On the Job

Breaking the Chain of Command: Capt. Luke Hammond Weighs In

13 January 2023By Capt. Lord Luke Hammond
An illustration of job hierarchy
Capt. Lord Luke Hammond

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Capt. Lord Luke Hammond

Capt. Lord Luke Hammond is the captain on board the 45-meter Feadship Bella. He is also the founder of Refrr, a new yacht crew recruitment platform. Refrr aims to solve the problem of connecting people with the right jobs. Sign up to be one of the founding members at www.Refrr.io.

When the proverbial shit hits the fan is normally when the “When is it okay to go above your head of department?” question finds its way into your vocabulary.

I think for most people, it’s just a fleeting idea or concept that might pop into your head one day as a response to the thought that, “If I’m struggling with an area of work or maybe someone in the crew makes my life hard, who should I talk to?”

The outline of who to talk to should be made clear for everyone, but that still leaves the question: When should I go above my HOD?

Then just as quickly as it arrived in your head, it’s gone, interrupted by a coworker trying to find a pair of scissors. But seeing as we eat, sleep, and live in our workplace, you really need to have a question like this answered early and clearly, before you even start at a new job — everyone should be on the same page when it comes to the operation of the vessel or business. If you are already employed and don’t know who to talk to, let’s dive in further.

Conflict or issues in the workplace are common. We are all human and when you add in the collective living/work conditions we experience, it’s hard not to escape some sort of negative interaction.

And if you were to look at a stock Seafarer Employment Agreement (SEA), the verbiage in the agreement would read something like the below, which is from my Cayman-approved SEA.

“Grievances shall be addressed in accordance with the chain of command. Exceptions to the chain may occur where the grievance relates to, or involves the Seafarer’s superior, where the Seafarer’s direct line manager is the Master, or where for whatever reason for the Seafarer does not wish to raise the Seafarer’s grievance with the Seafarer’s direct line manager, the Seafarer may raise the Seafarer’s grievance with the Master; or where the Seafarer feels it inappropriate to raise the Seafarer’s grievance with the Master and/or the grievance relates to the Master, the Seafarer may raise the Seafarer’s grievance with the DPA (who shall nominate a representative to deal with any such grievance).”

The outline of who to talk to should be made clear for everyone, but that still leaves the question: When should I go above my HOD?

The answer to this age-old question: Anytime you feel it’s necessary!

The main reason I say this is that you are an adult, but also this isn’t the military. If you feel that you can’t talk to your HOD, can you take it up one more rung in the chain of command, or maybe even talk to another HOD?

Unless you have approval from your captain, do not reach out to the yacht owner. 

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take it directly to the master, but from my position, it’s best if we (captains) don’t always get involved. Having someone other than the master to talk to tends to de-escalate a problem. If the HOD thinks the topic should be elevated to the master, they will most likely tell you to broach the topic with him or her or go along with you to discuss the issue with them in person.

But we are also aware that your HOD may be the instigator, and in this instance, I would suggest going to see the master.

If the issue is the master and you don’t feel that you can talk to them, then I would suggest reaching out to your designated person ashore (DPA). The piece of the puzzle here is that you want to try and keep it all on board before reaching out to the DPA. However, I think the best way to look at this is to use your best judgment as there is no hard and fast rule.

But, before I leave you, I have one more piece of advice. Unless you have approval from your captain, do not reach out to the yacht owner. Industry-wide, this is a breach of trust if you go around your captain. Stick to your chain of command and if the issue must be elevated, reach out to your DPA.

If you have exhausted all other avenues, feel free to reach out to me, and I’ll help guide you in the right direction, which could include a maritime attorney or a union for advice. Contacting the yacht owner really is your last option.

Do the homework now so if/when that time ever comes about, you know what you need to do. 

Keep learning, stay positive, and more importantly, keep being the best version of yourself.

You’ve got this!

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