8 Ways to Be a Better Bosun

5 June 2008 By Matt Brown

If you want to be a better bosun, you’d better work on your people skills.

One of the most complex and challenging environments to manage people is in a confined space. Consider the bustling crew quarters on a luxury yacht.

Being in a position of authority on that yacht is a privilege that comes with great responsibility. If this privilege is mismanaged in any way, the effects can be disastrous. The responsibilities of a bosun are vital to the smooth operation of the crew.

Mitchell Ginsberg is a bosun on the M/Y Saint Nicolas, a 71-meter Lürssen. It is quietly regarded as one of the finer motor yachts on the ocean today, not only for its absolute luxury, but also for the quality of crew on board.

Ginsberg manages a team of four deckies and is well-versed on the critical role of the bosun.

So what separates a good bosun from a great bosun? Two words: People skills.

"At the end on the day, a bosun is a deckhand, but what sets him out from the rest [of the deckhands] is his boating or yachting knowledge,” he says.

Bosun Ginsberg offers these pointers for new and veteran bosuns working on board the world’s superyachts.

1. Know Your Business
The more you know about how things work on your yacht the better. Not only is this important for your ability to train and pass on knowledge to your team, but it's vitally important in the case of an emergency situation.

Generally speaking, your focus as a bosun is on the deck. Typically when you have charter guests on board, they will want access to the "toys," so its important to pay specific attention to the operation of things such as the tenders and jet skis, and also the cranes used to launch them.

2. Be Organized, Nimble and Quick
Being versatile on a yacht is of paramount importance.

Ensure that you have a job list of what needs to be done on a daily basis and prioritize the jobs from most important to least important depending on who’s on board.

Also, get to know your cleaning products. Be willing to use new products introduced to you by other members of the crew. Perhaps a new “wet polish” will do a better job than that dry polish you’ve been using for the past six months.

3. Paint Like A Pro: Discover Your Inner Picasso
One of the jobs of a bosun is to be able to paint various types of kit and to know which products to use on different surfaces. For example, when to use Awlgrip paint system as opposed to those products used for varnishing other surfaces. If your knowledge is not very broad on the subject of painting, it’s best to learn from one of the more experienced crewmembers. The first mate will generally have the most experience in this department.

4. Respect Is Earned...and Appreciated
Always respect your fellow deckhands. Never talk down to them. This is something that must be practiced every day no matter how much pressure you are under. Always work as a team and keep the crew motivated at all times. This can be particularly challenging when there are charter guests on board and 18-hour days are the norm.

5. Know The Rules. Manage by Them.

Make sure you understand good boating practice. Watchkeeping can take up a large percentage of time on most boats, so be prepared for any situation.

Here's an example from my own career: During my orientation with the engineer, we discussed the alarm systems [pretty much anything can go wrong onboard], how to start the backup generators and the general upkeep of the yacht systems.

Only six weeks ago, one of the pipes from the fresh water containers, which contained approximately 15,000 liters of fresh water, burst. The entire engine room flooded and resulted in over €30,000 worth of damage. Ouch!

6. Never Stop Learning

Ask questions and learn as much as possible from the mates and the captain on your boat. Broaden your knowledge in any area where you don’t have the necessary expertise.

7. Know Your Tenders
Being able to drive all sorts of tenders takes time and practice to master. You may have to teach fellow deckhands how to drive them and park them in different weather conditions, and in order to teach you need to know your stuff first!

8. Docking Knowledge

You must learn how to dock the boat from stern to port and then starboard side on to the dock. This includes using the winches, throwing the heaving lines, working up on the bow and using the anchors and windless.

It’s also good to know how to call the boat in and out of ports using VHF and other communication methods with the bridge and port control.

People skills are by far the most important aspect to being a successful bosun. So sharpen those skills, get to know your fellow crew and learn the lessons of leadership. It’ll help everyone succeed.

Do you have any bosun tips to share? Any suggested skills that will take you from good to great in your profession. Let us know. Leave your comments below.

Matt Brown is a dedicated and reliable British deckhand working within the megayacht industry. Contact Matt Brown directly by email with your questions, comments and career offers at [or visit]