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Who is in charge?

Essex Station Safety Minute

A problem can easily arise when several knowledgeable sailors are on deck during a passage or even a daysail and it is not clear who is charge. Each is partially attentive, but no one is paying attention to the details on the chart or what other boats are hidden under the jib but are on a collision course. Even couples on a passage can have this problem when both are on deck during the day.

A case in point occurred when six very experienced sailors had chartered a boat for a club cruise. All were on deck sailing across a bay when they hit a rock doing considerable damage to the boat and crew. The rock was small, but it was on the chart.

It’s critical to know which one person “has the conn” at any moment. Our solution is to keep a very large wristwatch aboard and to have an agreement that when there are several people on deck that one will be given the watch to wear and will be on duty and responsible for the safe navigation of the boat. When the watch stander wants relief, they need to take the watch off and hand it to another qualified crew member. That person now “has the watch” and is responsible for navigation, collision avoidance, etc. In the situation above if one of the six had been wearing the watch that person would have been responsible to be sure they or someone else was checking the chart.

It is a simple but unambiguous way to be sure that someone is in charge and that the person knows they are. The skipper needs to be sure that those who are wearing the watch know what they are responsible for.

Tom Wadlow

Essex Station