An un-eventful day today while we sailed down the Californian Coast heading for San Francisco. We had a strong North Westerly wind blowing but as it was a following wind, it was very pleasant on the outside decks and after a gloomy start a lot of guests took the advantage of sitting on the sunny side of the ship on the Promenade deck. I spent a good amount of time trying to convince a guest that we had gale force winds but because the ship was running with the wind at 18 knots, we only had a relative wind force of 2 to 3 on the deck and that made it very pleasant. But he was having none of it, not being able to comprehend the concept of relative wind, regardless of any example that I tried to give. He lived somewhere south in Tornado Alley and it did not matter whether a Tornado approached his house from the west or the east, the wind was the same. So, he had a wind still day as far as he was concerned and the white caps on the waves (denoting 25 knots of wind) were only there for decoration. Well, there are all sorts out there, you just have to find them…………………
I spend most of my day given refresher training to our Stairway Guides. For those of you who have made cruises you will remember these crew members standing in the staircases and their job is to guide the guests safely and quickly to their lifeboat stations. The Nieuw Amsterdam has about 70 of them and they are in every staircase (also the crew staircases as they are open to the guests during an emergency) and on every landing of each deck. If there would be an emergency, then it is their task to control the human flow of over 2000 guests coming out of the cabins in about 15 minutes time. Sounds simple but it is not. Therefore this group of crew is the most important group of people in the whole evolution of a successful mustering at the lifeboat stations or in the case of the Koningsdam in the public lounges.
Their challenge is that during a normal drill at the start of the cruise, on embarkation day, the guests find their own way quite leisurely. Although we ask the guests to follow protocol and wait in the cabins until the abandon ship alarm sounds, we always have already 30% or so on deck before any alarm is given. That is not good for teaching everybody the proper routines but it makes it a lot less crowded during the final flow with the other 70%.
The challenge starts in a real emergency. Then these 2000+ guests do come out of their cabins at the same time with their life jackets. And now the atmosphere is not convivial anymore. People are anxious, stressed, upset (especially if it happens in the very early morning hours or during dinner time) and sometimes panicky if they do not see family members who might be a bit further down the throng of people flowing up and down the staircases. According to field studies by psychologists about 30% will listen to orders and follow them; nearly 70% will ignore everything and only tune in after repeated announcements and then there is a small group of 1% or so which might panic. They are dangerous as panic is contagious and if you do not stop it, it can ripple through the whole group.
All these variations flow past the Stairway Guides and a lot of them want to stop, ask questions, complain or just vent anger and frustration. Our stairway guides are mainly people from the retail groups on board, Shops, Casino, Art, etc. Their background normally has nothing with what could prepare them for this safety function on board. So we train and we train. The company has dedicated power points and training material which the training officer delivers on a regular basis.
When I am on a ship, I normally grab the chance to deliver an extra training as I bring a bit more experience and delivery qualifications to the equation. What do we train: tricks of the trade to keep the flow going. How to avoid discussions with the guests, how to quiet them down with short orders and how to select those who are allowed to use the elevators and those who can and should walk the stairs. The main challenge always is to find a common understanding among all the crew as they come from so many ethnic backgrounds and different cultures where the perception of panic and stress can be totally different. One thing they all understand is what a police officer is; so I train them to be the toughest and coolest police officer on the block.
Tomorrow we are in San Francisco. We should be at the pilot station around 05.30 and pass under the Golden Gate Bridge at about 06.15 hrs. depending traffic and then be fully docked before 08.00 hrs. It should be a perfect autumn day here, with temperatures in the low fifties or around 12 oC and sunny with some clouds. A good day to visit one of the most fascinating cities in the USA.