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As required by 17th Century law, British ships-of-war carried three smaller boats: the boat, the cock-boat, and the skiff.  The boat, also called the gig, was usually used by the Captain to go ashore and was the larger of the three.  The cock-boat was a very small rowboat used as the ship's tender. The skiff was a lightweight all-purpose vessel, generally with a flat bottom. The suffix "swain" means keeper, thus the keepers of the boat, cock, and skiff were called boatswain and cockswain (or coxswain).

Today, any boat used by a ship's Captain is referred to as the gig.  Embarked Admirals use a boat referred to as the barge.  Skiffs are generally aluminum and are used for painting the sides of the ship.

In common use, boatswain is usually shortened to bo'sun.  A ship's bo'sun is the senior member of the deck hands.  The coxswain mans the helm (rudder) of a ship's boat when underway.

Posted on Saturday, March 5, 2005 11:58 PM Day Job | Back to top

Comments on this post: Nautical Terminology: Boatswain and Coxswain

# re: Nautical Terminology: Boatswain and Coxswain
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Really, really close. One who steers a ship from frigate to Aircraft Carrier is called a Helmsman. Who fall under the Quartermasters. They are often Boatswains and coxswains.

In the olden days, the boatswain and coxswain, as you stated ran the ships boats. The Boatswains ran the Captain's and Officers boats. The Midshipmen, called Cocks, ran the cock-boats. The individual midshipmen who were in charge of the boats were called coxswains. In today's navy, Boatswains are usually the pilots of any subsidiary boat to the mother vessel, be it a barge, liberty boat, or picket boat. And such have the title Coxswain.

Just an aside, the midshipmen in old British ships were berthed amidships. The Crew were berthed under the Forecastle (F'o'csle) and officers behind the midshipmen. These were cramped and dangerous quarters, and that is where the term cockpit came from. in aviation and automobiles. Additionally midshipmen were akin to ensigns or 2ndLTs. young brash, know it alls. and when they served on watch they were called the "the cock of the walk"
Left by BM1 on Jun 30, 2014 6:02 PM

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