The coxswain (play /ˈkɒksən/) is the person in charge of a boat, particularly its navigation and steering. The etymology of the word gives us a literal meaning of "boat servant" since it comes from cox, a coxboat or other small vessel kept aboard a ship, and swain, which can be rendered as boy, in authority.



A women's 4+, a 'Four' with coxswain in the stern


In the Royal Navy in the days of sail, the Coxswain was a Petty Officer or Chief Petty Officer who commanded a Captain's or Admiral's barge. Later they were the senior Chief Petty Officer aboard a smaller vessel such as a corvette or submarine, who was responsible for the steering and also assumed the duties which would be performed by the Chief Boatswain's Mate and Master-at-Arms aboard larger vessels.

In the Royal Canadian Navy, the appointment of Coxswain (or capitaine d'armes in French) is given to the senior non-commissioned officer aboard a ship, the equivalent to a Command Master Chief Petty Officer in the USN. For larger vessels such as a destroyer, frigate or Protecteur class auxiliary vessel, a Coxswain holds the rank of Chief Petty Officer 1st Class (CPO1). For smaller vessels such as a submarine or Kingston class patrol vessel, a Coxswain usually holds the rank of Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class (CPO2).

Naval Cadets

In Royal Navy Sections of the Combined Cadet Force, the rank of Cadet Coxswain is the highest that a cadet can achieve, except in the rare occurrence that they are promoted to the rank of Cadet Under Officer. The Rank of Coxswain equates to the rank of Cadet Warrant Officer in the Royal Air Force Sections, and the rank of Cadet Regimental Sergeant Major in the Army Sections.

In the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets, the position of Coxswain is often appointed to the cadet with the rank of Cadet Chief Petty Officer First Class (C/CPO1). This would be the equivalent of the position of Regimental Sergeant Major in the Royal Canadian Army Cadets held by a Cadet Chief Warrant Officer (C/CWO).

United States Coast Guard

In the United States Coast Guard and United States Coast Guard Auxiliary the coxswain has the authority to direct all boat and crew activities during the mission and modify planned missions to provide for the safety of the boat and the crew.[1] A "boat" is any vessel less than 65 feet in length. Before a person can be assigned to be a coxswain, they have to go through a qualification procedure, be certified and maintain the certification to be a coxswain. Upon certification, they are awarded the Coxswain Badge. This qualification procedure requires a significant amount of practice in boat handling as well as previous experience as a boat crew member. Any Coast Guard member (enlisted or officer) may become a coxswain upon proper qualification. An advancement to BM2 (Boatswain's Mate second class) requires that the individual qualify as and maintain certification as a coxswain. A commanding officer or officer in charge of a land based unit with boats has to be certified and stay certified as a coxswain on all boats in the unit or be relieved of command. A coxswain is assigned to a boat by the command authority and can only be relieved by the commanding officer, Executive officer, or senior officer present. The coxswain’s authority is independent of rank and/or seniority in relation to any other person onboard the boat.[2] Unlike the commanding officer (captain) of a cutter or ship, a coxswain does not automatically have command authority.


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Coxswain — Cox swain (k?k sw?n, Colloq. k?k s n), n. See {Cockswain}. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • coxswain — early 14c., officer in charge of a ship s boat and its crew, from cock ship s boat (from O.Fr. coque canoe ) + swain boy, from O.N. sveinn boy, servant (see SWAIN (Cf. swain)) …   Etymology dictionary

  • coxswain — ► NOUN 1) the steersman of a boat. 2) the senior petty officer in a small ship or submarine in the Royal Navy. ORIGIN from obsolete cock small boat + SWAIN(Cf. ↑swain) …   English terms dictionary

  • coxswain — [käk′sən, käk′swān΄] n. [< COCK(BOAT) + SWAIN] 1. a sailor in charge of a ship s boat and usually acting as its helmsman 2. the person who steers a racing shell and calls out the rowing rhythm for the crew …   English World dictionary

  • coxswain — I. noun Etymology: Middle English cokswayne, from cok cockboat (a small boat) + swain servant Date: 15th century 1. a sailor who has charge of a ship s boat and its crew and who usually steers 2. a steersman of a racing shell who usually directs… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • coxswain — UK [ˈkɒks(ə)n] / UK [ˈkɒksweɪn] / US [ˈkɑks(ə)n] / US [ˈkɑkˌsweɪn] noun [countable] Word forms coxswain : singular coxswain plural coxswains formal a cox …   English dictionary

  • coxswain — n. & v. n. 1 a person who steers, esp. in a rowing boat. 2 the senior petty officer in a small ship. v. 1 intr. act as a coxswain. 2 tr. act as a coxswain of. Derivatives: coxswainship n. Etymology: ME f. cock (see COCKBOAT) + SWAIN: cf.… …   Useful english dictionary

  • coxswain — A person in charge of a small craft (in the Army, a Class B or smaller craft) who often functions as the helmsman. For a causeway ferry, the pilot is in charge with the coxswain performing helmsman functions. See causeway …   Military dictionary

  • coxswain — [15] A coxswain was originally a servant, or swain, whose job was to steer a ship’s boat, or cock (cock comes from Old French coque, which was probably a descendant via late Latin caudica ‘canoe’ of Latin caudex ‘tree trunk’, and swain is a… …   The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins

  • coxswain — [[t]kɒ̱ks(ə)n[/t]] coxswains N COUNT The coxswain of a lifeboat or other small boat is the person who steers the boat …   English dictionary

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