Gig (boat)

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U.S. Navy sailors from USS Essex (LHD-2) raise their captain's gig out of the sea (2002)

The gig /ˈɡɪɡ/ (commonly captain's gig) is a boat used on naval ships as the captain's taxi. It is a catch-all phrase for this type of craft and over the years it has gradually increased in size, changed with the advent of new technologies for locomotion, and been crafted from increasingly more durable materials.


Wooden gigs[edit]

A painting of HMS Pique's gig, depicting events in 1835.

In general, during the era of wooden ships, it was narrower and lighter than the longboat, barge or pinnace. It was usually crewed by four oarsmen and a coxswain. Generally the oarsmen sat one to a seat, but each only rowed a single oar on alternating sides. The gig was not as sea kindly as the longboat, but was used mostly in harbors.

The gigs generally had a high wineglass transom, full skeg, full keel, straight stem and somewhat rounded sides. There was in general very little rocker in the keel. The gunwales on many were nearly straight from bow to stern. It appears[to whom?] to be the precursor to the Whitehall Rowboat. Some wooden captain's gigs were quite large and were powered by sail.

Modern gigs[edit]

A U.S. Navy sailor hauls a motor whaleboat and the captain's gig in the hangar deck of USS Enterprise (CVN-65) in April 2004

With the coming of metal ships and combustion engines the size of the captain's gig increased and the boats could transport more sailors swiftly. Some modern built craft with sails have been named captain's gig as well.

In the U.S. Navy, the Captain's Gig varied by the size of the ship, with aircraft carriers and, until the mid-1990s when they were decommissioned, battleships, typically assigned a double cabin cruiser that was 33 to 35 feet in length. These boats were typically painted with a white superstructure and gray hull with a red waterline stripe and black hull below the waterline. They would also frequently have the parent ship's hull identifier and hull number marked on the port and starboard bows with chromed metal letters & digits with two half of an arrow in front and back of the hull identifier. The front half of an arrow, with the arrowhead pointed toward the bow was forward of and the back half of the arrow was aft of the hull identifiers. The name of the parent vessel was emblazoned on the transom with chrome letters. Because these capital ships also held a dual function as flagships for an embarked admiral, an identical vessel, albeit painted with a black hull and green waterline stripe functioned as an Admiral's Barge. Chromed metal star(s) adorned the port & starboard bow, the number of stars corresponding to the flag officer's rank. The flag officer's standardized abbreviated command name was mounted in chromed metal letters directly on transom or on wood board mounted on the transom. In early 2008, in an economy move, Captain's Gigs were eliminated from all U.S. Navy ships.[1]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In science fiction, the term is often used to refer to a small auxiliary spacecraft. In Star Trek, the craft is referred to as a "captain's yacht".
  • In the song "The Flowers of Bermuda" by Stan Rogers, using the captain's gig saves the crew from drowning in a ship wreck that destroys the life boats, though the captain elects to stay behind when there is one more crew than place to man on the gig and perishes.

See also[edit]

  • Cornish pilot gig, a larger boat (crewed by 6 plus a cox) which used to be used to transport pilots out to ships.