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Capacities - the jobs that seafarers did

This is a list of the main entries we've found on crew documents to describe the job that the mariner did, shown in the column marked 'Capacity' on the document. Of course, there were many subcategories, such as senior, junior etc. On large vessels, the crew agreements were divided into Deck, Engineers and Stewards departments. The Stewards department particularly often had a vast heirarchy of minutely defined jobs, which we have not attempted to deal with.

Note: The term 'Rating' is used in relation to Royal Navy personnel and occasionally in relation to Merchant Navy seafarers.

Please let us know of any corrections or additions to this list.

Capacity Appears like this on crew lists Duties
Able seaman AB, AS From Able-bodied seaman. A seaman with some years experience, able to take the helm and repair rigging without direct supervision.
Apprentice Apprntce Apprentices were apprentice officers, not apprentice seamen. They worked as part of the deck crew and on some vessels made up a significant part of the crew. On photographs, often distinctive by the jaunty angle of their caps!
Baker On passenger vessels.
Barman On passenger vessels.
Bhandary Lascar seaman, equivalent to Cook.
Boatswain Bosun, B’son, Boats, B’swain, Boson The crew member who acted as foreman of the deck crew, in charge of the general maintenance, of the rigging for example.
Boots On passenger vessels. Responsible for cleaning passengers’ boots and shoes.
Boy On larger vessels, employed as an officer’s servant. On small vessels, crewed by two men and a boy, the boy was the cook and bottlewasher.
Butcher On passenger vessels.
Butler Lascar seaman, equivalent to Steward, or Chief Steward.
Cadet Equivalent to apprentice, on large vessels. Also termed Midshipman in some companies.
Carpenter Crpntr Of equivalent rank to the Bosun, he was responsible for the repair of all wooden equipment, particularly emergency repairs to masts and spars and also care and operation of anchor winch, deep tank soundings, and fresh water.
Cattleman C’man Crew man in charge of animals on cattle ships carrying live cargo.
Cook Cook and Stew, C & S Responsible for preparing the food for all on board. On small vessels, he would often be a boy on his first voyage. On slightly larger vessels, he would also do the stewards duties of serving and clearing away food. After 1906, cooks were required to be qualified and carry a ‘ticket’ and ships could not sail without one.
Coxswain Cox'n A member of the deck crew responsible for one or more of the ship’s boats.
Distressed seaman DBS On the order of a British consul, distressed British seamen (for example shipwrecked seamen) were assisted to return to the UK and were signed on as part of the crew.
Donkeyman Dky’man, D’man Operated the donkey engine which powered winches and other ancillary machinery on steam vessels, when in port. At sea, he assisted in the engine room, with a role equivalent to the bosun on deck.
Driver Person responsible for the engines, especially on earlier small vessels and particularly trawlers.
Engineer Engnr, Engine driver Officer (or person) in charge of the engines. Various ranks denoted by 1st Engineer etc.
Fireman F’man Firemen were responsible for feeding coal into the ship’s boiler’s furnaces. The term Stoker was used only in the RN for men doing the equivalent job.
First Class Lascar Lascar seaman, equivalent to Able Seaman.
First Hand Second Hand, Third Hand, Fourth Hand Members of a fishing vessel’s deck crew, in rank order.
First Officer Second Officer, etc On larger vessels, the various watch-keeping officers. Refers to deck officers only.
Fisherman Equivalent to a seaman on fishing vessels.
Flenser On whalers and sealers, responsible for cutting up and removing blubber from the catch.
Greaser Grsr Ensured that all moving parts in the engine room were lubricated.
Harpooner Chief harpooner On whalers and sealing vessels. See Specktioneer.
Hobbler Hobbling Sometimes shown under ‘Previous vessel’ on crew lists. Denotes someone who is employed on a casual basis in a port – for example in hand towing a vessel to the harbour mouth without using a tug, or doing the same from a small boat, in return for beer money.
Kussab Lascar seaman, equivalent to Lamptrimmer.
Lamptrimmer Lamp Trimmer, Lamps, Lps Member of the deck crew responsible for the lamps, such as navigation lights. A bosun’s mate.
Master Mstr The person with overall responsibility for everyone and everything on and about the ship. ‘Skipper’ was used for the masters of fishing vessels only. Could be Master Foreign Going or Master Home Trade depending on qualifications. ‘Captain’ generally accepted as courtesy title in the MN, but the term ‘Captain’ was rarely if ever used on crew lists.
