Duties of Seamen in Ship's Deck Department
Officers, Bos’n, Able Seamen and Ordinary Seamen run this department The many and varied duties of the deck department are probably the most important and interesting aboard a merchant ship. Upon those who spend their working hours topside falls a burden that ranges from chipping and scaling paint to the actual navigation of the vessel. Merchant ships differ in size and complement, but the average ship that sails the seven seas today, bringing war material to our armies and those of our allies, generally conforms to a single pattern of manpower. The duties of those men also run true to form, more or less, but as the saying goes among seamen -- “different ship, different long splice.” All of which is translated as meaning that different ships and masters have their own way of doing things. Generally, however, they are similar. Starting at the bottom is the Ordinary Seaman (OS) whose duties actually are to assist the able seaman. In reality, however, he is the deck utility man and may be called upon to do any one of many tasks. The ordinary may be called upon to stand a lookout, to scale and chip paint, to paint, handle lines in the mooring of the ship, and to assist in the actual tying up and letting go of the vessel. The ordinary also assists in the handling and operation of all deck gear such as topping, cradling and housing of booms and he may also be asked to aid the carpenter in repair work. It is likely that the ordinary may be allowed to act as helmsman, to read the draft markings or to act as cargo watch in the loading and discharging of cargo. Calling the watch (the awakening of men, including officers, who are slated to go on watch or to so remind them if they are awake) is another of the important duties of the ordinary. He also assists in emergency drills (lifeboat, abandon ship and fire) and keeps the passageways and heads in shipshape condition on the 4 to 8 watch. He may also work aloft or over the side. The Able Seaman (AB), by law, must be able to perform any deck duties aside from the actual navigation of the vessel. In general his duties include the ability to splice wire or fibre line, to work aloft and over the side of the ship, to operate the deck machinery such as the windlass or winches, to paint and mix paint, to know the principles of cargo stowage, to be a good wheelsman and competent lookout, to overhaul and install any running or standing rigging on the ship, and to be able to sew, repair and mend canvas. The AB must be a competent and certified lifeboatman, able to handle a lifeboat under oars or sail. He must know lifeboat equipment and be able to assume the duties of the cox’n or man in charge of the lifeboat. It will also be the duty of the AB to maintain the bridge in a clean and shipshape condition. Next on the way up the deck department ladder is the Bo’sn (Boatswain), senior unlicensed man on the ship. He is the direct contact between the crew and the chief mate and he may be likened to a foreman in any industrial plant. The Bo’s’n must be an experienced seaman and is held responsible for anything and everything in the maintenance, care and protection of deck equipment and deck cargo. He also supervises the securing of the ship for sea and the loading and discharging of cargo. In addition, the Bos’n assists the chief mate in ordering the deck stores. The duties of the ship's Carpenter (Chips) are numerous. He is likely to be called upon to perform work which, in many cases, is beyond that which the term carpenter implies ashore. In short, he is both a seaman and a mechanic. In addition to doing temporary or permanent wood construction aboard ship with hand tools, he is responsible for the operation of the anchor windlass, seeing that hatch wedges are driven properly, that the deck cargo is properly lashed and that the hatch battens are in place and secure. The carpenter also repairs blocks, keeps the lifeboat davits in good order, builds...
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