What kind of leaders does the Maritime industry create and promote?

This is from the economic / political blog Eschaton and is about doctors but doesn’t it apply to Maritime as well?

They aren’t all like this of course, but an education (often, not always!) lacking in breadth, the arrogance of overachievers, a hierarchical profession that puts them (certain specialities, at least) in the stratosphere, and a lack of people ever telling them to just shut the fuck up, means a lot of them are, whatever their training, just arrogant dumb assholes.


I’ve certainly met guys like that, along with those (especially in the black gang) sliding by on their asses, then there’s the micro-managers, I could go on, and let’s face it, some companies have an internal culture that breeds this, but I’ve also sailed with some of the finest, most intelligent and hard working folks I’ve ever met.

It’s really a mixed bag.


Sure, a mixed bag, but the question is are there systemic issues that biases in favor of dumb assholes?

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Sounds like a guy who has a problem with doctors. The thing with doctors is that they are famously easy to sue. Their employers (hospitals) don’t like getting sued. So the dumb ones are weeded out of the system pretty quickly by the legal profession. The remainder can be arrogant, yes, but not dumb.
Doctors can’t do their work without nurses. About 80% of medicine is nursing. Doctors just do the flashy part, and take the credit. Nurses are a highly trained army, kept to high professional standards, and, most importantly, are required to be 100% responsible for everything they do.

This is nothing like the maritime world. If it was, ABs would have a four year degree in being an AB, and be revaluated (not just recertified) regularly on their seamanship. ABs would run the watch, with deck officers just making rounds occasionally and intervening when the patient (the ship) steered into trouble.

Unlike doctors, maritime offices operate in a responsibility- deficient atmosphere, where the relatively numerous officers make all the crucial decisions, and the rest of the crew does things ancillary to keeping the ship alive.

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Worked with a Captain about 25 years ago that pointed out, “Before, this crew didn’t have a damn thing in common. Now, everyone thinks I’m an asshole. Problem resolved. Get back to work.”


Maybe ABs will get a certification differential bonus as part of their bargaining agreement if they hold optional certs like a Deck Maint Cert. because the companies want a certain percent of the fleet to be certified above minimum standards.

I know it will never work like that, but the comparison to the medical field is very useful. I make comparisons between Nursing and Deck Officers all the time because my wife is an RN.

The most significance difference I found in moving from the Air Force to civilian employment was losing the support of NCOs. Same basic job (first line supervisor of a software shop) but much more time spent checking that stuff got done.




Maritime officers just have to know less stuff than a doctor does. A doctor has to go to eight years of schooling. Technically, a captain needs none. They just need to pass tests. That’s an oversimplification, but you get my point. Even though doctors have a large knowledge base, the care of a patient is a cooperative effort between many doctors and nurses. The care of a ship falls to small crew.

Captains and chief engineers traditionally work in an isolated environment, making decisions with little consultation, other than with subordinate officers. Doctors in comparison work in a cooperative atmosphere.

Your GP handles the mundane stuff, but if anything serious is suspected, your care is passed off to specialists, who coordinate with yet other specialists. This happens at sea too: the captain brings aboard a pilot to bring the ship to the dock. The CE calls in a diesel mechanic at the dock to check on an engine. But it happens much less than in medicine. Doctors may have a reputation for being autocratic, but with captains and CE, being autocratic is their job description. A result of working and making decisions in isolation.


Don’t think the word dumb was meant to be taken literally. More like the usage of “idiot” in Taleb’s “IYI. Literally the word 'idiot” meant people with an IQ of 0-25 at one time . Taleb is obviously not using that usage when he says some intellectuals are idiots.

Intellectual Yet Idiot (IYI) is a term coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his essay by the same name that refers to the semi-intelligent well-pedigreed “who are telling us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think… and 5) who to vote for”.

To be honest, unintelligent, uneducated bastards have their own opinions too. :slightly_smiling_face:

We’ve reached a point in societal evolution where the sum total of human knowledge exceeds the sum total of human wisdom. It takes eight years of dedicated training to become a physician. Little time is allowed in those years to teach that physician (or sea officer) humility or empathy. Perhaps it would be a waste of time. The human mind is not conducive to being taught virtues, which are generally inherent. But without humility and empathy, intelligent people placed in highly-paid, highly specialized positions of any kind make stupid decisions based on arrogance.


