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Ship Leadership Explained: Differences Between a Captain and a Skipper

Ship Leadership Explained: Differences Between a Captain and a Skipper

Whether you own a boat or work on the behalf of the owner of the boat, you’re either a captain or master of the boat. Those who own a boat but don’t know how to sail it must require someone else’s help to bring the boat back. In that case, the person who sails the boat will be the skipper. 

The word skipper is a Dutch word, which means captain or pilot. Many communities use this word in different contexts. 

It’s the captain’s responsibility to look after everything on the boat. There are different ranks in the U.S. Navy and the captain is the 21st rank. Until 1857, it was the highest rank in the navy but now this rank is of a senior officer. 

Skipper isn’t a professional title but a traditional way to address the captain. 

This article tells you everything you need to know about the duties and facilities of the captain. 

So, let’s dive into it… 


It’s derived from the Dutch word Schipper, which also means captain. 

The responsibilities of the skipper are the same as the captain. Though a skipper doesn’t have a license and rank of captain. 

Not everyone who wants to sail the boat needs to acquire a license. A skipper knows everything and has a responsibility to deal with every situation. He can cook, can operate the boat, and knows the ins and outs of the boat. 


Who's a Captain?
Ship’s Steering Wheel

A captain is someone who has a license and control of all the operations on the boat including navigation, and safe handling of cargo and boat. 

The captain has to supervise the staff and monitor the progress of the machinery such as the engine of the boat. 

If there’s any emergency, it’s the captain who takes all the necessary steps to ensure the safety of everyone on the vessel. A captain needs to keep a sharp eye on every little detail. 

There’s also a budget given to the captain that he/she needs to stick to. 

Captain’s Room On A Ship

There are two rooms for the captain on the board. 

In Port Cabin At Sea Cabin 
Most spacious cabinIt’s smaller in size
It’s a few decks down from the at-sea cabinLocated close to the bridge and CIC
There’s a dining, bathroom, and sleeping area. It looks like a living roomIt only has a bed, status indicator, and displays 
The captain doesn’t share this room with anyoneThe room remains in his use only
This is where he sleeps, arrange a conference, and does office workThe captain uses this room in hurry situations 
Captain’s Room On A Ship

Duties Of A Captain

Duties Of A Captain
Captain’s Responsibility

The responsibilities of a captain include:

  • Operate the boat safely and efficiently
  • To check if the boat is worthy of sailing in the sea
  • To manage to crew
  • To see if the boat abides by the laws both locally and internationally
  • He’s also responsible for the safety of pilots, passengers, and staff members
  • To provide medical care to everyone on the boat
  • Must have the ability to deal with emergencies
  • To be able to forecast weather and study the ocean conditions 

Can Captains Marry People On The Boat?

No, to marry people officially, you must have a license. There’s no such law that authorizes the captain in this regard. 

The captains of three flagged ships, including Japanese, Romanian, and Bermuda, have the authority to marry people onboard. While other flag states don’t allow their captains to register the weddings. 

Though, you can pay the crew to hire someone with a license and arrange a wedding on the sea. 

High class boat wedding video:

Do the captains of a civilian or military ship still “go down with the vessel” if the ship sinks?

  • Under no law or tradition, a captain has to go down with the vessel.
  • But a captain can be charged with some other crimes. 
  • Though, it’s true that the captain should stay on the boat unless there’s even one person onboard. 
  • As you probably know, the captain of the titanic chose to go down. Not because he was abiding by the law but due to his personal choice.
  • The captain might go down due to the guilt of not being able to save other lives. 
  • A captain can abandon the boat if the situation gets out of his hands even after trying so hard. 

Final Thoughts

  • The term “skipper” is traditional, it’s not considered a professional word.
  • A captain and skipper both perform the same duties, though the only difference is that the former owns a license. While to be a skipper, you don’t require a license.
  • The captain is rank and a position, while the skipper is none of them. 
  • If you sail a boat that isn’t under your ownership, you’re skippering it. 

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