Barrelman is in reference to a person who would be stationed in the barrel of the foremast or crow's nest of an oceangoing vessel as a navigational aid. In early ships the crow's nest was simply a barrel or a basket lashed to the tallest mast. Later it became a specially designed platform with protective railing.
Without the use of navigation aids such as the astrolabe, compass and modern navigation equipment, early sailors and navigators relied upon the raven or crow to determine where the closest land lay when no land was in clear sight. As a bird was released, a dead reckoning course would be set. As ships grew in size and complexity, that station became to be mounted on the highest mast of the oceangoing vessel, and it came to be known as the crow's nest. The simplest construction to providing a lookout and setting course direction for the ship was to lash a barrel to the mast. A member of the crew experienced in the matters of navigation was charged with manning this perch and became to be colloquially known as a barrelman.
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