On the Job

The Art of Looking Busy on Board When You’re Not

20 May 2022 By Rubi McGrory
crewmember on yacht

Rubi McGrory has 25 years in yacht galleys and more than 150,000 miles at sea. Aside from culinary creations, she does art, design,  illustration, and curates custom tablescapes. Follow Rubi’s culinary shenanigans on Instagram @big.cookie.energy. www.rubistudios.com 

Listen, some days you Just. Can’t. Even. The rest of the time, you’re a model crewmember: not creating work for your coworkers, sparking zero drama, lending a hand, working hard, and being a generally sparkling human. But every once in a while, it all gets to be too much and you need to back it down a notch.

This handy guide will inspire you to employ some cunning techniques towards creating the appearance that you’re working feverishly, when really, you’re taking some well-deserved mental slacking time to stare into space and let your thoughts roam free. And your co-workers are none the wiser. 

DO walk briskly to a destination with a stern look of determination. Try furrowing your brow.

DON’T stop to chat or snack (keep a handy stash in your pockets).

DON’T be seen scrolling — even if it’s just to load the next podcast. Phone use is a sure sign of slacking off. Even when you’re doing legit boat work on your phone, people assume you’re watching TikTok videos.


If you must be on your phone, DO adopt a demanding tone. Firmly and repeatedly inform the non-existent caller that you have a whole chain of emails to prove that they screwed up the order/job/paperwork. Insist that they figure out a way to make good on it. This tactic only works with department heads, but comes with the added benefit that if people think you’re really mad, they’re likely to leave you alone.  Bonus points — probably only works for the captain — try pounding your fist, jumping up and down, or literally tearing at your hair. For at least an hour after this, you’ll be afforded a wide berth.

For y’all further down in the pecking order, your crew mates probably already think you’re slow, so what’s the harm in re-polishing the stainless or re-ironing the napkins? DO commit yourself and really make a thing of it: scatter the area with lots of worky bits. You’re not actually doing the work, you’re just making it look like you are.

DO busy yourself with a job that no one else wants — taking out the trash, or organizing the shoe basket. How about sitting in the crew car with a vacuum cleaner? Sure, you’re actually going to have to perform a little work, but you can really stretch it out.


DO assume inventory position. Open all cupboards, drawers, crates, etc. within your vicinity. Stack a few bits. Have computer, notebook, and clipboard spread about. If someone attempts to speak to you, count audibly in very high numbers, then pretend that they made you lose count. Before you respond, scribble something down. Insist they aren’t bothering you.

DO know your props. If you want to create the appearance of productivity, you must be seen carrying/surrounded by something that implies work. These can be specific to your role on board.

Captain: Charts. Actual paper charts. Scatter some terrifyingly specific and impossible accoutrements on top like calipers, a parallel ruler, and a sextant. Pop a pencil behind each ear, if anyone approaches you, ask if they have a pencil you can borrow.

Engineer: Let’s face it, you probably already have a selection of secret spots where you can nap with impunity. But the point here is to appear to be working. DO adopt a very puzzled expression. If someone asks what you are doing, it never hurts to answer them with an unrelated question about a flux capacitor, but stop mid-sentence, tilt your head to the side, look into space and say “huh” before scurrying off.

You really have tons of options. Walk around covered in protective gear and a spray bottle that says “HOLDING TANK.” Randomly turn some breakers off, then make (very slow) circuits around the boat with a multimeter and a screwdriver. Grab a handful of manuals and cover all crew mess real estate with open manuals and notebooks full of scribbles.


Stew: Two words: Label Make. It’s a verb. You know deep in your bones that the smooth and effective operation of your yacht is based solely on the precise placement of edifying labels all over the vessel.

Mate: Walk around carrying paper. With every circumnavigation around the vessel, change up that paper situation. First pass: it’s just a piece of paper. Second pass, you’ve got a clipboard. Third time, folder; fourth time, it’s laminated. If anyone inquires, reply with a question. Ask if they recall filling out the ACDC8675309-UKUSAFOMOYOLO-57 Salary disclosure forms. Explain that you’ll go get them, but it’s taking a long time to print so many 12-page double-sided forms. People will hide from you.

Deckie: Stand by the cleaning locker. Take a few crates out. If anyone happens by, perform very minor shuffling of crates or contents.

Chef: Sorry bud, this one is tougher, because, literally, the proof is in the pudding — or the beef stew. Let’s say you’ve got dinner in the bag (seriously, beef stew can be super easy and fills the boat up with yummy smells) and you need to chill. Cover the galley counter with cookbooks. As anyone comes by, ask if they’ve ever heard of the FUBAR diet or if they have experience silver serve-ing live organ meats.

Most importantly, the key is to manufacture the vibe of actual work. When all else fails, stage your space with rags, spray cleaner, and a roll of paper towels (toss a few crumpled ones around for authenticity). Nothing says “stuff is getting done here” like the presence of a vacuum cleaner and a roll of blue tape.


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