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post #26 of Old 03-11-2012
Semper Fidelis
Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: Pensacola, FL
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Re: advice needed, discipline...

While I don't have near the level of sailing experiance that some of you gentlemen have, I feel that my position as an officer of Marines has given me a bit of knowledge in the department of managing people. The entire process of giving an order actually begins with the planning process before you even get to the boat. In a military setting one can get by through orders alone because my "crew" is bound by law. On a private sailboat, discipline is tempered by proximity, attitudes, and personalities. Practically speaking, you're not going to make someone walk the plank for ignoring you when you say "Do x", you're just not likely to invite them back. The most successfull captain (and crew)is someone who gets the crew to buy in to the overall picture. The crew doesn't HAVE to obey...they WANT to obey. They believe in your skills as a captain and realize that their experiance at sea will be better by following your directions.

One of the ways that we as private captains can obtain this level of respect is by simply being on top of our game. Tieing in to what I said above, the first impression of the day is an important one and begins with the planning process. While no situation unfolds exactly as planned, a plan serves as a basis for change and shows your crew that you've put the time and effort into your activities for the day. This instills confidence in both the crew and the captain. To say that we're sailing from Pensacola to Mobile, AL via the ICW is one thing. When I tell the crew, The weather for the day looks like this, the winds are doing this, and that will have this effect on our plan. We'll be departing Bayou Grande Marine at 0800 enroute to Mobile Marina via A, B, C, D. I expect to hit A at __:__. I expect to hit B at __:14. If we lose someone we'lll do this. If you fall overboard do that, etc...That's a plan that instills confidence and it sets the tone for the remainder of the sail. Start out as you intend to continue. Plan EVERYTHING. It may seem redundant, but that's a good thing.

Prior to sailing, brief everyone on your plan so they're familiar with everything. When you're finished, ask specific individuals questions pertaining to what you just told them. This not only reinforces what they've been told, but also gives you a guage on whether or not you've laid everything out in an easy-to-understand manner. Come up with a standard brief and do it the same way every time so that the crew becomes used to hearing the format...They'll know what's coming next i.e. here's the route. Here's the MOB plan. Etc. When you brief them on what the plan is, ensure that they understand what will be expected of them, what your intentions are, and how you plan to deal with specific situations regarding crew behaviors. Remind them that they're a team and you're in charge, but employ tact.

When actually giving an order to someone on deck, make eye contact if possible and get their attention by using his/her name. This personalizes things. People are more likely to listen when spoken to when you're making eye contact. It's easy to blow someone off when you're being talked AT vice being talked TO.

When the crew accomplishes a task well, let them know. Especially when one member stands above, being recongnized for his actions feels good. Praise in public, reprimand in private. When one member of the crew messes up, don't bust him out. It makes him feel like a jackass for a mistake he may not have known he was making. When the task is finished, pull him aside and let him know what you wanted, what he did, and then ask him why. He might have had a viable reason, or he might've just not known. Either way, dealing with it privately will smooth the situation. Deal with beligerant crew in accordance with what you stated when you initially briefed them on the plan (You did tell them, right?). If you tell the crew, "If you disobey me twice, I will assign you a spot on the rail and I expect you to remain there for the rest of the cruise", and then someone disobeys a direct order several times and you don't assign them a spot on the rail, the rest of the crew is going to lose confidence in you.

Understand that although no one likes to make the difficult decisions, they have to be made and its your ship. Your crew depends on you to make these decisions. When one member of the crew is acting beligerant, ignoring the situation spurs a lack of confidence in your abilities as captain. Although no one likes to tell a crewmember he's jacked up, the rest of the crew is depending on you to maintain discipline because in the end you're responsible for their safety. What's your answer when you fail to correct a crewmember because you don't want to step on toes and then someone gets hurt? You owe it to everyone on board, including the beligerant crewmember, to maintain discipline and promote safe decisions. Stay ahead of the curve.

Understand that every situation is different, but having a good plan, ensuring the crew understands what is expected of them and acting on your statements, promoting cohesion, and maintaining good order is your responsibility as captain and will lead to increased performance on everyone's part as well as a safer sail.


-S/V Far Niente

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