Over the course of the 19th century, captains and officers earned larger lays while other crew members saw their lays shrink. Captains received the largest share, typically a lay from 1/16th to 1/8. Mates earned from 1/30th to 1/20th. Skilled and experienced hands got shares of 1/100th to 1/50th. Unskilled seamen and cabin boys earned from 1/200th to 1/100th.
Whatever a crew member earned, he first had to repay the debts he’d accumulated since signing on for the voyage. Seamen typically owed money to outfitters and infitters who supplied seamen with belongings at the beginning of the trip and upon their immediate return to shore. They were also required to repay owners for any advance they had been paid upon signing on for the voyage, interest that accrued on the advance, and a fee for loading and unloading the ship. They had to pay for medical supplies and items chargedmedical supplies and items charged to the ship’s slop chest, a kind of general store at sea. One sailor wound up owing $5 when he returned from a voyage because he had smoked so much tobacco while on board.