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Handling Emergencies - Perspective from Big Ships' Practices

Handling Emergencies – The Captain’s Perspective

Big Ships’ Practices Aboard Yachts

by Mark Lenci, Captain USN (retired), Boston Station

About the author: Mark Lenci’s 26-year Navy career included serving on five nuclear attack submarines and the US Seventh Fleet command ship. He commanded USS Houston (SSN 713). Mark and his wife Bev have cruised their 52-foot sailboat, Sunflower, over 22,000 miles in the last 10 years in Maine, the Canadian Maritimes, and Newfoundland. They also spent two seasons cruising Boston to Duluth, MN and back via the St Lawrence Seaway. Mark will be entering his boat in the 2018 Newport Bermuda Race.


Navy and large commercial vessels have, over centuries, developed effective techniques for handling emergencies. A sailor from Nelson’s Navy would initially be baffled by today’s ships, but he would immediately understand what was happening during today’s equivalent of “beating to quarters” (going to general quarters to handle an emergency).

This article suggests how the principles of handling emergencies on large ship can be applied to smaller private yachts – yachts capable of being cruised comfortably by two people. The principles can be easily extended to crews of more than two people, larger yachts, and professionally crewed vessels.

This article is it is written specifically for the captain, and in larger crews, for her/his watch captains and second in command. It intentionally does not address specific damage control equipment; individual damage control skills of crewmembers, vessel preparation to withstand and minimize damage, or actions to prevent emergencies