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Hands-Off Captain
Posted: Saturday, May 9, 2009 3:45 PM
Dear Crew Confessor, We, the crew on our boat, all read with interest you answer to Swabbie who was working on a yacht with a captain who practically told them when they could use the loo. Most of us agreed that we had worked for someone like that before, and though they were pains to work for in some ways, in other ways it was a good thing too. Our problem is we seem to have a captain who is the exact opposite of a control freak. He's so hands off we are often not sure if we are doing something correctly and he makes us feel stupid if we ask him. He's also gone a lot. Owns a few houses and has a family ashore, he plays a lot of golf too. What we are asking is, what is the best way to manage a captain, or manage working for a captain who is too lazae fair? Means Well Crew
Posted: Monday, May 11, 2009 5:38 PM
Joined: 28/10/2008
Posts: 26

Dear Means Well Crew, This scenario with your captain is one that is too often the case these days - lack of leadership and proper management from captains. It is unfortunate and your concerns are well founded. Often an owner hasn't a clue as to what their captain is doing when they are not present onboard and it is unfortunate that these kinds of captains who are not managing the yacht in the owner's best interest seem to get away with it unchecked and remain employed. As a captain, my suggestion is to voice your concerns as a group to the captain. Set up a group meeting with him. Much of how we interact onboard as a "team" is having good effective communication with each other to help solve problems and create a more cohesive, functional unit. Voice your concerns to him in a "courteous manner" as a group - that you are expecting better leadership from your captain and that you prefer for him to be more accessible and present to you and to give better instruction. Have your ideas and concerns written down and present them in an orderly fashion.

If the situation is out of hand, meaning that the captain is blantantly neglecting his duties, only then would I resort (as a group) to contacting the owner or owner representative and only after a group meeting with the captain first. It may very well be a matter of safety of owner, guests, crew and yacht if the captain is negligent in his managment duties. This can be serious. Don't be afraid to do this. It will show professionalism and initiative and concern. Hopefully, if he has any professionalism, he will listen and be thankful that you brought it to his attention and if you are lucky, you may find that he becomes a better captain for you and the owner. And  by the way, if you hear of any captain position openings, I am available. Regards, Bridgewatch

Posted: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 3:41 AM

 Is the captain hiring any freelance stews?

Posted: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 3:56 AM

Captin-itis is alive and well in yachting !

We do need to remember that the owner does not want to hear from whingeing crew - their yacht is their haven for relaxation and entertaining.  If the entire crew feel the same, get some balls and confront the captain as a team.

You have to remember that many captains are just ex-deckies with many years of experience.

Good luck.

Posted: Thursday, May 14, 2009 7:09 PM
Dear anonymous, the traditional way to handle this situation is to contact the owner and tell him how bad his captain is and offer to do the job properly with all the skills you have gained in your  months in the industry. I cannot know any more about this situation than you describe but we need to know how it is that you all were hired to do a job you apparently are not skilled in, how long has this been going on, is the boat a wreck due to your inability to do the job, does this apply to the engineer,the Mate the chief stew? It may not be the case here but I have known many Captains who have been with an owner for many years and do not spend all day on the boat when it is docked at its home port and the owner does not expect them to be just so long as the boat is always ready when the owner wants to use it, these owners appreciate their Capts. managment skills & the time the Captain spends away from home during the busy season.

Posted: Friday, May 15, 2009 1:36 AM

Captains are a lot like dentists, nobody really likes them and we all enjoy complaining about them.


I rarely see a dentists and I rarely see my Captain. The crew all wonders what he does all day and regularly criticize his decisions, actions and inaction.


When you visit a new dentist, or get a new captain it is likely that you will feel some pain and come to realize that the last one you had was not so bad.

Posted: Friday, May 15, 2009 9:13 AM
So the question is.............. If everyone dislikes the Captain so much, why does every aspiring deckhand, say that they want to become a Captain one day!! Some wish to do so very quickly. As puzzling a question as "what is the meaning of life"?
Posted: Saturday, May 16, 2009 6:50 AM
LMAO! Ha, how true, the last dentist really wasn't so bad in retrospect. Just as long as he's not that sadistic steve martin dentist from little shop of horrors.
Posted: Saturday, May 16, 2009 11:16 AM
Joined: 25/09/2008
Posts: 4

"Often an owner hasn't a clue as to what their captain is doing when they are not present onboard" or "He's so hands off we are often not sure if we are doing something correctly" Yacht Auditing International offer another solution. Called a 'management review' in aviation or process auditing in some industries, we provide ownership with a snapshot of the present operating efficiency on board - in the owner's absence. Crew are interviewed along with the captain, ultimately to present recommendations for improvement - before replacement is necessary. Whilst we are a relatively new company, feedback from past audits indicated value to owners, captains and crew. see Scott
Crew Confessor
Posted: Monday, May 18, 2009 8:01 PM
Joined: 20/11/2008
Posts: 94

Dear Means Well Crew, It does appear that you are working for a captain who is essentially the opposite of a "control freak," but this would be much too simplified an answer. Control freaks behave in the manner that they do because it is the only way they can manage their feelings of being out of control on the inside. There are several possible explanations for the management style of your captain.

Your captain may have worked for a captain that successfully ran a program with a laissez-faire style of management and he is emulating it.

