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All Hands on Deck!

Originally published: 11.01.18 by Vicki LaPlant

Recently, my husband and I were visiting Vermont. And as everyone knows, when one is on the road, one must eat to keep body and mind fueled. We heard about an amazing restaurant with an outstanding and unique menu. Who could resist, right?

But, what happened there was beyond amazing, beyond extraordinary and had nothing to do with the food.

A young woman, Erin, waited our table. She was a consummate service professional. Everything Erin did was with impeccable taste and style. The explanations, the recommendations, the choices, the service and care were fluid and perfectly tmed and virtually invisible. These were elements of the standards of the perfect customer experience that she had learned or that the restaurant motivated her to follow. And still, that was not the best part of this special evening.

Erin was an engaging professional because her approach was energetic, yet calming and delivered with respect (The same personality traits that are needed in all employees who interact with the customer). And still, that was not the best part of this three-and-a-half hour evening.

The Story Begins

When I asked about summer vacation activities, we discovered she did not spend the summer shopping at the local Mall, hanging out with friends or going to the gym.

Erin attended UCONN, the University of Connecticut, where she met a brother and sister who were from Alaska. The three became fast friends. The parents of Erin’s new friends owned a fishing boat and delivered salmon to canneries for other fishermen, meaning the family lived on the boat for three months during the summer fishing season in the Bering Sea — quite a distance from Vermont.

At the end of her first year of college, her new friends asked if she would like to crew with their family on the F/V AMBITION, the family fishing vessel. Erin said, “Yes!” at this fantastic opportunity.

The work would be hard and the hours would be long. She would have to learn her crew role. There would be much training for safety, maintenance and organization protocols, maritime rules for docking procedures day or night, and efficiency processes for on and off loading 185,000 pounds of salmon from ship-to-ship or at a cannery. And many more processes and procedures for a 70-foot fishing vessel to be profitable at the end of the season.

The first summer was a huge success. A captain and a crew of four, a total of two men and three women, managed the challenges of the Bering Sea that summer — the weather, the temperatures, the mental and physical strains. All knew and followed the processes and procedures required of each crewmember to make the season safe and profitable

Five people on a 70-foot vessel create close working quarters. Everyone had assignments to be completed and standards to be met, 24/7. That summer the people on the boat functioned like a well-oiled machine (surely, you’re now seeing the theme of this column). It was the summer of a lifetime for Erin. But the story doesn’t end here.

The summer was so good; Erin asked if she could return the following summer. The family, of course, said, “Yes.” Erin knew and followed the processes and procedures required in the often-dangerous world of fishing boats and stormy seas.

The Story Continues

Summer number two started much where summer number one left off. Everyone doing their jobs, following processes and procedures, accomplishing their assigned tasks. But as often happens in the real world, an obstacle can derail the best of planning.

Part way through the fishing season, the F/V AMBITION was headed to the cannery with 180,000 pounds of salmon on board. A squall came up, the seas became rough, and the load of salmon shifted and the boat began to list to the starboard side. The stern of the vessel was much too low. Waves were now coming over the transom. The bilge pumps could not keep up.

The captain gave the abandon ship order. Water temperature in the Bearing Strait is approximately 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Hypothermia can result in death in only a few minutes in water at that temperature.

Now more than ever before, with the worst happening, processes and procedures that had been practiced and drilled into everyone in that crew kicked into overdrive. The distress call went out to the Coast Guard, a “Mayday” to any ship nearby. Erin and her friend immediately put on protective insulating suits and jumped into the water. Even the way the crew abandoned the boat was dictated by documented, learned procedures.

In only a matter of minutes, all 70 feet of the F/V AMBITION, sank.

The Happy Ending

Fortunately, another vessel and the Coast Guard were close by and everyone was rescued. But it was processes and procedures and constant training in those processes and procedures and no hesitation in following those processes that really saved the crew of the F/V AMBITION. Even when the worst happened, everyone survived.

The take-away from this real-life story are apparent. Processes and procedures can be the difference in whether your business survives even under distress or whether it sinks.


About Vicki LaPlant

Vicki LaPlant is the owner of Vital Learning Experiences and has been a leading consultant to the HVACR and plumbing industry for more than 20 years. She has trained countless contractor owners on how to run efficient, profitable businesses. For additional information, visit

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