An Overview Of The Essential Crew Positions On A Boat

Posted on August 6, 2013 by Lee under Competent Crew, Day Skipper, Sailing Comments Off on An Overview Of The Essential Crew Positions On A Boat

CrewPositions2If you’re going to sail or work on a boat bigger than a simple dinghy, odds are you’ll be on board a vessel with other people too.

Here’s a summary of the main crew roles you’ll find on board a boat.

The Captain

Otherwise known as the Helmsman or Skipper, the captain takes the lead on board and is responsible for guiding the ship and its crew to its destination.  A captain should be the most knowledgeable sailor on board, and also exhibit significant qualities of leadership – after all, it’s his direction and leadership that guides the crew in the successful sailing of the ship.

The captain makes many on board decisions himself, and if he needs to consult his crew – perhaps regarding navigation or racing tactics –  he’ll have the final say over any decisions made.

The First Mate

The first mate is the captain’s right hand man.  His role differs depending on the size of the ship and the number of crew on board.  On a small sailing vessel, there may only be the captain and a couple of others – in which case the First Mate’s role will be almost more deckhand-esque than anything else.

On board larger ships, however, the first mate generally has more responsibility.  Most of the crew will report directly to him, and he’ll be in charge of the cargo, the safety and  the security of the ship.


The engineer performs a vital role on board any powered vessel – it’s his responsibility to make sure all electrical and mechanic equipment is functioning properly.  His most important task is to keep the main engines at full operational capacity, but he’s also responsible for repair and maintenance of other equipment such as on board jet skis, remote controls and televisions.


The Bosun is essentially a senior deckhand. He’s tasked with the overall responsibility for the state of the boat, and as you’d expect, is also in charge of the deckhands junior to him.


A ship’s cook plays a crucial role – he’s responsible for keeping guests well-fed and happy, and providing the crew with the right sustenance so they can do their jobs effectively. There are a couple of peripheral skills a ship’s cook needs over and above a chef in a restaurant.

Firstly, he has to carefully select the right ingredients for the voyage – he needs to consider how long they’ll last, and pick “nutrient dense” foods that pack a nutritious punch in small amounts of space.

He also needs to be able to cook in a somewhat unpredictable environment, given the tendency of a ship to buck and sway on the waves. The cook has to take extra care with knives, pots, pans and safety protocols in the ship’s kitchen.


Deckhands are the workhorses of the boat’s crew.

Deckhands have a range of general responsibilities, and their main task is to keep the boat in ship-shape. This includes cleaning, painting, general maintenance and possibly driving tenders or kit such as jet skis for guests.

They may also be required to assist with cleaning, cooking and serving food.

A deckhand is an entry level crew position, and it’s a great place to start if you want to gain experience, work your way up the hierarchy and develop more specialised sailing skills further down the line.

Any of these positions take your fancy?  If so, check out one of our Competent Crew courses – they’re the best place to start in order to get your foot in the door for a professional role on board.

And if you like the thought of captaining your own ship, check out the RYA Day Skipper course, which is your fast-track introduction to the role.

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