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The Ins and Outs of Crew Changeovers

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Changeovers: we’ve all done them at least once, and usually several times, as we progress in this industry. Stepping onto another boat, a new command, with all that entails: a new owner, a new crew, an established dynamic to recognize and support – or to dissect and re-create.  Not yet able to presume anything, and with much yet to prove.  Stripes are not enough; neither is a contract; nor your past. Persistent, positive, powerful performance is the only true qualifier here aboard this new command. Like this new website, you must prove yourself yet again.

Often, prior to even boarding and meeting the existing crew, some captains insist or plot to change an entire crew without any consideration for those already  on board, whatever their particular skill sets.  While I absolutely believe that it may be right to bring aboard someone you know and trust implicitly, someone who has the skills and expertise to help you during a transition or a trans-At, I also believe it is good practice to assess and develop the potential of each existing crew member.  Certainly not all the crew you find aboard will fit into the new dynamic, but why lose a potentially good resource merely for a personal preference? 

We all have mates that specialise in various aspects of the industry, but the very nature of the industry allows, and at times demands, this circle of trusted crew mates to expand.  To be sure, a good engineer, familiar with the intricacies and systems of a vessel is a rare treasure, and a chief stewie and chef that are wise to the pleasures and preferences of an owner are important elements to a successful team. However, these key players may also have picked up some of the bad habits we try to avoid and aim to change.  We, as commanders, must therefore have a sound grasp of their duties and the application of their skills, in order to properly assess performance - be it maintenance of machinery or mixing a margarita – before deciding who remains and who is replaced.

It is also important to separate out the “wannabe’s” and “never-will-be’s” from the more capable and dedicated professionals in your team. You can then get on with developing the protocols and building a positive dynamic to achieve the programme goals. 

Some crew may have a novel or unique manner about them, adding exceptional or surprising value to a team, while others may hide behind politics to avoid doing a good job. But lies have short legs and, fortunately, one cannot get very far in any specialty without persistent, premier performance.  Certainly not aboard the boats or decks that I run. Ask yourself the same question. Whether it is racing or charters or for owners’ use, performance is always the key qualifier, and it can always be measured.  Although politics run rampant in the industry, we need to look beyond the nonsense and assess performance levels every day as these ultimately reflect on the skipper. The standard starts at the top.

Again, trust your instincts while remaining open to something new. If you sense that someone does not fit into the dynamics you’ve set in place, don’t hesitate, as usually it will only get worse.  Source a replacement as soon as possible, call your mates or your favourite crew agent without delay. Once it is clear that your standards will not be set or maintained, don’t wait for the frustrations or the disappointments that follow.  Personally, when a choice needs to be made, I have no issue in handing over a flight coupon while shaking a hand and saying, “Thank you for your efforts and have a nice life.”

On a positive note, there is opportunity in all things. It allows the chance to discover new perspectives and possibilities and the challenge to grow as a commander. It is imperative that we embrace new techniques and technologies, but we should never lose sight of the basic tenets handed down by generations of seamen and commanders before us. Trust your instincts and use your experience wisely to develop a dynamic that reflects your vision, based on tradition, experience and expectations, without compromising the well-honed truths that define you as a capable commander. Remember, that is why you are here.

Chat with your mates, at a bar, over lunch, and on this new platform;  whatever it takes to keep you fresh and on the right track, bouncing off ideas, irritations, the ingenious or the entertaining with peers and pals as you progress.  Use discretion and discipline, and the tools at hand; discuss the possibilities and decide for yourself what sets the professional standards we all aspire to maintain.

One of my greatest rewards is witnessing and experiencing the profound pleasures of good crew work and a sound dynamic. The synchronicity of efforts and the success of a job well done is certainly something to be proud of if you’ve a hand in making it so.  As a Captain, this is what we do, and this is what assures our success in all that flows and follows, right?

What has your experience been? Please share your ideas and thoughts in the forum.


Mex is a simple sailor and clearly from the old school.  With a broad background on commercial fishing boats, Maxis, IACC boats, square riggers, big classics and modern superyachts – both power and sail. He has sailed, and mostly raced his way from one prime port to another aboard some of the world’s finest yachts while setting standards and gaining his own insight along the way in common cruising grounds and well beyond. 

He has been a Captain, a Chief and Sole Engineer, a Programme Manager, a rockstar Bowman, Crew Boss and a simple sailor over the years and he has also set up and operated his own boatyard facilities and charter fleet when he wasn’t pushing water and limits.  His hands-on approach has given him the experience and expertise he shares with us in his own unique manner while provoking you to reply and rethink your actions so as to make our industry one based on performance rather than politics and so as to keep its traditions and tenets, and assure the excellence of service to match the magic of the platforms we take to sea.  We hope you shall read him with interest, learn a little, respond a lot, and learn together the details that make us better and what we are, senior crew that define the future of the industry.

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