Able Bodied Seaman


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Emily Barnes

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Being a landlubber, can anyone tell me the difference between a seaman and an Able bodied seaman? What were the duties of an able bodied seaman compaired to those of a seaman?
Thanks,
Emily
 
Dec 4, 1998
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For a general definition, an able-bodied seaman is a seaman in the merchant navy; trained in special skills, while a seaman simply serves as a sailor. Basically an able-bodied seaman has more opportunities and advantages than the typical seaman does. I hope this helps you.
 

Dave Gittins

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Mar 16, 2000
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Originally an Able Seaman was one able to "hand, reef and steer". That is, he could handle sails and ropes, reef sails as required and steer by the compass or the wind. An Ordinary Seaman was a learner who lacked these skills. Able Seamen acquired many skills, especially in rope work. In the days of sail, seamen actually rated themselves. The system worked because a man who signed as an AB risked dire punishment if he turned out to be incompetent.

In 1912 an Able Seaman was one with three years satisfactory experience as an Ordinary Seaman. As Ordinary Seamen did simple tasks like sweeping decks, the standard was low. Today there is formal training for seamen, at least in advanced countries and certificates are awarded.
 
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Bob Godfrey

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Nov 22, 2002
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Yes. Seamen generally had an 8-hour working day organised into two sessions each of 4 hours on, 8 hours off. If they were, for instance, on the 4-8 'watch' they worked each day from 4am to 8am and again from 4pm to 8pm.
 

Matteo Eyre

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Feb 7, 2013
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Able Seaman and Seaman

I was just wondering if it is purely by coincidence that the 2 seamen of the Titanic ( Mr William Smith and Mr Bertram Terrell ) both perished in the sinking where many of the able seamen and all of the lookouts and quartermasters survived?? Would they have been considered lower down in the rankings of the Deck Crew or is it something different??
Thanks Guys
Matteo :)

[Moderator's note: Two threads have been merged here. MAB]
 
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Bob Godfrey

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I wouldn't read too much into that. The most experienced seamen were more likely to be placed in charge of a lifeboat, but among those who remained on the ship and died there were seven AB's as well as the two ordinaries. Among the crewmen it was usefulness rather than rank that bought places in lifeboats. I can't recall any instance of a crew member 'pulling rank' to save his skin.
 

Matteo Eyre

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Feb 7, 2013
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Yeah i guess the numbers really have the say there, 2 Seamen and 29 Able Seamen, would there have been an extra qualification to gain the title of Able Seaman rather than Seaman or something like that?? or would there have been separate duties for them?? Or could the Seaman have been among the crew that Boatswain Alfred Nichols took to open the lower gangway doors?? When you say pulling rank what exactly does that mean?? i'm not very familiar with the term :)
 

Bob Godfrey

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'Pulling rank' means using your rank or status to gain an (often unfair) advantage over somebody lower down the tree. The distinction between ordinary and able seaman is explained in other threads. Seek and ye shall find - there's a search engine at the top right of every page.
 
Nov 14, 2005
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Originally an Able Seaman was one able to "hand, reef and steer". That is, he could handle sails and ropes, reef sails as required and steer by the compass or the wind. An Ordinary Seaman was a learner who lacked these skills. Able Seamen acquired many skills, especially in rope work. In the days of sail, seamen actually rated themselves. The system worked because a man who signed as an AB risked dire punishment if he turned out to be incompetent.

In 1912 an Able Seaman was one with three years satisfactory experience as an Ordinary Seaman. As Ordinary Seamen did simple tasks like sweeping decks, the standard was low. Today there is formal training for seamen, at least in advanced countries and certificates are awarded.
So in todays merchant navy is an AB a stepping stone to become a boatswain or a helmsman or other ratings or is it a career path itself. What I mean is does an AB advance to become something else? Not up on the merchant navy so forgive my ignorance. Do AB's become strikers like in the military where a seaman recruit does to go after a rating? I've been out so long I don't even know if you can join the navy today as just a seaman recruit and then strike after boot.
 

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