What Can Merchant Mariners Learn From Volvo Ocean Race Sailors?

I thought this was a good interview:What Can Merchant Mariners Learn From Volvo Ocean Race Sailors?

This is my observation from working in Alaska on smaller vessels. The crew works together because they have to. It’s more difficult to get large crews to work as a team because they can get away without it.

The team is forced by the conditions and the size of our boat to work together and live in close quarters 24/7 so teamwork is a natural result.

This is another thing that confounds people, how to take advice but still be in charge:

We can’t escape the boat so we are forced to communicate well and also forced to make decisions as a team and accept the captain’s final word on the subject.


I think a major difference between around the world sailors and a random crew of commercial sailors is that all of them are passionate about the job at hand. Not to say that it doesn’t happen, or that a crew of commercial sailors wouldn’t work hard and efficiently to get the job done. I just don’t think the two groups view the job the same way, if you know what I mean.


On the one hand, the crew is there for sport. They have an goal to be competitive and maybe heroic. On the other hand, the crew is there for work. We have a goal of being safe and getting paid: so probably, hopefully, more risk averse. Maybe analogous to a funny car team vs. a transit bus company.


I could learn how to hit an Island at full speed while I was on deck (take full responsibility). Blame the company which made the plotter. And replace the Navigator.

There is no I in Team

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The VOR racers have got endless grief on the sailing forums for running a boat into a charted island.
Besides for that, there is nothing VOR specific. All my sea time is on sailboats and ALL of them - compared to a ship - are cramped and undermanned. You have to work well with your mates or you are in a floating hell. For one example, if your relief is late getting up for watch, not only are you stuck on deck, even if you did go below they are in your bunk.

It’s about an approach to solving problems, VOR sailors solve problems that are in many ways similar to the problems solved by commercial mariners.

In both cases we are looking for solutions that optimize the situation given our constraints. The VOR sailors solutions might fall on a different place on the risk/reward spectrum but that doesn’t change the basic nature of the problems being solved

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Racing and delivery trips have something a large ship sailor might not like at all - the work is 24/7 and everyone does most everything. There is no overtime - many times there isn’t even any pay at ALL except sea time to move up the ladder to gigs that actually do pay. Many deliveries are paid by the mile, not the day, so if it is a slow trip well it suck to be you.
In the larger scheme, everyone wants to get to the destination alive, uninjured, and with the vessel undamaged.

This doesn’t strike me a serious augment. It’s like saying a race car driver has nothing to teach other drivers because they violate simple well known rules like don’t tailgate, avoid passing in unsafe situations, excessive speed, etc.

It is true that racing sailors solutions are going to fall on a different place on the risk/reward spectrum but I think the idea that these sailors have nothing to teach commercial mariners is arrogance.

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What can merchant mariners learn?
If not learn, at least appreciate that their time at sea is a sinecure. The people on watch on Volvo 65s are out in the open, hanging on while the deck is canted over at a crazy angle and they are getting blasted with salt spray with the force of a fire hose as the boat slams into the waves. Off watch, they survive mostly on cold food, lie down in hot racks, the motion never stops, there is zero privacy, no heat or AC, everything is damp and stinks. They sleep with their clothes on in case they’re called to rush on deck for a sail change and broken bones and getting swept overboard is an occupational hazard.

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Here’s a larger version of that image so you can get the full effect.

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Yes, the passion and dedication are definitely at different levels no doubt. But commercial crews often take pride in their work and like seeing things done right, like to see smooth operations.


The boat crew and the ship crew are not a good comparison. It makes more sense that the engine department could be thought of as a team when working together, or the C/E and the captain at times.

But its still hard to imagine that we’d develop the kind of knittedness that I imagine a high level racing yacht crew has. My only insight into yacht crews is one summer of beer can races of Lake Michigan, but it seems like people with quite a similar economic/cultural/racial background, quite a lot of down-time, clubs to hang out in, the opportunity to bring their families in (at least enough for their families to know that they don’t love it). Its also potentially dangerous in a sort of immediate and easy to understand way.

Where-as we have to find or not find our common ground. We don’t really have hundreds of slack hours to play who-do-you-know, and what-are-you-drinking. The nature of our job is to each do our part, not physically pull together with ballet-like coordination. If we spent more (any) time training together with fire fighting and like rowing… or something like that. We had a boxing club that was quite a lot of fun, once… but fighting sports are taboo onboard nowadays. I feel like team building is something that we have to do together habitually, not learn about or think about. I reckon the dutch have the right idea: training their students on tall ships. What can we do? Basketball? Thespian club? Toastmasters? Silly party games? Dice? Maybe the first step is to take the screens out of people’s cabins.

My takeaway, from the article had nothing to do with any kind of bonding or team building or anything of that type of bs.

When asked how are deciison are made he said they are forced to communicate. The main takeaway I thought was decisions were made with lots of input from the crew and everyone was on the same page.

People are hardwired to work together, why is this so confusing? If a random group of people lift a car off someone they don’t bond over a game of checkers first, they just do what need to be done.

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Look’s like a case of “Stop Work Authority”.

Maaaan… get the hell outta here with that Gulf bullshit

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At first glance the ocean racer and the commercial container ship may not seem to have much in common. There are several major differences which are obvious.

The real difference, for the purpose of this thread, is feedback. In an ocean race the captain’s beliefs about how to optimize decision making will directly affect boat speed, and competitiveness. Captains who misunderstand crew dynamics will lose.

That’s why the boat captain’s views on decision making are of interest.


You are right no I in Team but there is a ME

A different perspective…

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That looks like fun - if you are on the helm. Sucks for everyone else, but that is their job. It is hard to explain if you haven’t done anything like that. Imagine getting woken up for your watch and it seems you open your eyes to a never-ending airplane crash.The boat is slamming and crashing over, under, and through waves and it takes 10 minutes to get your pants on because it is so hard to just hang on.
You go out on deck to essentially spend the next 4-6 hours standing under a waterfall and you are already hating life 5 minutes into your watch. Then it is your turn on the helm and things change, Coming down the face of a big wave is like “dropping in” surfing. You turn just right to break loose and boat starts to plane down the wave. Someone is calling out the speed as it rushes past 10 knots for 20 and the sound of the water rushing past the hull is like a jet engine on each side of the boat. This is the most fun you can imagine ever having and you send a good-natured STFU at the off watch when they complain you banged into the trough so hard you woke them up. One of your more agile buddies manages to heat some coffee up without spilling it all over the galley and you tuck under the dodger to drink it while your relief gets used to the helm and life is good.
Then a big wave lands in your coffee :sob:
What these VOR guys do is that X1000 and they do it in freezing cold too. Most racers are not paid at all and most of them are not in the southern ocean or anyplace else where you freeze your balls off.

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