The Job of a Captain


Status
Not open for further replies.

Erik Wood

Member
Aug 24, 2000
3,519
15
313
This is actually meant as a definition but will most then likely include more then that. I am starting this thread so that folks who do not know or are not in the Maritime Industry can get an accurate description of what a Captain does and his responsibilities. I have read several threads that ask similar questions into what Captain Smith's duty was that night. So for the record and as a Captain I am going to give you a what is expected of a Captain regardless of the company that he works for.

Remeber that a Captains primary duty is to: "Ensure the Safe and Prudent Navigation of his vessel." This covers several things. We will start with the word "Ensure..".

ENSURE:Meaning to have total and complete control over every aspect of the vessel and it's handling. Or in basic terms that means getting the ship from point A to point B regardless of weather or any other factor and have complete control of every situation at all times. This is one of the many reasons that Captains don't stand a watch.

In order for a Captain to keep an accurate picture of how the entire ship is operating he has to be removed from 99% of the daily routine duty. That way he can see things that are wrong, while not directly having anything to do with a particular job. A good example is daily navigation. By not being the sole person doing all of the plotting and trip setting, he can look at somebody elses work rather then his own, this makes it easier to spot mistakes. It is easier to catch somebody esles mistakes then it is your own. Keep in mind although the Captain doesn't do all of the daily navigation he is still responsible for making sure that it is done correctly.

ENSURE + SAFE: This is a real kicker. This means that the Captain is also responsible for every aspect of safety. From the carpet in a remote passageway or stateroom, to making sure that the lifeboats are properly maintained. It also includes making sure that the crew is trained correctly and that they carry out there duties in the event of an emergency. That further means that if somebody along the line doesn't do there job and a passenger gets hurt, it is the Captain who takes the hit for it.

The phrase safe also includes how the ship his handled. Examples are making sure the ship is doing the correct things when it comes to dangerous weather, and that the crew is performing the required tasks that dangerous weather can represent. Examples:

FOG:Making sure that the ships radars are being used to the fullest of there capabilities. Making sure that the crew is aware of the fog and maintaining an extra lookout. The appropraite sound signal is being sounded. Making sure the ship is traveling at a safe speed in accordance with the weather.

HEAVY SEAS: Making sure that the ship is buttoned up tight. Making sure that the passengers are aware and that crew are out and about to help elderly passengers get from place to place. Ensuring that the engines are running correctly and that emergency generators are standing by. Making sure that the crew on the bridge are being safe in the handling of the ship.

Some other things that are in the realm of safe are:

Making sure the ship is moored correctly.

Making sure that the ship is being towed correctly.

Keeping the ship SAFE requires that you rely on other key members of the ships staff. The Chief Engineer, the Safety Officer, the Chief Officer and Staff Captain. It also requires that you keep the "big picture". A Capain can't afford to concentrate on one problem because if he does others will appear and be ignored. Those are the deadly ones. Plus he can get a clearer picture of what is going on with the whole ship and the best way to make all of the pieces of the puzzle that is ship board opertation fit togther.

ENSURE THE SAFE+ AND PRUDENT NAVIGATION:This is actually four part. Prudent doesn't always mean safe. Sometimes Captains have to take risks that will benefit the ship as a whole but injure some as a result. It also means making the safest decision for all concerned.

Navigation is just that. Getting the ship from Point A to point B safely. Not running aground, not getting lost, and not running into ships or anything else (that includes icebergs). That means every aspect of making sure the ship gets there. From the engines being fully maintained to the helmsman not running into something.

No I am going to throw in what some here have called the "Ismay Factor". Not using Ismay in specific but his job in general.

Ship Captains keep there job by getting what ever it is that they are carrying to point B from point A the quickest with the least amount of cost. Safety although the biggest part of a captains job isn't always the driving force behind the decisions that a captain makes.

Captain Dave Brown has a couple expamples in stories (that are not stories on things he has done) that I have heard him tell. Hopefully he will pipe up.

