Similarities between aviation and seafaring

Why terms familiar from seafaring are used in aviation, such as the titles captain, first officer, steward and fleet, for example. In English, we also have the term airPORT.

In the early days of aviation, it was quite natural to adopt terminology that had already been long been used in seafaring, especially since the key nations in the development of aviation, the USA, the UK and France were also significant naval powers. The first terms to be introduced were names for parts of the airCRAFT, such as rudder and stabilisers, which were attached to the hull, and also the engine propeller.

It may be that the term cockpit is also derived from seafaring, because the person who looked after the helm in the British fleet was called a coxswain. In English the cockpit is also often known as the flight deck. Once upon a time in large flying boats, the pilot (in seafaring, a person with local knowledge of difficult waters) sat above the cabin on a separate deck with the co-pilot.

Furthermore, the operation of an aircraft is similar to that of a ship: in navigation the same methods, terms and units are used. For example, the renowned Charles Lindbergh used on his flights the charts of the US fleet. When large flying boats once travelled in the same waters as ships, it was natural that the best practices used in seafaring, such as give-way rules and navigation lights, were also introduced into the first aviation rules (read more about this at:

It was also natural that air transport began to use parts of the infrastructure that had already been constructed for ships, such a telecommunications, weather services, navigation devices, and customs and immigration checks at ports. In legislation and insurance matters it’s still customary to speak of air vessels. In many countries, the authorities for maritime and aviation affairs are still linked to each other.

Legally it was also important to specify for the chief of an aircraft (Pilot in Command or Commander) similar legal rights to maintain order on the aircraft, such as a captain has on a ship. This remains one of the absolute prerequisites for safe air transport. The responsibility is still great, but so are the rights.

The first flight of Finnair’s predecessor Aero Oy took off almost exactly 86 years ago from the then Katajanokka harbour terminal in Helsinki, where Aero had built a ramp for a Ju-13 aircraft fitted with floats. Nowadays the term ramp refers to the apron area of an airport. Operations with flying boats continued until the opening of the Malmi airfield in 1936.

Even though air transport is modernising fast, many old terms still have life in them. For example, the English term yoke has an amusing historical background, which I’ll leave to the readers to track down for themselves on the internet.

Welcome aboard!