Key Tips for Crew Communication

Keeping your crew in the know is one key to safety.
Crew in the bow
Clearly communicating instructions will keep your crew safe. Courtesy MasterCraft Boats

Communication is one of the better tools in any captain’s kit. We at the helm need to make sure our crew knows what’s going on with the boat in advance whenever possible. Surprises can hurt—sometimes a lot.

For example, take the transit of a patch of water rougher than the rest. This can be a coastal inlet or the confluence of two currents, or maybe a harbor area so crisscrossed with wakes from commercial traffic that there is no discernible size or pattern to the sea that’s running. A competent and considerate skipper lets the others aboard know this is coming and they might endure a big drop into a hole or get slammed broadside by a 3-foot wave.

Of course, you might not have trouble. You’ll likely run at a prudent speed and course, and with attentive hands on the controls. But still, stuff happens, as we all know. So, you ask for everybody to sit down. You tell them it might get bumpy and to put on life jackets if they are not wearing them already. You should do all of this in advance because things can happen in a blink out on the water. You’ll minimize the chances of someone falling or losing their footing and banging their head or twisting their ankle.

At the calmer end of the spectrum, make sure you inform your crew to watch their limbs and heads as you come into a dock. Getting rubbed by a piling can hurt. Fending off is something every boat guest seems to want to do. But should we allow every guest to help like that? You need to make that decision and vocalize it before someone gets a splinter—or a broken bone.

Most times, these are easy-to-see scenarios. But we don’t always have advance notice. Sometimes situations arise that cause the boat to accelerate, decelerate or maneuver so suddenly that an injury can result. Plus, as skippers, we have to remember that we have the wheel to hold onto, we are looking at what’s coming, and we might even be standing. Our legs and arms instinctively and reflexively respond to the way the boat is moving and the way it’s about to move—anticipation. We get to duck the spray, absorb the shock, and hold on against being thrown aside.

Our crew? With exceptions, they do not have this advantage. We have to warn them.

Wake! Sit down!

Sharp turn! Hold on!

Stopping! Sit and hold on!

Ocean sunfish, logs, clueless boaters and more all happen. Just as our knees anticipate the need to absorb that big cruiser’s wake and begin bending in advance, our minds need to anticipate warning our guests in advance. Because sometimes the best captain can only react so quickly. Therefore, we need to make warning our crew instinctive and reflexive. That gives them more time to react. And the difference between grabbing a rail or a seat and taking a tumble is often a matter of a second or two.

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So, shout out ahead of time. That is, speak loud enough to be heard over the engine, the wind and the stereo. Do not yell at people because yelling isn’t the way to promote boating safety. Use your knowledge to communicate instructions in advance of what’s coming, and I guarantee you will have safer days on the water.