Believe it or not, living on board and especially sailing requires obeying a set of rules which every crew member has to obey without question or discussion. It sounds strict and rigid, even cruel but it is the fact. Every skipper has their own set of house rules on board but basically, they all have the same goal – to keep the boat and crew safe.
Researching the accidents that took place onboard I concluded that majority of them occurred due to human error, which was neglecting the house rules so many times. Even though house rules might sometimes look like captain’s ego-trip, all crew members have to follow them and behave in line with them.
If you follow those (sometimes stupid) rules the captain won’t have anything to complain about you while his attention would be focused on the navigation and handling the vessel. Less obvious but completely true, the level of your safety onboard increases significantly. Researching my colleagues’ and my own experience from aboard sailing yachts I tried to list some of the most important house rules onboard.
The captain’s word is law
There can be only one captain on board. Captain’s orders must be obeyed without question or discussion because he has full responsibility for goods and lives aboard so he gives orders in order to safely do the maneuvers and bring the vessel to the safe port without injuries, damage or loss of life. Captain’s decisions or orders could perhaps be discussed after the vessel is safely moored, by the glass of beer. Still, only if the captain feels like explaining his decisions.
The equipment is not to be played with
This should be self-explanatory. Every single part of the deck or navigation equipment is mounted with a purpose in the sailing or navigation procedures. When not in use, they should not be touched just for fun or because of boredom. No matter how robust deck equipment looks like, incorrect use of equipment leads to its damage in most of the cases.
There are no stupid questions
There are no stupid questions – if you do not understand the manner of functioning of the equipment, if you do not understand what captain wants from you or literally anything else that you do not understand – feel free to ask. Crew members are a good help only when they know what they are doing while they could be the worst nightmare when they only think that they know what they are doing.
This word is often used in another context than boating and sailing but this time it represents exactly what I find the most important rule of them all. Every single thing aboard a vessel has its place and has to be put exactly in the same place all the time. Starting with deck equipment (sheets, winches, handles, jammers, fenders, lines etc.) has always to be handled orderly and stored tidily after use. That way all sorts of injuries, such as twisted angles, browses or scratches are put to a minimum.
That applies to the underdeck world as well – all the dishes, plates and cutlery have to be stored in their compartments before taking off while all the cupboards, drawers and hatches have to be carefully closed. All the objects which might be rolled over or broken should be secured as well as the swimming toys (fins, goggles, towels and swimsuits) which have to be stored in the trunks instead of lying in the cockpit or on the transom.
I like to go that far that I ask my crew to hold their refreshing drinks in their hands even if we are motoring smoothly on the flat sea. Only one speedboat that passes us closely is enough to produce swell which turns over the glasses, breaks them and makes the complete mess in the cockpit.
This rule should probably be stated on top of the list but its last place does not decrease its importance. Every captain should go through a safety briefing before taking off regardless of fine weather or experienced crew. Every crew member has to be aware of the place of their lifejackets and all the fire extinguishers. In the case of emergency, everybody should obey the instructions by the captain (explained in the first bullet) who should know how to handle the liferaft and manage the maneuvers of abandoning the vessel.
At the end of the day all (basic) rules mentioned above could be summarized in the first and the last – if you obey the captain and maintain the safety rules your stay on board will be respected.
Please do not hesitate to send us your comments and interesting derivatives of house rules on board. I believe it is about just a little self-discipline required to accept them and make sailing real fun. After all, don’t we all go sailing to change some of the everyday habits?
I wish you a calm sea, a fine wind and a strong mast!