Boatswain's mate (United States Navy)

The United States Navy occupational rating of boatswain's mate (abbreviated as BM) is a designation given by the Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS) to enlisted members who were rated or "striking" for the rating as a deck seaman. The colloquial form of address for a boatswain's mate is "Boats".

The rating of Boatswain's Mate dates from the American Revolutionary War and was one of the oldest U.S. Navy ratings in continuous existence from 1775 to present. For a period of three months at the end of 2016, the rating (along with all ratings in the Navy) was scheduled for elimination, but the proposed change was unpopular with both sailors and Navy veterans and was reversed in December of that year.[1]

Boatswain's Mate
Rating Badge BM
Rating insignia
Issued byUnited States Navy
TypeEnlisted rating


Navy Enlisted Classification/rank comparison[2]
Abbreviation Title Rate
BMCM Master chief boatswain's mate Master chief petty officer
BMCS Senior chief boatswain's mate Senior chief petty officer
BMC Chief boatswain's mate Chief petty officer
BM1 Boatswain's mate first class Petty officer first class
BM2 Boatswain's mate second class Petty officer second class
BM3 Boatswain's mate third class Petty officer third class

Boatswain's mates train, direct, and supervise personnel in ship's maintenance duties in all activities relating to marlinspike, deck, boat seamanship, painting, upkeep of ship's external structure, rigging, deck equipment, and boats.[3] Boatswain's mates take charge of working parties; perform seamanship tasks; act as petty officer-in-charge of picketboats, self-propelled barges, tugs, and other yard and district craft.[3] They serve in, or take charge of damage control parties.[3] BMs also operate and maintain equipment used in loading and unloading cargo, ammunition, fuel, and general stores.[3] BMs take charge of and supervise UNREP (Underway Replenishment) procedures and equipment. They are integral to ship's navigation and serve as ship's Helmsman and the ship's Lee Helmsman. In addition they also serve as RHIB (rigid-hulled inflatable boat) coxswains.

Boatswain's mates enjoy a normal path of advancement to Chief Warrant Officer and limited duty officer.[3] Candidates must have normal color perception, and no speech impediment.[3] Candidates need not meet any special citizenship or security requirements.[3]

Boatswain's mates also stand watch on ship's bridges, passing information relating to routine and special activities to the crew with the distinctive boatswain's call or boatswain's pipe.[4] On the ancient row-galleys, the boatswain used his pipe to "call the stroke".[5] Later, because its shrill tune could be heard above most of the activity on board, it was used to signal various happenings such as pipe down, and the Side or Away Galley (the boarding or debarking of officials).[5] So essential was this signaling device to the well-being of the ship, that it became a badge of office and honor in the British and U.S. navies.[5]

Boatswain's mates duties cover a large spectrum and range widely depending on the capacity and mission of the vessel or shore installation to which BMs are assigned. They act as landing signalmen enlisted (LSE, guiding helicopters to the designated flight deck of a ship) on air-capable ships. They act as or supervise lookouts of Navy ships, searching the sea for enemy vessels and hazards to navigation. They conduct Search and Rescue (SAR) operations and can respond to other military and civilian ships that request assistance. Ashore, they provide armed security for either their assigned vessel or for their assigned Naval installation.

Boatswains' mates are also a source rating for the Navy's mobile amphibious community. These duties include assault boat coxswain and Craftmaster, navigating specialized assault or working vessels during amphibious operations, salvage work, or inshore work. They are also a recognized source rating for the U.S. Navy's Special Warfare and Special Operations communities. Should a Boatswain's Mate meet eligibility requirements, he can elect to become an SO (formerly SEAL), SB (formerly SWCC), ND (Navy Diver), or EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician).

  • Note: The Boatswain's mate is said to be one of the four oldest professions in the U.S Navy, along with Quartermasters (responsible for safe navigation, shiphandling, and chart/record maintenance), Gunner's Mates (responsible for maintenance and operation of gunnery equipment and associated systems) and Masters-at-Arms (responsible for maintaining order and enforcing regulations among a ship's crew or the complement of a shore installation).

