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Owner’s View: Text on your own time


Owner’s View: by Peter Herm

This article is about the now ubiquitous smartphone and the crew management challenges it creates. The editors were kind enough to ask me to address this topic, not because of my delicate management skills (none), but rather my strong opinions on the topic. A friend of mine was killed recently while texting and driving. Dumb and a terrible shame, but a lesson for all of us.

Smartphones are amazing devices. We can check the weather in Ulaanbaatar, find old girlfriends from high school and see the instant replay on the baseball game. Who needs an AM radio? My nephew even met his new wife on some app. Smartphones are a great tool,  without question. But in the crew world, there is a time and place for everything. If you are on someone’s payroll, texting your girl/boyfriend is not working — and not safe, in many cases.

Driving through Dunkin Donuts today, I watched as the kid taking out the doughnut trash, two bags in hand, stopped in the middle of the parking lot, whipped out his smartphone and furiously pounded away on the screen. Perhaps it was a job-related emergency: They ran out of pink sprinkles and wanted him to run to Walmart to buy more? Or maybe it was his stockbroker with an urgent update on one of the stocks in his Euro portfolio? I don’t know, but I am reasonably sure it was neither urgent nor important, and probably not what his boss wanted him to be doing at that moment. I would guess he was supposed to be taking out the trash, not texting.

On a boat, a crew’s smartphone is for personal time. It is not work; it is play. Play with it on your break, during your meals — whenever it is not the paycheck writer’s time. That time should be spent working, not setting up your hookup for tonight.

There is also, of course, the issue of safety. A lot of what crew does is dangerous. People get killed or injured on boats every day. Most owners don’t fully comprehend this, but with more than a few scars from my early boat maintenance days and even some recently (alcohol involved), I can tell you from experience that you need to pay attention. A phone is a distraction.

Yes, we are all addicted to those “dings,” but if you are a professional on someone’s payroll, they have to be ignored until off duty. I don’t mean wait until you put the brush down — I mean wait until your “dings” can be checked on your time, not mine. The “dings” can wait or you can walk. Harsh? Maybe, but consider these U.S. statistics gleaned from the web:

  • 11 teens die every day as a result of texting while driving.
  • According to an AAA poll, 94 percent of teen drivers acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving, but 35 percent admit to doing it anyway.
  • 21 percent of teen drivers involved in fatal accidents were distracted by their cellphones.
  • According to the National Safety Council, cellphone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year,
  • Nearly 330,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving.
  • 1 of every 4 car accidents in the U.S. is caused by texting and driving.
  • Texting while driving is six times more likely to cause an accident than driving while drunk.
  • Answering a text takes away your attention for about five seconds. Traveling at 55mph, that’s enough time to travel the length of a football field.
  • Texting while driving causes a 400 percent increase in time spent with eyes off the road.

Is there really anything so important on your phone that you should risk injury to yourself or your fellow crew members? Or waste my money? I doubt it. Have a great summer, look me up in the Adriatic. I am the fat guy on the aft deck texting while checking emails on my computer. But not working.

Bow west and high tide 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. Comments are welcome below.


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4 thoughts on “Owner’s View: Text on your own time

  1. Melvyn Miller

    Peter is too polite. Watching anyone on a smartphone or computer can be very annoying, and it is always annoying if the owner or charterer is paying for that time.
    Although crew smartphones could be useful to a program, it is very important to remember that the crewed yacht experience costs more than, and is thus in competition with, the most expensive hotels and restaurants, the employees of which would never be allowed to use a phone or computer in the presence of a guest.
    Captains and chief stews would be well advised to not allow texting as a means of crew communication so that there is no reason for a crew member to answer a smartphone while on duty and never in the presence of a guest or owner.
    Owners understand that their programs require some reserve manpower to provide very fast response, but they should not be unnecessarily reminded of that expense by watching crew use smartphones or computers while on duty. Perhaps the rule should be that uniforms imply being on duty and smartphones imply being off duty.

  2. Captain Erik H Goodwin

    Although I agree with a lot that this owner says, and I think facecrap is the worst thing for society, I have to say that most owners use the phone to call or text crew when they are not on duty, and expect an immediate answer. Phones are used within the crew, I send texts to my crew all the time. That being said, the ones that seem to be on it nonstop and visually being seen abusing it, get warned, and if the abuse continues, they are shown the door. Anything but hands free should be outlawed while driving a car, and it’s a tragedy that someone needs to be killed or someone has an accident that will affect their future to get them to realize the danger of phones while moving.

  3. Henning Heinemann

    Peter raises some valid issues, however this is often complicated by owners themselves being the ones texting. Texting has been my preferred system of communicating work related functions as it provides a lasting, written, record of what is communicated so there is no denying what was said. It also has turned into a great system of accounting as I can often text a picture of receipts along side the products at the point of sale directly to the designated accountant and be done with the entire receipt tracking and shipping fiasco; this system is warmly welcomed by many of the accountants as well as it allows them to make a quick entry as they happen, rather than having an ‘end of month’ pile to deal with. Also if there are any lost records, we both have a copy, or all 3 if the owner is in the text string.

    I will also text crew instructions and they will text me supply needs.

    As for personal texts, yachting is not a typical job, we work where we live, and often we do work at non standard times due to various environmental considerations. Therefore I don’t really hold to strict ‘work hour’ routines when not watchstanding in service; rather I set a “completion time” of when I expect a project or evolution to be finished. I allow the crew their own time management as long as they show responsibility with it and complete tasks according to the time frame.

    It is difficult enough to maintain a personal life within the industry and I find that not micromanaging every moment of the crew’s day provides much higher crew moral; and given the responsibility of time management within their deadline, most crew step up to the plate and do well in an effort to prove themselves and maintain that level of autonomy. I have found it works very well, and goes a long way to maintaining crew moral and longevity.

  4. Frank

    While you’re on the job put the damn phone down or at least do as infrequently as possible and just as briefly, I agree with the owners. I had to fire someone about a year ago for his personal phone use and personal dramas connected with it.

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