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10 Ways To Be A Better Captain

Skipper's Tips

Skipper’s Tips: Keep It Simple Sailor – 10 ways to be a better captain

Being a mediocre yacht captain is easy.

Being a great yacht captain requires total commitment to the role. Here we highlight just 10 components, which are methods to ensure that your crew, your owner, and your guests will trust you.


It is presumed that you should have more than sufficient experience and ability to handle your boat in all conditions. It is when the circumstances are at their most challenging, that a great captain should appear to be at ease, never needing to raise their voice in fear or anger when directing the crew. The captain that aggressively yells at his crew is usually insecure about his own proficiency. So if you ever feel pressured, breathe, don’t rush. If it doesn’t feel right, come up with the next plan.


Being assertive, adaptable and a strong role model are essential to inspiring your team. You will also get more from your crew if you empower them to develop their skills and provide opportunities for them to take responsibility. Nobody is an expert at everything, so if a crew member is better at a job than you, put aside your ego and let them take the praise. Utilise the skills you have on board, delegating to the best talent for the job and promoting creative problem solving.



Keep the lines of communication open so everyone feels they can speak to you one-on-one and that they can be heard. Have the ability to listen to everybody and show sincere care and concern. When there is a call to be strict or critical of crew, do not demean them publically nor condescend for you will be quickly despised. Similarly, verbal and non-verbal communications must be excellent in order to deal with difficult guests or owners in the most diplomatic manner, demonstrating full understand without curbing your authority.


Be willing to help the crew and muck in when it is necessary. It is counter-productive to order people around and not demonstrate leadership by example. Everyone must work hard on a operational boat, so lead from the front; people respond positively when they see their leaders appear passionate and enthusiastic for the jobs you work on.


You should be eagerly pursuing further education and the development of knowledge and skills. Being well qualified is the only way to progress to larger yachts and more responsibility. This attitude of advancement not only ensures you stay on top of your game, but encourages the crew to follow your footsteps. The next generation should be like you and if possible better.


You will often be required to make fast decisions, where you must calculate the circumstances, the safety of the boat, her crew and guests. Decisions cannot be made if you are hungry, stressed or tired, so be sure that you maintain yourself in the best state of readiness. Taking a 20 minute power nap can change the course of the day. Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing, so make time for that.


From maritime law to engineering, there is a broad range of knowledge and skills that a reputable captain should master. You should know your way around the engine room as much as you should be socially capable at cocktail parties. You might want to concentrate on the bits of knowledge that are your least favourite, so if navigation and meteorology are your particular interests, you should spend time on first aid, sea survival, and safety.


The yacht should look at her best at all times. Even when the boat must be pulled apart, make the job a tidy job. High standards of order and cleanliness should be a habit and will prompt a sense of pride among the crew. Likewise the captain should dress smart and act smart. Don’t be drunk or out of control in public – set a good example. The boat is a reflection of the captain and the captain is a reflection of the boat.


Keep the team informed and explain ahead of time what they should anticipate as a sign of respect to the crew. If there’s weather brewing, you need your team with you to prepare and devise a best strategy. If personal events in the owner’s life affect the yacht, crew should have the opportunity to plan for their own lives. Of course there will be cases where certain information should be withheld, but a strong captain should be innately able to distinguish the balance between too much information and not enough.


From all these years of establishing connections in world ports, you should have a list of contacts of best agents, taxi drivers, haul out facilities, outboard mechanics, florists or varnishers. Only the highest standards of work are acceptable in the yachting industry and often jobs must be dealt with at short notice. Do yourself a favour and know who to call.

In conclusion, experience is the most solid route to becoming a commendable sea captain. Knowledge isn’t gained overnight; it is the result of years of experience, of making mistakes, learning and moving on. But if this is not coupled with a likable personality, it will be hard to implement your skills and lead a happy vessel. You must have your crew behind you, so when you say jump, they don’t jump ship.

Louise Reardon, Captain and RYA Yachtmaster Instructor

Louise Reardon, Captain and RYA Yachtmaster Instructor

Louise Reardon has been sailing around the globe on private yachts since 1992 and taught sailing with Offshore Sailing School on Tortola since 2006. She holds an MCA 3000 ton Masters, is a RYA Yachtmaster Instructor, US Sailing Instructor, and has a BA hons in Asian & African Geography.
Louise Reardon, Captain and RYA Yachtmaster Instructor

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