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What Does a Sailor Do?

By K. Kinsella
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A sailor is an individual who travels on and operates marine vessels either for pleasure or as an occupation. Sailors can work as part of a crew, but many sailors travel alone. The responsibilities of a sailor during a particular voyage depend in part on the type of vessel and the number of other crew members. Major shipping firms and national governments hire large numbers of sailors to work on different ships and vessels, while small fishing firms usually hire just a few sailors to operate small marine crafts.

A recreational sailor does not typically have to undergo any formal training, and many sailors learn how to row small boats before moving on to motor powered boats and yachts. Many nations require sailors who operate boats beyond a certain size to obtain licenses, although in some countries these sailors do not have to undergo any kind of examination in order to receive a license. Highly skilled sailors take part in competitive races, some of which involve traveling long distances across major oceans. Many sailors spend months at sea and sail as a means of traveling between nations rather than for competitive or business reasons.

Fishing companies hire professional sailors to work on fishing boats and trawlers. An experienced sailor captains the boat while other sailors work as deckhands and take on different responsibilities, such as casting the nets to catch fish or dropping the cages that are used to catch crabs and other types of sea life. Small fishing boats can operate with a crew of two or three sailors, but major fishing trawlers have dozens of sailors on board, including engineers who must ensure that the engines keep functioning during the voyage.

The military hires sailors to work on Navy frigates. In most countries, people who captain military vessels are required to have college degrees as well as several years of military service. Navigators, machinists, and engineers play a role in keeping the boat moving, while other sailors work as chefs, janitors, and deckhands. On military vessels, large numbers of the crew are assigned to heavy weaponry, and some boats carry airplanes and pilots who have no actual role in operating or navigating the ship.

Commercial shipping companies hire sailors to work on frigates and tankers that transport goods between nations. Major tankers are often equipped with cranes which specially trained crew members must use to move cargo. The crew of a commercial ship is typically much smaller than the crew of a military vessel because the crew members are tasked with moving cargo between destinations. Unlike navy sailors or fishermen, the crew does not have to perform special assignments while at sea.

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Discussion Comments
By Markerrag — On Mar 10, 2014

In the United States, it is very easy in most states for someone to get a license to operate small, pleasure craft (we're talking about bass boats powered by engines and such).

By the way, isn't it curious how many people think of the military when it comes to discussing sailors? There are a lot more civilian sailors out there, but the military ones generally generate the exciting stories.

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