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Old 08-07-2013
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Limits of Captains authority

This is a question that came up due to a currently popular thread.

I copied some text and added some text to make the question more comprehensive.

The general rule is that aboard a boat the captain makes the rules and the crew obeys. But obviously there are exceptions.
What rules should be obeyed and when can an exception be made.

The following are some guidelines. Do you agree with them?

The captain can sail the boat the way he wants. That may be slow, in the wrong direction etc.
Just about anything the captain wants done should be done so it is easier to think in terms of exceptions.

The following are some candidate exceptions:

1. The captain can not order me to do something I can't safely do. I'm the only one who knows what I can safely do. This exception is not about what I like to do or want to do but only about what I can't physically do without incapacitating injury or death. If for example if a captain ordered me to deal with a hose clamp in a deep bilge where I knew I would get scratched and cut by machinery I would do it as that would be painful and annoying but not incapacitating.

2. If the boat or people were in serious trouble, out of water, food or sinking or serious illness are the only ones I can think of I would use my sat phone not to call in a MayDay but to put them on notice as to our situation. This one I really don't like. I would really hate it if some nervous nelly hid in the forepeak and called a Mayday on my boat if I was the captain. If I was the captain I would calm the nervous person by making the call myself. Typically in case of a difference of opinion I suspect the cc would require a check-in every few minutes until everyone was on the same page.

3. Sex has to be consensual between adults.

4. Crew do not have to follow illegal orders, for example murdering someone.


I have crewed on may Sail Netters boats and would like to crew on all of them.
I'm interesting in the experienced captains take on the limits of authority of the office of captain.

And specifically if you have hand any experiences that you had to deal with either as crew or captain that may be of interest for this discussion.
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Last edited by davidpm; 08-07-2013 at 04:04 PM.
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Old 08-07-2013
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Limits of Captains authority

Unless crew are in the military or employed by the ship with the captain as the supervisor, then in all other cases, "crew" are guests of the vessel. As such, the "captain" can't make them do anything. He can ask, plead, cajole or anything else, but the guests are free to do as they please.

The captain title is a courtesy but my legal authority is limited. While I am responsible for my guests safety, I can't make them do anything.
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Last edited by Sabreman; 08-07-2013 at 03:21 PM.
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Old 08-07-2013
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Re: Limits of Captains authority

I think being crew is like any other job. You generally do what you boss tells you, but if it is illegal, immoral, dangerous, or bad for the company (boat) you should refuse. If he doesn't like it, he can fire you.
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Last edited by RainDog; 08-07-2013 at 04:06 PM.
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Old 08-07-2013
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Re: Limits of Captains authority

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Originally Posted by Sabreman View Post
Unless crew are in the military or employed by the ship with the captain as the supervisor, then in all other cases, "crew" are guests of the vessel. As such, the "captain" can't make them do anything. He can ask, plead, cajole or anything else, but the guests are free to do as they please.

The captain title is a courtesy but my legal authority is limited. While I am responsible for my guests safety, I can't make them do anything.
Good Point.
I should have phrased it more in terms of what is expected rather than legal terms.
And if it is depending on what is expected it would make a difference between grandmas first time and and someone that was taken on explicitly to help with either a boat move or race.
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Old 08-07-2013
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Re: Limits of Captains authority

"3. Sex has to be consensual between adults."
Oh, I see. You're going to pretend the sheep have no say in the matter?

No really, unless the "boat" and "captain" fall under specific laws and circumstances, it is still just a group of people playing Lord of the Flies, and the rules are no different from the ones that apply at a poker game or a carpool.
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Old 08-07-2013
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Re: Limits of Captains authority

Wait, I have a right to say no to carpool sex?!? Damn that Kevin!
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Old 08-07-2013
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Re: Limits of Captains authority

I think Sabreman is spot on.


BTW re the sex. I'm not into spanking. Well, not on watch anyway.
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Old 08-07-2013
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Re: Limits of Captains authority

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Originally Posted by MarkofSeaLife View Post
I think Sabreman is spot on.


BTW re the sex. I'm not into spanking. Well, not on watch anyway.
Thoroughly agree ..... sometimes (oft times ?) I wonder if the "i am ze kapitan, you vill obey or die" mob are more megalomaniacal than your average weasel butt moderator.
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Old 08-07-2013
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Re: Limits of Captains authority

OK, so what if the crew refuses to do something or they are incompetent/unable to follow orders, what does the captain do then? (And this, above the others, absolutely applies to #3!) Walk the plank? Scream? Take them back to port? Dock them a beer until they comply? You're missing some fer instance variables in your question. Most boats are recreation and "the rules" should to be established for each boat before anyone sets foot onboard. That said, most people are generally overly eager to help. The problem arises when the captain is pushing the boat and its crew to the very limits of their capabilities (and hopefully not over) because of a race. That's when everything changes. I sailed with one captain who said the first rule on his boat was all about safety. As soon as the gun went off, that rule fell off the stern rail and was never seen again.
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Old 08-07-2013
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Re: Limits of Captains authority

I don't expect anyone to do anything that I couldn't or wouldn't do myself.
In reality, all I ever ask of my guests is to hold this, pull that or grab something from below. Wait, that sounded bad.
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