Mate 1st Mate, 2nd Mate, etc Deck officers. Mates kept watch, and also had specific responsibilities.
Midshipman Equivalent to Apprentice or Cadet. A young man gaining sea experience and training to become an officer.
Only mate A mate qualified to be the only officer in addition to the master.
Ordinary seaman OS, OD, Ord, Ody, A less experienced seaman.
Pantryman On passenger vessels, one of the kitchen staff.
Pilot Trinity pilot Pilots employed by vessels were not shown on the crew list, but they do appear on the crew lists for pilot vessels. All Pilots are (were) self employed and licensed by local Authorities.
Purser Officer in charge of the stewards department on a large vessel. Sometimes also used to describe the uncertificated owner-master of a vessel who remained on board when a certificated master was also employed for foreign-going voyages.
Quartermaster QM, Qr’master A member of the deck crew responsible for steering the vessel.
Refrigeration Engineer Ref Engineer Responsible for the refrigeration equipment on passenger vessels and refrigerated cargo vessels.
Rigger Sometimes shown under ‘Previous vessel’ on crew lists. An experienced seaman who was employed in harbour to set up the rigging of a sailing vessel.
Runner Crew members being carried aboard a company ship on their way to join another vessel – sometimes the vessel is named. A shore-based ‘gofer’, responsible for crewing, provisions and stores, though never part of crew. The term is also used for deserters.
Sailing master On private yachts, the owner sometimes appears on the crew list as the Master, while the person who actually knew what he was doing was shown as the 'Sailing master'.
Sailmaker A member of the deck crew, responsible for the repair and maintenance of the sails; equivalent rank to the carpenter.
Scullion A kitchen worker on passenger vessels.
Seaman General term for an experienced hand.
Second Class Lascar Lascar seaman, equivalent to Ordinary Seaman.
Serang Lascar seaman, equivalent to Bosun or Donkeyman.
Servant On passenger vessels, member of the stewards department.
Shipkeeper Someone employed as a watchman on a laid-up vessel.
Skipper The master of a fishing vessel.
Specie man On whalers, one of the crew dealing with the catch.
Specktioneer Spectr On whalers. The chief harpooner. On deck, responsible for handling the cutting operations to remove the blubber from the whale. (From the Norwegian word for blubber - spekk).
Steward Stwd, Cook and Stew On cargo vessels, responsible for duties relating to the serving of food and the cleaning of officers' quarters, maintenance of stores etc. On smaller vessels, the role would be combined with that of cook, and so turns up as variations on Cook/Steward. On passenger vessels, the stewards department could be very large, with various ranks and specialisms, such as Saloon Steward.
Stewardess On crew lists of the late 19th and early 20th century, we have never seen female seafarers except as members of the stewards department.
Stockkeeper On larger vessels, responsible for the vessel’s stores.
Storekeeper Storkpr On large vessels, responsible for the vessel’s stores.
Stockman Crew man in charge of animals on cattle ships carrying live cargo.
Stowaway Stowaways who could not be otherwise disposed of were sometimes employed and appear on the crew list.
Supercargo An officer employed by the owner of the cargo to take direct responsibility for it and the commercial operations of chartered vessels.
Supernumerary An officer or cadet who does not form part of the vessel’s regular crew – for example, a crew member under training, or an unemployed passenger officially ‘signed on’.
Surgeon A vessel’s medical officer.
Tindal Lascar seaman, equivalent to Bosun’s Mate.
Topas Lascar seaman, equivalent to apprentice engineer.
Trimmer Trmr, Fireman/trimmer, F’man/trmr Engine room worker who moved coal from the bunkers to supply the firemen.
Waiter Member of the steward's department on passenger vessels.
Watchman Someone who is looking after a laid-up vessel.
Whaleman On whalers, a member of the deck crew.
Winchman Member of the deck crew, responsible for operation of winches.

Our thanks to Captain W L Hume for his helpful comments and corrections. Any remaining inaccuracies are our responsibility.

We've not been able to find any sources on the web which give much more detail than above, except for a fascinating site on the life of Lascar seamen

Please let us know if you come across any informative sites.

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