Captain, Boatswain & First Mate Duties

Written by kimberly turtenwald
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Captain, Boatswain & First Mate Duties
A ship requires many crew members to run smoothly. (Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

A large boat or ship requires many crew members to help the trip go smoothly. The larger the boat, the more people are required. Many vessels have a crew capacity numbering in the thousands; the Titanic's passenger and crew capacity was 3,547. However, each boat or ship has the same key officers aboard who carry out specific sets of duties.

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The captain is the person in charge of the entire ship and its daily operations. He is responsible for making all of the final decisions associated with all aspects of the ship. The captain sets the course for the ship and determines the speed at which it travels. He is in charge of hiring other members of the crew, selling the cargo and maintaining ship logs. The safety of the ship also depends on the captain and his inspection of the vessel.


A boatswain, or boatswain, is mainly responsible for the decks of the ship. She works as a supervisor above the crew that works on the deck to ensure that they complete all of their duties correctly and in a timely manner. She also assigns duties to the crew. A boatswain may serve as a security guard for the ship. The person in this position acts as a go-between for the upper management of the ship and the rest of the crew.

First Mate

Second in command to the captain, a first mate would become the captain if something were to happen to the captain. He must understand the ship as well as the captain understands it and perform any tasks the captain assigns him. The first mate trains crew members to perform their jobs. The first mate may hand out job duties to members and oversees the operations of the deck. While some of these tasks are the responsibility of the boatswain, the first mate serves as the boatswain's superior.


While a boatswain does not require special certification, she must have experience on the decks of a ship. This means she must first work as a crew member of a ship. Once a person has been a boatswain, she can move on to become a first mate. A first mate requires certification, as well as experience as a boatswain. Finally, a first mate can become a captain. To become a captain, she must obtain a license from the United States Coast Guard.

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