Their duties also involve looking after the hull and deck of the vessel. Making sure these parts of the ship, as well as her anchors, windlasses and other such equipment are well maintained and in good working order are part of the Bosun’s responsibilities. For instance, he instructs his crew in how to deal with damage and ensures that the ship’s smaller boats are well-maintained.

Because of their importance to safe ship operations, bosuns must be highly skilled and experienced seafarers. They must be able to work long hours in all weather conditions and be able to think on their feet to solve problems quickly. They must be able to maintain order during difficult situations and be able to keep the crew calm and focused.

Skills For Good Bosun

The following abilities are necessary for successful bosuns:

  • Leadership: Since bosuns are responsible for overseeing a workforce of deckhands and other ship workers, they must possess excellent leadership abilities. A bosun must have strong leadership qualities like self-control, aggressiveness, and the capacity to inspire others. They must have the ability to decide quickly and assign assignments to their team. Additionally, they must be able to inspire their team to work hard and be safe.
  • Communication: Another skill that might help bosuns succeed in their employment is communication. They frequently collaborate with a range of people, including captains, passengers, and other crew members. To make sure that everyone understands their directives and directions, they must also be able to communicate effectively.
  • Problem Solving: A bosun’s duties may require managing several jobs at once. They can be required to recognize and address issues that crop up throughout a project, including when a crew member is hurt or a piece of equipment breaks down. They also have to come up with solutions for issues that come up while working on a shipboard task, including when a crew member is hurt or a piece of equipment breaks down.
  • Mechanical Skills: A bosun must possess mechanical skills in order to understand how machinery functions and how to fix it. To make sure the ship’s machinery is in functioning order, they frequently collaborate with engineers. Understanding how to use and maintain engines, pumps, electrical systems, and other mechanical devices used in deck operations falls under this category.

Bosun’s Role In Critical Ship Operations

Ships frequently carry out activities that are considered critical operations. Critical shipboard operations are those activities where an error will immediately cause an accident or a situation that could threaten personnel, environment, or vessel injury, and may result in loss of life, damage to the marine environment, or loss of property.

Examples of such deck activities are mooring operations, rigging pilot ladders, working in enclosed spaces, etc. The Bosun plays a crucial role in efficient operations.

In addition to being part of the Bosun’s mandate for maintenance and functionality of the anchor and windlass, it is also the Bosun’s responsibility to ensure that the vessel is properly anchored and that the operation as a whole is carried out without any complications.

A Bosun is also in charge of the deck stores, the paint locker, and the storeroom where they keep their trade supplies, tools, and equipment for maintenance. He is in charge of the maintenance and upkeep of the various equipment used for maintenance work.

Being thoroughly familiar with the firefighting aspects of the ship and ensuring that other deck crews are thoroughly familiar as well, a bosun’s other responsibility is to assist in the training and maintenance of the ship’s lifesaving and firefighting appliances.

Bosun Salary on Cargo Ships

The income of a Bosun can significantly vary depending on several factors, including the type of vessel, the shipping company, the individual’s experience level, and the route of the cargo ship.

On average, a Bosun working on a cargo ship can expect to earn anywhere between $30,000 to $50,000 per year. Keep in mind that these are approximate figures and can significantly vary and strongly depend on the type of the ship. This range is considered competitive, especially considering the non-monetary benefits such as free accommodation, meals, and the opportunity to travel.

Starting salaries for Bosuns with less experience tend to be on the lower end of the range, while those with several years of experience and proven skills can earn at the higher end. Bosuns with specialized skills or those working on certain cargo ship routes may also command higher wages.

Furthermore, it’s important to remember that seafarers, including Bosuns, often work on contracts that could last several months. The salary during this period can be tax-free depending on the worker’s tax residency and the jurisdiction they are operating.

Future Shipboard Trends That Will Impact Bosuns’ Role 

The following three trends affect how bosuns operate. To keep their knowledge current and maintain a competitive edge at work, bosuns will need to be informed of these advancements.

The Necessity For Greater Diversity in Shipboard Work

As a result of the shift in the maritime industry’s traditional labor market demographics, a new maritime workforce that has now become much more multicultural has emerged.

As the industry now becomes more aware of the advantages of having a more diverse workforce, the demand for greater diversity in the workplace is becoming more and more critical. This trend is particularly evident for jobs like bosuns that demand excellent interpersonal and communication skills.

Bosuns will need to be able to work well with people from various backgrounds and cultures as the need for more diversity in the workplace rises. They must also be able to explain their company’s ideals to crew members in a manner that is clear to all.

An Increased Emphasis On Safety

The maritime industry is becoming increasingly regulated, and safety is being prioritized more and more. This means that in order to keep their crew members safe, bosuns will need to be knowledgeable on safety protocols and laws.

Bosuns must be able to manage risk and make judgments based on the most recent information in addition to being familiar with safety standards. This entails staying up to date with changing shipping regulations and forecasted trends.

 Increased Cooperation Among Crew Members

Bosuns will need to work more closely with other crew members as the maritime industry landscape gets more complex.

In the shipping sector, where personnel is collaborating to run big ships, this tendency is already evident. We may anticipate that this tendency will persist as technology develops and makes it simpler for teams to communicate across geographic boundaries. Bosuns who can collaborate well will be in high demand as businesses explore ways to increase productivity.


A bosun as the person responsible for welding a ship’s crew into a formidable and productive team needs to be reliable, responsible, and dependable. With the shipboard environment now undergoing rapid administrative, technological, and sociological changes the bosun needs to keep abreast of these changes if he is to be effective. It is no wonder that ship operators are now placing a premium on acquiring bosuns with the right skills.

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