Top Qualities of Great Skippers and Advice for Skippers and Crew | Modern Sailing

Top Qualities of Great Skippers and Advice for Skippers and Crew

What are the qualities of a great skipper? We asked this question with a survey in our March 31 weekly newsletter on on social media, and here are the results! We’ve listed them in order of least important to most important based on the ratio of your responses.

These qualities may be second-nature to many experienced skippers. For new skippers, these skills will come with preparation and practice. Since a sailor can never be too prepared, we hope that skippers and crew alike will benefit from the advice provided below. 

6) Gives effort to ensure guests and crew enjoy their experience. (2 responses / 4.8% of total responses)

Advice for Skippers

Club Skipper Bob Gutgsell said it best when he commented on Facebook: “Understand everyone is on the boat for a different reason and respect that reason.”

Take a moment before departure to have a quick chat with each crew member to find out their level of experience, their expectations, and how much they want (or feel able) to participate in the operation of the boat. Encourage everyone to participate, learn, and practice, but avoid pressuring less experienced, hesistant crew members to perform tasks that they may be unprepared for.

Advice for Crew

Taking ownership of your own comfort and enjoyment will help free up your skipper to focus on safety and leadership. 

  • Plan ahead by bringing your own safety gear, clothing, beverages, and snacks or meals.
  • Ask your skipper if this will be a “dry” sail. If yes, stow any alcoholic beverages you may have brought down below to be enjoyed at the end of the day when the boat is safely back in her dock slip. Remember that if even one person aboard is found intoxicated and an accident occurs, Coast Guard rules have it that the skipper will be held liable. Learn more:
  • Consider packing extra clothing and/or blankets, ginger candies for upset tummies, or hot beverages to share with your crewmates. Every crew member on board, not just the skipper, can help their crewmates have a good time. Learn more: What to Wear Sailing SF Bay

5) Extensive sailing experience; strong skills (3 responses / 7.1% of responses)

“[Great skippers] have knowledge and are open to learning. I learn something every time I sail.” ~ Bob Gutgsell

Advice for Skippers

It is great news for some of our recent ASA 103, Basic Coastal Cruising and ASA 104, Bareboat Cruising graduates that experience isn't as important when compared to other qualities. So, don’t let a lack of experience mire your confidence. Instead, boost your mindfulness to the qualities that matter most to your crew in the present.

Advice for Crew

Be supportive and understanding with less experienced crewmates and skippers. Each and every one of us are always learning, including skippers like Bob who have decades of sailing experience.

4) Teaches and mentors in a supportive and encouraging manner. (7 responses / 16.7% of responses)

“A good skipper understands the importance of using proper nautical terms, but also takes the times to ‘translate’ or explain them, so that crew learn to understand what exactly is being communicated.” Bernard Change

Advice for Skippers

When you're the skipper, it’s inevitable that one of the roles you occupy is that of a mentor. Your crew will learn a lot from you, not only in the common nomenclature and habits that you encourage, but in your ability to teach in a manner that will be easily understood and well-received. Also, you have a rare opportunity to not only help build your crew members’ sailing skills, but to help boost their confidence, which can benefit their lives even when they are not on the water. Great skippers can leave a lasting impact on their crew – for the better. 

Advice for Crew

At Modern Sailing, our ASA courses focus on teaching all of our students a common nomenclature that will streamline communication between skippers and crew. Nonetheless, there may be some variety in the way that skippers run their charters. As a member of a sailing club, you will greatly benefit by learning from a variety of skippers. Learn more about the benefits of sailing club membership.

If you’re not sure about something your skipper has asked of you, always ask for clarification. Respect your skipper’s style and do your best to learn from it, even if it’s not what you’re used to. Also, if your skipper is encouraging you to try something new, go for it! A great skipper will not put you or the boat in a situation that jeopardizes safety.

