I’ve been binge-watching “Below Deck,” the reality show that takes place on a chartered yacht. Viewers are treated to gorgeous sights of the Mediterranean where the boat cruises, fun scenes of guests on jet skis and water slides, and ongoing drama with the deckhands and stewards who crew the boat.
In the midst of this reliably entertaining fluff, a core principle of the boating profession comes through in every episode. When you are crewing a boat, clarity of communication really matters. Everyone on the boat carries a walkie-talkie. They are connected to each other constantly, on the bridge navigating, on the deck, and belowdecks. When there is a sudden shift in the weather, a guest who’s had too much to drink, or a JetSki drifting away, any crew member can alert the others immediately.
In an episode I watched recently, the deck crew is bringing the boat into an anchorage. The captain can’t see both sides of the boat at the same time as she is navigating forward, so she relies on specific communication from her crew to bring the boat in safely. The bosun, in charge of the deckhands, relays the captain’s instructions to them and the boat’s position back to her. They limit the words they use, primarily directions and distances, as time is of the essence. This complicated maneuver takes place quickly and efficiently, and their streamlined communication style helps this happen effectively.
Many specialized fields have ways of speaking internally that support and are integrated into their work. In theatre, the stage manager has a specific way she “calls” the show, communicating with the people who are running the lights and sound as well as crew who are backstage. Much like the boat, there are many variables she has to check on before she can bring the lights up for the beginning of the play. Is everyone in the audience seated? Are the actors in place backstage? Are the light and sound board operators standing by, ready with their cues?
Instead of coming up with a way to check in with all of these people before every show, the stage manager has a specific routine and vocabulary she utilizes. This routine, like the one on the boat, ensures that nothing is forgotten or overlooked.
The ways we communicate are infinitely varied, and that is something I love about the process of connecting with others through speech. But there are times when a predictable, routinized, foolproof way of transmitting information, one that eliminates the variables, serves us best.