In the Royal Navy in the middle of the 18th century, the term Able Seaman (abbreviated AB) referred to a seaman with at least two years' experience at sea. Seamen with less experience were referred to as landmen or ordinary seamen.
In 1653 the Royal Navy introduced a new pay scale as part of reforms following defeat in the Battle of Dungeness the previous year. Included in these reforms were, for the first time, separate pay scales for more experienced seaman. It distinguished between an ordinary seaman and an able seaman. The higher ranked able seaman could steer, use the lead and work aloft, traditionally to “hand, reef, and steer.” An able seaman received about 25% higher pay than an ordinary seaman.
In time of war (such as the Seven Years' War or the Napoleonic Wars), with many more warships in service, the navy, merchant marine, and privateers competed ferociously for the limited pool of able seamen, leading to the unpopular use of impressment by the Royal Navy to keep its ships manned. In peacetime, with many fewer active warships, there was usually a surplus of unemployed able seamen willing to work in the navy. As late as the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy's practice of stopping American ships to press American sailors, who may have been born British subjects, into involuntary service, was one of the main factors leading to the War of 1812 with the United States.
NAUTICAL BUT NICE; Able Seaman BOB SHIELDS Is on Deck for Duty as Three Boatloads of Norwegian Beauties Head for a Scots Sailing Adventure
Aug 06, 2003; Byline: Bob Shields CAN you lay on a Scottish welcome for a couple of dozen sailors?, they asked me. I had to stifle my yawn....