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Taking the Helm: Communication breakdown leaves charter crew to flounder

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Taking the Helm: by Capt. Paul Ferdais

I was on a charter recently when there were a couple of issues that developed between the guests, the chief stew and the chef. Fortunately, everything worked out in the end, but it reinforced for me how crucial communication is.

It was late morning, close to lunch time, and we had the guests on. The guests had gotten up relatively early because they were excited for the day, and breakfast was over a good few hours ago. They were starting to get hungry. It was at this time that the chief stew went to change her uniform and had asked the 2nd stew to tend to the guests while she was gone. 

As bad luck would have it, this was when the main charter guests started to ask about lunch and snacks. The 2nd, who didn’t know the meal plan and couldn’t contact the chief stew, went and spoke with the chef. The chef said  he was ready to prepare lunch but had no idea what the plan was as far as timing.   

The chief stew had a plan in mind for lunch, but hadn’t passed it on to anyone else. Unfortunately, since she wasn’t available when the guests started to ask questions about lunch, the stewardesses and chef looked like amateurs floundering around, paralyzed by inaction. 

When it comes to communication, remember: No one reads minds. 

A funny thing sometimes happens when we get placed in a position of authority. We sometimes think because we’ve got this role or that title that we know what’s best – when in reality, we don’t – and that we have to hold that information close to the chest and dole it out in limited amounts.

When we withhold information, it’s usually based on fear of somehow losing. Losing our job to someone else, looking like we don’t know what we’re doing, or simply losing the control we have. In reality, when we share what we know, we become more necessary, not less so, in the eyes of others. This builds trust and confidence between team members. 

If there’s a plan of some sort for the guests, everyone needs to know what it is. Because working on a yacht is a hospitality business first and a marine business second, hospitality isn’t something we can neglect, even a little. The mindset of hospitality must carry across into all of the various departments on our boats. Everyone, from the engineers to the laundry personnel to the deckhands must always remember they work in a hospitality business, no matter what their role happens to be.

When we know the guests want something – be it lunch, more towels or to use the sea-bob – hospitality requires us to fulfill the request. We may not be the right person, but we can get things started so the correct person can take over when they get there.  

It’s at times like this that genuine leaders stand out. If the 2nd stew had told the chef to begin lunch, and meanwhile had started to prepare a small snack herself to hold the guests over, the chief stew could have come in and carried on.

When communication breaks down, everything can grind to a halt. Be open, clear and concise at all times to avoid looking like an amateur. 

Capt. Paul Ferdais, skipper of a motor yacht, has a master’s degree in leadership and previously ran a leadership training company for yacht crew. Comments are welcome below.

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