Preparing For New Crew

Do happy crews just happen?

Welcoming friends or family to join you on a long leg is something we all look forward to, but in order to make sure that the reality matches the expectation, it pays to plan ahead. Oversights at this stage can lead to delays later, upset good relations, and even compromise safety, so it’s only sensible that you play a part in helping to avoid them. It doesn’t take much effort either, as a simple briefing document may be all that’s required.

We think that a briefing document can be as short or long as it needs to be, relative to the experience of your crew. We try and cover practical matters like travel, health and life on board, including things that might be overlooked even by a seasoned traveler, and leave plenty of room for their individual curiosity – we’re not looking to micro-manage people here. Two sides of A4 are more than enough in most cases, and as it is basically a distillation of the same process we have already conducted for ourselves, it isn’t a lot of extra work.

Get Me There On Time

As they should have a basic idea of the voyage already, a basic guide to the best options for travel to and from the boat should be all that’s required. Information on visa requirements, currencies and obtaining cash will always be helpful, particularly if multiple currencies are involved. If we have more than one individual joining at the same time, we’ll put them in touch well in advance to see whether there are any benefits to be had in sharing travel arrangements. Not only does this offer potential cost savings for them, it’s also a way of breaking the ice and starting to construct your team.

In Good Shape and Comfort

Inoculations may be necessary (or in date) for entry into some countries, so we usually direct UK crew to MASTA, where not only will there be full details of the minimum legal requirement, but also regional recommendations. If there is a health warning out for certain regions we’ll pass this on, and let our crew know what precautions we/they can take. We suggest that it’s a good idea to go for a medical or dental check up if they haven’t been recently, or if they have any doubts about their well-being, and we always ask them to inform us of any medication they are taking, so that in an emergency we can pass that on to doctors.

Clothing recommendations linked to the climatic conditions throughout the voyage are included, together with a list of the personal gear we can provide, such as lifejackets, harnesses and foul weather gear. All we ask is that they let us know if they prefer to bring their own gear, so that we can leave our own kit stowed away. We outline the likely sleeping arrangements, so that they can decide what they need to bring to be comfortable – there’s no need to bring a four seasons sleeping bag for West Africa, for example!

Day To Day Life

Everyone these days has a lot of kit that needs charging to function (cameras, phones, iPods, etc.) so we outline what facilities we have aboard to keep it all fed, including plugs, sockets and adapters. We list the books we carry (regional bird or wildlife guides) and suggest others such as Rough Guides (or websites) that can offer useful cultural, social and personal safety guidance, together with a list of fiction or non-fiction works that might help them get more out of the voyage. As with personal gear, whatever we can do to reduce the amount that they have to carry (and we have to find a home for) is good news.

Emergencies

Lastly, we provide an inventory of the emergency equipment we carry, including all of the relevant information concerning our ability to make or receive contact when at sea, such as our satellite phone number, boat email address and VHF call sign. We provide contact details for our local Coastguard station, who hold full details of Pèlerin and all of her equipment via the UK’s excellent CG66 scheme, with instructions on how (and under what circumstances) to contact them. This is all provided on a separate sheet, so that it can be printed off to reassure and inform  their own family and friends.

We try to get our briefing document out at least three months in advance, to allow plenty of time for important items like inoculations and visas that can take time, and to allow for lapses in memory!

A Good Idea, Or an Unnecessary Extra Burden?

We see a briefing document simply as a means of helping us all to get the most out of our time together, through avoiding many of the pitfalls that can be far more easily dealt with beforehand at home rather than later in a foreign place with a different language. Our stress levels are lower because we know that we have reduced the chance of a simple oversight that could mar the voyage, and our friends can get a feel for the adventure and the team. Together we can all get ready for the big day confident that the basics, at least, are likely to be in hand.

As promised, here is an example of our briefing document. As I outlined in Part II of this series of posts, it comes in two sections, the first two sides being for our guest, the third side to be copied and distributed to family and friends as necessary. Obviously this is only a rough example, and is only intended as a template for your own version, should you wish to make one. We find that it works for our friends, and that the detail in the second part is much appreciated by the people at home–hope you like it.

View the complete document here.

Comments

Do you provide a basic briefing document for crew who you plan to join you? Or do you trust them to prepare themselves? Let us know with a comment.

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Meet the Author

Colin Speedie

Colin, European Correspondent here at AAC, is a deeply experienced offshore sailor who holds a Yachtmaster licence, and a gifted photographer and talented writer who has added a whole new dimension to Attainable Adventure Cruising. In addition, since Colin and Louise are from England and had their OVNI 435, Pèlerin built in France, they bring a European perspective to our site. You can read more about Colin and Louise and their business at their website.

11 comments… add one
  • Carolyn Shearlock May 24, 2012, 9:06 am

    having been both the visitor and the one visited, it’s a great idea. Another big area to address is expenses — are the guests expected to pitch in towards food costs? What if you go out? How often do you tend to go out? What about marina expenses?
    Also, it’s hard to overemphasize the need to not bring too much stuff and NO hard suitcases.
    A final one would be to ask the guests for any food allergies or foods they just plain abhor.

    • Colin May 24, 2012, 3:44 pm

      Hi Carolyn

      Expenses are a whole post to themselves, so I hope you’ll forgive me not answering that directly, as I’d like to return to it in the near future.

      It’s perhaps worth noting that not everybody troubles themselves to read the briefing document – in my charter days I had people turn up with half their gear missing, and one one memorable occasion a couple with two large, hard suitcases – each…

      Good point re the allergies, especially important where allergies to nuts or insect stings are concerned – thanks for that.

