A mate may refer to a petty officer assisting a specialised officer or tradesman on board a ship. Being a mate was usually a prerequisite for reaching that position one day.
Position within the hierarchy
In the early 19th century, mates were usually petty officers, although the role of some changed considerably over the years.
Tradesmen’s mates (such as carpenter’s mates, sailmaker’s mates etc.) might be skilled tradesmen or apprentices rather than seamen, although a seaman who showed aptitude at these tasks might also be appointed.
Mates of officers specific to sailing ships (such as bosun’s mates, quartermaster’s mates etc.) were usually appointed from the crew. Being appointed an officer’s mate was the first step towards becoming a warrant officer, usually the highest ranks sailors could reach.
An exception to this are master’s mates, a rank often given to senior midshipmen, expected to soon stand the examination for lieutenant or even having passed it and waiting for their new appointment. Master’s mates could also be very experienced seamen hoping to be made Master one day, which was the highest rank open to ordinary seamen.
Confusion can arise with the name of a higher rank, see Mate (Commissioned Officer).
Aboard the Obra Dinn
During her last voyage there were four mates aboard the Obra Dinn:
- Charles Miner, Bosun’s mate
- James Wallace, Surgeon’s mate
- Marcus Gibbs, Carpenter’s mate
- Olus Wiater, Gunner’s mate
They are all mostly seen in the company of the officer they are assigned to. It is notable that, although a Carpenter is an important position on a wooden ship, no sailors were ranked Carpenter’s crew, a position below the Carpenter’s mate, basically an ordinary seaman with extra duties and knowledge.