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Non-Commissioned Member | Full Time, Part Time

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Boatswains are the seamanship specialists of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). They are responsible for the safe operation and maintenance of the ship’s rigging, shipboard cargo handling equipment, boats and small craft.

The range of their responsibilities and supervisory duties is wider than in most other seagoing occupations. Their primary responsibilities are to:

  • Operate and maintain shipboard equipment associated with cargo handling and inter-ship transfers of personnel, fuel, and materiel while at sea
  • Operate and maintain the ship’s equipment for such tasks as anchoring, towing, launching and recovering  boats, and surface rescue operations
  • Operate and navigate small craft in all waters
  • Perform required tasks with ship’s rigging and lifesaving equipment
  • Organize the storage, training, maintenance and use of small arms, demolitions and ammunition
  • Prepare and lead demolitions operations in the naval environment
  • Plan, organize and direct ceremonial procedures
  • Assist and supervise deck crews in maintaining the ship and its equipment
  • Coordinate watch keeping duties at sea and in harbour

Work environment

The Boatswain is truly “the professional sailor,” experiencing the unique adventures and challenges that come with work at sea, such as open deck surfaces and a rotating shift or watch system. Ashore, Boatswains normally work as instructors training other naval personnel. Junior Boatswains spend time working outside their occupation performing general duties such as cleaning, painting, working in the cafeteria, standing sentry duty, storing the ship, and acting as members of the Naval Boarding Party.

Career Overview





WRUCK: Without Boatswains, the ship can’t sail.

I’m Petty Officer Chrissy Wruck from Aberdeen, Saskatchewan and I’m a Boatswain in the Canadian Navy.

Boatswains comprise the entire deck department of the ship’s company, and have a wider range of duties and responsibilities than anybody else onboard.

And I’m Petty Officer Scott Osborne from Little Bay East Fortune Bay, Newfoundland, and I am currently posted on board HMCS Fredericton.

OSBORNE: We’re known as professional sailors like a jack of all trades. What needs to get done gets done.



WRUCK: Security at home starts overseas and international maritime security is important business 24 / 7.

Stopping drug smugglers, rescuing stranded seamen, boarding suspicious vessels – these are just a few of the tasks of the vessels of the Canadian Navy.

You’re never bored – there are so many tasks onboard ship that are required for us that keep it very interesting.

OSBORNE: What makes a good Boatswain is a guy that likes to work with his hands and doesn’t mind getting them dirty.

WRUCK: We perform preventative and corrective maintenance on all deck equipment… everything from the ship’s anchor and cable equipment to the rigging and lifesaving gear.

We lead crew members from all departments during seamanship evolutions such as replenishment at sea, entering and leaving harbour, jackstay and boat transfers of cargo and personnel, towing operations and rescues.

OSBORNE: I can remember one time, I was a RHIB driver, I had to drive over to a civilian vessel to pick up a personnel who was injured and bring them back to the ship so they could get the helicopter ready and bring him in to a civilian hospital on shore.

WRUCK: When there’s no Air Department on board, we’re trained and ready to assist in landing helicopters at sea.

We’re also small arms specialists, tasked with the storing, maintenance and the issuing of small arms to the ship’s company.

And we operate the fifty-calibre machine gun for force protection in and out of port.

Most of the Boatswain’s day is spent doing regular seamanship duties, such as watchkeeping, rope work, rigging, hull preservation and painting. And since Boatswains are in charge of coordinating all ship’s husbandry, it’s up to us to make sure everything that needs to be done gets done.

One of the best parts about being a Boatswain is being able to drive the small boats, the RHIB and the Zodiac, which we launch right from the deck of the ship.

When you’re days away from the nearest port, you realize how dependent you are on the ship and your fellow crew members.

My most rewarding deployment experience was the Persian Gulf in 2001 right after 911 happened. Our job was to stop illegal immigrants & cargo smuggling.

As a Boatswain, your military career will start the same way it does for everyone else, with the basic military qualification course, or BMQ.

Everyone entering a seafaring trade must attend the Naval Environmental Training Program or NETP.

The first phase of NETP lasts five weeks during which you’ll learn what it means to be a professional sailor.

Courses in shipboard firefighting and damage control, watchkeeping duties, as well as an introduction to the rich history and traditions that have made the Canadian Navy a respected and welcome presence in ports throughout the world.

If you’re interested in pursuing the Boatswain trade on a part-time basis, you can join the Naval Reserve.

During the second phase of your occupational training, you get into the specific duties of the Boatswain trade.

You’ll be assigned to your first ship, and a lot of the training is on the job.

This is where it really starts to get exciting.

The feeling of driving down to the waterfront for the first time, seeing your ship alongside, the ship you’re going to be working on for the next several years… there’s nothing like it!

Throughout your naval career, you’ll be presented with opportunities to engage in new tasks through Advanced and Specialty Training. Everything from Naval Boarding Party to Demolition.

OSBORNE: I was a member in the Naval Boarding Party, and it was a very good experience, going over searching different vessels and actually being part of tight knit group, 20 personnel just holding everything together to make sure that everything is safe for the other people in different countries.

WRUCK: As you progress through your career as a professional seaman, you may get a chance to share your experience with the next generation of sailors by teaching NETP.

In the Canadian Navy, the training never stops, and that’s what keeps it interesting.

The work of the Canadian Navy is vital to protect and uphold Canada’s interests and those of our allies around the world.

And Boatswains are vital to the Canadian Navy.

OSBORNE: If you want to travel the world, serve your country and be a part of a tight-knit community, join the Navy and be a Boatswain.


Related Civilian Occupations

  • Tugboat captain
  • Deck hand on a fishing vessel
  • Boatswains employed by private ships


The first stage of training is the Basic Military Qualification course, or “basic training,” held at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. Occasionally courses are offered in other locations including Victoria and Halifax on an ad hoc requirement. This training provides the basic core skills and knowledge common to all occupations in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). A goal of this course is to ensure that all recruits maintain the CAF physical fitness standard; as a result, the training is physically demanding.

Naval recruits attend the Canadian Forces Fleet School in Esquimalt, British Columbia or the Canadian Forces Naval Operations School in Halifax, Nova Scotia for approximately five weeks. Training includes the following topics:

  • Perform General Duties in the Naval Environment
  • Perform as a Member of the Force Protection Team
  • Perform as a Member of the Damage Control Organization
  • Carry Out Survival Drills

Learn more about Basic Training here.

The next training is specific to the duties of Boatswains. It lasts about 12 weeks. It includes the following topics:

  • Working of anchors, cables and lines, and tasks associated with mooring, anchoring, and towing
  • Maintenance of the upper deck and its equipment
  • Transfer of materiel and personnel between ships at sea
  • Procedures for ship refuelling and transfer of material at sea
  • Rigging tasks including brows, ladders and buoys
  • Boat work, including high-speed small boat operation, boat maintenance and navigation
  • Rescue operations
  • Handling, preparation and detonation of demolition charges
  • Operation and maintenance of small arms, from rifle and pistol up to .50 calibre heavy machine-gun

Boatswains may be selected to develop specialized skills through formal courses and on-the-job training, including:

  • Naval Tactical Operator or Naval Boarding Party team training
  • Ship's Team Diver
  • Tender Officer (i.e., small naval vessels)
  • Navigator's Yeoman
  • Instructional Techniques and Training Validation

Entry plans

No previous work experience or career related skills are required.  CAF recruiters can help you decide if your personal interests and attributes match the criteria for this occupation.

The minimum required education to apply for this occupation is the completion of the provincial requirements for Grade 10 or Secondary 4 in Quebec or equivalent secondary school education.

Foreign education may be accepted.

Part time options

This occupation is available for part-time employment with the Primary Reserve at certain locations across Canada including 24 Naval Reserve Divisions (NRD). Reserve Force members usually serve part time at a Naval Reserve Division (NRD) in their community, and may serve while going to school or working at a civilian job. Naval Reservists are paid during their training. They are not posted or required to do a military move. However, they can voluntarily transfer from one NRD to another. They may also volunteer for deployment on military missions within or outside Canada.

Reserve Boatswains serve as members of the Royal Canadian Navy. Like their Regular Force counterparts, they are employed as seamanship specialists and are responsible for the safe operation and maintenance of ship’s rigging, shipboard cargo handling equipment, boats in all waters, and small arms. Part-time employment is normally in the Boatswain’s NRD; some part-time training is conducted on weekends at naval schools or in ships afloat. Casual full-time employment in ships and at naval schools is normally available in the summer months.

Find a Recruiting Centre

Reserve Force members are trained to the same level as their Regular Force counterparts for work that is common to the two components. Reservists usually begin training in their Naval Reserve Divison to prepare them for the Basic Military Naval Qualification course. Following basic training and naval environmental training, Boatswains complete their occupation qualification at either the Canadian Forces Fleet School in Esquimalt, British Columbia or the Canadian Forces Naval Operations School in Halifax, Nova Scotia for approximately 10 weeks.

Reserve Force members usually serve part-time with their home Naval Reserve Division for scheduled evenings and occasional weekends. They are paid 92.8 percent of Regular Force rates of pay, receive a reasonable benefits package including a pension plan, and may qualify for reimbursement of civilian education expenses.