- Operations - Captains' Debate: Building relationships on board


Captains' Debate: Building relationships on board

How can you find the balance between being captain and one of the crew?

How do you build a good, professional relationship with your crew and find the balance between being captain and one of the crew?

Anonymous Captain, 96m motoryacht
I come from a commercial background but have been working on yachts as a captain for 12 years. The roles of a cruise-ship captain and a yacht captain are very different and none more so than when considering the relationship between captain and crew.

On a yacht, the captain is much more a part of the crew. The division between the ranks is more blurred and there is – or should be – a greater feeling of family between crewmembers. Crew size has a very large part to play in this and I have found that the family feeling tends to diminish as the crew numbers grow larger. The magic number, in my experience, seems to be around 45, after which the relationship between captain and crew becomes necessarily more formal to maintain discipline.

For me, it is important to be a part of the crew as much as possible – always eat in the crew mess with the crew, try to mix between departments and encourage other crew to do the same.

We try to arrange a lot of crew events, based mostly on sports activities, and whenever we are in port we will take part as a crew in various events, including three mud runs last year and various 5km and 10km runs. Social evenings, such as crew dinners ashore, are also good ways to integrate crew. As captain, I find it is important to attend but always leave a bit early so as not to inhibit the crew who are often intimidated by the captain being there. It is always good to give the crew a chance to let their hair down and also keep a bit of distance to allow you to enforce discipline if things do get out of hand. I like to encourage a good, healthy lifestyle and not base everything on socialising and alcohol but it doesn’t hurt to have a few drinks in a controlled manner, especially after a busy period on board.

I see my role as captain as setting an example to the younger crew (and they are all younger than me these days), joining into a point but knowing when to withdraw and let them get on with it. Encourage them to be healthy and make the right choices but also to still have fun and enjoy the incredible opportunities we have.

Captain Mark Stevens, 66m S/Y Aglaia
As a captain, you need to be a leader, a father figure, a mentor, a friend and, most importantly, the glue that holds the team together. This is not something we are trained to do, but we must use intuition and hard work to make it successful.

The first thing is to have the chance to pick a good team, and this means getting a well-rounded crew. Personalities are key. There is no point picking a deckhand who is an alpha when you have a quiet bosun – it will just cause conflict. Select the crew with personalities very much in mind and make sure your junior crewmembers’ personalities complement those of your senior crew. When you have this in place it makes life much easier.

As a captain, you need to be a leader, a father figure, a mentor, a friend and, most importantly, the glue that holds the team together.

Once you have your team, don’t smother them. You have employed professionals so treat them as professionals. Keep an eye on them, manage them, but let them get on with what they do best. People hate to be micromanaged; they want to see you as a leader but don’t want you looking over their shoulder all the time.

Always be available to the crew. Keep your office door open so they can come and speak to you without feeling intimidated or that they need to make an appointment. Be part of the team. Don’t be a captain who disappears at every opportunity. Certain situations during the day present themselves as a great time to bond with your team. Lunchtime is one of the best opportunities to get everyone together and bond. Chat about life, not about work, listen to what people say and remember the details – what people choose to share with you is important.

Crew like different things. It can be difficult to do a crew day out that excites everyone, so try to ensure that it caters to everyone. You usually find that your chief stew is very good at making certain that happens. Sometimes taking the tender to the beach with a good picnic and some beach games is all you need. It’s amazing how a day of sun, sea, sand and good fun is the ultimate bonding tool. Finally, a good dinner is always a great way to get everyone together.

The main point is to treat each of the crewmembers with respect. Respect them and they will respect you back. Be fair, be honest and be there.

Captain Antonio Gerini, 36.6m M/Y Quest R
Moving into yachting after leaving the navy, I found it was very different and much harder, but I understand how important it is to be a mentor to the crew. If a captain follows the rules he makes, there is no issue when it comes to the crewmembers following the same rules, and it is easy for them to become a part of your team. Everyone on board is ready to follow a captain who is first to start and last to finish.

It is also important to be something of a father figure. Captains have to keep their personal problems separate from the job but be ready to listen to those of the crew and show them solutions to every problem, whether personal or work-related. Another important matter is when a crewmember makes a mistake. First of all, never shout at them because they already know that they have made the mistake. Talk to them about it separately from the rest of the crew, and quickly afterwards, to avoid the same mistake happening again.

Crewmembers should be well prepared concerning safety, so a weekly drill is very important to instil confidence on board in case of any trouble. This is very important to enable the crew to feel like a strong team and be prepared for anything.

Crewmembers must not think of the boat as their prison at any time. As regards duty and service, the captain should offer free time to the crew and permit them to go ashore for a change of scenery.
Another issue concerns alcohol and drugs. Every crewmember who comes on board drunk is out – and I have already seen the improvement after following this practice. There is no chance of talking with people under the influence of alcohol or drugs as they compromise good relationships on board and are a very fast way to compromise safety too. With rules, and strict but smiling behaviour, your team will be ready and strong.

This article originally appeared in The Crew Report

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Captains' Debate: Building relationships on board


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