By Capt. Dale Wills
Being the big skipper—riding high in the captain’s chair—is the goal of many professional sportfishermen. After several years in the cockpit learning the ropes, honing your skills and mastering everything there is to know about sportfishing boats, getting the call to take over can be the logical progression for many mates. Once at the wheel, the helm chair can lead some to memory loss about what it was like to work in the cockpit. Everyone appreciates a bit of professional courtesy in the workplace. Mates are no different. What follows are ten basic courtesies that a captain can do to make his mate’s job and life that much easier – and more fulfilled.
A Call to the Bridge
Overwhelmingly, the number one courtesy every mate agreed was that a captain should never yell at them from the bridge. “It’s not only extremely childish, but it also shows bad manners, especially when guests are on board. It makes them feel uncomfortable and puts everyone on edge. If you are going to reprimand a mate, call them up to the bridge face-to-face and don’t raise your voice.
Be a professional and act accordingly,” says Captain John LaGrone. When it comes to a captain’s etiquette, LaGrone is an expert—he fishes Costa Rica and boasts more than 30-years’ experience as a mate and captain.
In On the Action
How many captains are so controlling that they don’t even let a capable mate tie his own style of knot to the hooks or wind-on leaders? Some captains micromanage to such an extent that the mate cannot do anything without the captain looking over his shoulder. When it comes to fishing, it really makes a big difference if the captain lets the mate have one choice of bait or lure in the spread. Allowing mates to work and take part in decisions is important to keep them in good spirits, making them feel like part of the team and keeping them from getting discouraged – and ultimately jumping ship for a nicer job someplace else.
Saying Good Job
What stands out to most mates are the simple things: courtesy itself, respect, appreciation, and teamwork. This may sound obvious, but it isn’t always! Catching lots of fish and winning tournaments consistently requires a solid team. Having a solid team doesn’t happen by accident – it takes effort and dedication. Team members should not only support each other, but help out whenever possible and commit to keeping the team’s attitude where it needs to be in order to succeed.
There are small things that the captain can do to keep morale up. Things as simple as just saying “Good job today everyone” at the end of the day or picking up the chamois to dry off the bridge and tower (rather than staring at the crew while they do their thing)—can do wonders to keeping the team’s attitude upbeat and on focus.
Pounding the Guests
The captain rarely spends time in the salon when the boat is running at cruising speed. When the seas get a little sporty, holding onto the wheel while pounding through a head sea can be a little different than what it actually feels like down below. When the conditions turn rough, the considerate captain will slow down to make the ride as comfortable for the crew as possible. Try switching places from time to time, so that you can remember what the ride in feels like without the wheel in your hand. Running like you ain’t got a dime in her is no way to treat your crew.
When it comes time for lunch and your mate becomes Chef Boyardee, keep the sea conditions in mind. Plan enough time for a down sea tack and take into consideration how many guests are onboard. Just because you, the captain, have your lunch doesn’t mean the mate is finished. If you do keep your mate in a trough while making lunch, next time you may find that the cheese on your ham and cheese is still in the plastic wrapper.
Pee Bottle in the Bridge
At the end of the day when you as the captain are preparing your final descent, have the common courtesy to throw away your own pee bottle. There are few things more degrading than a mate grabbing your pee bottle with the lid not completely sealed. It’s also a good idea to pick up your own trash. Some captains go as far as closing and zipping up the bridge curtains, turning off all electronics, unsnapping the seat cushions and taking the trash down from up top. All this so the mate can easily rinse the bridge. Remember your mate is not your personal maid!
The saying, “You drive, you dive,” doesn’t hold as much weight as it once did. Years ago, if a captain ran over a rope or a dredge for example, it was considered his fault and therefore his duty to dive into the water and cut it free. These days, however, it is the youthful mate who is more than likely to jump in and take care of the situation. When it comes to the engine room, it’s still the captain’s responsibility to check the oil each day and perform maintenance on the engines. If your mate happens to be an engine room rat, lucky you, but teach by example and be hands on.
Know When to Turn
So many things can be happening on the bridge that many captains fail to realize when a mate is checking or switching out baits. An attentive, considerate captain, who makes a slight turn while a mate is putting out a fresh bait, keeping it from crossing under or over another bait already in position, is a great help to the mate. As a captain, if you do see some bait, birds or need to change course to get back on your numbers, at least check the pit and communicate. Catching fish is top priority and working together will increase your chances.
Rushing to Leave
It’s important to communicate with your mate about your schedule and the time you wish to leave the dock. Suddenly wanting to leave the dock a little earlier can put the mate into a hurry-up frenzy. “Especially if it’s rough and the mate needs to rig a few more baits. Nothing can be more uncomfortable than rigging baits while getting showered with salty ocean spray on the way out. Ten or fifteen more minutes at the dock can make a big difference for your mate. If you can’t spare the time, at least let your mate know well in advance of your intentions,” says freelance mate Michael
Work as a Team
It’s no coincidence that the letters in “team” can also spell “mate.” The aforementioned courtesies and signs of respect between mates and captains just touch the surface. Each crew and team has circumstances and procedures which are unique to their boat. What do these courtesies have in common? Communication and teamwork are the foundation for everything on a boat.
We all know that there is no perfect captain, mate, boat or owner. That said, making the best of your situation is generally up to you and those you work with. Try to put yourself in the other person’s deck shoes and act accordingly. One of the universal things about sportfishing is the fact that behind every good team is a good captain and behind every good captain is a great mate. Just as a great mate can make a captain look good, a courteous, professional captain can build his mate’s confidence, skill level and ability