Being on Best Boat Behavior – for Crew and Skippers
by Capt. Joan Gilmore
As a crewmember your main job is to listen.
When you are a guest on someone’s sailboat, no matter what your sailing skill level, there are three main things you need to be concerned about: your safety, the crew’s safety and your contribution to the cruise.
After stepping aboard and listening to the skipper’s safety briefing, you need to find out…
- Where can I step? Are there certain surfaces that are either slippery or not strong enough to take your weight? Does the skipper want you to ask permission before you leave the cockpit and go out on deck?
- What is the life jacket policy? When do I need to wear it? If you have your own, always bring it.
- Divulge to your skipper any medical conditions that might affect sailing. If you are not sure they will affect sailing, it’s better to let your skipper know. This will help her/him assign docking tasks, may affect where you should sit in the cockpit, etc.
- Make sure you know how to properly flush the head. This is the only piece of boating equipment that every crewmember uses, and it’s also one of the most potentially dangerous pieces of equipment, as leaving the seacock valve open can literally sink the boat. Ask for a flushing demonstration and don’t be shy about mentioning any questions you have before or after using the head.
- Where is the throwable Type IV cushion or ring? Actually practice unclipping it from the stern pulpit.
- What is my role if the captain goes overboard? Listen carefully, then ask any questions you have. Use your imagination in your questions, asking about your most feared “worst scenario.” You need to feel confident that you will know what to do in a crew overboard situation.
- If you are given an order, always “close the loop.” For example, if you are asked to go below and to close and dog all hatches, come back up when you are finished and announce loudly, “Hatches dogged!” The skipper is giving many orders simultaneously and needs to know when each order has been completed.
- Think about what actions you will bring to the crew. If not sailing skills, your actions may be helping in the galley, cleaning the boat, picking up supplies, bringing snacks, etc.
- Ask the boat owner specifically, “I need to contribute. What do you need me to do or bring to the boat?” Remember not to follow the Golden Rule, but the Reverse Golden Rule. In other words, don’t just provide what you would want as a skipper. Ask what your skipper wants, and listen carefully to the answer.
As the skipper, your main job is to care for your crew.
Give a safety briefing. It’s called a briefing, so make it brief! You want your crew to remember a few important facts about the boat, so don’t muddle their minds with more details than they need.
Show each crewmember how to use the head. They’ll learn better if you show them individually.
Ask each person what role they are comfortable doing, then train each crewmember in their role before you even leave the dock. Docking hands should stand on the dock and practice working with the lines on the cleats so they will be trained when you return to the dock at the end of the day.
The Crew Overboard plan should be explained to crew before leaving the dock. This is one of the first things to practice as soon as you are underway.
For cruises lasting more than one day, ask each crewmember what they want out of this trip. Share your goals for the trip also.
Tell crew, “If you can think of a safer way to do anything, I will always defer to the safer method.” This really empowers each crewmember, making for a safer, more relaxing trip. Examples of crew suggestions are “I want everyone to wear their life jacket for this maneuver,” or “I think we should reef before we leave the dock.”
Remember that you are sailing for fun. If someone gets sick, return to the dock.
More than in other life situations, your guests’ lives are in your hands. Through your roles on the boat you are entering into a social contract with them whereby they agree to follow your orders. So, you need to be extra kind and careful of their safety and comfort. Your crew is in effect giving up their autonomy in exchange for your judgment, so you need to return this favor by treating them with love and respect.