The Norwegian Gulating Law, which was written down in the 12th/13th century, contains several provisions concerning the responsibilities of the styrimaðr and his tasks on board the warship.
On larger warships the styrimaðr was often selected by the King and was responsible for the ship both before, during and after a voyage.
If the ship had not yet been built, the styrimaðr commanded the construction work on behalf of the King. In winter, it was the styrimaðr's job to take care of hauling the ship on land and to ensure the carrying out of all the necessary repairs. If the boat builders exceeded their deadline, or if the sail was not patched and ready for the spring, the styrimaðr could issue fines to those responsible.
When the King summoned to leding (war, i.e. assembly of ships and warriors), the styrimaðr selected his crew. Those who refused to go were issued with a fine. The styrimaðr himself could also risk a fine from the King if he refused to join the ship, or if he did not fulfil the requirements for its fitting out.
During a voyage
During a voyage the styrimaðr had to enforce observance of the ship’s rules, as written in Law.
He was to make sure that the men were at their posts, attended their duty and did not leave the ship without permission. He had to ensure that the ship did not sail longer than the supplies on board allowed and he was responsible for any passengers on board.
The styrimaðr had knowledge of navigation – he was able to determine the ship's distance, course and speed, and sail according to the signs provided by nature. If the styrimaðr lacked information for a voyage, or if he had to navigate in foreign waters, he hired a pilot with local knowledge who navigated and showed him the way in return for payment.
The styrimaðr had access to a kind of navigation council: the mót, which he could consult on sailing matters, such as large changes in course or in case of disciplinary punishment of the crew.
Fact: According to several written sources, the styrimaðr often had his seat by the mast so that he could make himself heard by the whole crew. Today, on the Sea Stallion, the coxswain is often found aft (at the stern) in the ship. He has, however, a middleman by the mast to relay his commands.
By: Louise Kæmpe Henriksen