What the Hell is Good Seamanship?

What the hell is good seamanship? Or, alternatively, what makes a good seaman? Or a poor one? Sometimes I work with our experienced ABs and find them coiling a line counterclockwise ! Urghh!@#%!!! I bring it up to our captains. Some shrug and say “All the lines we have aboard are some flavor of multi-stand braided rope. The direction of coiling really doesn’t matter anymore…” What can I say to that? I watch the deckhands make-fast mooring lines to the bitts. Some do it one way. Some another. Seems to be a matter of free-association and personal expression nowadays. I show them two round turns and three figure eights, for making a line fast to a bitt. Explain the reasoning behind it. They shrug and say “I never had the line come loose yet…”

All my life I’ve heard statements like “The next sailor I ship out with will be the first one”, or “They’ve got a poor standard of seamanship at that company/boat/trade…” Or just “Why the hell do you do that?!?! No sailor in his right mind would do that!”

The question is, what constitutes a good sailor? What is the standard of seamanship? Whatever it is, is it the same as it was in 1916, or 1816, or 1716? Or has it changed? And if it has changed, it probably keeps changing. So how can you judge someone if the standard is always changing? Or is it the case that “The Standard” is whatever skills are most important in the particular seagoing trade you happen to work at? Is it the case that, on a container ship, a good sailor might know how to steer and be a lookout and splice lines, and knows his/her part in lowering lifeboats and swinging out the gangway, but on tugs a good sailor knows how to [ rshrew, please fill in the blank].

Are statements like “I’ve steamed on more ships than you’ve seen telephone poles, son, and behind every one of those telephone poles is a little $hit like you who thinks he’s a sailor!”just the age-old way Old Salts keep greenhorns in their place? (The previous statement was my greeting from the chief mate on one of the first ships I worked on. I’ve always admired it…)

Is there any laundry list of things that go into making a good sailor? Is there any common standard of good seamanship?

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Boy, you really opened up a big can of shite with this one.

Anyway, I’ll pick just one bit to start: with the multi-braid / plaited lines that have no directional lay or set (they are in fact “neutral” by design) there is therefore no such thing as a “backward” turn with them. They may be coiled or wound either way as need may dictate without a problem, unlike the old, reliable 3-strand. On the tugs in our fleet a mix of both these types of lines are used.

So my personal definition of a good (competent) seaman, or the practice of good seamanship, is someone that not only knows that multi-braids can go either way but 3-strand only goes clockwise (normally, unless you have left-laid line, which I’ve never seen or even heard of ever being used), but also knows the exact reasons why this is so and can also be relied upon to switch back-and-forth between the two without issue.

That good seaman would also know how to look at a situation, analyse the circumstances (or at least have a very good idea of what questions to ask) and properly and safely handle, lead and make off the lines on the different types of bitts, bollards, cleats, fairleads, rollers, posts, capstans, etc. without having them jam or foul as the tides go up and down and the currents and winds change direction and strength. Anticipating the possible and likely changes is an important part of it.

An inability to be able to do these things, largely without supervision unless the circumstances are very unusual, by definition demonstrates a lack of competence and at least mediocre if not downright poor seamanship.

I’ve seen plenty of deckhands, experienced and not, who don’t possess this knowledge and fundamental skill set, and I’ve seen them subsequently promoted into steering or tankerman positions where their ignorance / incompetence / sloppiness then spreads exponentially.

If the more senior and experienced personnel, for whatever the reason, either don’t know it themselves or are too lazy or indifferent to insist on good practices being followed then we effectively have no real standards worth mentioning. No one should be surprised, then, when the younger and less-experienced crew members follow the examples that they see being set for theme very day.

Garbage in, garbage out.

The burden to set, teach, maintain and effectively enforce proper standards rests squarely upon the elders. By my observed experience, we are collectively often not up to the task.

Hard to describe but you know a good Seaman when you see one. I think it must be learned young by example & good seamen never stop learning. On to other hand a deck ape will always be a deck ape

Other thing that’s rare anymore is a Seaman’s Eye. Ability to see what can go wrong before it happens.

