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Josh Nicholson on the Secrets to Becoming a Successful Bosun

Growing up in Mallorca, Josh Nicholson was immersed in the yachting community since he was a young boy. Now a successful bosun working rotation on a 100m+ charter yacht, he says “Above all my role involves being an observer and calculating the most appropriate decisions ahead of time that benefit not just the operation but the team.” Wise beyond his years, Josh is also a fierce advocate for mental health and personal development, and holds true to his belief that if something is worth doing, it's worth doing well. 

Here Josh discusses his day to day role as a bosun, fond memories of his first Atlantic crossing, and why he believes passionately that humility is key to success.

You began day working on yachts straight after school – was it what you always wanted to do?

Mallorca has been home since I was 12 years old, and it plays a major role in the yachting industry along with its community. I’d spent so much time on the water during the summers  around like minded people that it felt natural to enter the industry and pursue a career as a crew member.

How did you get your first full time job on a yacht and what type of vessel was it?

I was working as a sailboat rigger with a local company on the island, and this really kickstarted my network because of the number of projects we worked on during my time there. We completed a full rigging conversion on a sailing yacht called Black Molly - a 30m Jongert delivered in 1998 - and I built a good working relationship with the captain. Upon delivery of the finished project he offered me a deckhand/rigger position for their upcoming Atlantic crossing, which was my first full time permanent contract with a yacht and I couldn’t have been happier.

A couple of years later you took time out to go travelling – where did you go and what did you discover during that time?

I flew to Buenos Aires in Argentina to start my journey. My goal was to visit as many countries as possible and, while initially it was going to be for a couple months, eventually it turned into just under a year. The biggest discovery other than the culture and unforgettable sights and experiences was a better insight into myself as a person. South America really encouraged me to become aware and work towards overcoming fears, emotional pains, limiting beliefs and unhealthy patterns so I could let them go and work towards becoming a better, more wholesome individual. Essentially it was one big lesson of personal growth, and that is something that has served me well both personally and professionally.

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Compared to five years ago, crew seem to be more focused on their purpose and career goals – is this your experience too?

Most definitely! I am a lot more self-aware and confident in the goals and achievements I wish to complete compared to five years ago. I think this stems a lot from the quality of crew and mentors that are present in people’s progression and career path.

As a bosun, what’s the scope of your role on a day-to-day basis?

Managing and co-ordinating the deck team, which is key to a productive day for me. My role and responsibilities are to build and delegate tasks among the team, establish priorities systematically, and monitor, adjust and eliminate tasks on an ongoing basis. I ensure we maintain the highest standards on deck and this is reflected in the overall appearance of the yacht and the work we carry out. I develop task lists, schedules and timetables for the coming days and weeks with clear and specific deadlines, and this is a continuous task. Above all my role involves being an observer and calculating the most appropriate decisions ahead of time that benefit not just the operation but the team.

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What’s the best part of the job?

Other than cruising around the world and working with great people, I would say the best part is the self-reward of being a mentor to team members or new crew, passing on skills and knowledge and watching them grow both personally and professionally. I strive to help them become the best they can be for future employers and opportunities. It’s great working alongside people that share the same passion.

You now work on rotation on a 100m+ charter yacht – how do you ensure smooth handovers and what do you do when you’re off the yacht?

I always write an end of day note when I’m on board, even if it’s just a splurge of words. A little each day helps to construct a strong and informative handover when the time comes - I add photos, links, contact details and anything else that I believe will help my rotational partner. Verbal communication is also vital in a smooth handover and discussing any queries before departure.

When I’m off the yacht I like to travel and venture to the mountains in order to detach and rest, which is also the perfect opportunity to do some climbing and hiking!

In your role as bosun there’s often an expectation that you should swiftly climb the ranks – what’s your view?

I’ve certainly experienced some pressure from employers and even crew agents who ask: “You’ve been in the industry for a long time, why aren’t you an officer already?” or “Are you planning to do your OOW?” I’ve never had the urge to rush through the ranks though; I firmly believe crew should be smart about their time in each role and work towards fulfilling the responsibilities within that role to the fullest before jumping into the next position.

From a personal standpoint it’s also about self-evaluation and being true to yourself, asking: “Am I ready for this role?” Trust and respect are huge for me, and in order to gain these from your team you must ensure you are capable of what the role demands; shortcuts are not a positive or respected path. Money and rank are a huge factor for a lot of people but sadly it doesn’t always equal experience.

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What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your career so far?

To remain humble. I have worked incredibly hard to get where I am, I’ve dedicated a lot of time to this profession and position and I believe humility is the true key to success. It’s easy to lose your way at times and there are a lot of distractions and traps, especially in this industry. Staying humble allows me to remain focused and eager to continue my own personal and professional development.

The pandemic has been a difficult time for many crew – how has it been for you and your colleagues? 

It certainly had a big hit on the industry. A lot of people were fortunate to be employed and working whereas others couldn’t find work - lots of green crew flocked to Europe hoping to  secure a role and were disappointed. I myself left my previous boat in January last year for a six month climbing trip across the United States (all planned, paid for and organised), unaware that Covid was going to have such an impact on the world and people's movements.

I was able to visit friends in the UK briefly before being caught in lockdown for three months at home in Mallorca. It was certainly interesting being home for that long and unable to leave the house or venture out. Mallorca was an absolute ghost town, it was very eery. After the lockdown I struggled to find any work on or off the island, but I did get some temp work with a friend on his boat to keep me busy and productive until my current program came about.

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Awareness of mental health is growing but crew are still reluctant to ask for help and it’s not always easy to spot the signs – what are your thoughts?

I’ve seen a lot of people underestimate and also dismiss the basic signs. If my team are happy and smiling but one is withdrawn, looking down or detached and it seems to be ongoing, I believe it warrants a check in. One should not accuse, threaten, blame or make light of what someone is feeling, but rather try to have a non-judgemental and confidential conversation. Sometimes that small act of asking if everything is OK can make all the difference.

I always aim to instil confidence and trust among my team around this topic, and my door is always open. I believe training in mental health should be implemented across the industry - learning the necessary approach and techniques is just as important for a happy and healthy crew as any other course.

What’s the mood on the ground in Palma and how is the Med season looking?

Mallorca as an island did very well with the lockdown. There are a few restrictions, but I don’t think it will affect the season that much, so long as set measures are adhered to.

What have been some of the highlights during your career so far?

Crossing the Atlantic is always special, no matter how many times it’s been done. Out there, even on a large yacht, you sense how small we really are on the ocean. My first Atlantic crossing holds a special place in my mind - there were no clouds, no wind, no ripples, nothing. The water was glass, there was absolutely no movement. We stopped dead in the middle of the Atlantic on Black Molly and the three of us stood there in complete silence before completing a half way swim. It was surreal - the water was crystal clear but it had a looming deep black when you looked down from the surface. Seeing your legs hanging down in the water with a depth of 3000m below is something else.

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Do you consider yourself to be lucky or have you made good choices?

I have always maintained a strong course of direction throughout my time in the industry, I’ve been stubborn with the choices I’ve made and trusted my intuition. I’ve been lucky with the people and the mentors I have worked with and those opportunities certainly paved the way towards making positive choices and rounding who I am today.

Where in the world are your favourite cruising grounds and why?

I adore the coast of Croatia and the beautiful islands along the way, but I also really enjoy the Caribbean, mostly for the clear waters and amazing diving. That being said, I’m still awaiting the opportunity to cruise Canada and Alaska.

What advice would you give to younger crew embarking on a career in yachting?

There are some really great, experienced and passionate crew in this industry. For new crew, I think their expectations are based on a variety of factors, but my main advice would be to really take the time to listen and learn, and always strive to develop your skills even after you’ve got the job. It will only benefit you in the long run and lead to better opportunities along the way.

With thanks to wilsonhalligan


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