Captain & Crew: A Nautical Relation(ship)! – By Tradewinds member Katie S.

As a member of Tradewinds Sailing Club for 4 years I have “grown up” in this club. I have served as crew and skipper. From day one being a skipper was my goal. Sailing out the Golden Gate Bridge and safety would be the ultimate goal while having a day of fun in the sun. Along the way, however, the roles had their difficulties. As a skipper, one needs the cooperation of the crew. As a crew listening and being ready for the commands were exciting and physical. Furthermore, there have been trying times as there are people who do not crew well. This was a harsh reality. Why? Is it due to the lack of skipper experience? Are they unable to understand the role of the skipper?  The skipper role is a very serious one but done with the intent of relaxing your visitors for a day of fun. Safety is the most important role of the skipper.

What is expected of a skipper? What is expected of a crew? (Crew, by the way, is not the visitors on the boat. Crew is the designated and chosen people by the skipper to work the boat).

Crew expectations of a skipper:

  1. Clear and direct instructions.
  2. Good ground rules.
  3. Clear expectations.
  4. No yelling.
  5. Say “thank you” for all alerts and suggestions by the crew.
  6. Compliment good decision making as well as speedy replies to commands.

Skipper expectations of a crew member:

  1. Feel free to make suggestions.
  2. Ask before making helm changes.
  3. (most important skill)
  4. Alert helmsman to approaching boats, safety issues, or equipment problems and failures.
  5. State readiness when point of sail changes are going to be made.
  6. Good and loud communication. Hand signals if needed.
  7. Slow movements and think things through with safety as the top priority.
  8. All decisions go through the skipper after suggestions, alerts, and safety are considered by the crew and verbalized to the skipper.
  9. Avoid giving commands to other crew as this causes confusion. Very important!! If the skipper wants a crew member to give commands then the skipper will say so.

Arrive at the boat ready to be a crew. Your job is to work the boat and follow instructions. Listening and observing are key in the role. There is ONE skipper. Prior to accepting to crew decide if you trust this skipper and can accept commands easily. If the skipper has less experience than you then that is a consideration. This skipper will need you more than ever. Make suggestions but knowing the decision is the skipper’s. Disagreeing on a sail is the most miserable way to spend time sailing. Stay alert and be ready for commands.

This short guide hopefully will lead new sailors to a more enjoyable day on the bay. Knowing your role leads to respect and a safe sail.

I wish I had time and space to tell you about the examples I have experienced where roles were confusing and the sail was unpleasant. They didn’t listen well or follow commands of instructions. As a skipper my goal is to teach, enjoy, and allow my crew to make decisions but they will be given the command to make that decision/decisions. Not because the skipper is a control freak. (There are times when allowing the crew to be “pushed to the edge” to make a decision is exciting and appropriate). But safety is my ultimate goal.

I have experiences to share with couples who are learning to sail. I learned quickly that when getting on a sailboat with my husband (where I am the skipper and he is my crew) that we are no longer a couple. Giving him respect with “thank you” and encouragement is the norm as with all my sailing trips as well as sincere compliments and high- five every chance I get. My husband is a fabulous crew and I listen to him at all times. I take his suggestions seriously and implement with glee.

In the beginning, as a crew-member, I have had what I considered “controlling” skippers at various times. I felt they didn’t trust me or didn’t understand my experience. Some skippers tell you how to sail the trim at all times. Others allowed me to trim the sails without being commanded. Why was there such a variance in leadership? I finally accepted that this was the way it sometimes goes. Sailing with someone repeatedly allows this phase to pass as you get to know each other’s skills but in the beginning the skipper doesn’t know you. If this is a first sail as a crew for a skipper then be ready for lots of commands. The skipper doesn’t know you. It is okay. You will show him or her through listening and quick replies to commands. There will be times when you will need to make a decision that sailing with a person just isn’t fun. So be it. This is in all of life. Move on and learn from the experience. Learning in sailing is ongoing. Matt taught me this and he has been a spectacular mentor.

My background is in emergency nursing as an ER nurse and flight nurse. Giving care while being safe is the goal. I find sailing and my job very closely related in the safety aspect.

Arrive at the boat giving your skipper the high five and allegiance to be the best crew ever. Be proud of this role. It is important. A skipper smiles widely when a crew listens and trust is formulated. A beer or a glass of wine might even be necessary at the END of the sail!

As a skipper praise your team and allow them to make decisions as you understand their experience in sailing. Encourage them and push them to the edge. It is fun as long as safety guidelines are the boundaries in which you lead others.

In conclusion, readiness is key on a sail by understanding the two roles. Implement each role with pride and respect. They are both very important. Safe Sails.

Katie S.

Katie has been a Tradewinds member since 2011 and has taken ASA courses up to 106 (Advanced Coastal Cruising), plus Docking & Radar endorsements. She has also taken Tradewinds Advanced Anchoring, Sail Trim, and Racing courses. Katie has chartered over 130 days on Tradewinds boats as the Skipper as well as her many trips as crew. Her most recent sailing adventure was as the Skipper in the British Virgin Islands. She is undoubtedly one of our most experienced female skippers!

This entry was posted in Chartering, Skipper's Tip. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Captain & Crew: A Nautical Relation(ship)! – By Tradewinds member Katie S.

  1. Steve says:

    Good article Katie. Looking forward to more entries.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *