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A boy seaman (plural boy seamen) is a boy (male minor) who serves as seaman and/or is trained for such service.
In the British naval forces, where there was a need to recruit enough hands to man the vast fleet of the British Empire, extensive regulations existed concerning the selection and status of boys enlisted to keep filling the ranks.
Various specific terms were introduced for different, age- and exam-related stages in a boy's potential career:
- Apprentice - boy aged 16 to 18 trained in technical skills at the dockyard schools to become an artificer
- Boy, as rated (after World War II known as a 'junior') - aged between 15½ and 18. On a boy's 18th birthday he automatically became rated as an ordinary seaman and was subject to the Naval Discipline Act as applicable to adult seamen.
- Boy 1st class - a boy aged 16 to 18 under training, who had previously served for between 9 months and 18 months rated as "boy 2nd class", shown sufficient proficiency in seamanship and accumulated at least one good conduct badge (the requirements varied between training ships). His rate of pay was increased on being promoted.
- Boy 2nd class - a boy aged 15 to 17 rated as such on entry to a training ship of the Royal Navy. Such entry was conditional on a boy's adequate physical height, weight and medical fitness and evidence of being of 'good character'. The boy's parents or guardians would sign a declaration that the boy would serve in the navy for a minimum period (usually 12 years).
- Boy 3rd class - a boy aged 14 to 18 who served either as a domestic (waiter, steward) aboard the port flagships or as a junior clerk or storekeeper in the ports. He would be eligible for entry to a training ship as a boy 2nd class from age 15 if he met the physical requirements. The majority of such boys were enlisted from homes in the ports and were not wholly resident on ships or in the dockyards.
- Powder-boy was a role for younger boys to service artillery.
- Cadet - boys aged 13 to 15 enlisted to become officers and trained on a training ship reserved for such schooling; the last was HMS Britannia moored at Dartmouth.
- Midshipman - a boy aged 16 to 18 serving aboard a seagoing ship, having passed out of the cadet ship and undergoing further training before being promoted to the fully commissioned officer rank of sub-lieutenant.