Navigate fine line of owner/crew communication

Jun 27, 2016 by Peter Herm

I find myself harping on communication constantly among owners and crew. A great crew/owner relationship is built on constant communication, but sometimes it can be too much and done incorrectly.
We recently welcomed a new engineer to our boat. After our first cruise with this new team member (Go to Ponza, Italy, not in the guide books!), we were relieved to find that he was near perfect in the communication department. His communication style was just right; not too much and not too little.
As an engineering-interested owner, I enjoy understanding what is going on with the boat mechanically and usually have an ongoing dialog with the engineer.
Our last engineer had been on the boat for over four years and knew every nut, bolt, circuit and quirk. The new one came from a larger boat and had many interesting stories to share. The key was that he is not a “babbler.” Some crew talk too much and some not enough, and it is a tough skill to coach.
There is a fine line to walk for crew between too much information and not enough. We had a captain once who would not even say “good morning” as he passed by us sitting on the aft deck. We perceived this as rude.
On the other hand, it is not acceptable to interrupt an owner’s vacation with a constant stream of information and chit chat, unless requested.
With our captain, I usually schedule a time at the beginning of a trip to discuss the trip plans for the coming week(s).
We then schedule another time during the cruise to discuss the various outstanding issues, needs of the crew, the boat, etc.
It is not that I do not want to talk to him, and I admit to asking him dozens of stupid questions every trip, but the planned discussion periods are when the lists come out so we can both focus.
My stupid questions this trip yielded the answers to these pressing questions on marine terminology: How long is a shot? How long is a cable? and How deep is a league? Somehow, with our crew, we have worked out what I think is a great balance between enough communication and not enough. I hope they feel the same way.
On the topic of communication, it is time for a rant. I am old. I remember when phones were used to make phone calls where people actually talked to each other, not surf the net and send texts.
In my business, I am amazed at my team’s constant barrage of emails between them and suppliers and customers instead of phone calls.
Recently we desperately needed a product from a supplier in New Zealand. The quote request was sent via email. No response. Another email; still no response. I understand there are time zone issues, but it was finally resolved when someone actually picked up the phone about a week too late. This happened again this week. We urgently needed a freight quote to some far away land.
When our newest and youngest employee got a reminder from me on the status of the issue, his response was: “I have emailed them three times with no response.” My retort was: “Have you CALLED them?” This resulted in a blank stare. The concept of calling someone had not even crossed his mind.
In the crewed boat world, I understand that time zones and phone coverage can be challenging, and that email and text are very handy. But I really think that good old voice to voice conversations can resolve issues, provide crystal clear communication and accelerate resolutions.
We equipped our boat with a Globalstar sat phone. This provides unlimited voice calls globally at a fixed monthly cost of about $150. The quality is not quite cell-like, but it is not bad. And did I mention unlimited usage and a fixed cost?
Why text and email when you can actually call? I believe the inflections transmitted and heard from the human voice are sometimes far more powerful than letters in a text or email. Yes, emails and texts have their place, but let’s not forget good old voice.
High tide and bow west only.

Peter Herm is the pen name for a veteran yacht owner who is an entrepreneur based on the East Coast of the U.S. Contact him by emailing editorial@the-triton.com.

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