[boh-suh n; spelling pronunciation boht-sweyn]


a warrant officer on a warship, or a petty officer on a merchant vessel, in charge of rigging, anchors, cables, etc.

Also bo's'n, bosun.

Origin of boatswain

First recorded in 1400–50, boatswain is from the late Middle English word bote-swayn. See boat, swain Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for boatswain

Historical Examples of boatswain

  • "He's hurt in the arm, sir, and he's gone below," said the boatswain.

  • There was a regular hard horse of a boatswain's-mate with us, of the name of McNally.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • He then ordered the boatswain to call all hands aft, to the break of the quarter-deck.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • I dare not do it, Boatswain; it's more than my life is worth.

  • You seem to be converted to that belief, for you have a brace of them, as the Boatswain says.

British Dictionary definitions for boatswain


bosun or bo's'n


a petty officer on a merchant ship or a warrant officer on a warship who is responsible for the maintenance of the ship and its equipment

Word Origin for boatswain

Old English bātswegen; see boat, swain
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for boatswain

mid-15c., from late Old English batswegen, from bat "boat" (see boat (n.)) + Old Norse sveinn "boy" (see swain). Phonetic spelling bo'sun is attested from 1840.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper