What is a "bosun's mate?"

First, I know what a bosun (or, more properly, “boatswain”) on a sailing vessel was. He was the guy (usually, IIRC, an officer) who coordinated various tasks by the crew by means of a specialized whjstle which he could blow two or three tones. e.g. one set of tones told the crew to hang the mizenmast and secure the halyards; another set told them to set the studs and royals; a third set of tones was “Call to Quarters,” and so on.

In the modern navy or Coast Guard, what does a “bosun’s mate” do? They don’t seem to be blowing whistles and such. Pray, elucidate.

What?! No response yet?

A Boatswains Mate is responsible for all the “sailorly” acivities on a ship: Handling small craft, winches, anchors, cranes, and the like. They are also responsible for the physical infrastructure of the ship’s hull and for the care and maintenance of the small craft.

They chip paint, paint, polish, and otherwise care for anchors, booms, mooring stations, cranes and davits, and pretty much everything else you see when you look at a ship from the pier. They handle the mooring lines, rig the refuelling lines, and braid the fancywork. Without them, the ship rusts and rots away to nothing. They handle the wheel, and on smaller ships and boats, they handle the flags and signals, maybe even handle the navigation. They’re what every civilian thinks of when they think “Navy”.

And yes, they still have a whistle, and they still “pipe the side”.

In the modern US Navy a bosun’s (or boatswain or bo’s’n or … ) mate is (and this is a generalization) an enlisted sailor who works in the “Deck” department of the ship. They do the sort of jobs that one traditionally thinks of sailors as doing, such as handling mooring lines the anchor and other deck equipment, painting and repainting and repainting again the ship, swabbing the decks, polishing brass and so on. They tend to do low-tech jobs and work their asses off at them.

BMs take pride in being the “keepers of tradition” on most boats. They still carry whistles (properly called a pipe, they get testy if you ask to see their wistle.) At sea, the BM on duty (called the BMOW or BM of the Watch) still uses the pipe to sound the traditional calls over the ships MC preceeding anouncements.

The other traditional method for irritaiting the B’osun, aside from not calling his whistle a “pipe”, it to call him (or her, these days) a “knuckle dragger”, the traditional insulting term for Boatswains Mates.

While I can’t speak of Navy BM’s, I can tell you what Coast Guard BM’s do. Firstly, BM’s deal with pretty much everything and anything having to do with deck maintenance, navigation, seamanship, small unit admin, small arms-and some larger deck mounted weapons, maritime law enforcement, some minor electronics and engineering (provided the manuals have pictures), AtoN (aids to navigation- buoys, towers, lighthouses, et al), painting (of course), small boat coxswains, SAR response & planning,… the list goes on. At almost every unit in the CG, there will be two ratings- BM’s, and MK’s (MM’s for any Navy types)

The majority of BM’s currently do one of 3 major job area’s: Cutters, Stations or AtoN. Cutter BM’s probably match Navy BM’s the closest- they stand or train folks to stand the BMOW watch, some will be underway QMOW’s, or OOD’s. They deal with deck maintenance, small boat coxswain, boarding team/boarding officer, unrep & highlining, deck supply, and manage a lot of junior enlisted.

BM’s doing AtoN are on buoy tenders, river tenders, shore side ANT teams. They work the buoy decks, hauling and setting buoys (Very hard work), fix the lights, power systems on buoys, build towers, fix lighthouses, clear brush, destroy old towers, etc. AtoN work is probably the hardest physically, but most people who do it, never want to do anything else. Ever.

Stations. This is where most BM’s end up at one time or another. These are the units that the public is most familiar with. Stations do most of the SAR, run the small boats, surf boats, do most of the law enforcement, and anything else that happens on the water. Stations usually only have BM’s and MK’s, along with a cook.

Senior BM’s (BM1, BMC, BMCS and BMCM) are usually the Executive Petty Officer or Officer In Charge of the smaller units, both Cutters and Stations.

Ive been in 11 years, and BM for 10, and I’ve done damn near everything I’ve mentioned at one time or another, so we pretty much get around. And yes, we occasionally use the bos’n pipe, although not much anymore. We would pipe chow on my last cutter, and I also rendered B-Pipe honors for former President Clinton, as well as the USCG Commandant, and some other higher ups.

I’d be glad to answer any other questions if you have any.

NOTE: I am not a Bosun’s Mate, Bosun, member of any Naval or Military forces, but I am a fan of Patrick O’Brien Novels.

