Vessel crew change derby

For many, crew change day is the most loved and hated day of their marine occupation lives. It is also a mariner’s most dangerous day, even with double crew onboard and the boat tuned up during his or her hitch.

So, you don’t believe me? Here are some real examples where crew change days have gone bad.

During one particular crew change the boat actually sank. I wonder if anyone noticed that sinking feeling? An important safety tip is if your gear, groceries, and boots are underwater maybe you may want to delay the crew change and go check the bilge.

In another crew change a departing deckhand decided to break out the oven cleaner during the turnover so the new folks would enjoy a sparkling stove. He hastily slathered on the stuff and then bolted for the van without mentioning it to anyone. When the van is leaving, the van is leaving. Unknowingly, the new deckhand baked chicken strips smoked in lye for dinner. We all thought it tasted a bit funny.

In another example, to beat the rush on the crew launch in from the work site, the master and crew abandoned the boat leaving only the mate onboard. This lightening quick crew change would take place on the pier. The new guys could catch the next launch out. Meanwhile, the dredge told the boat to move the scow. The mate, single handed, found it to be quite the trick. The dredge captain was not a happy digger. The tug company got a call from the customer. At least there wasn’t a fire or flood.

All of the above are true examples of improper turnovers at crew change, conducted in the name of careless haste. Masters are responsible for crew changes. Every other crew needs to fully brief their replacements too. Failing to review items such as engineering, deck, and safety issues, status of lifesaving equipment, fuel, lube, and water onboard, work items finished and yet to be done, voyage plans, weather forecasts, electronics, the job and customer’s expectations, logs, and even the groceries, sets the boat (and you) up for failure. Most importantly, don’t forget that walk around of the boat. Being party to a slack crew change is unprofessional and is simply unsafe.

“You got it, I got it” just doesn’t cut it. End your hitch confident that you leave the oncoming crew completely and safely ready to start their hitch. You’ll be back to inherit it all again too soon and the shoe will then be on the other foot. Sail Safe!


About the author

Capt. Peter Squicciarini

Capt. Peter Squicciarini is a licensed master mariner and marine safety specialist at the U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area Command in Portsmouth, Va. He has worked on towing, passenger, and fishing vessels, and was a safety and compliance manager for an East Coast tug and barge company. He also served in the Navy as a surface ship officer and commanded several warships. He can be reached at

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