Ship’s Crew and Officers
The portion of the crew which performs the majority of ship’s duties.
Landsman - Inexperienced sailors who are new to the sea. Landsmen with a specialized and/or useful previous profession can be classed as an ordinary seaman by filling a niche such as barber, tailor, servant, etc.
Landsmen without special skills were given jobs such as ‘Captain of the Head’ (responsible for cleaning the toilet), ‘Jack in the Dust’ (a gun room cleaner), or assistant cook.
Ship’s Boy (third class/under-fifteen) - Young boys serving an apprenticeship, typically employed as officer’s servants.
Ordinary Seaman - A sailor with some experience at sea. They typically work with the ship’s rigging and sails, as well as performing basic ship maintenance and cleaning.
Ship’s Boy (second class/under-eighteen) - Older boys, typically with some sailing experience, working as landsmen.
Able Seaman - Sailors thoroughly familiar with duties at sea. In addition to the duties of an ordinary seaman, able seamen are able to perform duties such as taking the helm, testing the water’s depth with a lead line, acting as a sailmaker, and use the chip log to determine the vessel’s speed.
Typically a secondary function of the general crew of a ship. To simplify and clarify the passing of orders, they are generally numbered.
One/Gun Captain - The person in charge of the gun, responsible for issuing orders for that gun, aiming, and firing it.
Two/Wormer (also Swab, Sponger) - Responsible for cleaning the gun after each firing, to remove burning debris and powder buildup. The instrument used for this job is known variously as a sponge, worm, or swab.
Three/Loader - Crewman responsible for placing the powder, wadding, and shot into the gun.
Four/Rammer - Uses the tool of the same name to firmly seat the shot in the gun.
Five/Primer - Primes the gun. His tools include a leather thumbstall to block the vent during cleaning, a priming wire or prick to puncture the powder bag or cartridge, and a priming flask for pouring powder into the vent.
Six/Powder Monkey - Usually the youngest members of the crew, often only ten or twelve years old, responsible for bringing the loader the powder, wad, and shot.
Often army troops assigned to naval vessels, employed as infantry during shore operations and used at sea for boarding parties and snipers, as well as guards for the captain. Commonly commanded by a captain of marines assisted by an army lieutenant or sergeant.
Junior non-commissioned officers (NCOs) who held their rank at the captain’s discretion.
Captain of the Top - One of two petty officers, placed in charge of the foremast or mainmast.
Captain of the Waist - One of two petty officers, placed in charge of the afterguard or forecastle (foc’sle).
Yeoman of the Sheets - Petty officers in charge of overseeing the smooth performance of the fore and/or aft sails, there were typically one to four of these on a ship, depending on the number of masts.
Yeoman of the Stores - One of three petty officers, each of whom guards the stocks belonging to the bosun, carpenter, and gunner.
Coxswain - A petty officer in charge of steering and maintaining the ship’s small boats.
Gunner’s Mate - Typically the largest group of petty officers onboard. Responsible for operating the ship’s guns in action.
Quartergunner - Assistants to the gunner’s mate, each was responsible for a group of four guns on the ship.
Quartermaster’s Mate - Assistants to the ship’s quartermaster.
Quartermaster - Senior petty officers whose duties included taking the wheel (helmsman), maintaining good order in the ship’s hold, timekeeping, and assisting the purser.
Bosun’s Mate - Assistants to the bosun, they administered floggings and maintained morale with canes of rattan or ‘starters’ (ropes with knotted ends).
Carpenter’s Mate - Semi-skilled workers who assist the carpenter.
Sailmaker’s Mate - Semi-skilled assistants of the sailmaker.
Surgeon’s Mate (or Surgeon’s Assistants) - Assistants to the ship’s surgeon. Women onboard ship were typically also used as Surgeon’s Mates.
Armorer’s Mate - Metalworking assistant to the armorer. On smaller ship’s there may only be an Armorer’s Mate with no Armorer, while the largest ship’s rarely had more than two Armorer’s Mates for the Armorer.
Master’s Mates - Assistants to the Sailing Master these were usually young men with family connections not quite good enough to become midshipmen.
Skilled craftsmen recruited voluntarily in order to handle the constant maintenance and repair needed on a ship.
Caulker - A junior warrant who was employed under the carpenter’s command. Responsible for caulking the ship with tar in order to keep the hull watertight.
Ropemaker - A junior warrant under the bosun. Responsible for maintaining the ship’s lines and rope.
