Good Seamanship

It has an old school kind of ring to it. Yet it is a tool of leadership that should not be forgotten. The virtues embodied in Good Seamanship are more sought now than ever before.

We’re amidst a time where mature Companies are trying hard to combine the efforts of business pioneering with the virtues of being world class employers attracting/retaining talented individuals.

For business operating within sectors such as the maritime, offshore, aviation, land transportation etc. all being exposed heavily to outside requirements, success lies in meeting all the requirements set forth by the customers and exceeding them. By doing that a Company comes out not only as a measurable success and attractive business partner but as a thought leader, an inspiration to others. If you run a Company that others aspire to be – you’re on the right track!

To meet – and exceed – these many requirements one (being an employee, a leader or a company) can lead by the virtues of Good Seamanship meaning the embracement of being a role model; a bonus pater.

‘Good seamanship is not solely a maritime leadership tool but rather a state of mind that can be applied to all sectors – especially those depending on safety leadership’

I find that Competence is the very foundation of the virtues of Good Seamanship. A client, a Head of HR with whom I had the privilege of being a trusted sparring partner, introduced me to the following definition of Competence which I find is one of the most descriptive and precise I have encountered:

 Competence Shutterstock

The below virtues of Good Seamanship are my cornerstones for attitude. You might have it differently – or is the essence the same?  Either way attitude is what will bring you knowledge, skills and experience.

HONESTY: On board a vessel you never need to lock the door to your cabin. You know that you colleagues are just as honest as you. In terms of Good Seamanship it means speaking out with an honest mind without fear of the consequences. In many ways it’s like the small child in the 1837 H.C. Andersen tale ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ pointing out the obvious that everyone else are trying their best not to see. In the maritime and offshore business’ especially rest-hour issues have a large resemblance to this tale. Companies, employees, clients, oil majors and authorities all know the problem exist. Yet no-one really wants to be the first to point it out officially – or actually do something about it.

‘Practicing Good Seamanship sometimes requires sticking out your neck and telling the truth’

RISK MANAGEMENT: ‘No loss should hit us which can be avoided with constant care’ (A.P.Moller, 1946 in a letter to his son his son Maersk, the future-to-be founder of MAERSK). This is a quote really embracing a virtue perfectly in line with that of Good Seamanship. It is about always thinking ahead, making sure that you focus not only on short time issues but long term issues as well. It works perfectly when risk managing a business, safety, employees, customers etc. If you manage to always ‘keep an eye on the ball’ you’ll manage to successfully steer through the many obstructions on your way.

‘Practicing Safety Leadership requires that you take into account both short and long term issues and effects’

ACCOUNTABILITY: Remember the tragedy of the ‘Costa Concordia’? It happened in January 2012 – yet everyone still remember the actions of Captain Francesco Schettino. He left the vessel quite a while before the last surviving passengers. When acting in accordance with good seamanship you WILL be accountable for the situation and do what you can to solve it in the best way – no matter the circumstances involved or difficulties encountered. The term ‘Above The Line’ promoted by the OZ Principle nails accountability very well. Good Seamanship is showing those around your how to operate Above The Line (See It, Own It, Solve It, and Do It) every time you face a problem or an issue.

‘When it comes to influencing others, your actions say far more than words’

COURAGE: A quote from the Nautical Rules of the Road pins down Good Seamanship: Nothing in these Rules shall exonerate any vessel, or the owner, master or crew thereof, from the consequences of any neglect to comply with these Rules or of the neglect of any precaution which may be required by the ordinary practice of seamen, or by the special circumstances of the case.

Or in other Words: You need to go by the rules. However if the rules will not lead to the best and safest result then you are obliged to deviate. In today’s world were many companies have their own (massive) set of procedures and protocols it takes courage to deviate (in order to do things safer and better). Sometimes this includes saying ‘No’ to do a job – most often however it is enough to raise the question ‘Why?’ if something doesn’t make sense.

‘Having the courage to raise the question ‘Why?’ will create new understanding and offspring Innovation’


HUMILITY: The Powers of Mother Nature are enormous and many seamen has lost their lives due to their own (or others) pride. Think of the ‘Titanic’ who was said to be non-sinkable. Being humble means that you are willing to listen to others’ experiences, ideas, suggestions, etc. even in situations where you think yourself on safe grounds.

‘If in doubt – there is no doubt’. This is an old saying of Good Seamanship. It means that you will never be out of options. If you reach a point where you doubt if this is the time to take action; your gut feeling will tell you: This is the right time to do it. This is the time to give up on you pride, be humble and take physical action, call a superior, inform others, ask for others advice etc.

‘Pride is concerned with who is right. Humility is concerned with what is right’

— Ezra Taft Benson


Good seamanship is about doing the right thing at the right time – even when no-one are watching – and encouraging others to do the same.

That’s Safety Leadership in a nutshell.

Do YOU have your own leadership values in place? Are they inspirational to others?