What shall we do with a drunken Captain?

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Drunk

Q: Crew member, Anonymous:

“I’m currently on a charter vessel with a few other crew. Our captain is an alcoholic who at times is completely reckless and a compulsive liar. We’ve had our tips stolen, been working ridiculously long hours (5 hours rest in a 48 hour period as an example) and the crew just want to finish the season but it’s becoming really difficult. The contract we’re on asks for a 30 day period of notice to leave but that seems pretty unfair when it’s not our choice to want to leave – we’re actually starting to get worried for our own safety. We’ve thought about going to the management company but we think they’ll side with the Captain and I’m pretty sure he’ll lie about everything if he’s confronted by them. I have some pictures other crew took of him drinking so we could produce evidence if we have to but we don’t really want to have to resort to that. We tried talking to the Captain and it didn’t change anything, he just got worse. What can we do?”

A: The Crew Coach:

It frustrates me so much to hear this kind of thing still goes on in yachting! I’m so pleased you have written to me about it though, because I do worry this could be happening to others who are suffering in silence as they are too scared to speak up about it to anyone, and this gives me the opportunity to help everyone who might be in this situation right now.

Although this clearly is not the ‘norm’ in yachting, sadly it does happen more often than people might think, and even happened to me in one of my later seasons. I was on a 23m yacht as chef/stew with a deckhand and a Captain. I took the job because we were only supposed to do short day trips out of Antibes for the season, but we ended up unexpectedly going to Sardinia and then spending three months out there. It was a total nightmare for the Captain and myself, as we had commitments ashore and weren’t expecting to be away so long.

The Captain was father to a new young baby and he wasn’t coping with the separation very well, so he drank a lot to compensate. This left the deckhand and I in some very compromising situations as he was often too drunk to drive the boat and we lived in fear that the boss would ask us to bring the boat around to his villa and we wouldn’t be able to get it there! We also had the port authorities literally carrying him back to the boat blind drunk almost every night. My cabin was just off the crew mess and galley with a small bathroom, and one morning I got up to find him passed out sitting on my toilet!

He drank all the boss’s expensive wine and once I had to serve them cheap crew wine decanted in a carafe because I hadn’t realised all the good wine was gone! (Luckily they didn’t notice!) In the end the deckhand and I staged an intervention with the Captain where we made him promise to get his act together, and we told him the port authorities were going to inform our boss if he continued. He pulled himself together enough to get us through and back to Antibes at the end of the season when we were finally allowed to go. Fortunately we weren’t put in too much direct danger, more just the fear of what could happen rather than anything like what you are experiencing.

So, what can you do? You have three options as I see it:

Address it with the management company. Confidentially reach out to them to let them know what is happening. Explain that the crew are worried for their safety (as this is the primary concern that should make the management listen) and that you would like their assistance in doing something about this. You said you think your Captain would lie to them if they confront him – but perhaps if you and all the other crew present a united front to the management company they will find it harder to ignore you. Make sure you have the full backing and support of the other crew before you take this approach – and not from the perspective of a ‘mutiny’ but from the perspective that you would all like to find a professional solution to this problem. I would not go so far as to offer evidence (the photos) at this point as it could sound threatening.
If you really feel the management company will be unsympathetic and don’t want to go down that path, you could try to stay on the yacht and try to keep your head down and make it to the end of the season. If you stay you must take care to ensure that you and anyone else you can look out for are kept as safe as possible as this sounds like a very high risk situation.
Try to find another job. If you choose to go you should not find it too difficult to find another position – but do try to get one before you leave if possible, as it almost always easier to find a job if you already have a job. For advice about how to explain your situation to the Crew agencies, read this article.
I’m sorry that you are going through this and very much hope this helps you resolve the situation. Wishing the very best of luck to you, and please let me know how you get on.

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