A coal trimmer or trimmer is a position within the engineering department of a coal-fired ship which involves all coal handling tasks, starting with the loading of coal into the ship and ending with the delivery of the coal to the stoker or fireman.
The trimmers worked inside the coal bunkers located on top of and between the boilers. Trimmers used shovels and wheelbarrows to move coal around the bunkers in order to keep the coal level, and to shovel the coal down the coal chute to the firemen below, who shoveled it into the furnaces. If too much coal built up on one side of a coal bunker, the ship would actually list to that side.
Trimmers were also involved in extinguishing fires in the coal bunkers. Fires occurred frequently due to spontaneous combustion of the coal. The fires had to be extinguished with fire hoses and by removing the burning coal by feeding it into the furnace.
Of the engineering crew, the trimmers were paid the least. The working conditions of a trimmer were poor, primarily as a result of their environment: the inside of a coal bunker was poorly lighted, full of coal dust, and extremely hot due to residual heat emanating from the boilers.
Notable coal trimmers
- There were 73 trimmers aboard the coal-fed ocean liner RMS Titanic. During the sinking of the ship, these men disregarded their own safety and stayed below deck to help keep the steam-driven electric generators running for the water pumps and lighting. Only 20 trimmers were among those who survived.
- Torsten Billman, a Swedish graphic artist, drawer, and mural painter – himself a coal trimmer and stoker on various merchant ships from 1926 to 1932 – has portrayed the hard work in coal bunkers and stokeholes.