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Old 14-08-2008, 13:33   #1
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Question Couples Co-Captains?

My fiancée and I have a natural parity in our lives that we deeply enjoy: we both cook, sew, mind the kids, work on the boat, navigate, muscle the sails, etc. We're also both newish but passionate sailors and we're striving to learn the varied aspects of sailing together in equal measure so that each of us is wholly competent when we become liveaboards next year.

Personally, I would like to consider the two of us "co-captains", as in truly equal and responsible for the boat and crew, but I don't believe I've heard of anyone doing that before. Assume that we would captain in shifts so that at any one time just one of us would be the acting captain with full authority, and which one it is would be made abundantly clear to ourselves and the crew.

The problem I forsee is during a high-stress situation where decisions must be made quickly and followed to the letter. Perhaps we wouldn't agree on that decision and I'd imagine that the "off-duty" captain would have a hard time holding their tongue. Still, I do believe we would obey the other even if we didn't agree.

Have any couples tried this before? Does this sound dangerous? Or perhaps even safer because it may prevent the hard-headedness that can result from a postion of constant authority? What do you all think? I'd love to hear from men and women on this one
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Old 14-08-2008, 13:56   #2
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I definitely don't teach this to anyone, but my wife and I practice it.

We each have areas of the operation of a boat we are better at, or enjoy more than others.

On our boat, we have perfectly divided up the tasks associated with getting a boat from Point A to Point B into roles. Each of us can fill in and do all roles aboard the boat, but each of us has our specialties.

Stuff I do more of:

*Laying out courses
*Hauling in genoa sheets
*Cleaning bilges
*Changing head hoses
*Taking an extra watch or two
*Buffing and waxing
*Changing engine oil
*Refits
*Dropping the anchor

Stuff she does more of:

*Preparing meals
*Provisioning
*General cleaning
*Going aloft in the bosun's chair
*Laundry
*Furling the genoa
*Sewing and canvas repair
*Talking to dockmasters
*Hauling up our 3/8" BBB chain and 45lb anchor on a manual windlass
*etc... etc...

We both can handle everything the other handles, but have a wonderful rhythm we follow. We share a 50%/50% relationship with complete equality and respect. We rarely yell and *never* yell over a boat issue.

My wife is 100% capable of taking our boat and moving it from say... Maine to St Lucia by herself. She would rather not, but she could if she had to.

We have a very symbiotic and atypical rhythm we follow on board and each eagerly goes after their task as the boat is in transit. We are both excellent watchkeepers and share time on the helm, except that when she cooks, I take extra helm shifts. She likes preparing meals because it's her way of getting less boring watches! ha ha

I typically teach the "one person is captain at a time" philosophy, because that is what works for most couples/families. Our case is just a little different.

Never really went into this detail on this site, but figured it might help you...

Do what comes naturally. If you don't butt heads in regular life and can work together seamlessly, there is no reason it won't work that way as a couple on the boat.



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Originally Posted by cubaflowers View Post
My fiancée and I have a natural parity in our lives that we deeply enjoy: we both cook, sew, mind the kids, work on the boat, navigate, muscle the sails, etc. We're also both newish but passionate sailors and we're striving to learn the varied aspects of sailing together in equal measure so that each of us is wholly competent when we become liveaboards next year.

Personally, I would like to consider the two of us "co-captains", as in truly equal and responsible for the boat and crew, but I don't believe I've heard of anyone doing that before. Assume that we would captain in shifts so that at any one time just one of us would be the acting captain with full authority, and which one it is would be made abundantly clear to ourselves and the crew.

The problem I forsee is during a high-stress situation where decisions must be made quickly and followed to the letter. Perhaps we wouldn't agree on that decision and I'd imagine that the "off-duty" captain would have a hard time holding their tongue. Still, I do believe we would obey the other even if we didn't agree.

Have any couples tried this before? Does this sound dangerous? Or perhaps even safer because it may prevent the hard-headedness that can result from a postion of constant authority? What do you all think? I'd love to hear from men and women on this one
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Old 14-08-2008, 14:12   #3
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The problem I forsee is during a high-stress situation where decisions must be made quickly and followed to the letter.

Also, the key to safety and sanity is taking any situation that comes up and treating it as a *low* stress situation.

