This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

Like in any family, company or group of people that join to manage their daily life, also life on board needs rules and roles. So parents become the partners of a company and a company’s CEO becomes the master of a ship.

But, to make the technical and human mechanisms work in all these situations, cohesion is the keyword as you are always and in any case dealing with flesh-and-blood people, each of them having technical, human and behavioural strengths and weaknesses.

And, as for the fear not to find our ideal travelling companions, this is a relic of our city living. However, if we choose to spend a holiday on a sailboat, it is because what we want is to get out of these patterns in search of something more satisfying that enriches both our lifestyle and our need for “novelty”.

Therefore, first of all, let’s get ready for the journey with a healthy dose of common sense and let’s try to be sociable, easy-going and to get involved in the group’s life. This means that if during the holiday you want to do something different, you can just propose it. Of course you have to consider the other sailmates’ point of view. Be open to dialogue and do not insist on your personal ideas. Maybe your companions are kind and support your request, but be aware that next time you must be prepared to do the same. In the end, this is a golden rule, to be valued also ashore.

Who does what on board a boat

To be sure these mechanisms result in the desired effects on a boat, the division of roles is important. Let’s take a look at them together!


Better known as master, as defined by the code of navigation. This means he is in command of a recreational craft, including all civil and criminal charges.

Let’s not forget that a good master is not the one who does everything on board (even if it is assumed he can), but he who can teach what is required to know by setting a good example, that is giving tasks, coordinating and supervising. Being on command, in short.

His main task is not to entertain the crew (not only, at least) but to manage this aspect at best. He will always keep both the crew and the boat safe by making wise choices, instructing people on cruise, planning the route and, just in case, an alternative plan to put into practice in case more or less serious unexpected events took place.

Should this be the case, it is he, once again, who will have to coordinate all activities, reassure the crew and assign a task to each and every person. This is also the best way to face situations, so to say, critical as keeping people busy avoids anxiety and panic on board.

When something unexpected occurs, in fact, the first thing people on a boat do is to turn simultaneously towards the skipper and ask: “…What now? …What are we supposed to do?”.

Clearly, he is the primary reference in any kind of cruises, even one-day ones. Therefore his important role has to be respected, even if he is a friend of yours.


On the market there are different types of boats authorized for different navigation and weather conditions. The number of people who may be carried on board varies, of course, according to the boat tonnage.

Let’s consider a classic cruise holiday on average-tonnage cabin cruisers between 11 and 16 metres (6 to 10 people on board), 6 miles or more from the coast. This because apart from mandatory provisions on safety and navigation, some situations need to be managed in any case.

First of all let’s talk about safety and navigation.

The master will explain during the briefing what to do in case of unforeseen events take place and who has to do what:

  • use VHF-radio
  • turn motor on and manoeuvring
  • use of PFD (Personal Flotation Device)

And, last but not least, medical emergencies. This issue may be better dealt with in a dedicated article. Let me simply remind you that, if in doubt, never take a decision alone! First of all call C.I.R.M. (06 59290 263) or 1530. They will tell you what to do or, if necessary, help you to take a decision or even (should this be the case) to send a PAN PAN urgency signal.

During sailing a person steering is required, of course, as well as two other people for sail manoeuvring. Clearly this is not the case of regattas. So, those who wish can alternate in manoeuvring to have fun, to learn or just to get distracted from the greatest of the myths: seasickness. We will also talk about this later. All the others, those not busy with sails, can enjoy the sun and the sea and get the best from relaxing!

Second thing to take into consideration: keep tidy on board.

There are no defined roles that have to take care of this aspect, but the rule to be followed is, as usual, common sense. During navigation objects not placed properly fall and break, open tins and cans overturn. Loose objects or things left in common places prevent people from moving freely, especially when required by unforeseen events and freedom of movement is very important. Therefore, before setting sail or getting to bed, be collaborative.

However, there are plenty of situations on board where being organized is the key to manage the daily life we referred to at the beginning. This is necessary to avoid discussions just aiming at spoiling the holiday to you and all the others, and sometimes, even destroying a friendship. This must absolutely be avoided! How?

Well, without going into details about how to split tasks (as this should be easy after a certain age), let’s make a list of unwritten rules, i.e. those exclusively arising from the same old common sense and years of healthy coexistence:

  • whoever cooks, doesn’t have to do the washing up
  • whoever doesn’t do the washing up, has to cook, help cooking or to set/clear the table
  • whoever does not help cooking, does the washing up
  • whoever is doing nothing, please finds something to do. For example to clean the toilets or the boat, when necessary. Or to be the cashier, going shopping or assist in mooring manoeuvring
  • whoever has manoeuvred the sails all night long or has helped mooring (maybe tying up ashore – later we will also talk about mooring), deserves to have a rest
  • if you want to do nothing, be aware that you can hire not only a skipper, but also an onboard hostess or steward. And you don’t have to worry about anything anymore!

And if you have eaten all the stuff in the fridge, do not forget to buy new supplies. When you are going below deck (and nobody has already asked you “as you are going there, do you mind…?”)  ask if someone needs something. It is really easy, believe me. Onboard arguments are, as a matter of fact, a nightmare only for those who are either unwilling or unable to live well and respect themselves and, above all, the others.

To spend a pleasant holiday on a sailboat you do not need special nautical expertise but only plenty of common sense. I dare even say that good-minded people are the most useful as on board, there is always someone who can master the boat and who knows how to ask for help when this is required.

All the rest will be pure pleasure, a unique and memorable experience, a piece of your life that will always remain in your heart. Suitable for anyone who wants to enjoy and relax but also discover and learn boating enjoyment, under the pretext of becoming, sooner or later, a boat master.

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Bye, see you anon.


Aldo Lavezzo
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