Fast Facts: Chain of Command— The Bosun and Their Role

The term Bosun, less commonly written as bos’n, bo’s’n, or bo’sun, defines a merchant ship’s petty officer in charge of hull maintenance and related work. It also represents a naval warrant for the hull and all related equipment. The word Bosun comes from the word Boatswain, the most senior rate of the deck department. The word’s first known use was before the 12th century, spelled bootswein, from boot (boat) plus swein (boy, servant) — more at the swain. 


Today, the word is most known to describe people working in the profession— but you may have learned it from the hit television show Below Deck.


Before becoming the Bosun, a trainee OS (ordinary seaman) will work in this role to gain experience onboard. After successfully being promoted from the OS role, they are awarded the title of AB (able-bodied seaman). Once having mastered the role of AB, the person can then be promoted to Bosun.


A bosun’s duties are to be thorough with seamanship practices. Therefore they must possess a wealth of maritime knowledge, such as knots, hitches, bends, whipping, and anchoring the vessel. The Bosun must also delegate duties to the deckhands as their role is the senior deckhand. From there, the Bosun reports to the First Mate, the Captain, or the Second or Third Officer, depending on the size of the yacht. 


According to, while no document lists the mandatory qualification requirements for a bosun, most yachts will only consider a deckhand for a senior deck position with an STCW or ENG1 medical certificate and PB2 or IYT Tender Driver License. In addition, a bosun is typically required to hold an RYA Yachtmaster Offshore or, at minimum, an IYT Master of Yachts < 200GT (or higher).


Part of the role of the Bosun is to ensure that the workers below them are performing at an effective and efficient rate, meeting quotas without directly being involved in the work and all other aspects that affect the junior deckhands. 


According to Cotton Crews, a Bosun salary generally ranges between $3.5-$5 per month, but some factors can make that amount vary. For example, a higher-paid Bosun might possess a watersport certification such as diving or kitesurfing credentials and engineering experience or qualifications. 


Before ships were equipped with technologies like GPS equipment and computers, the Bosun was required to have technical knowledge about a ship’s geographic positioning and many other essential details. However, after the progression of technological equipment hit the markets, the need for Bosuns to have technical know-how stopped being a mandatory requirement.


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