I recently did my Operational HELM course for my Officer of the Watch, in line with the new modules introduced by the MCA.
The reactions by yacht crew to this new course tended to be pretty similar:
"It's just more modules to make more money from us!"
"Why are they making us do more modules?"
"More money for the MCA!"
"They aren't even important courses!"
To be fair, this is also what I was saying to myself for about three months until I actually took my HELM course.
So what is the HELM Course? In brief, it stands for Human Element and Leadership Management and it's a three day course costing around 800 euro. It covers interview skills, crew morale, understanding other people's views and opinions, team skills, leadership skills and behaviour, among other things.
My opinion on this course has changed significantly from what I had prior to it. Not only did I enjoy it, but I actually believe that it's a good course for officer level. Being an officer involves further responsibilities that deckhands probably haven’t encountered before and may need some advice in navigating: such as being in charge of crew, hiring and firing, organisation and being part of building and getting the most out of the crew.
Still sounds like waffle? Sometimes it helps to look at the world outside yachting to see the point of such courses. After all, if you were a manager of a corporate office, an officer in the Services or any other high ranking management role - then you would expect to have some management training to go along with that authority.
No-one is born a perfect leader. Not everyone recognises other’s needs before their own, and not everyone can work within a team. Not everyone knows how to get the best out of people and how to resolve conflicts. Fairly important skills in yachting, wouldn’t you agree? It is necessary to learn and improve your skills to get the best out of yourself and your team, and with these skills comes confidence and better leadership.
We’ve all heard of the nightmare stories with dysfunctional leadership or problematic crew morale, and have most probably encountered it ourselves to some degree. The fact that these problems exist isn't really a surprise when you think of the variety of nationalities, personalities, ages and backgrounds onboard. People have grown up, studied, worked and experienced all sorts of different environments so when all this joins together - in close quarters - there is always going to be a clash. What the HELM course offers is proper training in this area to try to solve this problem. Good people-skills are vital to manage these onboard frictions.The HELM course offers a level playing field for officer and captain training, so that everyone going forward will receive the same training - relevant to the superyacht industry - and regardless of where or what they have come from.
The course is designed in a way to show how this theory might translate into action. Attendees are grouped together and asked to tackle certain tasks as a team, such as building a structure. Teamwork is no new thing to yacht crew, but in this scenario there is no designated leader, meaning that the group has to concentrate on listening to each other and collaborating to create the best result. These kinds of things often sound contrived and a bit too much like role-playing for some people's comfort, but in reality it was enjoyable once we got into our groups, and I learnt something from it.
In conclusion, a three day HELM course isn't that bad. I learnt a lot, information that I will use as I move up the ranks. It's a good start towards making the industry better; a step towards better officers and better crews... Isn't that what everyone wants, a cool crew and one which works well together all year round?
These are just observations that I've made since the new module was introduced and my thoughts now after having taken it. I hope at least this might make some people look forward to the course, or at the very least understand why the MCA has introduced it.
About the author: Elliot Shane is a 25 year old deckhand on a 44 metre yacht based in France. He joined the industry four years ago and is intending a career in yachting.