Ship's boatswain

In the U.S. Navy the ship's boatswain is an officer who assists the first lieutenant by supervising the deck force in the execution of major seamanship functions and the maintenance of topside gear.[6] The ship's boatswain supervises cargo handling[6] and inspects and maintains rigging and deck gear.[6] His duties also include supervising anchoring, mooring, fueling, towing, transferring of personnel and cargo, and the operation and maintenance of ship's boats.[6] The ship's boatswain is in charge of what the Navy deems "unusual" seamanship operations such as retrieving target drones,[6] and also schedules training for deck division personnel.[6] Another key duty of the ships' boatswain is supervision of the maintenance of abandon-ship equipment and instruction in abandon-ship techniques.[6]


US Navy 090215-N-3548M-013 Boatswain's Mates prepare for an
Boatswain's mates gundeck an "anchor drop test" aboard the USS George H.W. Bush to check the operability of the ship's anchor.
US Navy 080722-N-6270R-066 Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Derrick Riley uses signal flags to guide a landing craft air cushion
Boatswain's mate guiding an LCAC.
US Navy 040806-N-8148A-034 Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Kenneth Smoulcey pipes arrival honors as Rear Adm. Robert T. Moeller arrives for his Change of Command ceremony
Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class pipes arrival honors

The word boatswain has existed in one form or another longer than Modern English has (Modern English only dates back to the beginning of the Renaissance).[7] It is derived from late Old English batswegen, from bat ("boat") + Old Norse sveinn ("swain"), meaning a young man, a follower, retainer, or servant.[7] Various phonetic spellings (such as "bosun" and "Bos'n") have also been in use through the centuries.

Originally, on board sailing ships the boatswain was in charge of a ship's anchors, cordage, colors, deck crew, and the ship's boats.[8] The boatswain would also be in charge of the rigging while the ship was in dock.[8] The boatswain's technical tasks have been modernized with the advent of steam engines and subsequent mechanisation.[8]

Origins in the Royal Navy

The rank of boatswain was until recently the oldest active rank in Great Britain's Royal Navy,[9] and its origins can be traced back to the year 1040.[9] The Royal Navy's last official boatswain, Commander E W Andrew OBE, retired in 1990.[9]

In 1040 when five English ports began furnishing warships to King Edward the Confessor in exchange for certain privileges, they also furnished crews whose officers were the master, boatswain, carpenter and cook.[10] Later these officers were "warranted" by the British Admiralty.[10] They maintained and sailed the ships and were the standing officers of the navy.[10] Soldiers commanded by captains would be on board the ships to do the fighting, but they had nothing to do with sailing the ships.[10] The word "soldiering" came about as a seaman's term of contempt for the soldiers and anyone else who avoided shipboard duties.[10]

The warranted officers were often the permanent members of the ships' companies.[10] They stayed with the ships in port between voyages as caretakers, supervising repairs and refitting.[10] Other crewmen and soldiers might change with each voyage.[10] Early in the fourteenth century, the purser joined the warrant officers.[10] He was originally "the clerk of burser."[10] During the following centuries the gunner, surgeon, chaplain, master-at-arms, schoolmaster and others signed on.[10]

In the Royal Navy the task of disciplining the crew fell to the quartermasters and quartermaster's mates. This was done using a rattan boatswain's cane on the boys and a rope's end on adult sailors. Punishment could lawfully be inflicted on an officer's instruction or at his own will, or more formally on deck on the captain's or a court martial's orders. Birching or use of the cat o' nine tails would have been typical in the latter case. In a large crew he could delegate this to the boatswain's mates, who might alternate after each dozen lashes.

