What Do You Call a Boat Driver? [Explained]

When it comes to driving a boat there are a couple of different options for the person in charge. If the person who is driving the boat is also the owner of the boat they are usually called ‘Captain.’ If they are only part of a larger crew that takes care of the boat then the driver is the ‘helmsman.’ In this case, the Captain would be someone who watches over the driving of the boat.

But there’s a great deal morshie to understand about boats and who is steering them. And just what you should call it when someone steers them. So, let’s take a look at a few of the most common questions about driving boats, riding on boats and anything else that we can think of so you know just what to say the next time you head out to sea.

What Does Driving a Boat Mean?

When someone refers to ‘driving a boat’ they usually mean that someone is actually moving the boat. When you drive a car you go from one place to another. When someone drives a boat it means the same thing but on the water.

Driving a boat, or whatever other terms you use for it, can mean taking it a far distance or a short distance. It also refers to any type of boat, so it could be a gondola, a sailboat, a motorboat, a cruise ship, or any other. If you are the one steering the boat then you would be considered the ‘driver’ or more accurately the helmsman.

We consider someone to be driving a boat the same way we consider someone to be driving a car. If they’re the one holding the wheel then they are the driver. Keep in mind it’s not necessarily proper to refer to ‘driving a boat’ even though this term might be used quite frequently.

What is the Correct Term for Driving a Boat?

There are several different terms that can be used in place of driving a boat. While most will use the term ‘piloting’ this is only one of the potential ways to describe the act. Other terms will typically depend on the type of boat.

Conning the boat a term that can be used for many different purposes, though it’s one that’s not as well known. Piloting or steering the boat are also common phrases. For sailboats you may say that you are sailing or that you are rowing for a rowboat. In general, there are specific terms or phrases that are used depending on the type of craft that you are in charge of.

Though some use the term ‘driving’ when referring to being in charge of the direction of the boat, this is not as common of a phrase among those in the industry. Some also use the term ‘sailing’ to refer to someone who is steering any type of boat though that’s not technically the right way to express this. It likely comes from cruise ships inviting people to ‘sail with us.’

Do You Drive a Boat or Ride Boat?

Typically people will refer to driving a boat if they are the one steering it. If you are a passenger on a boat (or a part of the crew that is not responsible for steering) you could say that you ‘rode on a boat’ though this is not as common of a phrase.

Many will refer to driving a boat if they are the one steering though the more common or traditionally accepted phrases are ‘steering,’ ‘piloting,’ or ‘sailing’ depending on the type of boat that you are in charge of. Steering or piloting is generally correct for any type of boat while sailing is only accurate for a sailboat, even though it’s used much more frequently.

If you are a passenger or other member of the crew it’s common to say that you ‘sailed on’ the specific boat though this is technically only correct if you are on a sailboat. Even still, many cruise lines use the phrase ‘sail away’ to refer to riding on one of their boats. This is likely where the misconception started. You could also refer to ‘going boating’ though this is usually used for smaller vessels.

What Do You Call a Boat Driver?

The name that you use for a driver on a boat will depend slightly on the type of boat that you’re on. It also depends on who owns the boat. In most cases, however, the person driving the boat is called the helmsman. If the person who is actually driving the boat is also the person who owns it then they’re usually referred to as the Captain.

On the other hand, on larger boats the person driving or piloting the boat is usually not the owner. In that case they would be the helmsman. The Captain of the boat would be someone who is overseeing the operations of the helmsman.

For female boat drivers you could still use the term ‘helmsman’ or ‘helm’ or they may be the Captain or Captainess depending on how they prefer to be referred to. Any of these other terms are able to be used for both male and female ‘drivers’ for the boat.


When it comes to driving a boat there many different ways to talk about the process. For someone who is new to the profession or someone who enjoys sailing on a boat but wants to know more about it, this should be helpful. While most ‘drivers’ will be called the helmsman, it’s possible that they’re actually the Captain. The best way to know what to call them is to ask. That way you’ll know what title they prefer as well.

You can also ask them what to call the process of driving the boat. Depending on what type of boat and whether it’s a cruise ship, a sailboat, a Naval ship or a commercial ship of some type, they will have their own way to refer to it.

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