How to Quash Crew Problems

2 September 2010 By Louisa Cowan

Take 12 people, both male and female, and put them in a confined space together. Now throw in a bit of sleep deprivation, a large portion of hard work, a couple of bottles of rum and stir! If this sounds like a recipe for disaster then it is hardly surprising that, now and again, every boat has some kind crew issue rumbling away under the surface. The thing is, if handled correctly, these issues often can be resolved and quickly quashed if the captain approaches them in the right way.

“Most of the time I apply the I-don’t-want-to-know-about-it attitude to crew politics, but, actually, I want to at least be aware of any disputes that might be going on. I need to be ready to wade in if need be,” says Capt. Rich on S/Y Dancer.

But when is the right time for a captain or senior officer to “wade in” and how?

“Crew problems can get out of control very quickly. [They] often start from some kind of petty disagreement. What I try and avoid is something escalating into a bigger deal than it actually is,” say Capt. Jon. “The crew have got to work together, it’s as simple as that. If I don’t think a problem is being worked out quickly by whoever is involved, then I will mediate a discussion between [the crewmembers]. I will not tolerate a situation where the rest of the crew are taking sides. If need be then I’ll call a meeting with the whole crew.”

Crew quarrels can be caused by pretty much anything, but frequently there is a recurring theme. End of season blues, tiredness, a lovers’ tiff or crewmembers simply not getting along, can all be contributing factors resulting in nightmare onboard politics, which can be extremely draining for not only those involved, but also everyone around them.

“I don’t take crew problems lightly,” says one captain. “They can have a detrimental effect on the boat. I believe a good captain will take the care of his/her crew very seriously. The trick is to preempt the problems. Try to give crew adequate ‘downtime,’ encourage crew to get away from the boat now and again and although I don’t ban onboard relationships, I certain don’t encourage them. In my experience they cause all sorts of problems.”

Could it be that the captains have more influence than they think over crew problems and do they need to think about how their actions affect their crew dynamic?

One officer says, “A lot of our problems occur when there is resentment amongst the crew. Like if some crewmembers aren’t pulling their weight. We have onboard rules during charters and if half the crew abides by these and the other half don’t, it causes real tension. The captain simply turns a blind eye. Many problems would be avoided if the captain enforced the rules he made.”

At the end of the day there is one ultimate means of resolving the problem. If it's big enough, then the crewmember has to go.

First Officer Jake says, “I was working on a boat once where there was a complicated love triangle going on. It was all pretty nasty and causing massive tension. Our captain had spoken to the people involved several times, but it carried on. In the end, he fired everyone involved! It was the only solution. If I’m ever a captain, I will be sure to get rid of crewmembers who continually cause problems and upset the boats equilibrium.”

Be warned, crewmembers – try and keep problems on board to a minimum or, in the end, it might be you who ends up getting “quashed!”