Regardless of the type of vessel, the success or failure of a passage can hinge on how effectively people coexist and cooperate to accomplish the tasks necessary to the voyage. A crew is meant to act like a team. Whether the vessel is sail or power driven, pleasure or commercial, people have to divide the tasks, prepare for the trip, and work together to accomplish a common goal.
Often it falls to the skipper to assign the right person to the right job. Based on the talents of the individuals and the type of the vessel, a number of categories may be designated and assigned to the appropriate person. Aboard long-distance racing boats such as in the Whitbread, the categories often include: navigation; mechanical, electrical, structural, and safety/medical responsibilities; rigging; deck hardware; sails; provisioning; and general quartermaster responsibilities for tools and stowage.
Of course, few voyaging boats have a large enough crew to so widely spread the load. Depending on the size of the crew and vessel and the duration of the trip, several of these tasks are carried out by one individual. One person may be in charge of the navigation duties while also being in charge of the electrical system. In any case, the areas of responsibility need to be assigned, job lists created, and tasks undertaken.
In some cases, the skipper may create or add to the respective job lists in each category. If the person in charge of a particular set of responsibilities is self-motivated, however, it is often that person’s duty to create, modify, and work through the job list while keeping those in charge apprised of their progress.
Good leadership isn’t a matter of cracking the whip and dictating what someone else needs to do. Rather, it is the ability to motivate others to do their jobs to the best of their ability while simultaneously enabling those tasks to be efficiently accomplished. The skipper is the person in charge of quality control. It is his or her responsibility to know that preparations are complete and things are in order. To that end, the captain often needs to delegate specific tasks to particular individuals. To help ensure that the tasks are appropriately completed, the skipper may need to help or assign additional personnel or resources. He or she needs to make sure that the tasks assigned can be accomplished within the standards and time frame required. The skipper is not only responsible for the quality of the job, but also ensures that the task can be completed with the resources assigned.
As the leader of the crew, the captain needs to be aware of the situation within each category. In order to effectively manage the people and resources at available, he or she needs to know where the problems lie and adjust schedules accordingly. In that way, the captain acts as an expeditor, helping to complete the tasks efficiently.
In a variety of ways, the successful passage comes down to good communications and teamwork. Each individual needs to know his or her responsibilities. Each must be accountable for a set of tasks. And if there are unforeseen difficulties, the skipper needs to know the situation in order to adjust resources or personnel.