How to Create a Positive Work Environment on Board

5 January 2021 By Ted Morley
Advice, support, and guidance sign

Capt. Ted Morley was raised aboard a schooner and has made a career working on board vessels ranging from superyachts to super tankers. During his tenure at sea, he worked his way up from seaman to master. He currently holds a USCG Master’s License, Unlimited Tonnage as well as several foreign certificates. Capt. Morley actively participates in maritime advisory committees in the U.S. as well as overseas and is involved in regulatory policy review in the U.S.. 

This past year has seen some of the most difficult and long-lasting impacts to our industry and to the world — a global pandemic that has changed not only how we do things, but also how we view things. Social isolation has become the norm and has exacerbated the feelings of loneliness and separation for many mariners. As an industry, we need to work to help inspire our fellow crewmembers, especially new crew who have joined the industry.

We are all experiencing a degree of physical and/or mental stress; an act of kindness or an encouraging word can make all the difference to someone struggling. Mentoring is a big part of not only making the person better, but feeling better. Life aboard a vessel can be challenging, but also exciting. The crew looks for guidance and support from our leadership aboard.

Communication is the key to encouragement — if you aren’t creating an environment of two-way communication, then you really can’t know what is happening on board.

I encouraged and fostered an environment of personal growth and professional improvement aboard every vessel I served. Once I made captain, I made a point of creating training material for every member of the crew and scheduled weekly chats with junior crew and department heads alike, as well as monthly crew meetings. Communication is the key to encouragement — if you aren’t creating an environment of two-way communication, then you really can’t know what is happening on board. Overcoming language, political, and cultural barriers is key to fostering an environment in which the crew can flourish.

Mentoring is not easy, especially when we look at the daily workload we all operate under. However, it’s a vital part of crew retention and happiness. You don’t need to spend hours at a time — taking a few minutes to offer a word of advice or encouragement is often all that’s needed. I recall a night pier-side when some of the deckhands were on the dock trying to figure out the best way to throw a heaving line. I was going to meet some friends for dinner and I heard, “Hey Cap, any suggestions?” I turned and laughed as I saw a five-gallon bucket about 50 feet away from them that they were attempting to hit with the monkey fist. I walked over and said, “Well, let me give it a shot and see if I can offer you some tips.” I coiled the line in my hands, gave it a toss, the monkey fist flew straight and landed inside the bucket. At that point, I had their attention.

I showed them what an old navy boatswain mate had shown me more than two decades earlier. Within a few tries, they were all either hitting the bucket or landing inside it. Yes, I was 30 minutes late for my dinner, but that simple act of sharing was worth it. Take the time to mentor; your crew will appreciate it and so will you.

This column originally ran in the January 2021 issue of Dockwalk.


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