Notable boatswain's mates

A number of boatswain's mates have achieved notable careers in the military. Carl Brashear, the first black American master diver, whose life was the inspiration for the movie Men of Honor, retired as a master chief boatswain's mate. James E. Williams a Medal Of Honor recipient, also known as the most decorated enlisted sailor in U.S. Navy history for his actions during the Vietnam War, Reuben James and William Wiley famous for their heroism in the Barbary Wars and namesakes of the ships USS Reuben James (FFG-57) and USS Wiley (DD-57) were all U.S. Navy boatswain's mates.[11][12] Cesar Romero achieved the rating of chief boatswain's mate aboard the Coast Guard manned assault transport USS Cavalier. Medal of Honor recipients Francis P. Hammerberg,[13] and George Robert Cholister[14] were U.S. Navy boatswain's mates, as was Navy Cross recipient Stephen Bass.[15] USS James E. Williams (DDG-95) is an Arleigh Burke class destroyer, named for BM1 James E. Williams, who was awarded the Medal of Honor while serving in the "brown-water navy" in Vietnam. In 1958 BMCM Sherman Byrd became the first African-American explosive ordnance disposal technician. Don Shipley began his United States Navy career as a Boatswain's Mate in 1978 before going on to become a SEAL in 1984.

See also


  1. ^ David B Larter; Mark Faram (December 20, 2016). "Ratings restored: Effective immediately, sailors will get their job titles back". Navy Times.
  2. ^ Thomas J. Cutler (4 May 2009). The Bluejackets' Manual. (United States Naval Institute). p. 51. Retrieved 2013-06-21.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Bureau of Naval Personnel. "Navy Enlisted Occupational Standards for Boatswains's Mate (BM)". United States Navy. Archived from the original on 2007-06-13. Retrieved 2007-05-24.
  4. ^ USNI, 1992, 345–353.
  5. ^ a b c "Origin of Navy Terminology". Naval Historical Center. Archived from the original on 2007-05-17. Retrieved 2007-05-26.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Bureau of Naval Personnel (October 2006). Manual of Navy Officer Manpower and Personnel Classifications, Volume I, Major Code Structures. Department of the Navy. p. 150.
  7. ^ a b "Boatswain". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2007-05-25.
  8. ^ a b c Chisholm, 1911:100.
  9. ^ a b c "HMS Victory". Archived from the original on 2007-01-13. Retrieved 2007-05-26.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Why is the Colonel Called "Kernal"? The Origin of the Ranks and Rank Insignia Now Used by the United States Armed Forces" (PDF). Naval Historical Center. United States Navy. August 1983. Retrieved 2015-12-29.
  11. ^ "Ship's Namesake". USS Reuben James Official Website. Archived from the original on 2007-05-09. Retrieved 2007-05-26.
  12. ^ Naval Historical Center (1981). "Wiley". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. United States Navy. Archived from the original on 2007-11-14. Retrieved 2007-05-26.
  13. ^ Naval Historical Center (1981). "Hammerberg". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. United States Navy. Archived from the original on 2010-12-07. Retrieved 2007-05-26.
  14. ^ Naval Historical Center (1997). "Navy Medal of Honor: Interim Period 1920-1940". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. United States Navy. Archived from the original on 1997-07-09. Retrieved 2007-05-26.
  15. ^ "CPO Stephen Bass, U.S.N." Archived from the original on 2012-09-07. Retrieved 2007-05-26.


  • The Bluejackets' Manual (21st ed.). Annapolis, MD: United States Naval Institute. 1996 [1902]. ISBN 1-55750-050-9.

External links

Alexander McKenzie (Medal of Honor)

Alexander McKenzie (born 1837) was a United States Navy Boatswain's Mate who received the Medal of Honor during the Korean Expedition. He was wounded in the rescue of Lieutenant Hugh McKee and was struck by a sword.


A boatswain ( BOH-sən, formerly and dialectally also BOHT-swayn), bo's'n, bos'n, or bosun, also known as a Petty Officer or a qualified member of the deck department, is the seniormost rate of the deck department and is responsible for the components of a ship's hull. The boatswain supervises the other members of the ship's deck department, and typically is not a watchstander, except on vessels with small crews. Additional duties vary depending upon ship, crew, and circumstances.

