Many years ago, a friend told me about how people often take captain's jobs before they are ready. I've seen this happen over and over and over again since, and I'm surprised there aren't more casualties because of it.
A person can get a license big enough to drive large workboats or carry hundreds of passengers without ever having driven a boat before. It's a little bizarre when you think about all the hoops that the Coast Guard has us jump through in order to renew or upgrade more advanced licenses belonging to those who already have real driving experience. I've always tried to make it a point to not be one of "those people," and not jump into a captain job with situational ignorance and too much confidence. Making sure you know the boat, the waters, and your crew are vital to safe and happy operations.
Recently I was asked to fill in as captain for a local non-profit youth sailing organization that couldn't find anyone else at the last minute. I had never driven this boat. I had never anchored in, nor planned a voyage for the area — an area notorious for constantly changing currents, full of islands and submerged rocks. I had never worked with the crew, and knew that one of them was very green. I took the job anyway, and I regret it. I put myself in a crappy situation because I wanted to help. I knew I could handle the boat and the waters if I was careful. I planned a voyage that kept me out of the most unpredictable high-current areas. My concern centered on my unfamiliarity with the crew, but I had worked as mate on the same boat with a similar crew (young marine scientists and deckhands with a few years of experience), and we communicated effectively. I eventually thought that my lack of familiarity with the crew might not be a problem. Boy, was I wrong!
What I didn't anticipate was that because my focus was on scheduling, based on unknown anchorages, docks, and passes, and becoming familiar with how the boat handled, I desperately needed a crew that could quickly and efficiently handle their side of the work, communicate clearly and easily take direction from me. "Collaborative decision making" was of great importance to this particular crew, so logistics planning took far longer than I was used to. Often the lowest on the chain of command explained to those above them how they wanted things to work, and all of them would give me mixed information. It was a four-day exercise in frustration.
I met all of my scheduling requirements. I kept the boat, crew and passengers safe. According to management (none of which have ever worked as a licensed captain), the children and chaperones were extremely pleased with the trip. However, I didn't make the crew feel empowered or confident enough.
What I came away with from this trip, besides a reminder to not put myself in situations with an unrealistic level of challenges at one time, was that when it comes to logistics and operations, primarily collaborative style decision making aboard workboats is and always will be a terrible idea. Honestly, if working on boats was all about hand-holding and pats on the back regardless of performance, I wouldn't be the least bit interested.