The first time a smartly dressed Customs officer came on board our boat, his chest ablaze with brass buttons, and asked with a thick accent 'Where is the Captain on this ship?' I tried not to giggle too obviously. We had a 'Captain' on our 'ship'? - a 45ft cruising boat? We were somewhere in the Middle East and I concluded that he was not very accustomed to dealing with yachts and skippers.
I did get used to it, but since then the habit of referring to the skipper of a boat as the 'Captain' seems to have surged in popularity. So the following, written by long-experienced American cruising skipper, John Harries, made me smile all over again:
I just can’t stand it any more. I tried to ignore it, I really did, but it’s no good, I have to say something.
What’s making me crazy is the current fashion for recreational mariners, particularly on VHF radio, to call each other 'Captain'. This seems to be confined to the US, although it is spreading to Canada too. As far as I know that’s as far as it has got…I fervently hope so.
You can call yourself 'Captain' if you are:
A serving officer in the Army, Airforce, or Marines with a rank one below Major.
A serving, or retired, officer in the Navy with a rank one below Admiral.
You have an unlimited tonnage all oceans master mariner’s licence and command a commercial vessel at sea, which almost always requires four years at a recognized maritime university and several years serving at sea working your way up the ladder through various mate positions to command. You would also be entitled to use the title in retirement.
You sit in the left pilot seat in a large transport aircraft.
To quote Bugs Bunny, 'that’s all folks'. (Actually I don’t know for sure that there are no other positions that are properly titled 'Captain', so if you know of one I missed, please leave a comment.)
You are not a Captain because you have a US Coast Guard 100 ton licence or a RYA yacht master. Heck, I have a good friend who has a Coast Guard 500 ton licence and has served as an officer on tall ships for over a decade. She does not call herself 'Captain'.
If you command a yacht, you can call yourself 'Skipper' or, if signing something official, 'Master'. But you are not a Captain.
Not only do we look ridiculous, particularly to commercial mariners, when we call ourselves 'Captain', it is also extremely disrespectful to those that have put in years of study and sea experience to earn that title legitimately.
You wouldn’t call yourself 'Doctor' after doing a three day first aid course would you? Or 'Reverend' just because you go to church regularly? Or 'Professor' at the end of your first year of university? Or 'Engineer' because you did two years of shop at high school? Ok, I’ll stop, you get the idea.
Now I know that none of us yachties that do this mean anything bad by it. In fact, I think it has become a kind of verbal tic. But, none the less, let’s stop. Please pass the word. ©2014 John Harries, Attainable Adventure Cruising. To read more of John Harries' always entertaining and extremely useful information, go to his Reference site and blog
117016312970235514226 Letter received from reader:
Sender: Chris Connor
Message: In my younger days, I sailed commercial vessels with a German Captain that would lose control when someone referred to him as 'skipper.' He would begin shouting usually at some junior officer of the watch that, 'Skipper is a dog's name!' He would add some profanity for colour.
I still chuckle whenever someone calls me Skipper.
I would also chuckle silently whenever I heard colleagues of mine that I know had never commanded a vessel in their career referred to themselves as Captain. I met a few of them.
I enjoyed the rant.
Christopher Connor, Master Mariner
RYA Yachtmaster Instructor & Examiner
In command at sea
the Gulf of Guinea