Historic Ship Rank Question

Hey folks, I come to you, hat in hand, with a potentially silly question.

I’m going to be making an experimental LEGO stop motion short. It’s probably going to suck, but right now the work behind it is keeping me from crushing despair, and that’s worth it for now. And at the very least I will learn some stuff, so that’s a win.

My current plan is for an “Age of Sail” sorta pirate-y kinda thing. I’m going to write a mostly tongue-in-cheek deal (I mean… it’s LEGO… we’re not talking Shakespeare here), but with some actual effort put into the story.

My protagonist (Captain Tiffany Etienne) and her brother (Commander Charles Etienne) have a navigator on their ship, the third of the standard Royal Navy ranks (as freed Haitians, they decided to use British naval ranks and standards as another middle finger to the French).

THE QUESTION: The historic rank of navigator is “Master,” which I’m thinking I’d like to replace with something that freed slaves might find less objectionable. But I have no idea what that rank might be.

THE ISSUE: This is fiction, so it doesn’t really matter, but I would kinda like it to make sense, and it’s not something I can use Wikipedia for. And this is not meant to be “historically accurate,” but at the same time just kinda a nod to “Yeah, that term is probably heavy for a freed slave.” But it’s not going to be “a thing” or a critical plot point or whatever.

Should I bother? I can just call her Master (the crew is half female because fiction, why not) and call it a day, but if anyone knows a clever term I could use instead, I would appreciate!



Skip for skipper, perhaps? And if not, I think the “Master” term could be very tongue in cheek, or even a nice turn of the tiles “I was a slave and now look at me, I’m your Master” sort of thing.

And you could always use a French term for that particular position? Or turn Master into Maestro (which in Spanish means Teacher) as of the Caribbean backdrop had plenty od Spanish and Creole…


Well, “Master” is short for “Sailing Master.” In the early modern Royal Navy, there were two sorts of officers, ones who looked after and operated the ship, and ones who were in charge of fighting, and didn’t necessarily have much nautical training. The ones who did the fighting held the king’s commission, and had the ranks of Lieutenant, Lieutenant-in-Command, Captain, and so on; the ship-officers were the sailing master, bosun, gunner, purser, carpenter, and so on.

Samuel Peeps’ reforms in the late 17th century required the commissioned officers to pass examinations in seamanship, navigation and so on, and their competence gradually extended to all of the ship’s functions. This process was not complete by the time of the Haitian Revolution, and sailing masters still existed, because having someone who wasn’t a commissioned officer but was a skilled navigator was useful.

The grade below sailing master in that hierarchy was “Master’s Mate”, and I’m fairly sure that the historical posts of First Mate, Second Mate, and so on in civilian shipping evolved from that, while the sailing master became the ship’s master, or civilian captain.

So in a created-from-scratch naval officer structure that would like to avoid “Master”, calling the post “Chief Mate” or something like that would make some sense. It isn’t historical, because the Royal Navy did not have an alternative name for the post.


Zeroth Mate.


Lieutenant Commander or Vice Commander?

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In pirate ships I thought it was the quartermaster who had all the power?

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It’s complicated, but yes, out of combat the quartermaster is in charge.


I like “maestro,” and “mate” definitely works.

Quartermaster sorta sidesteps the problem by burying the word a little. An improvement, but maybe some variation on that?

It is going to be a “pirate” ship in a vague sense (not a privateer or navy ship). So I can be pretty loose with the terms. But, again, fiction, so I just need a veneer of accuracy without having to be accurate.

Thank you everyone for your feedback thus far!

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You are thinking of the Buck-and-a-Quartermaster.


If you want the Spanish version of Quartermaster, it’s Contramaestre. And in French I believe they are the Maitre or Maneouverier

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I was told there would be no inflation talk on this BBS.


A lot of this is commercial/navy frameworks. If you like, I can ask some of my friends who have studied archives if pirates used anything like a muster book with actual positions. (My research is naval stuff, but age of sail.i can tell more than you ever want to know about RN professionalization c. 1660-1749)


I mean, I would absolutely appreciate it. It’s mostly background for a handful of short stories I have planned, but it never hurts to have a better understanding of how things actually were (even if I then choose to divert from historic frameworks).

But please don’t inconvenience yourself or them on my behalf. But it would be great. And hey, if you do ask and they have something useful or interesting to say, ask if they want their name in the credits/acknowledgements!

The fictional setting I am using is Age of Sail, but probably closer to the mid-to-late 1700s rather than the Restoration era of 1660-1750. Although the Haitian revolution was closer to early 1800, but I’m taking some liberties with the timeframe.

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Did you ever make this @Marx ?

Also the Age of Sail usually counts as continuing well into the 19th century so you’d be fine to cover the Haitian revolution dates anyway.

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I haven’t yet. It’s still on the “to do” list (along with “Finish Novel 8,” which is the priority).

I do very much intend to do this. Maybe a castle one as well, since I now have 2 beautiful castles and an enormous blacksmith shop… but the Age of Sail one appeals a bit more.

I have named the characters, and I have some rough outlines of ideas, but yeah. Nothing yet. Reading Week is coming up in a few weeks, maybe then?