Captain’s Objectives

The Captain of any boat has multiple objectives. The major ones are listed in Table 1 Captain’s Objectives. The list is in relative order from most to least important. As you can see the first objective is to keep everyone alive and the last is to make everyone happy. When it says prevent death and loss of property, it means onboard as well as other’s around the boat or affected by the wake.

Depending on your particular circumstance you might put things in a little different order, but these will hold up pretty well. For example, preventing sinking is slightly more important that preventing fire. The reason is you can fight a fire as long as you are above water but once you slip below the wave you’re done. The exact order is not as important as the objectives themselves.

Table 1 Captain’s Objectives


Prevent Death


Prevent loss of property


Prevent sinking


Prevent Fire


Maintain lights


Maintain Mobility


Maintain Lubrication


Maintain fuel level


Keep vessel from grounding


Navigation Redundancy


Maintain critical redundancy


Maintain Bilge system Performance


Maintain Electrical circuits


Maintain House Battery


Maintain Speed Control


Maintain Direction Control


Maintain full performance


Maintain Full Speed capability


Maintain Ease of starting


Maintain engine performance


Maintain cooling


Keep frustration level down


Make Passengers Happy


Keep Vessel and Crew Safe

The primary responsibility of the captain of the boat is the safety of those on board and the safety of those around the vessel. This includes crewmembers, visitors, swimmers, water-skiers, occupants of other vessels, and anyone that who can be affected by your boat or even the wake of your boat. The secondary responsibility of the captain is for the condition of the vessel and other vessels and property around the vessel. This is a serious responsibility and should not be taken lightly.

The owner and operator of the boat share this second responsibility. The owner must take the responsibility to be sure the vessel is properly equipped and properly maintained. The operator of the boat has responsibility for the operation, and therefore must have control. The operator also should also be aware of the maintenance status of the vessel.

The following story illustrates the shared responsibilities of a boat owner and operator as well as the government response of government in the face of recreational boating disasters. Consider the following story:. A rental vessel went aground on a Florida coral reef due to a combination of bad weather reporting, a poorly maintained vessel, (VHF radio failed, anchor rode was frayed and broke), and lousy judgment on the part of the operator. Florida takes their coral reefs seriously and levviesy massive fines for all who violate them. Guess who had to pay?; The weatherman? No,. tThe owner and the operator were both equally fined $50,000 each for the grounding. I guess the court figured that the vessel and skipper should be ready for all circumstances, including the unexpected. This is the way it is and should be. The captain should be ready for any and all contingencies. Expect the best, but be ready for the worst.

Prevent Drowning

Consider wearing a Personal Floatation Device (PFD) for captain and crew. According the U.S. Coastguard [18], the greatest risk of loss of life is when a passenger falls or is ejected overboard. This happens more than you want to know. The best prevention is to wear a PFD.

If the captain says wear your PFD, then the passenger should put it on with out complaining. If the captain says do not go up to the bow, then the passenger should not go up to the bow. If the captain says sit down, then the passenger should sit down. It is not an ego trip, but rather an issue of safety.

Take precautions to keep people from harm’s way. Take into account age, strength, ability to swim, sea, and traffic conditions. It is too easy to be thrown overboard when hitting a large wave from a passing vessel.

Obey the rules. The PFDs for each passenger should be immediately available immediately. Little children always should always have on a suitable PFD whenever they’re on the boat. Remember, it is the captain’s responsibility.

Keep Afloat

If a boat sinks while underway, there is a 14 percent chance that someone will die. This is a major goal of the captain:; Keep the boat above water. More boats sink each year than you might think [18]. In 2002, 559 boats capsized, 348 boats flooded and swamped, and 335 just sunk. There are several reasons why boats sink:

The bilge system is one of the most critical systems on the boat. There should be redundant pumping capability and high water alarming at a minimum. There is no maximum. The bilge pumping system, Bilge alarm system, emergency power for the bilge system, Emergency pumps directly coupled to the engines. All of this is not too much because boats do sink and people do die when boats sink.

The captain must make sure that the boat has emergency capability in order to keep the vital systems working.

Keep Control

The goal here is to keep forward motion toward your intended destination. This requires engine and steering control.

In heavy seas, the best strategy is to keep your bow into the wind. This requires working engines and the capability to control the thrust vector. Things are going to break when you need them the most. It is the time when the most stress is placed on the components. The captain must have a plan to keep control if systems fail. What will you do if the throttle cable snaps? What will you do if the rudder fails? What if all else fails? You need a plan and you need to be able to quickly implement the plan. The ultimate contingency plan for bad weather is put a sea anchor (see Figure 1) out keeping the bow into the wind.

Figure 2 Sea Anchor or Drogue

Know Where You Are and How to Get Where You Are Going

It does you no good to have a flawless vessel with no idea where you are. It also does you no good to have electronic charts with a GPS that fails while you are in heavy seas. This is an area that requires redundancy. You should always have compass and a chart and know where you are on the chart. A GPS with built in, up to date, charts will make life a lot easier for the skipper But don’t get too comfortable with the fallible electronic wizardry. Always have paper charts and compass. Be prepared to use them as part of your navigational plan. With today’s technology, it is too easy to rely on point and click electronic marvels to substitute for navigational mastery. Use them yes, but have a good old fashioned backup compass and chart.

Prevent Fire

Fiberglass and wooden boats burn well. Even steel vessels have plenty of fuel on board to cause a fire large enough to cripple or sink it. Keep the fire from starting.

Fires start on board due to DC and AC short circuits, Poor AC and DC connections, Engine voltage regulator failures, Electric heaters, overheating engines, fuel leaks etc. Most of these are due to poor maintenance.

Corroded electrical terminals create resistance, this creates heat, which causes fires and other failures. There is no excuse for corrosion in electronic terminals. The marine environment is harsh due to salt water and high humidity, but dielectric grease and regular inspection can prevent disaster. This is not talked about enough in Marine maintenance literature.

Dielectric grease is simple and inexpensive to use. It keeps moisture away from the electrical connection so it won’t corrode. The “dielectric” part means that it does not conduct electricity and therefore will not interfere with the proper control of electricity. You could coat any part of any electric or electronic connection and the device would still work fine. You will need to keep the substance away from moving parts and heat sinks as it might interfere.

Short circuits occur when a wire comes loose or the insulation is damaged so that it touches something that completes an unwanted circuit. In all cases there should be a fuse that will immediately blow and reduce the danger. As captain, you should make sure that this is always the case. Fuses should be located a near to the source of electricity as possible but still be accessible. If no fuse exists to stop the flow of electricity then heat is generated and has the potential to cause a fire.

If a fire does occur, the U.S. Coastguard requires that you have fire extinguisher capability onboard. The Coastguard requirement is just the minimum. In all cases you really should have additional and redundant fire extinguishing capability but clearly you must meet the Coastguard regulation.

Bottom line is that the Captain of the boat needs to be aware of everything about the vessel and use that awareness to keep people and property safe from harm. This book will help you determine some of the things to be aware of and what to do about different situations. Specifically, we will deal with reliability issues that you can and should do something about.