Marine Skills & General Information
There are two key skills for travel on board ships: Profession(Sailor) and Knowledge(geography). Profession (sailor) covers all aspects of shiphandling - maneuvering close to the wind, steering through a storm, passing through hazardous waters such as crossing a river bar or threading one's way through ice floes. Knowledge (geography) covers the rare art of piloting and navigation - knowing where you are, where you're going, and how to get there from here.
A third skill which is almost as important is Knowledge (nature). Most skilled mariners of students of the weather and natural patterns of the ocean. Recognizing a dangerous squall line or determining the proximity of land from the types of fish and seabirds in the area are useful applications of this skill.
Depending on a ship's size and its purpose or mission, a variety of of individuals can serve as members of a ship's crew. The functions of various members are discussed below.
Artillerist: If a ship carries any large weapons for use against other ships or shore targets, the crew includes one or more artillerists. An artillerist is usually an expert with at least 2 to 4 ranks in Profession (siege engineer). Usually only one or two members of a weapon crew are artllerists; the rest are deckhands who simply assist by winching or handling heavy projectiles.
Depending on the ship's armament, an artillerist might be called a bombardier, cannoneer, or gunner's mate.
Boatswain: A boatswain is an experienced sailor who supervises the deckhands in performing their duties. He is also skilled in deck rigging and handling cargo - setting up cargo booms, rigging hoists to raise heavy loads over the side, lashing ships together, and other such tasks. A boatswain is usually a commoner or expert with at least 4 to 6 ranks in Profession (sailor) as well as several ranks in Climb or Use Rope. However, some barbarians from seafaring societies make excellent boatswains. Large ships often have a chief boatswain and a number of junior boatswains who answer to him.
Boatswain is often abbreviated (and pronounced) bos'n or bosun.
Captain: A ship's captain is usually an experienced sailor, navigator, and commander. There is a good deal of overlap between captain and master; generally, a master is someone who owns the ship she commands, while a captain is someone who does not. A ship might sail with both a captain and a master, in which case the master generally permits the captain to exercise command and only intercedes if she feels her vessel is at risk.
A captain is usually an expert (or multiclass expert), bard, fighter, paladin, or rogue with at least 7 to 10 ranks in Profession (sailor), 4 to 7 ranks in Knowledge (geography), 2 to 4 ranks in Knowledge (nature) or Survival, and 2 to 4 ranks in an interaction skill such as Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate.
Deckhand: Most of the sailors on a large ship are deckhands - that is, able-bodied seamen who handle the ship's sails, lines, small boats, and deck maintenance as directed by their boatswains or officers. Deckhands generally are commoners, experts, or even warriors with 1 to 3 ranks in Profession (sailor) and 1 to 2 ranks in Climb and Use Rope.
Helmsman: Ships usually don't carry dedicated steersmen. Instead, deckhands who are on watch handle the helm as directed by the conning officer (whichever officer is currently in charge of keeping the ship on its course). Skill checks for the handling of the ship are generally made by the person commanding the helmsman, not the helmsman himself - although if the conning officer takes the helm himself, or if the helmsman ignores the orders of the conning officer, the person with his hands on the ship's wheel makes any skill checks associated with shiphandling.
Mage: Any vessel with a crew of more than a dozen or so is likely to carry a ship's mage - an arcane spellcaster who can help defend the ship from various natural or unnatural hazards, ranging from pirate attack to doldrums. Useful magic for making quick repairs or speeding a ship's voyage with a favorable wind is highly sought after, even in peaceful areas. A ship's mage is usually a sorcerer or wizard of 3rd to 6th level; warships with large crews could carry as many as half a dozen mages and apprentices.
Master: The term master can overlap with the term captain in some degree. In general, a master owns her vessel, while a captain doesn't but typically exercises complete authority over all matters of sailing, navigation, discipline, and administration of the crew.
