The Courtesy Title of "Captain"

“Captain” is a RANK in the Armed Services (Army Navy and Air Force) it is only a Courtesy Title in the MERCHANT NAVY.

The Title of “Captain” is very loosely and widely used throughout the Transport Industry as “Captain of a Ship” “Captain of an Aircraft” and more recently “Captain of a Train”. In the world of Competitive Sports it appears as “Captain of the County Cricket Club", “Captain of the Rugby Football Team”, “Captain of the Golf Club” and “Captain of the Darts Team”.

In the USA and Canada the term is used to describe the leader of a group as “Captain of Industry”, a policeman in charge of a precinct, a head waiter, and a supervisor of bellboys in a hotel. At its most ludicrous level you could most surely have “Captain of a Wheelbarrow”, “Captain of a Milk Float” or “Captain of an Ice Cream Cart”. In other words “Captain” may be used to describe any person in charge of a vehicle or having responsibility for a group of people.

In the Merchant Navy the person in charge and having ultimate responsibility for the command of the vessel is the SHIPMASTER and his rank is that of a MASTER. In the view of IFSMA this RANK is accorded to SHIPMASTERS who are in possession of an Internationally recognised Certificate of Competency issued by the Government of an established maritime nation and who are or have been in command of a seagoing Merchant Ship.

A number of Professional Institutes do formally address their members as “Captain”. This is purely a matter of courtesy and is usually confirmed to internal proceedings of that particular Institute. For example members of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners (a City of London Livery Company) must have held a Master Mariners Certificate of Competency for 5 years prior to their election but they do not need to have actually held command. In committee and court meetings they are addressed as “Captain”.

The title of “Captain” is very jealously safeguarded by those Master Mariners who have served in Command. The nearest we come to a Official Recognition of the title is in Government Departments such as the Marine Directorate in the Department of Transport where the Nautical Surveyors MUST have served at least 2 years in command of a foreign going steamship whilst holding a Class 1 (MASTER MARINER) Certificate of Competency. In addition they must hold the EXTRA MASTER CERTIFICATE of Competency or a B.Sc. Degree in Nautical Studies.

This rather demonstrates that the title “Captain” must be recognized by the Nautical Profession as an accolade to be earned by a Shipmaster having achieved a standard of excellence and demonstrated a level of expertise in maritime matters which would not normally be available to a lower ranking Officer due to inadequate or insufficient sea service and to lack of control decision making in Command Environment.

The IFSMA membership consists of fully qualified Shipmasters who have held Command of Seagoing Merchant Ships and they are addressed as “Captain”. IFSMA fully appreciates the desire of the ruling bodies to raise the profile of their Professional Institutes and to enhance the status of their Membership, but urges them not to cast their net too wide so that the RANK OF SHIPMASTER and the title of CAPTAIN are unwittingly cheapened. Both terms should be restricted to those who are properly qualified as Master Mariners AND who are holding, or have held Command of a Merchant Vessel.