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The Pilot Crisis: Part 3,
“These Damn Kids Today…."
By Robert Rishel
I have been getting a great many emails on the subject of deckhand performance. Much
of it ends up sounding like the,”these damn kids today do not want to work”, tirades we
have all heard or even participated in at sometime. It seems like every generation goes
through a shift in work ethics and sadly the trend seems to be going in a disturbing
direction. I do not want to come off sounding like all deckhands are somehow lazier than
they used to be, there are some great deckhands out there. I have worked with some
truly remarkable guys myself, in fact I have a kind of running list in my head of the best
deckhands I have ever worked with, a top ten of the best I have ever seen. It gives me a
rule of thumb when I am evaluating the performance of a crew or considering someone
as a candidate for pilot. The maxim, Great deckhands make great pilots, is generally
true. There seems to be the impression out there, however, that the ratio of good to poor
deckhands is spiraling downwards. Whether or not this is true is debatable, but the fact
remains, the perception is there.
What does this have to do with the pilot shortage? Pilots come from the deck; fewer good
deckhands equates to fewer good pilots and a continued bleak outlook for our industry.
Pilots have always complained about deckhands and there has always been a pretty
steady turnover in general on deck. The job is not for everyone and once the romantic
notions of typical new guys about working on a boat are replaced by the reality of hard
work, long hours and the stresses of living aboard, most generally move on. It has always
been that way. I will grant this, the expectations for deckhands have decreased
somewhat from when I first started. We used to do much more in the way of maintenance
and repairs than these guys are expected to do today. I can remember when a main
engine went out or we replaced a wheel it was all hands up and involved for the duration
of the repair. There was an urgency to effect the repairs and get back underway that
everyone was made to share. You just did not go to bed when something critical was
going on. Those days appear to be over; some companies do not even want the deck
crew changing the oil in the mains and gensets. I have seen a few companies that do not
even have their deck crews do much in the way of chipping and painting, that gets done
by a shipyard once a year. I am certainly not saying we should revert back to the old
ways; we did some very unsafe things in the past. Staying up for 30 or 40 hours is one of
them. The point I am trying to make is that many of us come from that old school
mentality, when we decked we took risks, we had to, it was the way things were. The
examples we saw were our pilots and Captains. The wheelhouse set the tone and the
pace for work on a boat.
Most pilots today were great deckhands because they had two things on their minds.
First, they had their eye on the prize-getting into the wheelhouse and; second, they had
the example to follow of a generation of Captains who cared about the boat and about
the quality of work they did. We can do very little about the way a young man was
brought up before he ended up in our crew, or about the values of our society regarding
work. What we can do is filter through to the ones with potential and work to instill in them
the desire for a license and set a work-ethic example matching the expectations we have
for them. In order to lead and inspire men we must first have their respect. The maxim I
mentioned earlier works both ways, Great Captains also Make Great Deckhands.