A master is usually an expert (or multiclass expert) or rogue with at least 7 to 10 ranks in Profession (sailor), 4 to 7 ranks in Knowledge (geography), 2 to 4 ranks in Knowledge (nature) or Survival, 2 to 4 ranks in an interaction skill such as Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate, and 2 to 4 ranks in Profession (merchant).
Master-at-Arms: The ship's master-at-arms is the petty officer charged with keeping order among the crew and supervising the ship's armory. If a ship carries soldiers, then officers and sergeants among the soldiers fulfill these functions. A master-at-arms is usually a warrior, barbarian, or fighter with a rank or two in skills useful to his job, such as Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, or Sense Motive.
Officer: Officers supervise the crew, navigate, and function as an extension of the captain. Small merchant ships might have no officers at all - only a master, a pilot, and a chief bosun. Larger merchant ships and most warships have officers who stand watch in the captain's stead, making sure that the ship keeps its course and avoids various hazards. The first officer is the ship's second-in-command; large ships might have a second or even a third officer, and very large ships might have even more than that.
An officer is usually an expert (or multiclass expert) with at least 4 to 7 ranks in Profession (sailor), 2 to 5 ranks in Knowledge (geography), 1 to 3 ranks in Knowledge (nature) or Survival, and 1 to 3 ranks in an interaction skill such as Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate. A cleric or a ranger can also serve as an officer.
Pilot: The pilot is the ship's officer in charge of navigation. On smaller vessels, the ship's captain or master serves as its pilot, but on larger ships the pilot is one of the officers who performs her duties under the captain's supervision. A pilot is usually an expert or wizard with 4 to 7 ranks in Profession (sailor) and 4 to 7 ranks in Knowledge (geography).
It's quite common for knowledge of navigation to be a secret deliberately held only by a ship's captain and officers. (Without the ability to find their way home across the seas, crews are much less likely to mount a successful mutiny.)
Prelate: The ship's prelate (or ship's chaplain, or priest) is a divine spellcaster who advises the captain, lends his healing skills to the crew, and uses divine magic to protect the ship from hazards and assist in battle. Prelates are normally carried only on ships of moderate or greater size; small ships might have a speaker or acolyte who represents the most prevalent faith on board, but that person might or might not actually have a level in a divine spellcasting class. Warships often carry more prelates because of their usefulness in battle. A typical prelate is a cleric of 2nd to 5th level.
Surgeon: The officer who treats injuries and wounds. Small ships rarely carry a surgeon, but even a small crew has at least one or two members who have a couple of ranks in the Heal skill. A ship's surgeon is usually an expert with 4 to 7 ranks in Heal, but it's not uncommon for clerics, favored souls, healers, or even druids to fill this billet.
Windsinger: In some seafaring societies, a ship's crew is not complete without a windsinger - a character whose spells can soothe or command the winds. A windsinger is usually a bard or a druid, but sorcerers and wizards can fill this job as well, provided they know the right spells. The windsinger's duties are generally not as militant or officious as a ship's mage or ship's prelate; few ships carry all three. Windsingers help ships avoid battles, not win them, and they often serve as spokesmen for the crew.. A windsinger is usually a bard or druid of 3 rd to 6th level with several ranks in Profession (sailor) and Knowledge (nature).
Nautical Miles And Knots
A nautical mile is 2,000 yards, or 6,000 feet - a little longer than statute mile of 5,280 feet. A nautical mile equals 1 minute of 1 degree of latitude - so 1 degree of latitude is equal to 60 nautical miles. However, this measurement naturally refers to dimensions of the Earth; a fantasy world might have very different proportions (for that matter, it might not even be round!) For a D&D game, it's easier if a mile is a mile.
A knot is a measurement of speed equal to one nautical mile per hour. You don't need to say "per hour" after the word "knot," since the time measurement is part of the term. A ship might be making 6 knots, but it isn't going 6 knots per hour. The term "knot" refers back to the days when navigators measured a ship's speed by using a length of knotted line in the water to gauge how fast the ship was traveling.