Wondering about the definition of a captain? Keep reading to learn the meaning of the pilot-in-command, see some examples, and get a better understanding of this travel glossary term!
What is a Captain (in Aviation)?
In commercial aviation, the captain of a plane is also known as the pilot in command (PIC). The plane captain is the pilot responsible ultimately for everything that takes place on the flight.
According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the multinational flight agency under the United Nations, this is the pilot responsible for the operation and safety of the aircraft during flight time. The ICAO also states that the PIC has “final authority as to the disposition of the aircraft while in command.”
In most cases, the captain sits in the left seat of the cockpit, with their second in command on their right. One exception might be when the pilot in command is training a pilot; in this case, they’ll sit on the right but still be the PIC.
In general parlance, one might call the captain of the plane the “pilot,” with the second in command as the “co-pilot.” However, they’re all pilots, really.
The captain will have 4 stripes on their shoulder epaulettes and sleeves, as well as a qualification badge which is a pair of wings and a star enclosed in a laurel wreath.
Captains on Ships (Sea)
On a ship, in a similar fashion, the captain is the senior person usually, and they are lawfully in command of its operation. The ship’s captain may be known as a sea captain or shipmaster.
On the ship, the captain is ultimately responsible for the safety of the vessel, cargo, crewmembers, and passengers, as well as adhering to international laws and maritime rules. Like onboard a flight, everyone aboard a ship is under the authority of the ship’s captain while underway.
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