      Kindest regards

      Colin

  • Jacques Landry May 24, 2012, 10:34 am

    These are all good suggestions. I would never let the visitors “organize” themselves without some inputs. They bring way too much stuff (clothing, shoes, electronics, stuff that’s already aboard …) and they forget the important items. Probably not so if they are long time sailors, but most of the visitors I get are new at this.

    There is also a need for a good discussion about what the life on a sailboat, anchoring or out at sea, will look like. The water and energy issues are quite important, as most land lubbers have no clue about how short supplies of these we have. Yeah we can run the generator and the water-maker (don’t have one) all day, but maybe a little education is better. A good trick about water is to get them to fetch water in Jerry cans from ashore using the dinghy and fill the 500 liter reservoirs (a full day task). They’ll calm down after that! I would also discuss the need not to over plan the daily life. My last visitors had long lists of things they wanted to do each day, we rarely did half of these, and they were somewhat disappointed. We are sailing because we are in no hurry, we get there when we do, we do this and that when it is timely. If they want a day filled with 25 different activities, and lunch and dinner in a restaurant everyday, they should try Club Med!

    And the money issue is always an important part of the discussion. If my daughters come for a week or two I’ll cover that no problems, if friends want to spend a few weeks, or months, sailing around then they have to share the cost ! Better discuss that before hand than during the trip!

    The last thing I discuss is who has the last word. I am the captain, their safety is my responsibility, so I have the last call. In an emergency situation, if I say “do this”, they have to do THIS, and then they can argue that some other action might have been better, and I might learn something new. Don’t take me wrong, I encourage discussions about all aspects of sailing and living aboard, and would mostly do what the visitors want to do, and the way they want to do it. But when safety is at risk, it is just not the time for arguments!

    Jacques

  • Colin May 24, 2012, 3:50 pm

    Hi Jacques

    Lots of good points – and I utterly agree that sometimes it’s difficult to know how much information is ‘ enough’ with experienced people who you know and respect. With novices, it’s actually much easier, and as I mentioned in the post, we used to send them a whole pile of paper!

    And I’ll be covering our thoughts on how we deal with safety and decision making in Part III – I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts on our approach.

    Best wishes

    Colin

  • Deb May 25, 2012, 12:10 am

    Would you be willing to post your briefing document? It would be helpful to those of us who are still preparing to cast off the dock lines.

    Thanks
    Deb
    S/V Kintala
    http://www.theretirementproject.blogspot.com

    • Lou May 25, 2012, 10:26 am

      Hi Deb

      I’ve just written a sample copy for that very purpose, now I just have to figure out how to make it available!

      So please watch this space…

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • Viv May 25, 2012, 7:51 am

    Colin:

    Guests and crew well-being and suitability is a very important topic.

    Imaging this scenario: the skipper of a large sailing yacht is asked (ordered) by the owner to take a young man as a guest/crew on an offshore trip of four-five days. The young man has sailed extensively on the Great Lakes and inshore, no problem. However he is diabetic and relies on insulin injections. The journey is rough, he gets seasick and doesn’t eat, a medical emergency is developing as the crew member is getting weak and disorientated.

    The skipper should never have agreed in the first place but did have the foresight to discuss the condition with the crew member and asked how and when doses are administered in the event of an emergency. The journey was cut short and the skipper had to administer the needles. The crew member survived.

    This is a true scenario.

    Viv

    • Colin May 25, 2012, 12:18 pm

      Hi Viv

      This is an all too familiar scenario, the roots of which often lie in a misplaced sense on behalf of the individual concerned (and in this case the owner) that ‘ ít’s alright, the skipper will sort it out’ . And whilst I agree that perhaps the skipper should have refused to take the crew member, having been in similar positions myself I know that the pressure on you from an owner can be hard to resist, especially if you want to keep your job.

      One of the conservation organisations I worked for insisted that all volunteers had to have a medical examination beforehand that had to be submitted to them before a place could be secured. And I also had the right to vet applicants in the event of any queries raised. Naturally this had an element of self-selection built in, as those poor individuals who had real health problems were unlikely to pass go at the doctors. And as a result I only ever once refused someone within that framework – it worked well.

      But in the open Charter field I’ve never seen anything like that level of concern, and the stories I could tell either from personal experience or from good friends would make your hair stand on end.

      Thank goodness the tale you relate had a happy ending. But imagine if it hadn’t – just who would have been blamed? And would that have been fair?

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • Dick Stevenson May 26, 2012, 4:56 am

    Colin, A friend of mine takes crew regularly and does similar types of things. He insists on knowing immediately relevant medical stuff (diabetes for ex.) but also expects a complete medical history which is stored in a sealed envelope and returned to the crew upon departure. This hx could be important for those with one kidney, not an issue for99% of life and most medical problems (and not likely to be reported/mentioned in a casual pre-passage survey), but a big issue in some eventualities. This also puts the info sharing back in the hands of the passenger/crew where it belongs. Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy, Loch Oich, Caledonian Canal

  • Colin May 26, 2012, 6:45 am

    Hi Dick

    That sounds like a very sensible and equitable way to handle what can be a highly important subject. And, as you suggest, it respects the individuals privacy, too – I like it.

    Thanks very much

    Colin

  • Jo Oct 21, 2015, 11:27 am

    Hi Colin,

    I found referring guest to the packing list of http://www.mahina.com/forms.html (eg. http://www.mahina.com/SeaBagTROPICALLegsver12.14.pdf ) very useful. It’s worded in a little draconic way, but it covers the important points. Being from a neutral instance, it usually avoids a lot of discussions. Instead of complaining about leaving the hair-dryer at home, they’re happy to hear that a few more T-shirts aren’t a problem.

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