Boats

Sail on a ship with experienced Filipino ABs. They are impressive when it comes to seamanship and splicing.

when I was a young boatswain mate, we were taught one round turn on the bit and coil the line with the lay, either left or right, people are only as good as their trainers,

I think there are many qualities that are needed for good seamanship, although this ranks right up there at the top. That is a sailor that makes it a priority of the safety of the crew, and passengers aboard above their own.

Jazus Keeryst! These daze good seamanship is being able to tie maybe four simple knots and be able to hit the dock with a heavingline. Forget splicing anything or the ability to handsteer.

When the company I worked for went NIS with Philippine sailors lot of reservations, could they do the job. They were good sailors and many have worked their way up sailing as Mates now.

Boats .

Knowing when to let an engineer do it for you is good seamanship. :smiley:

I see it as the classic three legged stool. A good attitude, respect for one’s chosen labor, and competence. If one leg is missing, all you’ve got is a pile of kindling. It’s simple: if you have a tendency to pout, stay home. If you don’t like getting tossed around, stay home. if you can’t tie a bowline with your eyes closed or if you can’t steer a course in a following sea, stay home.

PS There are too many specialized types of operations to have a laundry list cover them all.

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[QUOTE=DeepSeaDiver;190614]I think there are many qualities that are needed for good seamanship, although this ranks right up there at the top. That is a sailor that makes it a priority of the safety of the crew, and passengers aboard above their own.[/QUOTE]

Deep Sea Diver has spoken. So it is written, so it shall be.

I think a sailor with good seamanship skills will choose the slow and steady way, and have the ability to provide balanced mentorship to other sailors in a non threating or insulting degrading manner.

Is there any laundry list of things that go into making a good sailor? Is there any common standard of good seamanship

There are principles of seamanship and there are elements of seamanship. The elements of seamanship on a container ship may be different then the elements on say, a tug but the priciples are the same.

It’s not necessary to understand the priniples to know the elements. The specific elements can be taught or learned from trial and error. An extreme case of understanding only specific elements is being “one ship stupid” where a crew member may only know how to acomplish certain tasks specific to one ship under certain narrow circumstances.

If someone is training a mariner only the elements are being taught. If mariner is being mentored the elements will be taught and the underlyling principle will be explained.

One of my first lessons in seamanship was while securing loose gear out on deck with a more experienced mariner I asked if what I’d done was sufficent. I was told, “you can tie it down right now or you can come out here at night when it’s blowing 35 kts and tie down right then.”

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Suggested BASIC laundry list for what makes a good DECK seaman, or what constitutes a standard, or rubric, of Good Deck Seamanship.:

  1. Ability to tie-up a vessel, whether it be 30’ long or 900’ long. Knows the names of mooring lines, and just as important, how they are supposed to work. (Example: Often in our operation you need to set the headline, leading forward, from the spring line chock, and the springline, leading aft, from the headline chock. Why? Short dock. Bow sticks out farther than the end of the dock. Some deckhands are completely flummoxed by this arrangement, because it’s all monkey-see-monkey-do to them. They don’t understand that the line is not named after the chock it’s set through, but rather the direction the mooring line is led).

Mooring line safety.

Familiarity with windlasses and capstans in linehandling. Don’t need to know how to operate every type of self-tensioning mooring line system out there, but knows the basics of how to set mooring lines, and how to tension them by hand or power. In this regard, knows how to use stoppers on mooring lines.
Can throw a heaving line and use it with mooring lines.

  1. Knows the basics of anchoring, and how a classic anchor windlass works.

  2. Simple ships nomenclature and directions. Port side, Bulwark, and Athwartships shouldn’t be cities in France…

  3. Knows knotting and splicing. Not the whole USCG -list of A.B. knots, but you should be able to tie the following four knots blindfolded and hanging from your feet: bowline, clove hitch, sheet bend, double sheet bend. (Wouldn’t it be great if ABs were tested while blindfolded and hanging upside-down?) Also, make a monkey’s fist while sitting down comfortably and not completely drunk. Can put an eye splice and short splice in 3-strand rope, and some other type (8-strand braided or Samson, or something else). Long splice? The next time I NEED to make a long splice will be the first. So not on the list. But maybe someone else out there uses them, and will let us know why. Add in craft-knowledge like whipping the end of the line, knife safety, etc. because it’s all central to knotting and splicing.

