Top tips for keeping your offshore crew happy

Many rookie skippers tend to think that being a skipper is all about ‘driving the boat’ and navigating the course. By definition, it’s likely that the skipper will be one of the more experienced sailors on board a yacht and he/she is responsible for the vessel and crew safety. This means that he’s likely to prepare the passage plan and will be responsible for its implementation. But that is only a part of the skipper’s role.

On an offshore passage or when crossing oceans, the skipper becomes responsible for not only the crew’s safety but also their general wellbeing and morale. Three weeks at sea, especially in challenging conditions, requires a crew to be motivated and enthusiastic. This requires good people skills on the part of the skipper.

Here are a few things good skippers will address either before or during an offshore voyage;

  • Make sure you are aware of all crew medical, dietary and other health characteristics and make sure to remind your victualler and your cook where necessary.
  • Spend time creating a varied and enjoyable menu plan for voyages. At sea, food becomes quite a focus and bland or unpleasant food is quickly noticed. Try to retain some group treats for milestones throughout the voyage. Consider not allowing the consumption of alcohol whilst at sea. Read our article: Best Books for Cooking Onboard a Yacht.
  • Keep the boat clean!  Make sure to make it clear who is responsible for what and when. No-one likes to be treated unfairly. Ideally retain a crew rota for domestic and deck duties so that everyone does their bit on board whether it be cleaning the heads or rustling up dinner. As skipper, you must be prepared to tactfully, but clearly, call out laziness or poor personal hygiene. It’s not fun, but you will be thanked by everyone.
  • Have a rolling watch system. A popular watch system is 6 hours on and 6 hours off during the day, overlapping for an hour at lunchtime so that the whole crew get time to eat and chat together and you can update them on progress. It’s also a great time for minor grievances or frustrations to be aired in a friendly forum. Anyone can stand a 6-hour watch during the day and this allows the off-watch a longer rest in each 24-hour period. Then split the night into 3 x 4-hour watches, meaning that each watch gets to do different times every 24-hours.
  • Keep your crew informed. Let them know at the outset what they should expect from the voyage, what you expect from them and what they should expect from each other. I have two rules regarding people on any boat. (i) don’t let things fester. If you have a problem, raise it tactfully, but clearly either privately with a crew member or publicly over lunch (call it ‘happy hour’) and (ii) always leave your grudges on the last wave. Life’s too short!
  • Have a boat rule; Your job is not finished until everyone has finished their jobs. This alone makes for a much happier atmosphere on board any yacht.
  • Keep your eyes open for a gregarious crew member that goes quiet. It can be a sign of illness, anxiety or ‘the blues’. You’re not a psychiatrist, but you can be a friend. I’ve known of macho men that are petrified in a storm or one fellow crew who discovered he had a deep fear of the open ocean - not great to find out when you’re in the middle of the Atlantic!
  • Mix up watches. On longer voyages, it’s nice to mix up the personalities and it helps change the conversation and give clashing personalities some time off each other!
  • Publicly recognise achievements and privately and constructively critique failures.
  • Lead from the front. Always go the extra mile, project quiet confidence and never show fear, frustration or anger. You won’t always manage it, but your crew will really appreciate it if they know you’re trying your best.