The Captain's Responsibility During a Haulout

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 03:13PM - Comments: (8)

Ralph Naranjo
Ralph Naranjo

How do you choose someone you can trust with your boat's well-being hanging in the balance?

My previous blog posts on cruising rallies and how they affect decision-making raised a number of insightful comments from readers. I think every skipper realizes that, ultimately, he or she is the one responsible for the safety of the ship and crew. Their fate depends on his decisions. But how frequently do we examine how we come to those decisions?

Anyone interested in ship-board command and responsibility aboard a sailing ship should read a couple of fascinating accounts of the last sail of the Bounty, a replica of the square-rigger famously comandeered by its mutinous crew in 1789. The famous tall ship replica was lost in seas spawned by Hurricane Sandy, along with the captain and one of the crew.

I’d recommend first reading the excellent three-part, multi-media production, The Last Voyage of the Bounty, put together by a team at the Tampa Bay Times, featuring video, illustrations, and interviews with crew members and eyewitnesses. This is an excellent example of what a reporting team can do when they integrate good story-telling with a wide range of web-based tools.

The second report is a professional analysis of the onboard decision-making that was featured in Wooden Boat Magazine. The article was written by Capt. Andy Chase, a seasoned ship captain and professor of marine transportation at Maine Maritime Academy (MMA) in Castine, Maine. I’d be interested in hearing what readers have to say about the findings in each of these reports.

Ultimately, a ship’s fortune is built upon trust. You must trust your ship, your crew, and your own good judgment. That trust can come through experience as well as through the counsel of others who know from experience. The latter is where Practical Sailor comes in. I truly believe that the volume of good, hard, experience-based information that we squeeze into our pages regarding boats and marine gear is unequaled in the industry. Although our readership includes some of the highest-level professional sailors, we recognize not everyone has years of experience. The main thrust of our information is geared to the do-it-yourself sailors, but we also provide a fair share of articles aimed at people who don’t have the background, time, or confidence to do some jobs themselves.

Our profile of do-it-for-me boatyards in the December issue is not for everyone. If you think your do-it-yourself yard bill is through the roof, then you certainly don’t want to schedule a refit in one of Hinckley’s growing list of yards. For you, we have a list of good DIY yards recommend by our readers.

We are fortunate enough to have Ralph Naranjo, a former boatyard manager, circumnavigator, and safety expert as our technical editor. When Ralph tells me that Boatyard X is a place I can trust to care for my boat as if it were their own, I believe him. In the December article, he revisits some of the top eastern yards.

But, as the experience of the Bounty revealed, good advice doesn’t help if it isn't followed (yard workers reported that the skipper chose not to address rotting frames) , nor does it absolve the skipper of ulitimate responsibility. Choosing a do-it-for-me boatyard is a little like containing nuclear proliferation—trust but verify.

I look forward to hearing from readers about other do-it-for-me yards in the U.S. or around the world. Post your recommendations below or send them to me at

Comments (5)

What does the fate of two sailing ships, the Bountys have to do with the captain's responsibility during a haul out?

Posted by: zeph | December 2, 2013 9:53 PM    Report this comment

Sorry what exactly does this article have to do with the title? The Bounty was an avoidable tragic loss (in Carolina waters) but I suspect it had little to do with the last haul out? Or did I miss something?

Posted by: John C | November 28, 2013 7:09 PM    Report this comment

uh oh, there goes Carolina, secceddin agin!

Posted by: dlblandjr | November 28, 2013 7:00 PM    Report this comment

The sad loss of Bounty was tragic. These two great articles from Tampa and Wooden Boat are very good lessons for all of us sailors to take to sea with us and to remember before deciding what we should do.
The Captain's Responsibility is a very heavy burden and those of us who are in command need to remember to protect the Crew FIRST. The old saying that "the ship is safer at sea" depends on the local circumstances. Windjammer's sailing FANTOM proved wrong. Sadly in both of these two storms the crews of both ships would have been better to stay in port. Owner's schedules and ship's costs must always be secondary to crew safety. Let us all remember that the priorities are the People - there will always be another Ship for you to sail on if you are still alive.

Posted by: Richard A | November 27, 2013 5:07 PM    Report this comment

The Bounty was lost off the coast of North Carolina, which although it does contain the word "north" is definitely not in New England.

Posted by: Wes N | November 26, 2013 7:26 PM    Report this comment

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