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Chief Mate vs. Bosun: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

A chief mate (also called a chief officer or first mate) and a bosun (also called a boatswain) are both positions of authority on a ship. They are responsible for the safety and well-being of the crew and passengers, and they work closely together to ensure the smooth operation of the vessel. In this article, we compare and contrast the job duties of a chief mate and a bosun, and we discuss the training and experience required for each position.

What is a Chief Mate?

The chief mate is the officer on a merchant ship responsible for the ship’s cargo and the deck crew. The chief mate is responsible for the safety and security of the ship and its crew. The chief mate is also responsible for the navigation of the ship and the management of the deck crew.

What is a Bosun?

A Bosun is a maritime professional who is responsible for the maintenance and repair of a ship. They oversee a team of seamen who carry out the tasks needed to keep the vessel running smoothly. The Bosun is responsible for the safety of the crew and the ship, and must have a thorough knowledge of maritime law and regulations. They are in charge of the ship’s rigging, anchors, moorings and deck equipment. Bosuns also act as a liaison between the captain and the crew.

Chief Mate vs. Bosun

Here are the main differences between a chief mate and a Bosun.

Job Duties

Chief mates and bosuns perform similar duties, such as supervising crew members, maintaining the ship’s equipment and ensuring the safety of passengers and crew. However, their daily tasks differ because chief mates work on sea voyages for long periods, while bosuns operate ships only for short journeys. Bosuns also typically perform more maintenance-related duties than chief mates.

Chief mates are responsible for overseeing the navigation of a ship. They use navigational tools, such as sextants and compasses, to determine the ship’s location and guide captains in making decisions. Chief mates also communicate with other ships via radio and help captains navigate around obstacles.

Job Requirements

Both chief mates and bosuns need to have a merchant mariner’s document (MMD) from the United States Coast Guard (USCG). To obtain an MMD, candidates must pass a physical examination, drug test, background check and written exam. They also need to have at least one year of experience working on a vessel as either a deckhand or officer. Some employers may require candidates to have a higher level of experience, such as two to three years.

Chief mates also need to have a mate license from the USCG. To earn this license, they must complete a training program approved by the USCG. The program typically takes about six months to complete. Bosuns do not need to have a mate license, but they must have a bosun’s license from the USCG. To earn this license, they must have at least one year of experience as a bosun or a similar position.

Work Environment

Chief mates and bosuns work in different environments. Chief mates typically work on large ships, such as cargo vessels or oil tankers. They may also work on cruise ships. These professionals often travel to new locations for their jobs.

Bosuns usually work on smaller boats, such as tugboats or fishing vessels. They may also work on larger ships that have a crew of fewer than 20 people. Bosuns rarely travel for work because they don’t work on many ships at once.


Both chief mates and bosuns are responsible for the supervision of deck crew on a vessel. This includes tasks such as maintaining the ship, handling cargo, and navigating the vessel. Both positions require excellent leadership skills, as well as the ability to work well under pressure.

There are some key differences in the specific skills used on the job between chief mates and bosuns. Chief mates typically have more experience and therefore are responsible for more complex tasks, such as navigation and managing the ship’s logbook. They also may be responsible for supervising the engine room crew. Bosuns, on the other hand, typically have less experience and are responsible for more basic tasks, such as cleaning the decks and painting the ship.


The average salary for a chief mate is $97,947 per year, while the average salary for a bosun is $44,539 per year. The salary for both positions may vary depending on the size of the ship, the type of work being done and the location of the ship.


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