Inside vs. Outside: How to Build Respect

23 June 2009 By Louisa Cowan
Photo by Merijn de Waard

In a recent Forum post nestled within the “Time Wasters” debate, interior crew were compared to “bar and coffee shop managers” and an interesting discussion ensued. It’s a problem most yacht crew have encountered in one way or another: Their jobs simply are not taken seriously by some of their colleagues.

“I have come across this problem over and over again,” says Capt. Jon Middleton. “The deck crew see the stewardesses as nothing more than cleaners and waiting staff, and the stewardesses see the deck crew as polishing a bit of stainless and having fun in the sun. In my opinion, the captain has an important part to play in making sure that all crewmembers understand each other’s roles and respect the individual expertise of their colleagues.”

Respect is the key to having a cohesive crew. In an industry where everyone works hard, there are long hours and time off is often limited, the last thing you want is to feel undervalued by your contemporaries. So what can be done to ensure that your colleagues understand the importance your role?

“I worked for a captain who made it a priority to promote mutual understanding and respect amongst his crew,” says Bosun Matt Adams. “He would call a weekly crew meeting and each team head would have the opportunity to do a comprehensive update on their main tasks for the week. They were also encouraged to offer to help each other out if there were particular tasks where help was needed. It was great; we definitely all understood each other’s roles much better.”

Cross-departmental working is something that’s encouraged on some boats, while others shy away from it. “You do have to be careful with cross-departmental working,” says Middleton. “The last thing you want is for crew roles to become confused. You have to make sure that everyone’s main focus is doing their own jobs well.”

In this industry, every boat aims to provide a five-star experience, from the quality of the service to the luxurious surroundings to the exquisite food. It is essential to remember that everyone is intrinsic to the running of the boat from the captain to the third stewardess. Yes, there are different levels of qualifications and experience but everyone has to start somewhere. If you must do job comparisons, then think of more realistic parallels ashore, such as restaurant and hotel managers, cordon bleu chefs, event coordinators and merchant seaman.

During those rare quieter times, why not suggest some job-swapping or shadowing amongst crew? This is not just an opportunity for a deckie to be a stew for a day or the mate to spend some time in the engine room, but it also provides valuable training experience for the crewmember giving up his or her usual position. They will have to write job lists and ensure that their substitute knows exactly what they are supposed to be doing. This is a great way to ensure an understanding of roles and again promotes respect.

“I am always happy to get my hands dirty and would encourage my crew to do the same,” Middleton says. “If there is washing up to be done, I’ll do it. If the chief stew is having a quiet moment, she may pick up a chamois and muck in, and if I have a stewardess with sailing expertise then I would have her as a watch leader. Get to know your colleagues; everyone is important.”