Worst Case Scenario
The Crew's Keeper
The Crew's Keeper
Monday, June 20, 2011 8:16 PM
magazine’s new column, Worst Case Scenario by Kelly Sanford, highlights a hypothetical situation that captains may experience and offers advice from experts on how to handle it. The July 2011 column is about crew and alcohol and illegal substances. We’re republishing it here for your comments.
It’s no secret that substance abuse and yachting travel in tandem. Although the industry has managed to achieve a reticent accord with intermittent substance abuse (something akin to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” philosophy), there’s no denying that its presence in this industry can be problematic.
“Look,” says Capt. B (who asked we not use his real name), “what the crew does when there are no guests on board and [when] they are on their own time is not on the top of my list of things to worry about. I’ve got a boat to run and I don’t have time to worry about what happens off the boat. I’m a captain, not a [bleeping] nanny.” However, several years ago, a captain and crew with a similar philosophy were blindsided when the unthinkable happened.
“The crew had just finished a charter; they had cash in hand and some time off and they went on a bender,” the yacht’s manager explains. “The crew had been drinking and using cocaine and methamphetamines.” It’s unclear if the captain was aware that this was going on. The crew were permitted to stay out late and sleep in, but they became concerned about one crewmember when she failed to show up on deck by lunch. Unable to rouse her by knocking on the door, the captain unlocked her cabin and found her dead in her bunk. An autopsy confirmed a fatal drug overdose.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the rate of accidental overdose has risen fivefold since 1990. In 2007, there were 27,658 confirmed accidental drug overdoses in the U.S. alone. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there is a substantially greater risk of sudden death when multiple drugs are being used or when illicit drugs are combined with alcohol.
Yachting is not unique — substance abuse is everywhere. In any industry sector, there will be variations in standards regarding substance abuse. “We ask on every application if applicants will submit to a drug test and everyone always puts yes, but very few yachts actually follow through with the test,” says Duncan Bray of Northrop and Johnson crew placement. “When you look at the really big boats and fleet boats owned by [high-profile people], they all do drug testing, but a majority of boats out there don’t do it until they suspect a problem. We’re talking about a fatal overdose right now, but if you add in the number of crew who end up in a hospital, I think you’d be surprised how big a problem alcohol and drugs are for the welfare of crew and the liability of the captains and owners. It’s serious business, and it surprises me how many captains don’t require drug tests.” The statistics support Bray’s statement. In 2007, a national study showed that in Australia alone, there were 147,721 cases of persons being treated at drug treatment facilities where illicit drugs were the cause for hospitalization.
“The captains who run a tight ship — the ones who do random drug tests and don’t let crew stay out until three a.m. — they don’t usually have these problems,” Bray says. They might not be popular with a lot of crew, but their crew are unlikely to end up sick, injured or dead because they were out making bad decisions.
Spencer Lloyd, managing director of Yacht Insurance with Frank Crystal & Company, agrees. “Captains have got to get serious about this; it’s their responsibility as the person in command to make sure that crew are not putting the boat or themselves at risk with [foolish] behavior. ... There are plenty of cases out there where the boat ultimately was on the hook legally and financially for mistakes crew made while off duty and wasted. If the owner and captain want to protect themselves, they need to show that they were testing the crew and enforcing a zero-tolerance policy — not just posting a placard in the pilothouse.”
Financial liability is just one risk factor. Personal liability repercussions can be severe. Depending on the nature of the incident, the country where it occurs and what local laws dictate, the captain and crew may face a criminal investigation and the possibility of being charged with a crime following an accidental drug fatality. An extreme example of this severity would be in a country like Thailand, where the presence of even a small amount of illicit drugs on board (even a “soft drug” like marijuana) is considered trafficking... a crime punishable by death. Not to get sidetracked in extreme examples, it is nonetheless important to point out that crew are not always versed on local laws and their penalties.
The yachting industry does not like to expose or focus on its faults; inevitably the mention of sub- stance abuse makes a lot of people uncomfortable. But ignoring the severity and the repercussions of some shortcomings is an invitation to tragedy. Simply by conducting random drug testing, a captain and yacht owner can take advantage of an effective tool for mitigating their exposure to a drug-related incident, yet turning a blind eye remains the most prevalent protocol. Sadly, in the case of the overdose incident described above, ignorance proved fatal.
Read the article in Digital
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Monday, June 20, 2011 9:05 PM
The long and short of all this is “ZERO TOLERANCE,” a Captain I used to work for covered for a wayward crew member that failed a drug test, this action cost him his job and reputation. 1/3 of the boats I’ve worked had drug issues and lets just say that this situation would never happened if random drug tests and sobriety testing occurred. Discovering a drug problem exists after an incident is too late and this must include alcohol and I doubt any yacht owner or charterer would appreciate if if crew did the same on or off the boat. Those reading this that think its cool to use drugs, work hung over and live the high life need to just disappear because our industry has no room for you.
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Wednesday, June 22, 2011 10:21 PM
CREW....are you kidding me! Its the captains that need policing and God forbid you have a live in boat manager that is the ULTIMATE in awful! They all tell you not to do this and not to do that, when in FACT they are the ones doing this....who is policing the captains...its the captains!
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