Definition of Seamanship according to the Oxford English Dictionary is “The art or skill of handling, working, and navigating a ship”, but in my humble opinion it cannot even fathom the beauty, the challenge, the diversity and ingenuity instilled in this single word. It is a concise definition to explain it to a “Land Lubber” but it is not enough for a Seafarer to describe it.
By this skill alone you can tell if there are going to be accidents onboard or not , as it is a benchmark of keeping things in order, doing things in a sensible way without the need to be monitored constantly by your superior so he can ensure that everything is done right. Imagine a server room, where the cables are entangled and not properly tied by cable ties or other means to ensure a neat installation, as well having clips, and cut pieces from LAN cables lying around without being cleaned. It’s needless to say that from a Occupational Health perspective it’s an invitation for slips, trips and / or even fire.
A Practical Example
It was something that got cultivated by experience, sharing of mishaps and mentoring from one generation to the other. This way accidents were avoided and the vessel’s operation was more efficient.
It is also something mentioned in maritime-related legal documents and Conventions such as Colregs. That is due to the nature of Shipping either ashore or especially onboard where you have limited resources and information, operational and commercial limits and deadlines and the always unpredictable Human Factor which can always surprise you even after you’ve convinced yourself that you’ve seen everything.
A much more appropriate yet elaborate is the definition by Admiral Smyth’s (1) in 1867 for seamanship is: “The noble, practical art of rigging and working a ship, and performing with effect all her various evolutions at sea.” This term can be readily applied in our era by including under “rigging” all the machinery and its necessary adjuncts that are found on the boats and ships many of us sail today.
In conclusion, a definition worthy of the laconic temperament and practical attitude of Seafarers would be that ” Seamanship is knowing when and how to act in the right way”.
Sources: (1) Tom Cunliffe Article :What is the essence of seamanship?