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Ahoy Skippers ... You Have Big Responsibilities ...

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

Have you ever wondered where the nickname skipper came from? Skipper originated from the Dutch word 'schipper' (literally 'shipper'). It was given to the person who commanded a boat, regardless of its size. In modern times the terms sea captain, ship's captain, captain, master, shipmaster, coxswain, or skipper are functionally synonyms. Each connotates having the responsibility for the care and safety of the vessel, ship, yacht, or boat; and the safety of its passengers and cargo. In military applications these individuals are the ultimate authority onboard. They have the power to issue orders to the crew, without allowing for further discussion if necessary. While not being quite as regimented, these leadership protocols also apply to merchant, commercial, and passenger ships. In the case of pleasure craft and yachts the nicknames captain and skipper are more commonly used. Frequently, the owner is the captain/skipper and the person who directs activities and duties. Regardless of the moniker chosen, the person responsible for overall operation of the boat is also responsible for its safe operation. In fulfilling these obligations the pleasure craft’s skipper must rely on a crew comprised of friends, relatives, or hired hands who perform the tasks requested by him or her. Examples of requested tasks could be: providing input and feedback that mitigates risks, keeping a sharp lookout, handling fenders, tending lines, and rigging tackle. A successful Skipper plans for the voyage ahead of time, values input from others, avoids doing everything themselves, captures the value delivered by teamwork, and most importantly does not act like a dictator.

The Skipper’s Duties ... While underway, the skipper’s most important duties will depend upon the itinerary for the day’s cruise, the condition of the waters being travelled on, and the number of activities being planned. If you are operating in inland or near shore waters and you have ready access to sheltered bays or harbors, the duties required will be less taxing and straightforward. If you are embarking on a longer journey and more than 100 miles offshore, a Master’s Near Coastal license is recommended. While Underway … Once the ship leaves the dock the skipper’s duties become more demanding. A prolonged cruise could require being underway at night, or the journey might require docking in unfamiliar ports of call. And, we can’t dismiss the possibility of bad weather. For ocean journeys far out at sea, the seamanship and leadership skills needed expand exponentially. Potential issues that could arise include long term bad weather conditions, engine failures, mechanical breakdowns, electrical failures, damage to electronic equipment, passenger injures and health issues, and people falling overboard. A fire can ignite on board too, it does happen and it is dangerous. So, when the unexpected occurs the skipper needs to be prepared to resolve or at least mitigate the issues at hand. You are Responsible … As mentioned earlier, the skipper is responsible for the care and safety of the vessel, ship, yacht, or boat; and the safety of its passengers and cargo. In order to fulfill this obligation he or she must be very capable of performing or managing crew members who perform the following activities. These include: (1) Planning for all aspects of the entire cruise to the selected destination. In some cases a cruise can take several days or even weeks to complete; (2) Accurately navigating the vessel to its destination and safely retuning the ship and passengers to their home port; (3) Being proficient at operating and maintaining all the equipment on board; (4) Accounting for the safety of the vessel, crew, and passengers; and (5) Skillfully managing the vessel in all respects. In addition, it is the responsibility of the skipper to follow maritime laws in the jurisdictions in which the ship is cruising.

Don’t Forget to Have Fun … While seemingly a daunting responsibility, being a skipper is also fun. Your choice to become a skipper enables you to sail the seven seas, be in command of a luxury vessel, work as a merchant mariner, visit exotic ports of call, plus engage in deep sea sport fishing, or oceanographic research. If they choose, any skipper can offer their own boats for hire. In addition, an experienced skipper can also move into related careers such as commanding a tug boat, transporting personnel and equipment to offshore oil or gas exploration rigs, or a skipper might choose to engage in commercial fishing operations. While working hours for a skipper are dependent on the specifics of the work being performed, it is important to know that many commercial opportunities require a skipper to be at sea for days, weeks or months. Skippers working on their own boats have more control over the activities they choose to pursue. For example, if a skipper pursues work on inland waters, the boat could return to port each day. Engage with the Crew …For skippers, help with watch-standing, operating the helm, maintaining the proper course, and maintaining communications with other vessels is a bonus. In most cases, an experienced skipper enjoys teaching any crewmember who is interested in improving their skills.

Being a Skipper Requires a License … In the USA Captain’s and Master’s licenses are issued by the Coast Guard.

Be Prepared … A competent Skipper always has an eye out for the unexpected event. Smart boating is safe boating.

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