write a crew manual

empower crew with clear direction & desire to achieve.

...the key is safety. Crew, empowered with simple directions, will overcome adversity. The incapacitation of the captain is a very good example.


Could be used against you in a court of law if not followed correctly.

Coral reefs


1. Provides clear requirements that must be met,
2. Provides clear understanding in the event of crew misdemeanours,
3. Covers vessel owners duty-of-care requirements, regarding safety at sea, customs and immigration, even evacuation at sea,
4. Relieves the vessel owner of crew member responsibility when certain criteria are not met,
5. Can be used in any court of law as evidence,
It’s a Contract of sorts as it carries signatures from both parties.

myserenity Sunset


Offshore, the only immediate help you will get is from the person next to you. We mandate our crew to complete a first aid course that includes a Defibrillator (and needles where possible) in their course data, but why?

If the patient needs to be evacuated, does your standard Insurance cover you this far out to sea on a private vessel?

Read more



1. The vessel owner needs to follow these guidelines too…closely (Your crew will be expecting you to do this and will follow by example),
2. Using the manual as a ‘must do…’, rather than a ‘how to…(there is a big difference, and we all forget),
3. The guidelines need to be precise without being overbearing, and/or dictatorial in complexity and rambling on.

catamaran crew manual


Pros of having a crew manual can enable you to:
1. Provide clear expectations, with very simple clear direction,
2. Motivates and empowers crew,
3. Advance instruction without being the bad guy on the day,
4. Fast-tracks departures (crew already expecting what needs to be done),
5. Much improved safety at sea,
6. How to…(blue) for equipment information,
7. How to…(red) for high priority information,
8. Complying with State, National & Maritime Legislation and Insurance fine-print,
9. Complying with legal duty-of-care afforded crew under Maritime legislation, and
10. Include procedure and proactive maintenance (ie. you have been caring for the vessel). A huge drawcard later when selling the vessel.

yacht pamphlet

Short term pain for long term gain

Understanding the psychology behind documenting information onboard your vessel was covered in topic 'empowering crew'.

If you have yet to read 'empowering crew', use the menu to locate as we are building on that topic here.

Here we will cover two effective, but opposing documentation options from that we have developed. A less formal How to…Crew Manual, and a formal Must do…Crew Declaration Form. 

offshore catamaran sailing

6-steps to formulate an effective procedure

1. Writing an effective crew manual procedure.

Write procedures in point form. Crew can then:
1. Open the manual,
2. Quick reference INDEX:
           - RED being high priority and safety,
           - BLUE often equipment related,
           - BLACK is information of interest.
3. ‘Read-and-do’.

Click here for a mySerenity example

If you are looking for a start point, take ‘dot-point’ notes from John Hembrow's - Offshore Cruising Course and adapt some of his ideas to your situation. That course contains some exceptionally good ‘meat’ that may work for you.

Then file ‘procedure snippets’ for a rainy day when the Crew Manual is being diarised.

2. Scenario example - gather information.

You are at a remote anchorage and your partner (the captain) is found with little to no pulse. 

1. Is a First Aid course necessary?
2. Is a Marine First Aid course necessary?
3. Is there a Defibrillator?
4. Who can use it?
5. Where is it?
6. How do you use it?
7. Whom do I call?
8. What is our position if asked?

NOTES -

3. Jot down 4-6 precise basic words per question.

1. Keep the instructions short but precise.
2. State exactly what needs to be done, the ‘critical HOW TO’ data.
3. Followed by ‘useful information below’.

Click here for an example

NOTES -

4. Fine-tune your procedure, not the crew member.

If you find the procedure is not being understood, fine-tune the procedure NOT THE CREW MEMBER. That procedure should then lead to other related procedures. Do not assume that what you perceive as common sense, is understood the same way by your partner or crew. Always write to the lowest common denominator. 

Following on from the incapacitated captain scenario (who is now stable, but can't talk):
1. Do you have a How to…Raise the ANCHOR?
2. Do you think that it's that important that it needs it's own ‘How to…' procedure?

Some other ‘How to… questions' could include:
1. Knowing how to set the anchor?
2. Do they start an engine first, or raise the anchor first?

NOTES -

5. Preparing a template.

Some computer knowledge of writing a letter in Pages or Word is needed. Familiarise yourself with either the Pages program (free from Apple), or the Word program (not sure if this is a paid product with Microsoft). Both have more buttons than you would ever need.

A solid template foundation is key. There are a few things that need to be ironed out from the start about a manual, and they include:
1. Manual size: easiest is A4 (for description manuals), and A5 (for reading manuals),
2. Find a template in ‘Pages’, or ‘Word’ - use their free templates,
3. Choose a simple template that has ‘headers and footers’, in particular ‘footers’,
4. Select your font - don’t worry about formatting while you write, and
5. Decide on printing (Officeworks: $10-$60 for them to print in the colour book version) verse electronic media (PDF files: Free, however many crew struggle to digest/remember in this format).

Starting tips,

6. Bringing the procedures together.

There is a standard layout for quality manuals that are guided by ISO 9001, however, this is not what we need here for a Cruising CREW MANUAL. The layout should be simpler and far more user-friendly.

It should however include an:
1. Index,
2. General Introduction (define roles, OFFSHORE CRUISING Course has some ideas that may slot in here),
3. Components (including How to… foul weather tactics, autopilot use, sail settings),
4. Emergency (including How to… engines, autopilot, sail, anchor, radio calls). Decide how your INDEX of the manual should look.

Use colours, bold and capitals deliberately in your manual. Scanning back through this article and seeing what is highlighted has been done deliberately. Go back to the mySerenity photos and see how the psychological aspects listed below are being used:
1. BOLD CAPITALS - draws importance.
2. COLOUR - red is eye-catching during a scan and associated with danger/safety/importance.
3. Limit RED How to… procedures to no more than 10-15 red procedures.
4. How to… procedures colours effectively split topics in importance.
5. If a location sticker is green, use it. It forms a mental picture by colour association.

 CLICK HERE to see the final product (Tip: Use the INDEX to find a page of interest)

Want more?

If you have found this helpful and would like a template to get you started, contact me and we can chat.

For those who are DOWN UNDER RALLY Members, already have access this and more on these documents.

Insurance companies will be happy, and those legal loopholes have the wind blown out of their sails.

Drop me a line.

myserenity snorkelling


This article has appeared in Ahoy Magazine - March 2022.

I have written and am qualified to audit manual suites (ISO 9001 compliant) for businesses.

They are, however, very time consuming and sadly can’t be offered for free....James

‘don’t be a Lemming and follow the crowds, get out there and just do it’

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