A Real Life Leadership and Management Situation Aboard Ship

Screw it

Since the chief mate has been described as “good”, you would rather have a bad captain (for making that decision) along with a bunch of AB’s who couldn’t work with a good mate. That would make for an interesting trip.


Not to nitpick but the description of the mate changed from "good: to “driven and hard”, ie., a hard ass. That changes the narrative. That his replacement was on the dock may lead one to believe the mate was set up. If the mate was “good” the captain could have just as easily had requested replacement AB’s on the dock.

In my world if someone is fired it better be for cause otherwise it can come back to bite you. Perhaps he was encouraged to leave.

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A good or driven chief mate is like a good or driven bosun. Worth more than their weight in gold. AB’s that are butthurt are a dime a dozen.

As a captain, I feel you need to have your officers backs and not have them think they are going to be railroaded for trying to get work done on deck. If the chief mate is choosing the wrong battles, I will tell him so. Many captains I worked for did the same for me. Getting fired for running the deck is not acceptable in my opinion.


From what you describe, was he really a “good” chief mate?

From your description sounds like the guy lacked people skills, and wasn’t a good leader.

Suitcase parades happen for a reason.


I have seen good hands run off by “driven” management level officers a time or two. Good leadership and management skills are not an option. They are a must when you are at his level.

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Seems almost a no brainer to me. Keep the mate, and do a touch of counseling. Grab the B’osun or the union rep - tell them you understand their concerns and you are on it. In short - take control, lead, and manage the situation.


I am failing to see the problem here. Was he fabricating shit jobs to punish these AB’s or just telling them the job for the day wasn’t going to be sitting on a crate and chipping a waste high area? I’ve had AB’s quit when there was a lot of nasty work to be done and my feeling is that it is a ship and there are going to be a decent amount of shitty jobs to be done on your hitch. The reality is that someone needs to do it and you are a member of the crew. An ABLE BODIED SEAMAN. If you didn’t sign on to work, the gangway is that way over there.

You describe a detail oriented mate who needed a little more time to refine his management style. Some people take to it immediately, some never at all, but most just need a little counseling and wisdom to make it stick. Firing him and giving the AB’s any pretense that they were in charge was foolish in my opinion. If the company asked why there were so many people quitting I would tell them that they were not interested in working to the standard we are seeking to uphold on the vessel. Get me some workers.


Gotta agree with @DamnYankee on this. Even though it sounds like he was pushing the guys on deck hard to further his own career, the chain of command should be upheld. Unless these guys had some personnel vendetta I don’t see why a conversation or two with the right people wouldn’t resolve this issue. And removing your 2nd in command over deckhands just undermines your own authority.

This situation is just as applicable to the engineroom. I had a great 1st that I had to pull aside several times.

So was the CM making the ABs do actual necessary work or was he giving them nitpicky busywork?

There’s a lot of context missing.
"The chief mate was good, and he knew it. He didn’t seem to feel the need to go soft and let up. He wasn’t going to change.

It was getting to the point where the ABs were more and more likely to just say ‘fuck it’ and walk off. If that happened the captain would have to request ABs on very short notice. Until the replacement ABs got there the ship wouldn’t be getting underway. The delay of sailing, the added costs and the risk to the schedule would have certainly got the negative attention of the office. That put the captain’s own job at risk."

The chief mate appears to have been driven to put his career ahead of everything else. He eventually became his own worst enemy. Many a bright hard working mate or engineer has come along and driven their fellows mercilessly while racing like a cheetah to catch the prize only to find that once they caught it they were too tired and had made too many enemies to fight and were themselves eaten. The captain did this chief mate a favor. Perhaps he will become one of those chief mates that understands the ship does not revolve around any individual. There may be a captain or chief engineer but neither survives for long without a lot of help from their ABs, oilers and assistants.

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