It is very possible that your captain worked for a captain who used a hands off style of management and did it very successfully. Hands off does not mean inept or lazy. For it to be successful the captain must be highly skilled in many key areas, with the most important one being that of hiring the proper crew in the first place. If a captain has hired crew that are very highly skilled, self-motivated, and mature there is no need for the micro management techniques of the "control freak." This captain has hired a great team and he need only to make sure that they have the means necessary to perform their job and to step out of the way.

Most crew who have the experience and the good fortune to work for a captain of this type also are well aware of when to consult with their captain, and with each other. The captain respects his team members and never makes them feel stupid for asking questions, but then again if the crew are well experienced the questions asked won't be the mundane, "how do I sand a cap rail" sort. The crew truly functions as a team with the captain as a team leader, not performing like the despot of small country under siege. Just as the crew are expected to perform their jobs and to know how to do them to a very high level, the captain is also operating at a very high skill level.

If the crew are young and not veterans of the industry this management style will fail for the simple reason that the crew do not know how to do their jobs well enough, and may lack the emotional maturity to work unsupervised. If the crew have previously worked for micro-managing control freaks they may have never gained the self confidence to operate in a more self-directed environment, so used to being constantly monitored that they have not had to think for themselves. If the captain hires crew who are lazy it won't matter how well skilled they are.

If this describes your captain I suggest the crew (if there are enough of you) be pro-active and mentor each other. The mate shows the deckhand, the chef assists the stewardess (if the chef has this experience), the engineer teaches the mate and deckhand. Actively involve the captain with your concerns. Speak up. Be honest with your concerns that you are not sure if things are being done properly or correctly. He might be the type of guy who only says something if there is something wrong. Explain that you need more positive reinforcement. Draw up your own work lists and go over them with your captain at the beginning of the day or week as appropriate. As you go through your lists review how you intend to complete the task, eliciting confirmation from him that this is how he wishes it done.

Your captain may have worked for control freaks in the past and has let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction.

We see examples of this swing from one extreme to the other in the behavior of parents and children. Often an overly controlling parent (a neat freak say) finds that when their children have families of their own the home is run in a manner opposite in the extreme from their own. A younger crew without the long years of experience doesn't necessarily demand a captain who is a control freak, but certainly does require a more hands on approach and closer supervision. Some of the suggestions presented above will also come in handy here. Have a crew meeting and discuss in real world terms your feelings of inadequacy and lack of positive reinforcement, as well as your desire for more supervision when performing tasks that are new or of a type that you may never have been properly trained for. It is very possible that your captain is under the impression that your skills are more extensive than they are and he simply doesn't realize that you do not know how to safely and properly complete a task.

Your captain may be experiencing burn-out.

This is very common. Sooner or later it happens to everyone to some degree. It is why we take vacations, and need days off from work. If he has a family ashore along with business interests, it is very possible he is getting pulled from many different directions. Your captain may in fact be ready to transition to a shore based career. This may be a temporary period of stress that will ease off in the near future or you will all soon find yourselves with a new captain. If he is truly absent and carrying on with a serious level of disconnect from the daily activities of the yacht I would certainly express your concerns to him. Caution: Many excellent captains will go into a mode while in home port that appears neglectful but in reality they are attempting to cover all of their bases in preparation for the yacht's departure. If you are relatively new on board I would speak with others who are more senior and ask if this is standard behavior before the summer season begins. Remember, things are not always what they seem While preparing for an upcoming season, or spending time in the yard a captain's job is often very administrative, with literally hours spent on the phone and large amounts of paperwork, typically out of sight of the average deckhand. Only if all of you are fearful that his neglect has the potential to compromise the safety of the crew and guests, and/or the seaworthiness of the vessel should you act by contacting the management company or the owner.

Your captain may be lazy and inept.

This is last on my list because usually someone with both of these traits does not last in this industry, particularly on larger boats where there are other crew around. It happens though. There are many cases of a captain getting a new command that is "over his head." Generally going from being captain of a 64' HInckley with maybe one crew person to a 140' Feadship with ten crew is a leap that not many are capable of. Thankfully with all the rules and regulations now in effect this scenario is now more rare. If he is truly lazy and inept then the crew should appoint a representative to contact the management company.

Your captain is not perfect.

As you may have guessed, in a perfect world a great captain will possess some of the elements of the control freak coupled with the confidence to permit his crew to do their jobs without the need to micromanage every detail. Most importantly he must possess that elusive sixth sense, and know when to step in with guidance and authority when needed, when a "job well done" is appropriate, when the crew is simply exhausted and cannot be pushed any further, and when it is time to take the afternoon off and put the waverunners in the water. When it is right to assume your crew know nothing (deploying a life raft for instance, assume no one will remember to tether it to the boat before it is inflated), and when it is right to step out of the way (when the crew has proven mastery of a skill) and let them do their job. Just as crew are constantly learning new skills and expanding their knowledge base, so too is the captain also learning. Good captains aren't born they are made. The working and living environment on a yacht is a static situation, and people are unique, communicate with your captain and explain your concerns in an articulate manner with your suggestions on how you would like to achieve a better working environment. Done well, with respect for each other and your captain regular, meetings will do much to create both a better and safer working environment and a more honest and respectful living situation too.

Your Crew Confessor

 Average 5 out of 5