What Does a Boatman Do?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2019
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A boatman is a person who has a hand in operating a boat or ship. The specific duties of a boatman can vary depending on his or her experience level and specific title, though in most cases, boatmen are entry-level workers who will clean the boat, attend to maintenance issues, and accomplish other menial tasks necessary for proper functioning of the vessel. Also called mariners or sailors, boatmen can have seniority over other sailors as they gain more experience on a vessel. These sailors ultimately report to the captain of the ship.

The type of vessel being operated can also change the specific duties of a boatman. Some military vessels, for example, will require gunners who can man the weapons on board; a boatman may be responsible for such duties. On other ships, however, such weaponry is not likely to be present, so the boatman will have other duties instead, such as cooking meals, working on the captain's deck with various instrumentation, performing janitorial duties, or completing various tasks that attend to the crew. If the boatman is working on a fishing vessel, he or she may need to attend to fishing nets and other equipment, storage of the fish, and icebreaking on the deck during cold weather.


A more experienced sailor may be responsible for actually steering the ship or tending to autopilot functions while the captain is indisposed. It may also fall on the shoulders of such a sailor to delegate responsibilities to other, less experienced boatmen. Sometimes these sailors will have specific job functions; a galley steward, for example, will work almost exclusively in the ship's galley, or kitchen. He or she may be responsible for cleaning the kitchen and all flatware, serving meals to other sailors, or even participating in the cooking of the meal. A chef on board will be primarily responsible for cooking meals as well as obtaining ingredients for those meals while the ship is docked.

Tankers or shipping boats will hire trained operators to man cranes and other moving equipment. Such equipment requires skill and certification, so boatmen may be educated beforehand to use these machines. One or more boatmen may be responsible for monitoring the contents of the ship and ensuring the loads are balanced. This often requires maintaining an inventory of all contents on the ship, including personnel and crew items on board. Boatmen on cruise ships may be responsible for tending to guests and checking the ship's manifest to ensure all guests are on board before leaving port.


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