Further in the passenger trade a Captain is responsible for keeping the passengers happy. Everything from the food, to the cleanness of rooms to the fun they have on shore excursions. This was especially so in the era that Captain Smith was alive. That was the era when passengers picked captains and not ships.

Now comes that question that I know everybody wants to hear the answer to: What was Captain Smiths responsibilty that night?

Well here is the list:

Making sure that the lookouts where looking out.

Making sure that the ship was traveling at a safe speed.

Making sure that his officers where aware that the ship would eventually run into ice.

Making sure that his ship stayed on course.

And last but definitly not least, what I believe drove Smith to act the way he did, To get the ship from Point A to Point B as quickly as humanly possible.

Did Smith do his duty that night? I will let you all come up with what you think. But I think for the most part he did his job. He was without a doubt negligent in his use of speed. But then again that is by today's standards. Remeber that frequently even today warnings are just that. A warning. Until I see it I am not going to react and possibly delay my arrival because of something that I am not even sure is going to be there when I get there. That to me is the attitude that Smith had in regards to the ice.

I hope that this clarifies things a little.

Erik
 
Mar 3, 1998
2,745
261
358
Erik,

Would you mind taking a little more time and describing the Captain's Night Orders and how they impacted the deck officer on watch?

Parks
 

Erik Wood

Member
Aug 24, 2000
3,519
15
313
Ah, yes the night order book. Parks is bringing back fond memories of my underway days.

Because a captain can not stay up 24 hours a day it is military and civilian ship practice for the captain to write in what is called "The Captains Night Order Book". Usually every on going watch after 8 o'clock at night must read and sign the book, stating that they understand and will carry out the captains orders.

These orders commonly include designated or planned course changes, information on weather and how the captain wants the watch to handle it. When to contact the captain for surface contacts. What course to steer and until when, what speed, all kinds of stuff.

They are also used to pass on information. Ice warnings are a prime example. If I had received sevel ice warnings and I knew that the ship would be entering that area on a certain night, I would write in there the position and types of sighted ice and how I want the bridge team to react to that.

The night order book is the Captains direct order to the officers on watch. Officers should be using this to plan there watch.

I hope that this explains it. I would be happy to answer any questions relating to it.

Erik
 
Jul 14, 2000
741
20
263
Does the Captain usually stay out of the engine room? I mean, is the engine room sort of the chief engineer's territory and he's the boss down there, so the Captain stays topside and lets the engineers run the show down below?

Like the galley, I can't see the Captain really being an important feature in the Galley because that's where the cook, or chef runs the show. Besides, what's a Sea Captain going to be able to do in a cruise ship kitchen anyway? Its not exactly what he's trained for if you see my point.

So what I'm trying to understand is if the ship is really broken up into seperate territories, each with its own 'mini'-Captain. And thus, the real Captain rarely imposes his authority in those territories that aren't directly related to steering the ship. Is that an acurate way to look at cruise ships, and Titanic?

Yuri
 

Erik Wood

Member
Aug 24, 2000
3,519
15
313
There are several diffences in the way Titanic was and a cruise ship is.

For the most part the engine spaces are left to the Chief Engineer. But the Captain ensures that he the Chief is doing his job. Same thing with the galley. The captain rarely if ever gives a direct order to a member of the engine room staff without going to the chief engineer first. Remeber the Captains job isn't to micro manage, it is to keep the "big picture". As I stated before he has to supervise every aspect of the ship.

When the ship gets inspected, it is the Captain that signs the form for the entire ship not anybody else.

So Yuri is right in one respect. Every department has a leader. That leader reports to the Captain. But the Captain is still responsible for making sure that each department is doing what they need to be doing.

The main difference between Titanic and todays ships is the style in which they are run. In Titanic's day the stewards knew your name the day you got there and remebered it. The crew took pride in serving you and they knew they where the best. Today, you are a number. Sometimes a number with a name.

The way the ship was actually run is pretty much the same. If Captain Smith had a problem with somebody in the engine room he went to the Chief Engineer and so on.

