The Triton


Importance of teamwork onboard


To better understand team dynamics onboard a luxury yacht — and how to build a better team — let’s look at how most teams on boats are put together.

The larger the crew, the more likely the team is broken down into departments (deck, interior, engineering, etc.). Unfortunately, segregating crew members into departments creates a less cohesive team ship-wide. This is because everyone focuses on their department’s responsibilities and leaves the interests of the overall group to the captain.

Think about a baseball or cricket team. Like crew on a large yacht, each player covers a specific area and performs when they are called to perform. Sure, they will back each other up, but they rarely all come together to perform as a whole.

These people aren’t really a team. And the same holds true on a yacht.

Just like a cricket or baseball team, each department has its role and generally gets their tasks completed on their own, with assistance from a different department from time to time. For example, a chef may get assistance from an engineer to fix a malfunctioning appliance in the galley, but the chef is still solely responsible for the meal being prepared.

A true team is like a hockey or football team, where there is passing and blocking and team member support as the group moves toward the goal. It is within a department on a large yacht where true teamwork begins.

When a department has a job to do, there is mutual support from everyone to achieve whatever task needs to be done. If someone is less skilled, the team members teach each other what they need to know.

When the deck crew is doing the wash down, one area may get finished before another. Those who are finished move in to help where others are still working. Or they start moving equipment to a new section to carry on with the wash down. All of the members of the team are working together to reach the goal.

On a well-run smaller yacht, however, the entire crew is a team. It has to be because they help one another across departments. The mate does turndowns, the stew may help do an oil change, the captain may help cook dinner and the chef may help with the wash down. Everyone is working for the benefit of the rest of the team.

Regardless of size, there are five key things you can do to help promote better teamwork within your department or yacht.

1. Promote complementary skills among team members. These include interpersonal, technical and problem solving skills. Your team needs the ability to resolve conflict among its members, as well as the ability to come up with answers to challenges you may not have faced before. Take time to teach what you know to the rest of your team.

2. Clearly articulate performance goals. Perhaps the wash down needs to be done in one day instead of two. Or perhaps the sea strainers need to be cleaned on a more regular basis. Whatever the goal, everyone needs to clearly understand what that expectation is.

3. Clearly explain the ultimate purpose for the team. Are you there to move the boat from place to place or are you there to provide top notch service to the guests? By understanding the ultimate purpose, your team can better focus on what it needs to improve to achieve your true end result.

4. Examine and clarify the approach everyone will take to get a job done.

• How will everyone work together to accomplish the performance goals? What is the accepted behavior of team members toward each other?

• Does everyone know when to be on deck, not in the crew mess getting coffee?

• Focus on the skills that must be developed to meet upcoming needs. Are we performing busy-work projects at the detriment of improving skills in other areas? i.e. How much practice has everyone had with the new tender before the next charter arrives?

• How will the group make and modify decisions? Is it only what the team leader says that’s important or is there discussion to get ideas and input from everyone? As the saying goes, “No one is as smart as everyone.”

5. Team members must hold themselves and others accountable. If someone is sleeping late or doing only part of their required task, the team needs to come together and make sure everyone understands how one person’s slacking causes more work for everyone else.

The benefit of working as a team rather than as a group of individuals is that the end products are greater than the sum of the individual contributions. Teams amplify the benefits produced by everyone.

Being a better functioning team as a department will influence other departments to improve their teamwork. In this way you can build better teamwork among the entire crew.


Paul Ferdais is founder and owner of The Marine Leadership Group based in Ft. Lauderdale and Vancouver delivering leadership training workshops and coaching ( He has a master’s degree in leadership and spent seven years working as a deckhand, mate and first officer on yachts. Comments are welcome at

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