Sailor Speak of the Week – Quartermaster

The rating insignia for a U.S. Navy quartermaster is a ship’s wheel.



  • A rating in the sea services for a petty officer that attends to navigational duties such as steering the vessel, signaling, and attending to the binnacle.


Probably earlier than the 17th century.


This is not to be confused with Quartermasters in the land forces which are in charge of supplies and logistics. Quartermasters in the sea service are the people that actually “drive” the ship. They operate the ship’s helm, lee helm, and work with charts and signaling devices. They’re responsible for various other duties related to navigation and work under the supervision of a navigation officer.

The Quartermaster rating still exists in the U.S. Navy and has the duties of the Signalman rating folded into it. The U.S. Coast Guard got rid of the Quartermaster rating in 2003 and folded those duties into the Boatswains Mate rating.


King, D., Hattendorf, J.B, & Estes, J.W. (1997). A Sea of Words: A Lexicon and Companion for Patrick O’Brian’s Seafaring Tales (2nd Ed.). Owl Books.

Rogers, J.G. (1985). Origins of Sea Terms. Mystic Seaport.

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