Canoe Building


Canoe Life

Polynesian Migrations

Roles and Duties of Hokule‘a Crew Members

Elisa Yadao, crew member on the voyage from Rangiroa to Hawai'i in 1987

[Photo below: Steersman Tiger Espere / Captain Gordon Pi'ianai'a / Navigator Keahi Omai]

Sailing Hokule'a is a rigorous job and it requires the participation of all crew members on board. To ensure that the canoe sails safely and efficiently, each person fills a specific role. Jobs vary from that of the navigator, to those crew members whose primary responsibility is documentation of the voyage for historical purposes. Providing they fill the job requirements, both men and women can hold the various positions described below.

The person who carries the overall responsibility for the canoe and crew is the sailmaster. While he serves primarily in an advisory capacity, it is the sailmaster who has the final say on the canoe's sailing strategy and course and on all other operation s of the canoe. He works in consultation with the navigators and captain.

The navigator determines the canoe's course, sets the sailing strategy, and determines the direction is which the crew will sail Hokule'a. He must stay oriented at all times, and this means that generally he is assigned no other duties aboard the canoe. I n order to keep track of the canoe's direction, the navigator stays awake 20 hours a day, seated on a platform at the aft of the canoe. Much of the time, the navigator gives direction to the crew through the ship's captain.

The captain's primary responsibility is the safe sailing of Hokule'a and this encompasses everything from ensuring that a capable well-trained crew is on board to the physical maintenance of the canoe. Much preparation is done before the crew and canoe e ver leave shore and this is done under the captain's direction. In consultation with the other officers, the captain schedules work parties for preparing the canoe to sail. Re-lashing canoe parts, mending sails, cleaning and painting Hokule'a's hulls are just some examples of the kinds of work done before sailing.

Another big job is loading the canoe with food, water, and safety gear required on voyages. Again, it is the captain's responsibility to ensure that this is done properly.

At sea, the captain executes all decisions relative to sailing. Once the navigator sets the sailing strategy, it is the captain who directs the crew to hoist, drop or change sails and he determines which steering paddles to use. He is responsible for coo rdinating activities with the escort vessel and providing a daily work schedule for the watch captains. The captain holds overall responsibility for maintaining the canoe's inventory, and he decides when and if to ration food and water. When approaching l and, the captain handles most administrative matters, such as dealing with customs officials and maintaining the canoe's security while it is moored.

The watch captains direct those crew members assigned to their watch or work shifts, carrying out instructions relayed by the captain. The watch captain is responsible for ensuring that his crew is up and on duty in a timely fashion, assigning specific st eering positions to his crew and directing rotations through the various positions, going through the safety check list, and maintaining his watch log. He is responsible for maintenance of the canoe during his watch, including cleaning up after meals. Add itionally, the watch captain is responsible for monitoring the safety, health and morale of his crew.

Other tasks are assigned to crew members and carried out in addition to standing watch. The medical officer, usually a certified doctor, is aboard Hokule'a for each long voyage. His primary responsibility is the health of the crew. It is the medical offic er's responsibility to ensure that the canoe is equipped with all medications and medical supplies needed for a long journey. When the canoe is in foreign ports, the medical officer is also responsible for attending to the crew's health and medical needs on shore.

The radio operator handles all radio transmissions between Hokule'a, and the escort vessel and between the canoe and land. He maintains an accurate log of all radio traffic, and is responsible for the upkeep of the radio equipment.

A designated carpenter oversees all repairs done on the canoe. He also maintains the tool inventory. An assigned electrician maintains all electrical systems.

The cook plans the canoe's menus, maintains iventory of food supplies, and does most of the cooking. While this may not seem like an important job, the ability of the cook is directly related to the morale of the crew as meals are the highlight of each da y. Good nutrition is also an important factor in maintaining the health of the crew.

The quartermaster is responsibile for provisioning the canoe--loading food, water and all needed supplies, and for maintaining Hokule'a's inventory. While this is not an on board job, it is critical to the safe and efficient sailing of the canoe. Weight m ust be evenly distributed for optimum sailing.

Fishing off of the canoe is not a leisure time activity, but an actual designated job, and one crew member is responsible for setting and bringing in fishing lines each day and for landing all catches. Fresh fish provide an important food source at sea.

Documentors keep historical records of the voyage by various means including writing, video and audio taping.

The safety officer is responsible for all safety and emergency systems and equipment. Life jackets, life preservers, flares and fire extinguishers are just some examples of the gear the canoe carries. In addition, all crew members must be trained in man o verboard and fire procedures.

Crew responsibilities are exactly the same as the watch captain, with the exception of the administrative duties. Off watch, crew members main obligation is to keep out of the way of those on duty.

Leisure time is spent in a variety of ways including resting, reading, writing, and taking care of personal chores (laundry, cleaning out compartments etc.). In the event of bad weather or an emergency and an all hands on deck call, all of the crew member s are expected to work.

All jobs on the canoe, no matter how routine they may seem, are important to the overall safe sailing of Hokule'a. A crew member's most critical responsibility is to realize that his crewmates depend upon him to carry out his assigned duties, and to work well as part of a team.