How to Avoid a Mutiny.


Mutiny.  This is, of course, one of the most feared situations for a ship’s captain. Throughout the course of history, there are many stories of sailors committing to mutiny, leading to drastic outcomes shaping the course of history in some cases. But let’s not get too hasty with talk of life-altering events. A more appropriate area to begin would likely be a look into what it is, and how it would be brought about.

The idea of mutiny is the same as a rebellion, only, in this case, it happens at sea on a ship. It is a conspiracy among the sailors and crew to overthrow their captain or commanding officers and introduce a change of leadership. The mutiny itself can take a variety of directions. In the most extreme cases, sailors have taken to execute their captain following the act. Those who faired better may have found themselves marooned on an island by their crew and left to fend for themselves. Regardless of the outcome, it was most likely to be a bloody and violent event for both fighting sides. In the event that the rebellion was unsuccessful, the penalty for those involved was certain death. Modern acts would of course not be dealt with as severely, yet as late as up to 1998 it was still punishable by death in the United Kingdom.

This then leads aptly on to the next question; why would the sailors do it? In the most basic of explanations, the reason will be some form of mass and prolonged discontent amongst the sailors or crew. The reasons for discontent can vary, but often the case is that the crew are unhappy with their conditions, their treatment by the commanding officers or in some cases, for ideological reasons. The role of ideology is exemplified by the Russian Kronstadt sailors’ revolt in 1917 against their commanding officers. Other cases have occurred in times of war when the crew disagreed with the orders given to them by their superiors.


The benefit for the rebels is equally varying, provided of course that they have been successful. If done as part of a wider revolution, the sailors may reap the rewards of improved status and power. More immanently for the crew, they will have a chance to run their ship as they believe it should be along with the improved conditions and regime they sought after.

So how to avoid a mutiny?  Mutiny these days is very rare especially on sailing yachts primarily used for leisure.  However, there are ways to ensure a happy ship and contented crew.  As with most things in life, communication is the key.  Take an interest in your crew, their background and upbringing.  Find out why they are onboard.  Do they want to learn a specific task or do they excel at certain jobs?  Do they love doing a chore that others hate?  Give the crew the chance to air any grievances they may have.  If the crew are not happy with a decision then explain why you have decided on this particular course of action, it may be that it is necessary for reasons of safety.

When on sailing holidays one great way to avoid unnecessary arguing and time-wasting is to appoint a different skipper and navigator every day.  The skipper decides on the route for the day, lunch or pleasure stops and is responsible for leaving the port and entering the destination port.  The navigator is, of course, responsible for working out the passage plan, log entries and any problems they might encounter en route.  If some members are not good at say helming then there will be someone on board that can stepp in and help.  It’s a great confidence booster to achieve something you didn’t think you could do and great for crew bonding too.  When it’s time to swap skippers, the navigator usually steps into the skipper position and a new navigator is appointed, then it just rotates for the duration of the trip.


Related Articles: The Bounty and Robinson Crusoe

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