Today’s bosun: who is he?

Bosun (Old English – batswegen from bat, boat and an unverified form swegen, servant; from Old Norse sveinn) – the eldest extant position on vessels today. One of the most favorite characters of writers around the world. There are many proverbs and sayings about bosuns that describe fully their role on vessels.

A correspondent of Sea Truth/ MaritimeTelegraph spoke with a representative of this profession to understand who a today’s bosun is.

Ivan Vdovichenko has been working for 4 years on different types of vessels: general cargo, bulkers, container carriers, ro-ro.

ST/MT: Why did you decide to be a bosun?

IV: I started my career as an OS and had worked 6 contracts with different bosuns. Most of them, to my mind, were incompetent. Only a few knew a technical process of painting and were familiar with airbrushes. All those things fouled up our work and caused extra expenses to shipownes. In general, more than half of all bosuns (I had ever met) didn’t know the norm of layers number for housing surface and different types of vessel tanks. But that was a double overrun for shipowners. It was a quite common situation when a technical process of painting was outraged (painting when it was foggy, unsuitable temperature or unprepared surface). Such commands were chief’s, who was incompetent on this question. In general, fiddleys are often painted in unsuitable conditions (temperature). I know the process from good seamanship. Also, I spoke with painting engineer, took paint compatibility charts and then leant them. All necessary literature and photos I always have in soft form to show to incompetent chiefs and masters.


ST/MT: Is it difficult to become a bosun?

IV: It is necessary to work 2 contracts and get 2 promotions. In my case, there were a lot of who desired to be bosuns, because the work means more control than physical activity. Old bosuns also didn’t want to give place to a new generation.

Working in the same company I often met our superintendant and he asked me different questions about pipes, cofferdams, scuppers and their condition, and also about a condition of anchor capstan/windlass foundation. I answered his questions. For example, during a process of mooring the anchor windlasses didn’t work with full power because of foundation condition. We analyzed some problems and I showed him what had to be done. Also, I mentioned that I wanted to work as a bosun, asked him what I need for it (I had already had two promotions, but there were no changes in my career). Once, I was invited to the master’s office, where were DPA, two superintendents and the captain. They told me that in one and half month the bosun’s contract would end and if my exams allowed me (then I was studying at Maritime Academy) I could shift him. Everything happened just like they had said. And in five months I worked as a bosun on another unfamiliar vessel.

ST/MT: What certificates you need?

IV: When my AB certificates exceeded time limit I decided to get bosun certificates and diplomas. The procedure took me not more than 3 months. In the Inspectorate for Training and Certification of Seafarers you can get the whole certificate set. All certificates are issued for 5 years and the diploma is unlimited. There was a huge problem to give in your documents to the Inspectorate; I had to stay in a long line from 1 am, because all kinds of documents (for ratings, officers, engineers, tanker documents, GMDSS) are taken in the same room and very few know that there are 5 lines to each table in the room. And most of visitors have seen such crowd just go away.


ST/MT: On the one hand bosun is a leader of a deck crew, but on the other he is an executive of chief’s commands. Are there any difficulties?

IV: Seafarers who had two cadet voyages become chiefs, so it means minimum experience in deck work. Then they start to control a deck crew without listening the executors. You can’t say anything against it. You do that work with tears, covering coaming from splashes with your own body. It is always asked who it did, but not who ordered. Chief wants to save his reputation.

The superintendant in my first company was competent, having worked as a motorman and a chief engineer for many years, he understood everything.

Earlier in the fleet chief wasn’t a person who commanded on the deck, it was chief engineer. Chief should be a boss on the deck, but if he is an incompetent person that should be chief engineer. They are required to control and understand correctly: who the skilled AB is.

People should talk in one technical language. But, there is no company interested in this matter. It is a vital question, it is a management crisis. It is profitable for every shipowner when his vessel is in good condition. To realize good service, there should be at least two people – an experienced AB and a chief or a chief engineer.

Often you have to deal with an illiterate bosun and ABs follow all his instructions to be good implementers. The company always knows only the best and the worst. Everybody is afraid to be included to the list. It is easier for seafarer to waste stuff at the expense of the company, than do everything correctly (repainting, preparation for painting, etc.)

For example on “family” vessels they can sit in the housing during the heat, and then paint at night – because people want to do everything for a full due. On the contrary, at the equator (heat, 100% humidity) they give a command to wind rags around heads and paint. It is possible to find another work which is not referred to painting.

Why duties of ratings are specified indistinctly on vessels? Why any shipowners don’t decide whose duty is a drainage system, a deck or an engine room?

ST/MT: What problems have you faced during your work?

IV: Quite often I had to work with equipment that doesn’t have any certificates: it was necessary to do our work, so we risked. None of the crew was interested in separation of garbage (then it becomes ABs’ and a bosun’s problem). Any senior officer couldn’t solve this issue yet.

Periodic review of ballast tanks condition which should be done by chief with an assistant; usually performed by an assistant or even worse – it doesn’t carry out at all.

There is a problem of competent distribution of working hours in ports and during anchoring: all crew members are always involved though there is an opportunity to allow to have a rest at least for rudder before port exit or after anchoring. Because in port and during anchoring there is always a lot of work both on a deck and in an engine room.

Summing up the aforesaid, I want to tell that it is possible to fulfill a contract and come back home weakened morally and physically, but also only with feeling of minor fatigue. A lot of things depend on crew.

MP/MT: Your plans for the future?

IV: I want to become a chief mate in prospect. Working as a bosun, I get invaluable experience of management of a deck crew, with all traps and pitfalls that can face a chief. I have a huge desire not to look as illiterate chief in the opinion of a deck crew.

New knowledge comes with each new vessel and, it is great when you can adopt somebody’s practice and share your own experience.