What Does a Bosun Do on a Ship?

What Does a Bosun Do on a Ship?
10 Min Read

Ever wondered what a Bosun's job entails or what their duties and responsibilities are? Our blog post reveals all!

Martide's series of blog posts explore the theme “what is a seafarer’s job” by looking at examples of maritime jobs and jobs at sea. In this post we’re going to be taking a look at being a Bosun and seeing what that involves.

If you’re interested in following a career at sea, could a Bosun (sometimes called a Boatswain) be the right job for you once you’ve worked your way up through the seafarer ranks? Let’s find out.

First of all, a Bosun isn’t an entry level cargo ship job like a Deck Cadet, a Motorman or a Messman; it follows a career pathway which involves starting lower down the ladder. Initially you would start out as a trainee Ordinary Seaman (OS) and once you gained the relevant experience you would then become a regular OS.

Following that, you could then work your way up to becoming an Able Bodied Seaman (AB) with a view to further being promoted to the rank of Bosun.

But what is a Bosun and what does his or her job involve?

What does a bosun do on a ship?

What is a seafarer’s job? If it’s the Bosun you’re talking about, their duties 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.

A Bosun’s work on deck can include anything from painting to repairs to cleaning to general maintenance. Inspections must also be carried out so that preventative maintenance can be executed to ensure any issues such as faults, rust or corrosion caused by the elements and salt water are taken care of as soon as they arise.

boat vessel ship shipwreck rust hull

rusty boat on a beach


A Bosun is also responsible for areas such as the Bosun’s store room, the paint locker, and the deck stores where the tools of their trade such as maintenance equipment, tools and supplies are kept.

As a crew member employed in the deck department, in general, the Bosun will spend most of their working hours on or around the deck. He or she is the supervisor of the lower seafarer ranks in the deck department such as the Ordinary Seamen and Able Seamen and is expected to lead as an example.

With the guidance of the ship’s Chief Officer, the Bosun will decide what needs doing that day, schedule tasks, and then assign them to the members of the deck crew. They then need to ensure that these tasks are done correctly and in full, and are carried out in a timely fashion.

alarm clocks, clocks, vintage clocks, vintage alarm clocks

vintage alarm clocks


The Bosun can be seen as the contact between the crew and the officers and where possible they should take responsibility for their Ordinary and Able Seamen and avoid having to involve higher seafarer ranks such as the Chief or Second Officers and Master in the deck crew’s daily schedule, tasks and minor problems. Having said that, the Chief Officer may well want progress reports on certain jobs such as repairs.

Other responsibilities assigned to the Bosun

Jobs at sea can have a lot of different parts to them and as well as looking after the ship’s deck and the deck crew, the Bosun is also expected to be well trained in firefighting methods. They must also ensure that their crew is similarly effective in the event of a blaze onboard.

fire extinguisher, safety equipment

fire extinguisher

We mentioned that the maintenance and functionality of the anchor and windlass falls under the Bosun’s remit, and so too do mooring operations.

This means that the Bosun is responsible for making sure that the vessel is correctly anchored and that the entire operation is performed without any issues.

You may have read elsewhere on Martide’s seafarer blog that technology is starting to play a big part in many examples of maritime jobs for a number of seafarer ranks. Back in the old days, pre-GPS and pre-onboard computers, technical knowhow was expected of a Bosun.

However data such as the ship’s global positioning is now left to the tech and this kind of knowledge is now no longer a must-have requirement in a Bosun’s skill set.

GPS, navigation, navigation systems, boat, sailing

GPS on a boat


Having said that, GPS is not always guaranteed to work and if you are thinking about eventually working your way up the maritime career ladder to become a Bosun, having extra skills such as technical knowledge on your seafarer resume definitely won’t hurt your prospects when it comes to looking for jobs at sea!

Seafarer jobs require more than just qualifications

It should go without saying that qualifications, certificates, training and education are a must if you’re thinking about a career working in jobs at sea.

But a seafarer’s personality can also make a huge difference between a successful life at sea and a miserable or disappointing one.

To work in seafarer jobs, you must have both physical and mental strength and agility. Many examples of maritime jobs involve spending weeks or months away from home and it takes a strong personality to be able to cope well with that.

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you got this


In addition, having good people and communication skills will come in very handy for a Bosun as they need to be able to relay instructions to their deck crew and act as the go-between between deck ratings and officers.

And due to the likelihood of there being a number of different nationalities and seafarers with different mother tongues onboard, a sound working knowledge of the English language will also be important.

More examples of maritime jobs

Do you think life as a Bosun heading up the deck crew is something that would interest you? Or do you want to keep exploring exactly what is a seafarer’s job and find out more about some other jobs at sea?

exploring, travel, wanderlust, adventure

keep exploring


Perhaps the idea of being a Shipfitter, a Pumpman or an Oiler interests you, or how about a Chief Officer or Master?

Junior Electrician jobs could be just the thing for anyone with an interest in electrics. Or maybe knowing what a Ship’s Cook job involves or what Chief Marine Engineer jobs are all about is something you’d like to know?

If so, carry on making your way through our series and we hope you’ll find the inspiration you’re looking for!

This post was originally published on the Martide Seafarer Blog on September 24th 2020.