Think calmly, clearly and never panic.

Just about every situation on a boat can be reasoned out and the best course of action taken without allowing fear to creep in.
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Old 14-08-2008, 14:22   #4
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Sully,

You are i/c "Dropping the anchor" while she is i/c "Hauling up our 3/8" BBB chain and 45lb anchor on a manual windlass".

Of course you have an equal partnership!
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Old 14-08-2008, 14:32   #5
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Sully,

You are i/c "Dropping the anchor" while she is i/c "Hauling up our 3/8" BBB chain and 45lb anchor on a manual windlass".

Of course you have an equal partnership!
Ha ha ha!

Yup... I just release the clutch and it glides to the bottom.

Seriously, she feels she doesn't get enough exercise on the boat and it's one of the forms of exercise she enjoys. Each takes on tasks they enjoy. Sometimes, I feel a little short on exercise too, so I steal the opportunity to haul up the anchor.
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Old 14-08-2008, 15:08   #6
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I would have to think that would work with equal skills. In my case I have many single-handed, and many with crew miles. While my wife knew zero. She is learning, and someday can share the responsibility, but for now I get the last word when it comes to the boat, and our safety.

Welcome back Sully, hope all went well with the tour.
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Old 14-08-2008, 15:35   #7
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I think i read here on a previous post that there can be only one captain (on paper that is) and that the co captain should have a document stating that if anything should happen to the captain he or she will resume all responsibility of captain, for legal purposes that is. but on another note my wife and i currently going thru this issue and that is she has a hard time accepting that i am captain even though she realizes that she would rather it be me, but when things need to be done, sometimes in a hurry and there is no time to stop and have a discussion about it, the captain has to be able to trust that his or her crew trust the captain. of coarse mistakes are made and speaking from experience i have been wrong in a situation and my wife (co captain) has corrected me and we are for the better but there has a few times where we both just cant come to an agreement and that is when the captain has the final say i don't think it can work any other way if there is another way i would love to know would save a lot of headaches. cheers on a side note the wife doesn't like taken orders from anyone especially me
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Old 14-08-2008, 16:59   #8
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Hey Cuba

It's our 2nd year sailing together (we've been power boaters for years before) so we've had only a little longer than you to develop our sailing relationship. What we find is, as Scully said, that you tend to play to your strengths. Some things are generally obvious in the division of duties. (The 6'3" 220 lb guy generally does most of the work with the anchor). What we find really helpful is the little talk we have at the end of each day about what we did well, what we did poorly and how we can try to do things better the next time. All I can suggest is that you have this little daily talk and follow down the road it takes you.
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Old 14-08-2008, 18:33   #9
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Democracy only works with odd numbers.

While in the everyday operations of the vessel a two partner crew such as a husband and wife may do great acting in a co-captain sort of manner. But when the doo-doo hits the fan and you find yourselves in a situation where immediate leadership and action is required, you need a CAPTAIN, not a discussion.

A good captain is one who allocates tasks and accepts crew feedback in such a manner that the crew is in harmony and feels as if the they have a valid say in the vessels operations anyhow. The only time the captain should have to exert strong "control" is during stressful situations that could endanger the vessel.

On our boat, I am the Captain. That does not mean my wife does not make plenty of decisions (most?) nor that she has no input into the running of the boat. It just means that at the end of the day I am responsible.



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Old 14-08-2008, 18:39   #10
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All Wise words Sean… you are a lucky man to have found and perhaps helped to inspire such a capable partner.

However, as Frolic adds, it all depends on the experience and natural abilities of your partner.

Any captain, who does not from day 1, teach/inspire crew how to do the captain's job, is setting themselves up for failure. (That applies both professionally and in recreational boating)

When 2 crew are just beginning together, Dave the canuck’s advise to review their actions is a great tool and will especially point out each other’s weaknesses…(we all have them. )

The key at the end of the day though is to decide amongst yourself, who has the final say !

When the risk of injury or death becomes apparent, that is no time to call a committee meeting!

You can respect each others abilities and be pro-active as co-deciders but when the sh8t hits the fan, you need a Captain who you both believe in!
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Old 14-08-2008, 23:41   #11
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You guys are all way too touchy feelie. I think I am going to barf.

I am the man, I am smarter, I am the Skipper. No dabate.