Erik
 
D

David Haisman

Guest
Hi Yuri,
When I served on the 'Queens' they would carry two masters, one being a Staff Captain. Both men quite naturally were Captains in their own right although their duties would be very different. Several Cunard line cruise ships like the Caronia and Mauretania (in later years) also carried Staff Captains and it's interesting to note, that many British masters have knowledge and have studied marine engineering. Oil and water doesn't mix as the saying goes but there is generally mutual respect between master and Chief Engineer. It goes without saying that their ranks are at times very lonely positions to hold on a ship and as a result, hold that common ground.
Your Sincerely,
David Haisman
 
Mar 3, 1998
2,745
261
358
In US Navy ships, the Staff Captain is called the Executive Officer, or XO. With the advent of large ships, one Master just couldn't oversee everything safely.

As far as I know (but I haven't researched this in any depth), the concept of a Staff Captain in merchant ships began to come into useage around the 1913-14 timeframe, or rather, soon after the Titanic disaster. Britannic had a Staff Captain assigned to her as early as 1914 (according to one source, but the date would seem to be off a year). Coincidence? Or did RN experience create the position?

Parks
 

Erik Wood

Member
Aug 24, 2000
3,519
15
313
The funny thing about the staff captain on a cruise ship of today is they act as Chief Purser in a lot of ways. They are incharge of the entire staff, while the Captain actually is in charge of driving the ship, but the Staff Captain reports to the captain. Also, there is still a Chief Officer. His job is just to be in charge of the other 10 to 20 deck officers and ensure watches are carried out. The Chief Officer reports to the Staff Captain. The Staff Captain is the second in line for command. Usually on cruise ships that job is a prep for your own command.

Erik
 
Mar 3, 1998
2,745
261
358
(slaps his forehead)D'oh! I momentarily forgot about the role of Chief Purser in Titanic's day. McElroy was the de facto Staff Captain of Titanic. Now I'm even more curious about the process that led to the establishment of the Staff Captain billet.

Parks
 

Erik Wood

Member
Aug 24, 2000
3,519
15
313
Well, I can add some insight but very little. From what I understand Captains (depending on the route)where and are just to darn busy. The Staff Captain was created to actually assist in the more day to day operation of the ship. As the inspection regluations started to change it was realized that the Captain (the dude that drives the ship) just couldn't handle all of the day to day operations. Examples of things that I did as a staff captain:

1. Made sure that the stewards where cleaning staterooms properly.

2. Made sure dinning room stewards where treating the passengers with respect.

3. Making schedules for both sets of stewards and ensuring replacements are taken on board.

4. Supervising the training of all of the stewards.

5. Making sure that wash downs where done every night.

6. Making sure that the ship had enough crew, and if not finding replacements.

7. Making sure that the ship was clean inside and out and delagting jobs to appropriate departments.

8. Working with the Cruise Director to make sure that all of the activities are safe and that the passengers enjoy them.

9. Basically being an XO to the captain.

10. I didn't stand a watch.

The job of Captain changed a lot when things went to steam powered four stackers. The industry I think realized that you needed to have two captains. One in charge of personnel and the other in charge of actually driving the ship. But both are licensed masters. The one that actually drives is still the Supreme Boss. But eventually I think the two will be seperated. The guy that drives will be in charge of that stuff and the guy that is in charge of personnel will be in charge of that stuff rather then holding the ship driver responsible for all of it.

So in summary I think the Staff Captain is there to help the Captain keep the big picture that I spoke of in my first post. By having this other person the Captain can concentrate on safety and getting the ship from here to there and not worrying about anything personnel related.

The job changed again with the delivery of the Voyager of the Seas. The Captain actually had more hands on driving (physically controlling the ship)today then even a couple of years ago.

Erik
 
Jul 14, 2000
741
20
263
What about the Marconi operators, and the Ala-Carte Restaurant? They weren't actually White Star personnel. Did they also answer to the Captain, or McElroy, or Wilde?

Certainly no one was supervising the Marconi men with regard to messages for Capt. Smith.

