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Capt. Lauren Morgens – 90 in 90

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Culture and Safety on the High Seas

Crew Management with Volunteers

Don’t ask for impossible things

When you ask someone to do something, make sure they have the tools, training and time to do it. If they don’t, their failure is not their fault, it’s yours. Nothing demoralizes people like being asked to do something that is demonstrably impossible and then left to feel as if they should have succeeded at it.

There’s nothing for you to do is never the answer

If a volunteer comes to help, work should be available for them no matter what. This philosophy can be an extra planning burden, but respecting a volunteer’s time as critical to communicating that unpaid does not mean unvalued.

Reward the messenger

If someone reports a problem, the first response they receive should be “thank you.” It does not matter if the problem is well-documented or unknown, or even whether it is real or imaginary. Inexperienced people are often uncomfortable with raising concerns, but a culture that rewards rather than punishing these behaviors will always be more resilient in identifying and responding to challenges.

Stay nice

As a leader, at some point you will experience burnout and exhaustion – it’s a normal part of working hard. But no matter how overextended you get, do not allow these things to shorten your temper with the people working under you. Be self-aware enough to know when your own exhaustion starts to bleed over into your treatment of others. Stop and repeat: stay nice.

Allow team members to grow and stay interested, even if it stretches them beyond their job description

We train volunteers at all levels from “first day” through learning aspects of my own job. Even if they’re not likely to become captains themselves, the broad understanding of our operation keeps them engaged and the new perspectives make them more efficient at doing their everyday job.

Safety, Risk and Emergency Management

It’s one thing to get caught out in it; it’s another thing to go out in it.

This piece of fisherman’s wisdom has been passed through several generations of tall ship sailors. One will, eventually, be caught in a storm, whether literal or figurative. (Be prepared.) But preparedness does not justify poor judgment. (Try not to test your preparations.)

Just because it’s been done a thousand times doesn’t make it smart

Hazards are especially tangible in my line of work, but seafarers are not the only people who fall victim to the normalization of risk. Do your own risk analyses independent of what the rest of the world is doing. If you are going to take risks, grant yourself the opportunity to see them for what they are.

Always have at least two backup plans

Spend time thinking, with your team, about what could go wrong: Where are your vulnerabilities? How could you be better prepared for each crisis you can think of? You won’t think of everything, but you are likely to innovate along the way.

Make a “hit by a bus” plan

This is the personnel analogue to the above. If any one person gets hit by a bus, who knows what they know and how to do their job? Not only will you be more prepared should something actually go wrong, but you’ll get a much more complete picture of how your own system operates.

Share your thinking on all aspects of leadership and culture

There is no part of this list that I would not discuss at length with a volunteer, including the ones that deal with how I aspire to manage them. They deserve to know that I think about this. Working in the other direction, it is critical for me to share my ideas on emergency management with my administration and board. Having a mutual understanding in place before something goes wrong is what gives them the confidence to support me when something, inevitably, does.


Capt. Lauren Morgens

Kalmar Nyckel Foundation

Lauren is ship’s master for the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation. She is the first female captain of the Kalmar Nyckel, an accurate replica of a 17th-century Dutch pinas and the official Tall Ship of Delaware. With two decades of experience in sailing tall ships, Morgens is notable for both her leadership and seamanship, overseeing paid officers and volunteer crew to bring Kalmar Nyckel to ports along the Eastern Seaboard.

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