Boatswain's mate

A boatswain's mate is a petty officer assisting the boatswain aboard ship.

Specifically, boatswain's mate may refer to:

Boatswain's mate (United States Navy), a job classification in the United States Navy

Boatswain's mate (United States Coast Guard), a job classification in the United States Coast Guard

Boatswain's mate (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), a job classification in the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Bootsmannsmaat, a historical naval rank in Austria, Germany, and Russia

The Boatswain's Mate, a 1914 one-act opera by Ethel Smyth

Geno Morosi

Geno Morosi (July 7, 1920 – September 20, 2016) was, prior to his death, among the last living sets of brothers to serve in the United States Navy and survive the attack on Pearl Harbor aboard the same ship.

Geno and Albert Morosi were aboard the USS Maryland (BB-46), moored along Battleship Row, on the morning of December 7, 1941. Geno was watching other sailors play a card game when the Japanese attack began. Geno was initially assigned to a gun that did not have antiaircraft capabilities, so he was ordered to man a different gun on a higher deck. Geno was 21 at the time; Albert (born February 13, 1922) was 19.

Geno Morosi received a Purple Heart for hearing loss sustained during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Born in Royalton, Illinois, to immigrants from the Province of Perugia, Umbria, Italy, Geno and Albert also had an older brother, August, who served in the European theater as a member of the United States Army. August died in 2008 in Springfield, Illinois.

Geno Morosi served a total of six years, two months, and six days in the U.S. Navy. In addition to his Pearl Harbor service, he piloted landing craft for the USS Alpine (APA-92) at Guam, Leyte Gulf, Lingayen Gulf, and Okinawa. He was honorably discharged on November 15, 1946, as a Boatswain's mate (United States Navy), first class. In addition to the Purple Heart, he received the American Campaign Medal, American Defense Service Medal and One Star, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and Six Stars, Philippine Liberation Medal and Two Stars, World War II Victory Medal, and Navy Good Conduct Medal.

Geno Morosi settled in Detroit, Michigan, after the war. He attended Lawrence Technological University on the G.I. Bill, and had a long career at Carboloy, a division of General Electric. He began at Carboloy with a low-level job as a metal mixer but retired as a unit manager in 1984.

Master chief petty officer

Master chief petty officer (MCPO) is the ninth, and highest, enlisted rank (pay grade E-9) in the United States Navy and United States Coast Guard, just above senior chief petty officer (SCPO). Master chief petty officers are addressed as "Master Chief (last name)" in the colloquial and they constitute the top 1.25% of the enlisted members of the maritime forces.Prior to 1958, chief petty officer was the highest enlisted rate in both the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard. This changed on 20 May 1958 with the passage of Public Law 85-422, the Military Pay Act of 1958, which established two new enlisted pay grades of E-8 and E-9 in all five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. In the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, the new E-8 pay grade was titled Senior Chief Petty Officer and the new E-9 pay grade as Master Chief Petty Officer, with the first selectees promoting to their respective grades in 1959 and 1960.

Samuel Cromwell

Samuel Cromwell (died December 1, 1842) was a sailor and petty officer (boatswain's mate) aboard the brig USS Somers. Cromwell was feared by the young apprentices who made up the majority of the ship's crew, and was rumored to have served on a slaver at one time. These rumors lent credence to the idea that he would have been amenable to Philip Spencer's alleged plot to mutiny, kill the ship's officers and such of the crew as were not wanted and sail the Somers either as a pirate ship or a slaver.

On the homeward leg of a voyage to Liberia, Cromwell was put in irons a few days after Spencer and Elisha Small, another sailor rumored to have been part of a slave ship's crew. After a meeting of the officers concluded that a mutinous plot existed, all three men were hanged without a court-martial.

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