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Briefing Your Charter Yacht Crew

seaschool 3 003You've just arrived at your charter base and boarded your boat for an eagerly awaited bareboat cruise with close friends. If you have sailed with the same friends before, your crew is probably ready and waiting with little instruction and few reminders.

But if it is a first time with you or they are not sailors, you must to do a full briefing for the safety of the crew and the boat. Below is a checklist to help you organize a briefing with your crew for a safe, fun trip.

TIP: Print this and give it to your future crewmembers a few days before leaving so they can begin understanding what to expect. 

Crewmember Boat Tour

You can either give to your friends a tour of the boat yourself, showing the main parts of the boat and the cabins, or have them participate in the tour the charter company briefer will give you after you board. In either case, it is a good idea to start with it to give a general understanding. Point out the parts that can hurt people, like the boom that can destroy your skull if someone doesn't duck when you say!

Living Life Aboard

  • Bathrooms and heads are more complicated than at home.
    • Each person on board needs to know how to ues them and take care of them before using them. A seemingly small thing like using too much toilet paper can ruin the cruise.
    • Explain to each crewmember how the shower drain works.
    • Show how to close the seacocks and explain the importance of doing so before leaving anchorage.
  • Water supply is limited. Each person must understand that if they use too much water, the vacation is interrupted to go fill the tanks.
    • Take quick showers.
    • Do not allow the water to run while brushing your teeth.
    • Wash dishes using a basin of water, then rinse all the dishes at one time before putting them out to dry.
  • Electricity must be generated on board.
    • Avoid leaving lights on when they are not needed.
    • Turn off any appliance or fan when not in use.
    • If the boat is equipped with an inverter, caution about using high-wattage hair dryers.
  • Tidy boats are safe boats. Being on a 30 or 40 foot boat for a week or 10 days with 6 people implies close quarters and an understanding that this is not like at home. Beyond the simple comfort, it is a matter of basic safety for everyone on board. A disorganized boat is a dangerous boat.
    • Before setting sail each morning remind each crewmember that everything must properly stowed and secured in the cabins and common areas. Doing so ensures things don't get broken, the boat does not get damaged, and people don't get hurt.
    • Especially in the galley, dishes, pots and pans, cooking utensils, food containers, and everything that is not secured, must be stowed. Heavy pots and pans must be carefully put away to prevent them from knocking loose.
    • In the cockpit, extra cushions and bags of suntan lotion can be hazards especially when a maneuver requires quick movements.  
    • Lines and sheets must be ready to be used at a moment's notice.
  • Staying friends means sharing the daily chores. Nothing spoils a cruise faster than having a crewmember not pull their own weight. There are lots of details and things that cannot go undone that you might ignore at home like a counter full of dirty dishes. But it is important to take care of each detail daily so it can feel like a lot of work if each crewmember does not pitch in to cook, wash dishes, tidy the common areas, and pick up after themselves. It is best to determine a rotation schedule for chores so that each person has a fair share of the work. The skipper is responsible for persuading all crewmembers to respect the schedule.

Protection Against the Elements

  • The sun: The sun can be brutal in some areas and in the Caribbean where the constant cooling Trade Winds keep you from realizing the extent of your sun exposure until it is too late. Every guest must have an effective sun lotion, good sunglasses, a hat, and some aloe gel or something similar to soothe sunburns. It is a good idea to have a lightweight longsleeve shirt to enjoy extra long visits in the sun without burning.
  • The cold: Even in the warm climates of the Caribbean or Mediterranean, you may need warmer clothing such as a sweater or light jacket and a pair of sweat pants. If you are chartering in cooler climates such as New England or the Pacific Northwest, you will need to plan for more cold weather gear.
  • The wind: The wind can not only chill you, but also can chap your skin and dry your eyes and lips. Be prepared with a wind-resistant jacket and moisturizing products to use before and after exposure to the wind. 

Safety Issues

While a charter is a week of fun, everybody on board must understand basic safety issues. Here are some critical items to explain to your crew:

  • How to close the hatches in the cabins and shut the seacocks in the bathrooms before casting off. I always double-check this myself. You will never forget it again after you have this forward stateroom bed full of sea water during this choppy upwind tack!
  • Basics of using the radio such as use of Channel 16 and transmitting and responding.
  • Location and use of the fire extinguisher.
  • How to handl a man over board situation.
    • Explaining what you as skipper will do and what they do will help to keep panic at bay.
    • At all times, have one adult on watch for man overboard.
    • Explain what to do if you, the skipper and primary sailor, fall overboard (such as the heave-to maneuver).
  • Help crewmembers avoid seasickness by sharing tips like avoiding down below unless necessary, looking at the horizon, eating lightly, etc. Be sure crewmembers who tend to become seasick take any needed medications before setting sail.

While all of these issues are important and having each crewmember understand and comply is the key to a safe and enjoyable cruise, the briefing and reminders should be delivered in the spirit of education and having fun. Good friends should be better friends after a sail.

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