Are you a Captain?


Thank you - I am not normal.


I blame @john as the bot creator… or encourager at the very least. :smiley:


Because the guy is happy about his new certification does not make him bad.


Well, I can think of worse sins that I’ve perpetrated :wink:



When I tell people I’m a Ship Master I get open mouth stares. To me Captain is a title and Master is the position. While, admittedly, I’m a license snob I don’t get too riled up over pretenders. Life is too short and it becomes very obvious anyway. I use Captain on my business card because I take pride in the professional accomplishment. I work for a major oil operator where I say I’m the “boat guy on the drilling floor”. Using the title differentiates me from the hundreds of drilling engineers.


You’re spot on. Glad I’m not the only one noticing this. Guys with the lowest licenses always pull the captain card. And what annoys me even more is vessels that require two officers on bridge (1 master, 1 mate), the mate will always make it a point to call themselves captains. Two captains? What the hell


Perhaps I see things a little differently. I see Captain more of a universal title. I grew up near the water and the majority of work choices growing up was either work on a mud boat or on a shrimp boat. As a teen I pondered the question what makes one a Captain or a Master of the vessel or even a skipper? What made sense to me all of those years ago was this…

If you work on a charter fishing boat or tour boat under 100GT then you are a Skipper.
If you work on a trawler or fishing boat then you are a Captain. (colloquial title not necessarily licensed)
If you work on a vessel and there is more than one licensed mariner working on the bridge then you have a Master and a Mate.
All of the above may be referred to as a Captain because they are in charge of the vessel at a particular time. However, this does not count if you only have a Mates license for that vessel. Only licensed Masters for the particular tonnage they are on can use the Captain title.

When I worked foreign there were seven of us on the bridge. I was the Master of the vessel. I had two licensed Masters and two licensed Mates (US flag) and two licensed Mates for the country we were working in.

I worked 0600-1800 as Master of the vessel. (Since I have no one working an opposite watch of myself I had no chief mate.) The two licensed Masters under me worked 12-12. Each one had two licensed Mates under him one American and one foreign national.

Each one of the licensed Masters under me was OICNW of his watch and was refereed to as Captain of the watch. So in terms of the vessel there was one Master and two Captains and four Mates.

Ranking order would be Master of the vessel, then Captain then Mate or Chief Mate, Second Mate and Third mate if applicable.


I seem to have this strange, recurring conversation with non-mariners:

What do you do?
-I care for machinery on commercial ships.
Lots of men, eh? I bet you boss them all around.
-That’s not part of my job.
Well, someday you’ll be the Captain and… blah blah blah.

Customs people, immigration people, people at social events… I don’t reckon there’s anything captain-ish in my persona that people are picking up on… they just don’t know any better. Even people who should know better, often don’t. With kids its forgiveable:

-What would you like to do when you grow up?
I will be a captain.
-Why a captain?
Because I want to work on ships, like you.

It must be the only visible maritime profession from the outside.


Ok guys, I asked a number of Masters who is best qualified to answer this question and the name that came up most frequently was California Maritime Academy’s Professor of English Colin Dewey (or, as I like to call him - Captain Professor Doctor Colin, MM, MNI, Ph.D :grinning:) and luckily, he agreed to answer the question for us!

Here’s a link to Colin’s article in full:
Call Me Captain! (or not)


As a Pilot, I have always found it somewhat embarrassing when people refer to me as “Captain”. I am fortunate to have sailed as an unlimited Master and then continue on as a harbor pilot. To me, the Master’s job was a significantly different job with completely different challenges. A job that deserved it’s own title.

A pilot, without being the Master of a vessel and it’s crew, doesn’t rate the title of “Captain” in my opinion. You are a “Pilot”, which is an equally prestigious title. Just different. There is always just one Captain…the Master of the vessel.


The conversation is very thought provoking and I’m seeing different points of view from different sub industries underneath the larger maritime industry as a whole. While there does not seem to be a cut and dry answer I think people learn really quickly through personal experience with said individual (captain) if the title matches up to the man.
A mate, to my perspective is someone who is in charge of the vessel while the captain is off watch. Yet we all know the captain is never truly off, look no further than the night orders to underline the fact that as a mate, 2nd captain etc you have someone to call upon in the event something arises that you are uncertain of. The master or captain does not have this option and in my opinion it is that overriding responsibility that defines the title of captain. We all know great mates who reach 1st mate with no desire to ever be master of the vessel. Why? Because they do not want the responsibility. These individuals have been great boat handlers and very confident in their skills and almost all have a master’s license. And this is not a knock on those guys, we need good mates but it emphasizes the captains role and the people who have earned that through experience as well as licensing. They are in my opinion worthy of the title captain, regardless of the tonnage of the vessel.


cap·tain / ˈkaptən / noun

  1. The person in command of a ship.

Case closed. Next question: What’s a ship?


For one thing I am glad we finally dispelled the idea that you need a chief Engineer and a Master Unlimited to be a “Master Mariner”. Now we just need to figure out where that crazy myth started??


I’m guessing someone that had both tried to make that a rule. Heard it said often when I was in school, and then it’d get shot down by both a crusty old chief and an equally crusty Captain every time. So it wasn’t a thing back when they got their sea legs in the 50’s. I blame it on KP. Everything is their fault right? Or are we being nice to them now?


I’d wager it started somewhere in “god’s country” which happens to be on the north shore of Great Neck Long Island.


OHHHHH Wait… we never blame anything on Great Lakes MA on here… how about them for once? They probably feel neglected. :smiley:


I suspect that started with the first dually licensed person to pop out of an academy way back when.


So are you saying that if you sail as captain filling in for a hitch or two for the first time in that capacity you get to be called captain when you go ashore. Because thats what it sounds like.

That will be “Captain Buccal” for you sir. :laughing:


That’s interesting, I usually address the pilot as “pilot”. I respect the position and recognize the role.

When I was mate I recall a captain that always called the pilot “captain” That particular captain seemed to be trying to make the point that he considered the pilot his equal. I agree that each should respect the role of the other.