On ships today, are all personnel on board employed by the line, or are there contract laborors on board that operate seperate from the ship staff? Like hair salon staff, physical trainers, or massage people. i.e. people that are paid directly by the passengers when services are rendered.

Yuri
 

Erik Wood

Member
Aug 24, 2000
3,519
15
313
Regardless of whether you work for the company or not if you are contracted to work for a ship you are ships staff and must report to your appropriate boss.

In the case of the resturant they reported to the head steward who reported to McElroy. The marconi probably reported to Wilde or Smith, more then likely Wilde.

Erik
 
Mar 3, 1998
2,745
261
358
Yuri,

I can answer part of your question. The Marconi operators aboard Titanic were employees of the Marconi Co., contracted through White Star to service the vessel. But, you already knew that. As Marconi employees, they were there to provide a for-profit service to the passengers. For that portion of their job, they worked with the Chief Purser, but not really for him. For the processing of navigational messages, they were required by the regulations established by the Postmaster-General for the maintenance of a marine wireless station to forward all such message traffic directly to the Captain. Other than that, the Marconi employees supervised themselves...they set their own watches, established their own mealtimes (they ate with the Postal employees), etc.

Concerning what is done today, I gave only tell you what my wife does...she is a national operations manager for Steiner, which operates the salons/spas found aboard most cruise ships. The cruise lines contract with Steiner for a particular salon or spa. The salons/spas are staffed by Steiner employees, who operate separately from the ship's crew.

Parks
 

Erik Wood

Member
Aug 24, 2000
3,519
15
313
Parks,

I am pretty sure that they must still report to the ships crew responsible for that. In the Salon/spas section it would be under the Activities Director or hotel manager (Chief Purser) am I even close to being right.

Erik
 
Mar 3, 1998
2,745
261
358
Erik,

It appears that you posted while I was writing, causing our message to cross.

I can find no record that Wilde ever interacted with the Marconi operators, except to accept the occasional message while standing watch. Bride made it clear that he didn't know most of the ship's officers, with the notable exception of Smith. The regulations only take about the operators' responsibilities to the ship's Master.

Concerning shipboard salons, I guess that all depends on your definition of the word, "report." As I understand from listening to my wife talk, the (shipboard) manager of the salon normally liaises with ship's staff (don't know who, off the top of my head). The salon manager doesn't report to the ship's staff in the chain-of-command sense of the word. The rest of the salon employees report only to their manager.

I'm certain, though, that the salon employees would seek a closer relationship with the ship's crew if the ship were in the process of foundering.

Parks
 

Erik Wood

Member
Aug 24, 2000
3,519
15
313
Hmmm..... very interesting.

I guess I not only know what you are saying but I fully understand it. You are right about the salon (and I trust about the Marconi). That makes sense. Perhaps report wasn't the right word. But in any emergency things would go via chain of command. I know that all non ships staff are treated like passengers (Casino personnel, salon personnel, sports instructors things of that nature).

Damn, when did being a captain become so darn complicated. Why can't I just drive a ship.

Erik
 

Erik Wood

Member
Aug 24, 2000
3,519
15
313
No kidding,

I will be glad to moving freight around instead of people. Less fuss. It is so odd how so many different people make a cruise ship work. One big team with the same goal. Money.

Erik
 

Dave Gittins

Member
Mar 16, 2000
5,055
339
433
Staff Captains were first introduced by Cunard on June 1st 1912, at first only on Mauretania and Lusitania.

Their duties were to attend to all safety matters including drilling the crew. These things were previously done by the Chief Officer.

The first Staff Captains were Captains McNeil and Charles.
 

Tracy Smith

Member
Nov 5, 2000
1,646
11
313
South Carolina USA
Very interesting topic.

Can anyone tell me about how modern freight/cargo ships run as opposed to modern cruise/passenger ships, the similarities and differences? Also, how do such ships compare to how their counterparts were run in 1912?
 
Status
Not open for further replies.

Similar threads

Similar threads