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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

How Do You Like Your Captain?

Old or young? Visible or invisible? Charming or all business?
On a recent cruise, our captain seemed to be everywhere—except, perhaps, the bridge. He was in port with us. Guest speaker. Game show panelist. Party host.

During the Q&A after his lecture, a guest commended him for being “the most approachable” of the captains he’d experienced.

Then, reading our thoughts, a woman asked, “Have you ever accidently fallen into a lifeboat?”

Today marks three years since the Concordia went down, taking 32 lives with it. Still we wait for a verdict in the trial of Captain Schettino. He’s doing a good job of keeping in the public eye, lecturing at college, going to parties and doing what he seems to do best—charming everyone around him.

The critics have been few, and perhaps it’s because more than ever, the captain has become the cruise line’s top PR guy. We’ve turned our man at the helm into a celebrity, and he’s responding in kind.

But they’re not all like that. One cruise, not so long ago, when we were doing a slow scenic circle around St. Lucia’s Pitons, a small local motorboat—really just a rowboat with a motor—pulled alongside our massive vessel and its passengers, a group of young men, began calling up at us. Our captain got on the PA to caution us against engaging them, suggesting that the proximity of their boat to our 80,500-ton behemoth could bring them harm.

And on yet another voyage, our captain was a no-show at the Welcome Toast, because the business of running the ship kept him away.

Clearly, there are some captains out there who take their role as Safety Officer #1 quite seriously. But in this age of celebrity obsession, the more we demand to see of our captain, the more he’s going to feel the need to be seen. And the less he’s going to give to commandeering the ship. Personality shouldn’t be a prerequisite for a captain. Competence should be all that counts.

But that’s my opinion. What’s yours?