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What is a Helmsman?

A helmsman stands as the navigator's trusted ally, steering vessels through tranquil waters and tempests alike with a steady hand and keen eye. This pivotal role balances skill and intuition, guiding ships safely to their destinations. Ever wondered how the helmsman's decisions impact the journey? Join us as we explore the art of maritime navigation. What secrets does the helm hold for you?
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

A helmsman is an individual who is responsible for the steering of any type of transportation used in or on the water. A professional helmsman may serve on a submarine, a private vessel such as a yacht or sailboat, or a military vessel such as a ship or aircraft carrier. It is the responsibility of helmsmen to carry out the orders of the captain in terms of plotting courses and making sure the vessel arrives and departs at various ports in a timely manner.

Depending on the circumstances, the helmsmen may be called upon to perform specific tasks in relation to some type of movement of the vessel. In the case of a cruising helmsman, the focus is on keeping the ship on course in open waters. At other times, seamen who function in this capacity may be called upon specifically to guide the ship as it enters a port and prepares to dock, or during the departure process when it is necessary to successfully clear the docking area and advance safely into open waters.

When a flotilla or task force of warships is underway, the helmsman on each vessel is tasked with maintaining their position in the formation.
When a flotilla or task force of warships is underway, the helmsman on each vessel is tasked with maintaining their position in the formation.

In many cases, the process to become a helmsman involves the acquisition of a great deal of experience. An individual who has proven to be an able seaman may begin to assist helmsmen in their duties, effectively receiving on the job training. A coast guard helmsman will receive a combination of training in land-based simulations as well as logging actual time on a ship before being granted full authority to act in this capacity.

A helmsman may serve on board an aircraft carrier.
A helmsman may serve on board an aircraft carrier.

One of the key skills necessary to become a successful helmsman is the ability to communicate quickly and clearly with any officer who is in charge of the bridge of the ship. This means the helmsman must be able to supply information immediately when it is requested, affirm the receipt of an order at once, and execute the order without any delays at all. Strong communication skills can make a huge difference in the overall function of the ship, especially if the vessel is currently involved in wartime activities or is attempting to navigate through bad weather.

Along with well-define communication skills, a helmsman must also have an eye for detail. While modern technology has made it easier to receive and assimilate data related to what is going on in the waters around the ship, the ability to read that data accurately as well as gather data using the eyes remains very important. Helmsmen who are able to notice the little things as well as the larger and more apparent things can often alert the crew to potential threats in time to neutralize the problem and allow the ship to continue on its course.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WikiMotors, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WikiMotors, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

Learn more...

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    • When a flotilla or task force of warships is underway, the helmsman on each vessel is tasked with maintaining their position in the formation.
      By: Pavlo Vakhrushev
      When a flotilla or task force of warships is underway, the helmsman on each vessel is tasked with maintaining their position in the formation.
    • A helmsman may serve on board an aircraft carrier.
      By: Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet
      A helmsman may serve on board an aircraft carrier.