- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

18 July 2014; Ketchikan, Alaska.

The whole ship woke up to a real Ketchikan day. Maybe not as advertised in the brochures, but in the way the locals know it. Wet, very wet. It rained, it drizzled and then it drizzled some more. As mentioned in my Ketchikan blog of last cruise, for the final port in the cruise it does not matter so much. At least not for the majority of the crowd. There are still many who are on a shore excursion but they see Ketchikan the way it really is, so how can they complain? For the rest it is the final opportunity to buy a keepsake to take home from the cruise. And the town was there to help. We were docked by 7 am and a number shops were already open by 7 am.

Today there were four ships in, two Holland America, two Princess and a NCL ship. Delivering just short of 9000 guests to Ketchikan.  Not to mention the crew, who get excited about Ketchikan, just for one reason: Wall Mart. When you live on board you have to keep your priorities in order and that means knowing where to shop. So the pecking order is here: Vancouver for noodles, chips and clothing. Juneau (Costco) for electronics and Ketchikan for everything else. A crewmember’s bane in life is always the fact that good shops are seldom near the cruise terminal. If they are there, then the prices are exorbitant. Understandably as the lease for a shop in a prominent location is probably exorbitant as well. A tube of toothpaste on Ketchikan Sea Front is often 75% dearer as when having the chance to go away from the tourist area. Thus paying for a taxi is worthwhile if you stock up for a longer period. Some taxi owners in Juneau have seen the logic in that and there is now a larger number of little vans or MPV’s that take 6 crew at the time to and from the shops in the valley. The taxi people still get their business and the fare for the crew remains reasonable as it can be split four or six ways.  I normally bring my stuff with me from home, as I am married to a very thrifty shopper, good price comparer and bargain hunter, and that is thus where the best prices are. Until now I have never been questioned by customs why I have 5 tubes of toothpaste in my suitcase. But today I ran out, so I had to dash across the street, and yes it was about 75% dearer.

Most of my time today was again spent with training for the roll out of the new Three Alarm System which greatest advantage is that its sequence creates more time for everybody to get ready. If there is an emergency, then everybody starts preparing at a much earlier stay, during the 2nd stage of the cycle, and is really ready in case the ultimate decision has to be made. The crew appreciates it as well, the time spent on drills might now take longer but everybody feels that it will work better. Although during an emergency a crewmember will turn into a barking sergeant major, to get everybody to their muster stations, the feeling will always persist that if you can do it in the most comfortable way, then we should do that. We are after all still people who work in the service industry.

Apart from the Lifeboat training for a group of 33 participants, my main focus is on getting the whole crew ready to get a handle on this new three step alarm system. That means that they will get an introduction of about 30 minutes and then a group specific training of 45 minutes. The challenge is to catch them when they can attend. For small groups we have a crew-training room on board but for larger groups I need a public room in the ship. Show lounge, Movie theatre, Card room, wing of the dining room, anything goes a long as there are enough seats and I can hook my computer up for a power point presentation. Those rooms are not always available, as on sea days the guests have their activities there and that results in some creative scheduling by the ships management to make it all possible. So I might give a training in the very early morning, or in the late evening.

The greatest chunk of all these presentations deal with Crowd Management. Since the booming of the Cruise Industry from the mid eighties onwards; a lot of research has been done into the behavorial patterns of larger numbers of people on a ship.  Studies about the best flow of public rooms, about the best flow from cabins to Muster Stations, but also how to communicate with large groups.

The latter point is the biggest challenge for all of us. When there is something going on; and an announcement is made: 60 out of a 100 do not react. 35 out of a 100, wants to do something but does not know necessarily what and the other 5 might push the panic button.  This means that more announcements have to be made and then the 60 will follow the example of the 35 and do as being told. This is not only in an emergency, but also during a simple procedure as the routine for going ashore with the tenders, when the ship first arrives. The Cruise Director explains it all, it is in the daily program, but still the Front office is bombarded with questions about what to do. Last Sitka I spent 45 minutes watching this at the Front Desk and that period 61 guests came over to ask the question: where do I get my tender ticket and from where does my Tour leave ? Not counting those who got hold of a crewmember before they reached the Front Desk. So out of the 800 who goes ashore, roughly a 100 still need to be told again what to do and where to go, on top of the announcements and the published information.


Based on that behavorial pattern, I try to provide the crew with some tools to get the message across and prevent the guests on board from reacting to rumours, as that causes a ripple of uncertainty in the ship and that leads to panic. Only 5 out of  a 100 might react that way, but if we can stop them in their tract, then we have a very safe and simple procedure we can follow.



  1. I am surprised that you and your whole crew need go ashore to buy something like toothpaste. All the ships I sailed had a Slop Chest where toothpaste and cigarettes and dungarees and long sleeve shirts and safety razors and blades and after-shave and cologne and sometimes beer and liquor were purchased @ bonded stores rates. No money changed hands @ the slop chest, instead a chit of our purchase was made out and we signed it. Our slop chest purchases were a deduction line item on our voyage end pay-off slip. One price I recall from late 1960s were cigarettes @ ninety cents a carton, nine cents a pack. Most smokers bought a case of 25 cartons @ the start of a voyage, I certainly did.
    Greg Hayden
    Vista, CA (San Diego area)

    • Good morning,

      It was the same, when I was a cadet on a cargo ship (old Holland America fleet). But on a cruise ship that does not work. Once the guests would get wind of the fact that there were discounted prices on board, abeit only for the crew, a whole can of worms might be opened.
      No it is better this way.

      Thank you for reading my blog

      Captain Albert

  2. Your statistic re. crowd behavior to announcements in general, and to specific instructions in particular (as in emergencies or assemblies), is very interesting ! Having been in a 1 AM high-rise hotel fire, I can attest to the fundamental differences of people’s responses to “emergency”, confusion, instructions, the odd decisions one makes in such situations and how important well trained crowd management is. Case in point : my husband insisted on putting on socks into his shoes :-)), instead of putting on PJs, all while I tried to convince the fire-men (dressed in FULL gear, plus ax-in-hand), that it might indeed be faster to let him put on those dumb socks !!! :-))

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