In the old British sailing navy, there were a variety of levels and rates of mariners. Among them were commissioned officers (Captains and Lieutenants), warrant officers (Bosun, Gunner, Carpenter, etc.) and enlisted men.

The warrant officers were specialists with status between commissioned officers and enlisted. Often the warrant officers had assistants among the enlisted men, known as the warrant officer’s mates. For instance the assistants to the Bosun would be known as a Bosun’s Mate.

As you mentioned, in the sailing navy, the bosun was in charge of the rigging and sailing, and related functions above the decks of the ships. As discussed above, today’s bosun’s mates are responsible for corresponding functions.

In the modern navy, the role and numbers of warrant officers has diminished from the sailing days. Although I believe that there are still a number of warrant Bosuns, most of the sailors who are responsible for corresponding functions are senior enlisted, rather than warrant. However, in the tradition-bound navy, these sailors are still referred to as bosun’s mates.

To expand somewhat in this area, here is part of the wording placed on advancement certificates to those making Petty Officer in the CG. It mentions briefly what’s been mentioned above…

Warrant officers are still very active, in a variety of specialties. The most common being Bos’n Warrants and Engineering. On most larger cutters, the Bosun is a Warrant officer, which are made up of BM, QM and MST ratings. On smaller cutters, the Warrant Bosuns are the commanding officer, unless commanded by a senior enlisted BM. The only thing mentioned above that doesn’t exist anymore are the Forward Officers.

Additional note: In the Nav, at least, there is a serious difference between the Ship’s Bo’sun and any other Bo’sun. The Ship’s Bo’sun is the officer (frequently a Warrant Officer or LDO) in charge of the Ship’s hull and hull fittings, including all ground tackle, mooring and line-handling equipment, davits and cranes, and small craft. All of Deck Department reports, one way or another, to the Ship’s Bo’sun.

Kind of a dumb question, perhaps, but maybe illustrative in this discussion. Would Chief O’Brien in Star Trek TNG be a Bosun’s Mate? If not, what would a possible comparable rank/office be in today’s navy? It seems that he does a lot of what has been mentioned here.

Please forgive me if bringing Star Trek into this seems kind of stupid. Roddenberry modeled his Starfleet after the modern navy, so parallels here seem logical to me.

I would wager Chief O’Brien is more of an engineer type than a Bos’n. I would guess he’s comparable to an engineering Warrant Officer. However, they did show a Bos’n on one episode. The last one I believe- “All good things…” In it, Picard is shown arriving on the Enterprise for the first time, and is actually piped aboard with a Boatswain Pipe, by one of the crew. I’m not sure if that scene is actually in the first episode. That’s one of the reasons I like TNG- the attention to detail. If you look at all the previous Enterprise silhouettes in the Captains ready room, the aircraft carrier Enterprise is included. Ya, I’m a geek, I know…

Drum God: Never apologize for bringing Trek into a discussion with me. Trek is how I got interested in Naval nomenclature in the first place.

[b}Chandeluer**: They also showed someone with a bos’n-style pipe (much updated to the 23rd century) in both Star Trek II and VI. I seem to recall that they did the honors pipe for the faux Abraham Lincoln in “The Savage Curtain.”

Thank you all for your answers; very enlightening.

Peace out.

If I remember correctly, Picard was piped aboard the Enterprise by Lt. Yar in the epsidoe …All Good Things. He was definately piped aboard, but I’m not certain of the player. In addition, Kirk was piped aboard Enterprise during the movies and a Boatswain’s Pipe was used during Spock’s funeral, if memory serves. The tradition of the captain boarding the Enterprise by shuttle was began by Capt. Pike before Kirk’s command. Apparently, when Pike was to assume command, the transporters were not functioning properly, so he was brought aboard with a shuttle. That tradition has stuck and all captains of the Enterprise are brought aboard rather than beamed.

Okay, it’s sorta sad that I know all that, but oh well. :rolleyes:

Truly, the traditions of the modern navy are interesting to me. I enjoyed watching the commissioning ceremony of the (real) carrier USS Truman on CSpan several years ago. Listening to the captain read his orders and ordering his crew to bring the ship alive was stirring. Then the captain reported to his fleet admiral and the president that his ship was in commission and he was in command. In The Perfect Storm, George Clooney tells a friend that there is nothing better than being a “gosh-darned swordboat captain.” I can only imagine that being the “gosh-darned nuclear aircraft carrier captain” has got to put a bit more swaggar in a guy’s step.

CaptMurdock, I agree with you. Star Trek got me interested in this sort of thing.