(right honey?........)
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Old 15-08-2008, 08:03   #12
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Ex,

Does she read your posts? You must have a comfy couch!
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Old 15-08-2008, 08:44   #13
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All Wise words Sean… you are a lucky man to have found and perhaps helped to inspire such a capable partner.

However, as Frolic adds, it all depends on the experience and natural abilities of your partner.

Any captain, who does not from day 1, teach/inspire crew how to do the captain's job, is setting themselves up for failure. (That applies both professionally and in recreational boating)

When 2 crew are just beginning together, Dave the canuck’s advise to review their actions is a great tool and will especially point out each other’s weaknesses…(we all have them. )

The key at the end of the day though is to decide amongst yourself, who has the final say !

When the risk of injury or death becomes apparent, that is no time to call a committee meeting!

You can respect each others abilities and be pro-active as co-deciders but when the sh8t hits the fan, you need a Captain who you both believe in!

When it hits the fan, we both already know what to do. There are no discussions... just action. Because we are so similar and share a 50/50 life, we have the same gut instincts in many ways and work as one.

If things get beyond her ability to make a judgment (hasn't happened yet, and we've lived on the water mostly full time for years, including working on megayachts), she trusts my instincts. For example:

Say all the watertight bulkheads in out cat were breached and she was going down. Most would tell their wife to gather items we need (ditch bag, etc...), as they cut the davit lines and we climbed into the dinghy, right?

Not me!

My wife would have already gathered the ditch bag and whatever she could up the moment it was obvious we would lose the boat.

Why? She *understands* the boat in the same sense any captain would. She knows her roles (I am a better davit line cutter, she is a better ditch bag collector) and will carry them out.

Instead of teaching her to follow orders, I built up her ability to understand each and every possible scenario (within reason) and know exactly what we would both do "in the event of..."

This builds a team that doesn't need a "captain" barking orders around.

I almost wish I could have a little camera set up on my boat to demonstrate...

It's fairly unique, I think.

I'm a big fan of this approach (on my own boat and with my own marriage) because we are able to run the boat and perform all our duties with split second timing, since there is very little communication needed.

Take docking and anchoring. I always see stressed out people barking orders around and yelling when docking and anchoring. We don't do that. Each has their role, completes their part of the process and it goes smoothly and quickly with almost no communication, other than a quick "quarterbacking" before the event.

As a caveat: I should probably add that I have trained her from a non-sailor to her current skill level, which means all of her instincts are (by default) the same as mine. I have taught her everything I know. this is probably more responsible for our unique methods than the fact that we share everything 50/50.
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Old 15-08-2008, 15:36   #14
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My wife and I are both very strong willed and friction arises as swiftly as a summer squall if tasks are not properly apportioned. The way it works on our boat is she is the admiral and has the last say in destinations, provisioning and safety procedures. She has agreed to grant my full rights as captain and I have full operational authority and she will let me run the boat my way while under sail even when she thinks I am doing it wrong ( and I probably am doing it wrong but she has learned not to press the point ). Tasks are apportioned according to who has the watch. The watch is responsible for the helm, keeping lookout, and otherwise maneuvering. The "off watch" seaman is expected to handle all other tasks including cooking, cleaning, fenders, setting the foresails and anchoring. With only two it is best to trust your crew. It's good to know that when I go below someone is at the helm that can make decisions and get the boat out of danger if needed.

Otherwise we're fairly easy. Some days I do all the work, raising anchor, setting the genny, while she reads a book. And some days she wants to do those things and I get to just watch.

The best way to avoid the "hollering at the mate" syndrome to to discuss any new maneuvers before hand so that the admiral knows what to expect and so she can anticipate tasks and prep for them.
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Old 15-08-2008, 20:38   #15
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The co-captain idea might work for a couple who are close and who have nobody else aboard. I though would not want to be a crew member on a boat where there are two captains. One person needs to have the final word...not two people who may disagree with each other in a dangerous situation.

There is also the legal aspect. I don't think any government authority recognizes two captains aboard one boat.

It is a cute idea and hints of political correctness in making things "fair" for everyone, but it is probably not a pragmatic idea.

You would both learn more by switching roles periodically. Perhaps let her be the captain on one voyage and you be the captain on the next voyage?
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