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Crew Briefing

Sample Tip Sheet

Sample Head Operating Instructions

Briefing your crew

An informed crew is a happy crew

You’ve had your boat for several years and have worked on her systems yourself, gaining intimate knowledge of how she works and what buttons to press. But think back to that first delivery.  How many things were mysteries then? What was that beeping sound and where did you stow those jack lines?  This is how guests often feel when they come aboard a vessel they don’t know.  It’s all fine until something happens to you or the vessel and you need all hands working together.  That’s why a briefing before departure makes all the sense in the world.

Before guests arrive – The Tip Sheet

To enhance our guests’ comfort, we do several things routinely to acquaint them with the boat and procedures aboard our vessel.  First, before they arrive and especially if they are new to sailing, we send them a tip sheet with what to expect on a cruising sailboat.  It provides a general orientation and defines what to bring, what to leave behind, and how to pack things.  It helps to set expectations about availability of equipment, power supply and accommodations.

When guests arrive – The Tour Guide

The first thing we do when guests arrive is provide a tour of the whole boat, with basic orientation, rules and instructions along the way for the simpler things.  “This is the saloon or living room.  Life jackets are in the cabinet to the right, also known as the starboard locker. To the right is the kitchen, aka galley. Snacks are in here – help yourselves.  Fridge opens like this.  Take one can out, put one back.”  It helps people feel comfortable to know what’s off limits and what is okay for them to tackle.  We always use common language and nautical terms to help familiarize folks both ways.

We detail where charts and guidebooks are stored, sunglasses, sun screen, and handheld instruments.  We review how to open drawers and latches, and point out the stowage of flares and fire extinguishers.  We also suggest how to stow their own gear – hanging lockers, sea bags, no loose gear underway. 

When we arrive at the cabin and head, we stop and emphasize that there are two imperatives.  First, all ports and hatches must be closed before getting underway and each person is responsible for their own cabin.  Second, we review use of the head, sink and shower, stressing limited availability of water, finickiness of the systems, and absolute essence to close the valves when done.  Not that we want to alarm anyone, but those two things if improperly done could literally sink the ship.  Just to make sure, we also have typed up instructions and hung them on the back of the door to the head in case anyone forgets. 

After they’ve settled in – The Stewardess Routine

Now it’s time to go through safety procedures and shipboard rules.  Critical here is the cardinal rule:  Stay on the boat.  If someone breaks this rule, everyone must stay calm and play their part in recovery.  We inform our guests how to deploy the safety gear (MOB pole, life sling, flotation, MOB GPS button) and we assign tasks (spotter, sail handler, helmsman, equipment handler, etc). We like to deploy the quick stop method and review the procedure letting everyone know that we will practice it underway.  Practicing under calm conditions with a HOB (hat over board) before it’s needed can make a big difference later on.

The stewardess routine also involves explaining use of the radio and radar, logbook entries, where to find the gear and thru hull diagrams, operation of fire fighting equipment, and foul weather procedures (jack lines & clipping in, going forward, sail changes, signals, watch requirements, and when to call the captain). 

We also cover basic health concerns – including mal de mer, sunburn, hypo- and hyperthermia, heat stroke and dehydration, and how to recognize symptoms.  Although it sounds like a lot and you may not do it all for a day sail, it can make a real difference in alleviating crew concerns when it may really count.  It’s imperative to inform not alarm, and it helps to do it with humor under pre-stress calm conditions. 

One time we waited with the MOB instructions until 2 days into a ten day cruise when the forecast called for 25 knots sustained.  One young lady broke down in tears while another whooped with joy with every wave that crashed over the bow.  You never know how someone will react, but this also clues you into the best tasks for different people.  The one in tears was given the spotter’s job; pointing is something she was likely to be capable of under duress.

Final steps – How things work and job assignments

The last group of items involves dividing tasks  among the crew who are interested in taking part and instructing them on how different things work just in case they need it.  Below is a basic listing of things we might cover:

  • Galley – who are the slaves and where are their provisions
  • Emergency gear – Fire extinguishers, flares, horns, lights, rafts, EPIRBS, GPS, radios, anchors, seacocks, bilge pumps
  • Mechanical – starting the engine, generator, oil, windlass, autopilot
  • Electrical – lights, batteries, refrigeration
  • Electronics – Radio, phone, GPS/chart plotter, laptop, radar, handhelds
  • First aid – kits, books, qualifications
  • Papers – documentation, registration, licenses, serial numbers, etc
  • Docking and mooring procedures – throwing a line, tying a rope
  • Before and after sail procedures –log, weather, charting/navigation, pre-sail checklist, post-sail routine.

We have never yet had a guest who did not want to learn.  Even the ones who professed laziness and ignorance came out for the briefings.  I guess we’ve gotten to the point where we don’t really have anything to prove but do love sharing what we know.  At least if someone walks away with one new idea, they will probably consider it a good day.   And if you see someone “get it” for the first time, you’ll have reward enough for trying. 



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