Leaders need HELM-style training, licensed or not

Nov 5, 2013 by Alene Keenan

With the advent of the HELM leadership course requirements coming into effect, members of the yachting industry are taking notice. As a chief stew, I have seen instances of crew mismanagement and lack of effective crew leadership policies more than once.

Regulated training is taken seriously; non-regulated training that does not meet a specific USCG or MCA criteria is not. And stew training, particularly, is not taken seriously.

When I started in yachting, I had already traveled a lot and had had more than one career. With four years of college psych classes under my belt, I thought I had seen every human relationship scenario imaginable, and that I could take control of any situation that came up.

Well, I was wrong. There is a lot more to management than trying to “fix” someone or, heaven forbid, sweep an issue under the rug. In my first year of yachting, I once went so far as to bail a crew member out of jail without telling the captain. What was I thinking? That I could handle it myself, I guess.

I thought I understood the underlying motives that people had for everything, including immature, unprofessional behavior. And I assumed that with the proper discipline and guidance, they could be put on the right path and be a contributing member of the team. I still think that is true, but I have a larger, more realistic understanding now.

As a more “mature” chief stew, I had a tendency to step in and take responsibility for leadership whenever I felt it was needed. When I look back, I now realize that I embraced leadership, but I had a problem with management. Like many stews who have service hearts, sometimes I cared too much about being nice to be an effective manager. And that backfired on me more than once.

I have a different perspective now. Life took a turn, and I saw another side of life. In May 2001, I took my STCW training at MPT. On Sept. 11 of that year, I was in New York City and we witnessed the attack on the twin towers. Life can turn serious in an instant, and I watched our captain pull out management and leadership skills I didn’t know he possessed. It was tough, because he was caught off guard, too, but it was his job to point us in the right direction. He stepped up to the plate and owned it. I found new tools within myself, and I learned a lot from him.

Now, mind you, I’m not saying that my STCW training prepared me in any way for what we witnessed that day, but it helped us prepare to react as a team. STCW was one of the first steps leading to regulation within the yachting industry.

The HELM  management program is a MCA/USCG regulated class. People will have to take it. Among other things, it contains:

The 10 core safety leadership qualities,

The difference between leadership and management,

Individual and team motivation,

Attributes of an effective leader,

Creating, leading and managing teams,

Recording and documenting the results of change,

Onboard training,

Learning and coaching, and

The mentoring relationship.

This mandatory HELM leadership course that licensed crew will have to take offers a unique educational opportunity for learning, and for implementing a permanent change in skill level.

But it is also an opportunity for heads of departments to work together to create leadership teams. When crew members take courses they don’t have to take, using their owns resources and their time off, they should be commended. That knowledge becomes a part of who we are. Education adds value to life. Those who choose to further their education do so not only to enhance their work skills and what they do, but to illuminate who they are and who they want to be.

It is distressing to me that interior crew courses do not have the same level of respect as regulatory classes. They are just as important because they add value to our lives and add impact to our careers. Often, interior crew do not get the support and encouragement they deserve from captains or owners. Those who elect to take courses on their own do so for no reason other than that they want to do a better job. In my opinion, they are super stews.

It is my hope that stews and their captains will take the HELM courses and co-create a management program that works for them.


Alene Keenan has been a megayacht stew for more than 20 years. She teaches at MPT in Ft. Lauderdale and offers interior crew training through her company, Yacht Stew Solutions (www.yachtstewsolutions.com). Download her book, The Yacht Service Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht, on her site or amazon.com. Comments on this column are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com.


About Alene Keenan

Alene Keenan is a veteran chief stew, interior training instructor/consultant, and author of The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht.

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