Cooper - Used for barrel construction, though rarely. They were rated as petty officer’s and worked for the carpenter.
Steward - A non-seaman who distributed provisions on the purser’s behalf.
Captain’s Clerk - A secretary, typically drawn from the ranks of (literate) landsmen.
Wardroom Cook - The primary cook for commisioned officers and senior warrant officers.
Gunroom Cook - The primary cook for the gun room, typically senior petty officers and junior warrant officers.
Ship’s Cook - The senior cook of the ship, typically oversees meal preparation for each section of the ship as an assistant to the Purser.
Carpenter & Sailmaker - See Warrant Officers (below)
Specialist professionals whose expertise and authority demanded formal recognition.
Various warrant offices, junior to others who did not hold formal warrants. They typically mess in the gun room.
Ship’s Teacher - A specialist, rated as a junior warrant officer, employed to teach prospective officers literacy, math, and navigation.
Master-At-Arms - Originally charged with training the ship’s crew in firearms usage, this position later took on the role of ship’s policeman. The Master-at-Arms was typically assisted by one to four corporals who were usually former soldiers or marines.
Armorer - A warrant officer typically only found on larger warships, used to maintain the ship’s metalwork.
Sailmaker - A junior warrant subordinate to the bosun. Responsible for inspection and maintenance of the sails and sail material.
The standing warrant officers generally remained with the ship even when it went out of commission.
Bosun (Boatswain) - Typically the senior able seaman onboard a ship, they were responsible for the well being of the ship’s anchors, rigging and sails, as well as the discipline of the crew. Along with their mates, they were responsible for issuing the ship’s calls (such things as the timekeeping bells, relaying orders and commands, etc.).
Gunner - A warrant officer whose duties were primarily maintenance of the guns, rather than operating them. They manufactured the breaches, tackles and other artillery accessories as well as packing cartridges and maintaining the ship’s gunpowder supply.
Carpenter - While technically an artificer, the ship’s carpenter was a senior warrant officer. Carpenters were required to be trained as shipwrights before serving on a ship.
Wardroom warrant officers, which means they messed (ate) in the wardroom, they are essentially the same as commissioned officers.
Chaplain - An ordained member of the clergy serving the ship.
Surgeon - Responsible for the physical health and maintenance of the crew. They most often saw major work after combat engagements.
Purser - Responsible for handling the ship’s finances as well as all administration and supply duties.
Ship’s Master (Pilot/Navigator) - Responsible for piloting and navigation, this warrant officer works closely with the captain by keeping informed of the ship’s position and condition. Additionally the ship’s master is responsible for keeping the ship’s log book updated, detailing the ship’s voyage, including depths, currents, and interesting coastlines.
Master of the Fleet - Term for a senior Navigator who serves as the Ship’s Master onboard a fleet flagship.
Officers deriving authority from direct appointment my a sovereign power. Typically this involves a commission charging them with the duties of a specific office or position.
Midshipman - The lowest rank of commissioned officer.
Lieutenant - Above midshipman, this rank of commissioned officer was found on every ship. They generally stood watch duties and commanded small craft. During combat they were stationed on the gun decks and commanded a division of guns (either all of the guns along one side of the ship, or, on larger ships, all the guns on that deck).
First Lieutenant - The senior lieutenant who generally served as the captain’s executive officer, responsible for taking command in case of incapacitation of the captain. Additionally the First Lieutenant was responsible for overall crew efficiency, primarily crew discipline.
Commander - Derived from the term "master and commander,’ this rank arose to describe senior lieutenants who had command of a smaller ship, such as a brig or sloop.
Pirate Quartermaster - Quartermasters on a pirate ship were given an unusual amount of authority by the pirate crew. They were considered to represent the interest of the crew, and as such were responsible for distributing food and other materials, judging disputes, maintaining order, settling quarrels, as well as serving as the captain of any captured prizes.
Captain - Post Captain, or later, just Captain was the title for the commissioned officer in command of a ship.
Commodore - A position created as a temporary title to be bestowed upon Captains who commanded squadrons of more than one vessel.
Admiral - The highest ranking officer of the Navy. Rear admirals (especially ‘of the yellow’) were typically admirals on half-pay who were essentially retired. Active admirals were broken into three grades (Blue, White, or Red) in ascending order of seniority. This included Vice admirals who functioned as theatre commanders. Full Admirals were typically assigned to Blue or White as they were usually too old for sea commands. Admiral of the Fleet was the title given to distinguish the Navy’s most senior officer.