Anything larger than a one person dinghy and sailing becomes a team sport. The person in charge of the boat, known as the skipper, leads one or more crew to safely and effectively operate the boat.
As with managing people in a company, clear and effective communication are key to effective leadership. On a boat, this means taking the three steps:
- Say the crew person's name.
- Give a precise and clear instructions
- Observe the crew's execution
Tonight, I am going to write about step 1 since it's the one people commonly get wrong and the easiest to correct. One of the biggest problems I've seen is that many skippers forget step number 1... they don't say the crew person's name. Instead of "Billy, trim the jib," they will just say "Trim the jib!" What generally happens is that about two-thirds of the time, this works and someone, hopefully the assigned jib trimmer, trims the jib. But the rest of the time nothing happens because either the jib trimmer wasn't paying attention or everyone else assumed someone else was supposed to trim the jib.
One could even say that if the jib trimmer wasn't paying attention, this is really jib trimmer's fault. There is some truth to this, but even the best crew will momentarily lose focus after a long day. Besides, a skipper's job is to make the most of the crew he has...to maximize his crew's chance of success. Not imagine how much better it would be if he had perfect crew.
Saying someone's name before requesting that they do something isn't just a lesson for skippers commanding boats. If you've ever taken a first aid course, the instructor will no doubt have told you the same thing as a lesson for how to command a first aid scene. You don't want to say "Someone call 911!" Instead you want to ask the name of someone nearby and then say "Mary, you call 911!" By using someone's name you give them responsibility for executing on the task. By calling for "somebody" to do it, you give everyone an excuse not to do it.
In sailing (and in life) because not saying someone's name gets results most of the time, inexperienced skippers and even many experienced, skippers, get into this bad habit. But good skippers don't want results most of the time, they want results as much as possible.