Learning to sail
Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: San Francisco Bay Area
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Designated skipper: Is it necessary?
One of the more amusing activities I've found on SailNet are these individuals who expound with substantial detail on the notion that, as captain of their yacht, their wife, I mean, crew, must do exactly as they say. Evidently some of them are quite serious about it, and I can only imagine the extensive lectures they've given to their wives on the proper chain of command.
Clearly there is a time and a place where these sorts of things are relevant, such as in military and commercial contexts, or where the voyage is of a larger scale. But the notion that a man has some legitimate basis for ordering around his wife, when they're, say, cruising around a warm lake on a dinghy is completely ridiculous.
My girlfriend and I are of approximately equivalent sailing skill level, and so far, only sail together, on our 27' coastal cruiser, on the SF Bay. She's better controlling the helm and feeling the boat and I'm better at some of the technical aspects. We share most responsibilities, favoring me somewhat for the grunt work. We've never felt the need to designate the one or other as a skipper, and it's not completely clear what relevancy it would have. In any emergency situation, whatever that would be, we would talk about the proper solution to decide together what to do. If there wasn't time, and it's something like a course correction or emptying a sail, obviously the helmsman is in charge from a practical standpoint. (The worst emergency we've suffered so far is running aground in the bay mud.)
Admiralty law has lots of things to say about the masters of vessels, but it's unclear to me what relevency, if any, that has when the skipper isn't licensed and the boat purely recreational. At least with respect to state law, it's my strong suspicion that the helmsman will be held fully accountable from a criminal and liability standpoint, regardless of any a priori decisions about who the skipper is. Given that my vessel is insured, but not worth a while lot, it's hard to imagine ever realistically becoming a party to a serious admiralty case.
So my question is: is there any value to designating a skipper? Are those individuals who designate themselves captains doing it for some legitimate or useful purpose? Are we taking a risk by not designating a skipper? Does the authority of the captain extend to kinky things in the v-berth?