The cook is defined by his dress and the way that his sleeves are said to be "rolled over his fat forearms" and his vest unbuttoned. He is also distinguished by his habit of saying "Gawd! that was a narrow clip." He remains at the bottom of the boat whenever possible.
The oiler, in contrast, is one of the charactes who steers the boat with one of the oars and who sometimes lifts himself up to avoid the water that comes into the boat.
The correspondent is the man who is in charge of the other oar and has the habit of merely "watching the waves" and wondering why on earth he is in this situation.
The character we are given most information about is the captain, who is injured. He is lying in the bow and is profoundly depressed about the situation he is in. As a result his voice was "deep with mourning, and of a quality beyond oration or tears."
This is the information that we are given about the four separate characters in paragraphs 3-6 of the opening of this survival story. It is important as far as possible to keep track of the different characters and how they change and develop or stay the same during the rest of their experience leading up to their arrival at land.