Saturday 3 July 2010

Q: Master, Captain or Skipper?

All three of these terms refer to the person in ultimate charge of a vessel. Every person in overall command of a vessel is the Captain of that vessel; although on some, usually large, commercial, sea-going vessels they will be referred to as the Master. They will typically be a licensed Master Mariner. 

A Master Mariner (MM) is someone who has an unrestricted Captain’s or Master’s license, usually from the flag state in which the vessel is registered; meaning they are allowed to be in overall charge of almost any size or power of vessel, anywhere in the world.

The often heard term Skipper is of course just a nickname for the Captain. It tends to be used to refer to the Captain of a smaller boat or yacht, or in say fishing vessels, where the Captain is often a friend or relative of the crewmembers, as well as their boss. In most of the world's English-Speaking Naval Forces the person in overall charge of the vessel is the CO or Commanding Officer, but when aboard he too will generally be referred to as Captain.

In short, if you are unsure how to refer to the person in charge of a particular vessel it is safest to refer to them as the Captain.

(Image Credit: Sint Smeding)


Anonymous 27 August 2019 at 03:14  

I would have thought that it would be Captain for a military vessel and Master for a merchant vessel

Anonymous 5 October 2020 at 06:09  

"Captain" is not a military term, in and of itself. It is used BY militaries, but it is not a military term, per se.

Anonymous 18 January 2021 at 14:13  

Back in the late 80's on one of my ships we would call our Captain "Skipper" whenever we saw him in the passageways. "As in, "Good morning, Skipper!") He was well loved and respected by the crew. This was in the US Navy and it most definitely was not a boat, yacht, or fishing vessel. This was the USS John F. Kennedy, CV-67.

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