Wednesday, August 5, 2009

IN A WORD OR TWO

Reading through the Posts and comments in various maritime blogs, particularly OLD SALT BLOG and BITTER END, my personal favourites, it occurred to NAUTICAL LOG that the traditions and terms of seafaring are being misused, or improperly used, or being forgotten altogether. While of course there are different traditions in different countries most languages have words and terms that are uniquely used by seafarers or at least were. Most particularly this occurs in English so NAUTICAL LOG thought it would be fun to explain some, their correct usage and add to them from time to time in the future. Of course I am sure this will stir up other opinions on the definitions, which is always fun, keeps ones mind active and we can publish those also - if correct!!

Looking at the paintings of Hans Breeman just this morning reminded me most of the ships were of the type I sailed in when starting my sea career in 1953. Coming from a family seafaring since the 18th. Century, with service in both the British Royal Navy and Merchant Navy, ship life was more normal to me than shore life. Anyway lets make a start on the subject matter.

Here in the United States it seems the term 'captain' is used for anybody who drives a boat - not so. This is a naval rank and is used in the merchant navy as a courtesy title for the ships Master. While the USCG uses 'master' on paperwork issued to licensed seafarers it seems to use 'captain' or the ghastly 'skipper', which sounds rather like a Scottish breakfast, on other occasions and it irritates many deep sea Masters no end, - yes myself included. Still that's what USCG does, perhaps they refer to their own Captains as 'skipper' who knows but it does not make it correct!

Captain is used more correctly for professional sea-going Masters and in passenger ships of most every size. Those with 6-pack and the smaller tonnage licenses should be termed 'coxswain'. At around a 1600 ton master 'captain' would be the more correct title. The famous Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) calls its person in charge of a Lifeboat 'Coxswain' so it is a very proud title indeed. A Coxswain is also the rank of highly qualified Royal Navy NCO's who are key persons on board ship. By the way the sobriquet 'skipper' is used for fishing vessel masters or on occasions an affectionate term for the Master. Hmmm, I do not think it was ever used for me!!

Recently the American Sail Training Association (ASTA) lawyers made complaints about the term 'tall ship'. Now while the words 'Tall Ship' in upper case, incorporated in a title may have earned a suspect trademark, the term 'tall ship' in lower case is generic and free for us all to use. This reminds me of a case in Florida years ago when the word 'yachtmaster' was similarly claimed. While 'Yachtmaster' as part of a tile may possibly be trademarked, 'yachtmaster' is a generic term, as indeed is 'sailingmaster' which is a tall ship title of NCO rank on board. The Spanish tall ship training vessel "Juan Sebastien de Elcano" has her Sailingmaster/Maestro de Vela?, one of the few still existing.

Another misuse one hears is "I am ON the such and such vessel" no my friend you are not, you are serving IN the vessel and maybe you are ON Watch IN her. That should get discussions under way!!

Next time we shall explain; A-1, ADZE, A-HULL, AGONIC LINE, ALIDADE and other good stuff from A to ZED or ZEE as the case may be.

Bibliography:

"Boat Data Book" by Ian Nicholson 1978
"The Royal Navy Officer's Pocket-Book" compiled by Brian Lavery 1944
"Admiralty Manuals of Seamanship" British Royal Navy 1950's
"Admiralty Manuals of Navigation" British Royal Navy 1950's
"Brown's Practical Pocket-Book for Merchant Seamen" by J. McKerrell 1922
"Origins of Sea Terms" by John C. Rodgers 1985, Very American versions of words.

Good Watch.

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