3) Ability to lead and foster cooperation (8 responses / 19% of responses)

Advice for Skippers

If you’re looking to develop your leadership skills in your personal or professional life, being a sailboat skipper is excellent practice. Your crew members will arrive with a variety of abilities, interests, and personalities. Try to take the time to get to know what those are. It’s also important to know when to encourage a crew member to try an unfamiliar task and when to assign tasks to crew who will be most comfortable performing those tasks.

When preparing for a maneuver with inexperienced crew aboard, be certain that you have your crew’s full attention and take the time to clearly explain the steps involved in the manuever. When the crew indicates “ready,” then proceed with the manuever. Initiate necessary maneuvers as early as possible so your crew will have plenty of time to respond. Avoid "cutting it close."

Advice for Crew

Remember that you are a member of a diverse team that must work together to safely and efficiently operate the boat. Remain open-minded, try to learn something from everyone, and try to make learning fun while you’re at it. If you have a question or a safety concern, bring it to your skipper’s attention. Otherwise, defer to your skipper’s judgement and follow his or her instructions to the best of your ability.

2) Attentive to safety; avoids or mitigates risks; coaches safety with crew (10 responses, 23.8% of responses)

Advice for Skippers

The safety and well-being of your crew and your vessel are literally in your hands. It's a big responsibility that builds character. A great skipper takes the safety aspect of the role with the utmost seriousness, attention, and care above all else. In the event of an emergency, your preparedness and decisions will affect everyone on board.

Reading the articles below will help with your preparedness in a variety of possbily challenging situations. If you can think of an important safety topic not covered in one of these articles, please let us know and we’ll write one up.

Advice for Crew

Your skipper has a vested interest in your safety, but safety is also the responsibility of every individual on board. If you behave in an unsafe manner, all are put at risk. “We’re all in the same boat,” as they say!

Every crew member should keep eyes open for boating traffic, floating debris, shoals, and other hazards. Don’t assume your skipper sees them – always speak up to be sure. We also recommend for every sailor to read the articles listed above. This will also contribute to skippers and crew "being on the same page."

1) Responds calmly and appropriately when things don't go as planned. (12 responses / 26.6% of responses)

“[Great skippers] don’t yell at you when you make a simple mistake.” – Andrew Collins

Advice for Skippers

With the exception of a few adreneline junkies perhaps, most people don't like being yelled at. Yelling can trigger a fight/flight/freeze response that can render a crew member unable to respond efficiently. In other words, yelling can make a difficult situation even more difficult.

Survey respondents agree - the ability to keep your wits about you when plans are laid asunder is a highly-prized quality among sailors. When you can maintain your calm in a jam, you are better able to reason the next steps through logically. This is also an important aspect of safety.

Also, the more prepared and/or experienced you are, the more confident you'll be - and better able handle unwanted challenges with aplomb. 

Advice for Crew

Remember that even the greatest skippers are still human beings. In a sticky situation, a skipper may raise his or her voice when needing crew to react to instructions quickly. Try not to take it personally and focus on doing what needs to be done to sail the boat. If you've had a fundamental disagreement with the skipper or feel you’ve been treated poorly, the best time to have a conversation with your skipper is at the end of the day, and preferably, keep it between the two of you.

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  • Esther C

    I took ASA 101 with them recently. They have the best customer service I've ever seen! I mistyped my address when I signed up online so didn't receive the textbook. I called and the lady immediately sent me another copy! Everyone at the club is super friendly.

  • Andrew Goble, San Francisco

    It has been wonderful sailing with MSC over the years. Please extend my thanks to the owners, management, and staff for unrequited professionalism and high standards in a charter fleet. I have sailed with several in my years and none nearly hold a candle to the quality of business and staff at Modern Sailing.

  • John Kratochvil, Oregon

    I would like to compliment Stan Lander for his coaching, counseling and teaching Heavy Weather Offshore Sailing. Stan was very accommodating to all of the student's interests and shared his many years of insight on handling the boat in heavy seas. I would certainly recommend Stan and this course to sheltered waters sailors. My confidence in handling a boat of this size was certainly enhanced by the experience.

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