Challenging conversations with crew

The Islander – July 2024

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the day job is easy, it’s managing people that’s the hard part!

Whenever we run a HELM course, we always ask the question: ‘As a leader on board what are your biggest challenges?’ Without fail 99% of responses are related to the human element. This can include managing different cultures, age ranges and personalities, to dealing with crew dramas and inappropriate behaviour.

‘Why don’t people do what they say they are going to do’.

‘Why can’t crew just get on with each other’.

‘Why do newbie crew think they are entitled to absolutely everything?!’.

These are just a selection of the comments we hear. Managing people, or the human element, is undoubtedly one of the most difficult aspects of senior crew’s role. We’ve all heard it: ‘the day job is easy, it’s managing people that’s the hard part’. Not to mention the often high pressure environment and restricted ability to step away or head ashore at the end of the day. It’s challenging living AND working with the same people, many of whom have different ethics, values and morals.

Within this yachting melting pot, it’s not surprising that there are clashes and / or tensions on board, especially when the added ingredients of stress and fatigue are stirred into the mix.  However, it’s not the issue of conflict that is in itself the problem; it’s how it’s dealt with (or not) and the impact that this has on both individuals and the rest of the crew.

The skills to manage this diverse and intense environment are rarely learnt on MCA courses, or even in the classroom. Many senior crew develop their own strategies, often based on personal experience. More often than not these come from observing how not to do it! Crew are frequently promoted for their ability to do the practical aspects of the role and not necessarily because of their man management skills.

There are a few core techniques which can be learnt and put into practice which will help to deal with some of those more challenging situations. First and foremost, don’t live in hope that they will go away all by themselves, as they rarely do!


How often have you seen a senior walk into a situation with half the story and attempt to deal with it? Above all else, crew want to be listened to. Take the time to actively listen to each individual in confidence. You never know, it may just be a simple misunderstanding. If this is not the case then attempt to observe first hand for yourself what the problem actually is.


Problem solving

There’s a tendency to believe that as senior crew you have to have all the answers. Here’s the good news – it’s better if you don’t! When dealing with conflict there are inevitably opposing views. If you find yourself speaking with someone in just that situation, be objective and lay the facts on the table e.g. ‘You turned up unfit for work this morning and, as you know, that is a disciplinary issue. If it happens again you will leave me with no option but to fire you. Tell me what are we going to do to ensure that it never happens again?’ The individual is far more likely to heed the advice and actions they decide for themselves than any raft of suggestions you may have to offer.


It is vital that there is follow-up to these conversations. Otherwise the individual will most likely behave well for a week or so before reverting back to their old ways. By putting a date and time in the diary to review how it is going, they realise that the issue remains on your radar.

We regularly run on board leadership events and incorporate handling conflict. This is a comment from one of our recent participants:-

"I found in the years spent in this industry not being able to manage and deal with issues has compromised my jobs and relationships, and I have also witnessed others having the same issues.  I really felt learning to deal with the conflict will help to decrease tensions and create a much better work environment."

Impact Crew has been specifically created to support Superyacht Crew in the challenges of leading and working as a team. Contact us to find out how our on board interventions can help bring performance and harmony to your vessel.