What Do You Call The Person Driving The Boat?  | LakeWizard

Key Takeaways

  • Proper names for a person driving a boat are called captain, pilot, helmsman
  • Helmsman steer the boat, which is why that name is the most correct
  • Driving a boat is not accurate, whereas piloting, steering, or operate are widely accepted

In the sailing boat world, you have likely heard of various answers for people that are driving boats. But what is a boat driver called?

The individual navigating the vessel is often referred to plainly as the boat operator or boat driver. On a boat in the marine industry, they may also earn the title of captain, skipper, pilot, or even helmsman. Helmsman is the correct term for a person steering a vessel and they do not own it.

So what do you call the person driving the boat? Depending on the size of the crew and boat, the names will vary. As you will see, the correct term might also differ from one boat owner to the next.

Table of contents


What is the Appropriate Term for the Person Piloting a Sailing Vessel?

When it comes to navigating a watercraft, there are a number of terminology alternatives to "driving." While the term "piloting" is frequently employed, it is not the sole option. The exact phrasing utilized can vary based on the specific boat in question.

  • Navigating, guiding, or directing the vessel are all phrases for moving a boat.
  • For sailboats, the action of guiding the vessel is referred to as sailing, like a rowing boat is known as rowing.
  • The terminology utilized for managing a boat depends on the specific type of vessel one is operating.

With this in mind, some individuals may refer to controlling the direction of the boat as "driving," but this terminology is not as prevalent within commercial boating operations. In most common marine operations, the person is called captain, helmsman, or pilot is used for someone piloting.

The term "helm" refers to the wheel that guides the direction of a ship. As a result, the individual who operates this wheel and steers the ship is referred to as the "helmsman". For slang or fishing charters, you might hear skipper, “helm” for short, or even something simple as driver.

What is a Boat Owner Called When They Steer a Boat?

As a boat owner if you are the person steering, you are likely going to be called the captain. If you are not the boat owner, and have a lot of experience steering, you might be called a skilled helmsman.

If you have guests on board often or take people out to sea, likely as a small company or side job, you are called a skipper. As you can see, the word name gets interchanged based on location and job you conduct. While these are all related, they all slightly differ and seem informal due to slang.

Why is it Called Driving a Boat?

When discussing "driving a boat", it generally implies that an individual is in control of the vessel's movement. It is similar to driving a car, where one navigates from one location to another, except this activity occurs on the water instead of on shore.

Navigating a watercraft, regardless of what terminology you prefer, can encompass voyages of long or brief distances. This terminology typically groups all types of vessels, ranging from gondolas and sailboats to motorboats, cruise ships, and beyond. If you are in control of steering the boat, then you would be deemed the "driver" or more accurately, the helmsman.

Think of operating a boat as similar to operating a vehicle on the road. If a helmsman is in charge of steering at sea, similar to a person in the driver seat of a car, then they will be known as the driver (even though helmsman is more correct). However, it is important to note that the term "driving a boat" is not technically accurate, despite its widespread usage.

Instead of Driving, are you Riding a Boat?

In most cases, one would use the phrase "driving a boat" if they were in charge of the vessel's directional movement. However, if one is merely a passenger, like a member of the crew, and are not responsible for maneuvering the boat, they can only say they "rode a boat," though that is not as a widely used term.

Driving a boat is the same terminology as steering, but it's more commonly expressed as piloting, depending on the vessel being navigated. While steering or piloting is suitable for any boat, sailing is only appropriate for sailboats, despite being a widely used terminology.

It is a widespread notion among passengers and crew members to refer to their voyage as "sailing on" the specific vessel, particularly if it is a sailboat. Nevertheless, various cruise ships often employ the term "sail away" to describe traveling on their boats, potentially perpetuating the misunderstanding.

What Should You Call Your Boat Driver?

Depending on the situation, you will just likely call the boat operator by their name or captain. In some cases, a skipper could work if you know them personally. Calling them by a different name, unless it is negative, should not be hurting anyone’s feelings.

It really comes down to the type of sailboat, cruise ship, or whatever you sail on and what the operator wants to be called. The easiest thing to do is to simply ask them what they preferred to be called in the event of an emergency.

Is it Difficult to Become a Helmsman?

You can embark on an adventure by availing a boat rental from one of the many rental companies found in major harbors worldwide. Not only will you have the chance to pilot boats for a day or two, but pursuing a career as a helmsman can also be a profitable opportunity. To be a successful helmsman, it is crucial to have the proper education.

Enrolling in School

To become a helmsman, you would need to enroll in a maritime school, typically located near the Great Lakes or coasts. Gaining hands-on experience by working part-time in a shipyard before enrolling in a maritime school can increase your chances of admission. In case you did not finish high school, obtaining a GED certificate or a related diploma can help increase the chances of admission.

Attaining a four-year graduate degree from a maritime institution can be a valuable experience, as well as a good job and money, with the added benefit of having the Coast Guard oversee the curriculum. The range of subjects covered in these graduate programs may encompass everything from shipbuilding to maritime legislation and engineering.

Obtaining Certification

In order to work in a maritime position like this, you need to obtain a transportation worker identification credential and a merchant mariner credential. There are certification exams that will assess your knowledge of ship protocols and procedures, as well as other evaluations like drug screenings, vision tests, and physical exams.

Marine schools can prepare you for the exams, which typically cost around $50 to $100. These certifications are required when applying for maritime jobs and will aid in securing the position. To become a helmsman or captain and steer a boat, completing the necessary education and obtaining the required licenses is crucial.