From the Bridge: by Editor Dorie Cox
Word of a yacht on the rocks spread quickly on social media when a photo of it was posted in June. Hundreds of people judged the presumed captain as drunk, ignorant, inexperienced or, now, out of a job.
It looked like a good topic for this month’s yacht captains discussion group at The Triton’s From the Bridge lunch, so we shared the photo to talk about social media’s impact on the industry. Most of the seven captains had already seen it and reacted with grimaces – and a few slight grins – as it was passed around the table.
“Captains like a good boat wreck, as long as it’s not us,” one captain said.
But the conversation immediately turned serious and sympathetic as every captain suggested a cause, such as steering, thruster or engine failure. Their reaction, however, was not shared by most. The June 4 post, with no more information than “So this happened in Port Everglades today,” continued to spread and within two days had been shared more than 1,000 times, with more than 200 mostly negative comments.
“If that happened to me, I wouldn’t want anyone to know,” a captain said.
Each captain recalled incidents that could have landed him on the computer screens of thousands of people. One captain had trouble with the yacht’s autopilot and drove the boat into a river bank, another had police officers at the yacht, and every man at lunch had dinged or dented a boat at some point.
“I’ve done things, thank God, no one saw,” a captain said.
“If you haven’t hit something, you haven’t been boating,” another captain said.
It’s not just the captains who think about the effect of social media, said a captain who had engine failure while underway in a current.
“The first thing the boss said was, ‘Let’s see how fast this is on YouTube,’” he said. “‘Well, start your watch.”
Although social media wasn’t the first thought on that captain’s mind, he said he was surprised “that’s even what the owners are thinking.”
And just because it’s not online now, doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future.
“Thank God, it still hasn’t come up,” he said.
During a tow, a captain said his yacht’s owner considered removing the name off the back of the boat in case someone took a photo or video. A social media post of a yacht with a piece out of the hull or hard aground can affect the yacht’s reputation. There is always more to the story, and out-of-context or incorrect posts on social media are annoying – but more than that, they can be dangerous.
“These are different times,” a captain said. “And even when people don’t know the details at all, social media can work to your detriment.”
“People have weaponized social media to cause harm,” another captain said. “It can destroy your name.”
“Any perception could get misconstrued in so many ways,” a third captain said. “Accidents happen, it’s the response and jumping to conclusions that cause the problem.”
“It’s a mask for the bad people,” a fourth captain said. “Everyone’s brave behind their phone.”
So, what would these captains do if it had been them at the helm of that yacht on the rocks?
“You could do a rebuttal,” a captain was quick to say.
But another captain cautioned against that move.
“Usually the captain can’t post his version of the crash because of insurance,” he said. “And it would be a breach to defend yourself unless you were told to by legal counsel.”
“You can talk to people in person – to some extent,” another captain said.
But in the end, they agreed.
“Nothing. You can’t do anything. We have to walk away,” a captain said. “As long as you’re clear with the boss. We’re all professionals, we’ve got to let it go.”
“You need to be thick-skinned in this industry and take it like water off a duck,” another said.
Several captains admitted that it would be hard not to defend themselves publicly, but realized that a response would not reach the audience of the original photo and could lend itself to negative comments again.
“And once a post goes out into the internet, there is no way to call it back,” a captain said.
“It’s reputation herpes,” another said.
Although not personally harmed, each captain in the group had experienced a social media incident with his crew, owner or yacht. Several had crew, or knew of crew, who had been fired for inappropriate social media posting.
“Entire crew have been let go,” a captain said.
“We had a crew that took a video of himself on the owner’s bed and posted it,” a captain said. “That was just dumb.”
Another captain was shown a photo of his crew in a social media post.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy,” a captain said. “People can’t post anything about the boat or the boat name – and here they are, the crew, in the hot tub with champagne.”
Unwanted social media posts can pop up from anywhere, a captain said. Even though his crew had not inappropriately posted anything about the boat, a sanctioned social event was the culprit. Turned out a photo was posted by a visitor on board.
“So the owner sees strangers on his boat,” he said. “It was an innocent thing, but it’s about the perception.”
In a similar incident, someone posted a photo of a vehicle owned by a yacht owner. Even though it was unrecognizable, the captain “got a call from the secretary to take it down.”
Social media has the power to potentially damage many aspects of yachting. The first thing many crew agencies and captains do is check for a potential crew member’s actions on Facebook, a captain said. And it can also hurt at the top of the yacht food chain.
“Social media will make some owners get out of yachting,” a captain said.
Despite so much that is negative, there are positive aspects to social media.
“For us in the industry who want to keep in touch with friends and family, it is a great way to stave off depression and loneliness,” a captain said.
And it can be a form of publicity.
“Our industry is threatened as our owners are old, white people,” a captain said. “The demographic clientele is changing and social media is a good tool to introduce people – to find more takers. Social media can market our industry, it can be good advertising. If people see us every day, they may become more likely to buy one.”
Like it or not, social media is here to stay. In fact, it continues to grow. So captains said the key is to work with it.
“What can you do?” a captain said. “You can’t sue the internet. There are no regulations, no laws. People can say what they want.”
With another look at the photo of the yacht on the rocks, most of this group said that they can be more conscious of how they post, share and comment, and they can be proactive.
“We’re professionals, we can be part of the solution,” a captain said. “We need clear, concise rules on board.”
“We have to do responsible posting,” another captain said.
Even a captain who deleted his Facebook page realized that social media can still affect him, so he asked the group to keep an eye out.
“Call me if you hear of something about me,” he said. “Use your head, don’t perpetuate.”
Positive changes won’t happen overnight.
“We can share our message about social media with our crew, but it’s a long, drawn-out process,” a captain said.
“Maybe my crew will teach the next crew,” he said. “And maybe they’ll teach the next crew.”
“We need to look out for each other,” another captain said. “One way or another, it could be you.”
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome below.