There is and old saying that goes; A Master Mariner is someone who knows something about many things, but not everything about anything.

A Doctor is more like; someone that knows a lot about one subject but know little about other subjects.

Both are of course generalizations, but there are a lot of truth in some generalizations. (None in other, though)

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Here are the salient elements:

  • an education (often, not always!) lacking in breadth,
  • the arrogance of overachievers
  • a hierarchical profession
  • a lack of people ever telling them to just shut the fuck up

Both systems are designed to provide and promote competent people.

Where the systems fail is in accountability. Human bodies are incredibly complex systems, and that provides innumerable opportunities to shift or refuse blame. Medical malpractice is a leading cause of death.

Maritime officers, depending on their industry and on the conditions they face, can often get away with not following best practices or doing their utmost to utilize the tools available to them without incident.

If it could have happened it did happen is a personal maxim I follow.

After near 40 years in the marine business - military, civilian, ashore and afloat I think as a rule some of the best folks I know - almost to a person. Even the KP grads !!!

A good summary. One of the biggest cultural obstacles I encountered during drillship boom ,which I entered on a whim, was from 2010 until it collapsed the arrogance of newly minted engineers who had only been working for a few years. I was used to having oilers and more experienced assistants. These new guys were dismissive of the older motormen/oilers the company hired. Why are they still motormen? Why don’t they get a license? They must be lazy or stupid.They could not get it thru their head that maybe an oiler/motorman was happy at their current position.Some of these oilers had been sailing for over 30 years, longer than some of these engineers had been alive. I encouraged the young engineers to depend on them as they were the eyes and ears of the plant. Didn’t work. The old oilers either quit or were asked to leave when I was not onboard. Fresh new 3rd engineers were brought on board to fill their place but they needed baby sitting. Thankfully I was sent ashore and never had to deal with under-educated, arrogant overachievers as often. The salient elements are correct in any organization.

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What kind of leaders does the Maritime Industry create & promote? There’s so many facets to our industry there’s not one answer. I’ve worked for micro managing operations that wanted pictures everyday & I needed permission to do any & everything. I worked with other operations where the office pretty much handled payroll & nothing else. The masters & ships agents took care of everything including travel arrangements.

When it comes to working with arrogant dumb assholes. I can manage ones under me for years but absolutely can’t stand having them for bosses.

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I worked in the Searates as an automation engineer and previously i worked for cargoes so i know people from the maritime industry and many Freight forwarder agencies. I come across many as such arrogant people, As i remember my boss being one of them. But Being an automation engineer for a year now and working under him. i think if i manage to stay with him i can manage to stay with other arrogant Dumbs as well.


The big difference is a doctor works in view of others who are not under their control. Patients, other doctors, staff. Behavior is moderated out of social necessity.

A captain/CHENG work at most with each other. There are no neutral observers. Anyone who sees them working has an interest in not getting on their bad side. There are few if any social controls on them or the senior officers.

Besides that, a doctor gets re-socialized on a daily basis. They leave the hospital and go home. They go to a store, a restaurant. They deal with random strangers who don’t know them from Adam. A captain/CHENG can spend months in a bubble becoming wrapped and desocialized.

A bad doctor is a pussy cat next to a bad captain.


I know that you are an MSC mariner. I just want to say that some of us on the commercial side do get ashore every now and then to “socialize”. I could see how it might get a bit out of control on your side though.

I do agree that the potential for an ego to run unchecked in a position as Captain or Chief Engineer is certainly a possibility, but I have had the good fortune of not having sailed with too many like that. I prefer to surround myself with honest, hard workers and not “yes men”. If things are going to shit, I want to hear about it. If I am letting things go to shit, I want to hear about it. Good communication is more important to me than feeling that I am correct. None of us are infallible.


Was he just an asshole or was he a dumb asshole?

My first trip as mate was with a very skilled ex-fishman named Doug and he was often somewhat unpleasant to work with, but he knew his limitations. Captain Doug also recognized that I had a different skill set than him and one that was often useful to the operation.

By contrast a dumb asshole believes that they alone understand what’s going on and how the operation ought to be run. When things are going wrong nobody dare say anything least they offend this dumb asshole.