  4. Can lash things down with chains/binders/steamboat rachets, webbing ratchet straps, common line, etc. Knows the principle of doing this without destroying the item being lashed down. (Maybe, maybe, can do it without being told!!)

  5. Knows how to handle wire rope. Can spool it onto winch, or coil it on deck, without destroying the wire with kinks. (I wish I lived in an alternate universe where ABs spliced wire rope every day. But I don’t. The boats I work on go through a lot of wire rope. We never splice. Just replace. So I can’t justify saying an AB needs to know how to splice wire. Maybe fodder for a whole other thread: Do You Splice Wire, and Why?)

  6. Can hand steer. Might need to learn how to operate the steering system on a particular boat, but the technique of steering a vessel should be old hat, as should be the classic steering commands.

  7. Can serve as competent lookout. Can tell at night the difference between a light house and a vessel, and what side of the vessel he or she is looking at. Maybe a little more: a fishing boat from a sail boat, a motor vessel from a tug. But maybe that’s too ambitious .

  8. Doesn’t need to know how to calculate the time of tides, but sure knows what tides and currents are, and roughly how often they come each day, and how linehandling and small boat ops are affected by them.

  9. Knows how to paint. I know some pretty skilled, very intelligent ABs that still don’t why primer is used, and so don’t use it.

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Who are you? You post like a bleeding heart liberal. Offshore/boat/seaman/sailor life is a pain in the ass sometimes. Oh yeah, I forgot, this is the new kinder and gentler world we live in now. Fuck that shit. You must be an academy kid of this new generation. You need a good year of swabbing decks, scrubbing shitters, cooking, grub shopping, standing bow watch in the winter in the rain, splicing lines, sanding, grinding, chipping, painting, cleaning, and taking a load of shit from the captain and Chief.

Give him 28 days with me.
I’ll fix his red wagon.

[QUOTE=Kennebec Captain;190642]There are principles of seamanship and there are elements of seamanship. The elements of seamanship on a container ship may be different then the elements on say, a tug but the priciples are the same.

It’s not necessary to understand the priniples to know the elements. The specific elements can be taught or learned from trial and error. An extreme case of understanding only specific elements is being “one ship stupid” where a crew member may only know how to acomplish certain tasks specific to one ship under certain narrow circumstances.

If someone is training a mariner only the elements are being taught. If mariner is being mentored the elements will be taught and the underlyling principle will be explained.

One of my first lessons in seamanship was while securing loose gear out on deck with a more experienced mariner I asked if what I’d done was sufficent. I was told, “you can tie it down right now or you can come out here at night when it’s blowing 35 kts and tie down right then.”[/QUOTE]

“Secure your ship today because you might not have a chance to do it tomorrow” was also one of the first rules of good seamanship that I learned as a youth. Another, right up there in importance was “Don’t be late.”

[QUOTE=Flyer69;190653]Give him 28 days with me.
I’ll fix his red wagon.[/QUOTE]

We were in port one day when the C/M asked a green OS to go get a broom and sweep the deck outside the day room. When the OS whined that he was getting picked on, the C/M said “Oh it’s ok, you don’t have to do it. It’s optional.” Then he pointed at the gangway, "There’s your other option, I hear McDonalds is hiring."
That ended the discussion.

I think a sailor with good seamanship skills is able to evaluate and properly identify the hazards of his or her’s tasks on a continual basis based on many factors like the sea conditions, wave and swell height, wind conditions and direction, the time of day etc. I think it’s a good seamanship skill to continualy review the SMS procedures with all sailors aboard, to include all deck area danger zones.