Take pride in onboard career to learn seamanship skills, too

Oct 22, 2014 by Alene Keenan


Stews might think deck work isn’t important to their jobs, but there are valuable deck-related skills stews need to know to excel in yachting, and they become obvious the longer you’re in the industry.

At some point early in your yachting career, you’ll find yourself out on deck and realize that you are exposed to dozens of concepts that are entirely new to you. You may not understand their relevance at first, but there are times when you will be required to assist on deck and you need to know these basic concepts.

You will almost certainly be called upon to assist with fenders and lines when tying up at the dock, or to help with a washdown. It’s expected that you have a general idea of what’s going on, how and why a task is being accomplished, and how to carry out orders safely and intelligently.

To bridge any gaps in knowledge, many people believe that a relevant, comprehensive foundation-level course should be required — in addition to STCW Basic Safety Training and a mandatory security course — to prepare an entry-level recruit with little or no boating experience to be competent onboard. This course would cover a minimum understanding of theoretical and practical  job-related responsibilities and duties, including deckwork, watchstanding, basic safety and basic security requirements.

One of the most important things you will ever learn is seamanship. Even though you may never have the desire to work on deck, a certain degree of ability will serve you well. Take every opportunity you can to observe and learn. No matter what department you work in, seamanship joins all departments together.

There are three basic seamanship components.

Deck seamanship concerns the general deck work and the equipment used. Berthing, anchoring and mooring are deck seamanship skills. You should be able to identify deck equipment and have a basic understanding of what each item is used for.

Ground tackle, for example, is the equipment used in anchoring and mooring with anchors. It includes anchors, anchor cables and chains, and all associated equipment. Familiarity with tying up the vessel at the dock is essential.

When a vessel reaches its destination, you will need to understand what your duties entail, whether you will be anchoring or going to the dock. You may be scheduled as part of the anchor watch, or you may be asked to help on deck with lines and fenders when coming in to the dock. Make sure you understand what equipment you will be dealing with, what your specific duties are, and know how to perform safely on deck.

Boat seamanship, as the name implies, concerns the handling of boats. Before you go to sea, a stew’s duties will include stowing the boat for travel. Once you are off the dock, you will have other responsibilities, depending on the length of the passage and conditions at sea.

If you are scheduled to do watches under way, it would be appropriate for you to learn about what is happening on the bridge. Pay attention to what is going on around you, and ask questions. Know what your responsibilities are.

Navigating safely at sea, in confined waterways and harbors, and in proximity to other ships is no small accomplishment. To safely handle a vessel, the operator needs to have a good understanding of how the wind, tide and swell, the passage of other vessels, as well as the shape of the seabed will affect a vessel’s movement, along with understanding their specific  vessel’s performance to allow that vessel a safe passage.

You will pick up a lot of knowledge by paying attention to the movement of the boat, listening to what is going on around you, and paying attention to the navigation procedures and the relevant skills that are needed on the bridge. Before long, you will be able to make sense of how conditions affect the movement of the boat and what that means for your duties.

Marlinespike seamanship concerns the ability to make, repair, and take care of rope. It is important to learn a few knots well, and in particular, to learn any specific knots that the bosun or first officer want you to use.

The first time a stew may be expected to tie a knot can be when you are on watch duty and have to raise the flag. It is daunting the first few times you stand there looking at the flagpole assessing how to safely and securely attach the flag, right side up, without allowing it to fall into the water. You will also have to know how to attach a line to a fender hook, tie off a cleat, and perhaps secure the tender.

The importance of security training is finally being recognized and is now mandatory for all crew on ISPS-compliant yachts. Many young crew think the STCW code consists simply of the four modules of Basic Safety training required to get our first yacht job. Perhaps we don’t think about the relevance of security awareness training unless security issues touch us individually.

For me, the relevance of this came about as a direct result of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. I was the new chief stew on a yacht based at Chelsea Piers on 23rd street. We saw it all happen. We were not able to move the vessel because our engines were disabled and so we ended up volunteering.

What shocked me was that we did not know what to do and were unaware of the systems that were in place at the time. As a result of these events, I now have an appreciation of the different security levels and their importance.

Security drills are mandatory and best practices have been formulated to mitigate risks of a security breach. Ship security plans detail the procedures to follow in the event of an incident. But on that morning, we did not know what to do or what to expect.

The fact remains that stews have a large gap in their training as it applies to the most basic boat handling skills and the importance of safety and security awareness. The deck officers in charge of vessel familiarization do not usually have time to train crew members further in these aspects.

As part of the push to raise standards and achieve consistency in service, we need to improve skills and competence by building the right foundation. This has to start with recognizing the importance of training and familiarization within and across all departments.

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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