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QUEEN MARY 2
CUNARD

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE
STAFF CAPTAIN

A conversation with QM2's
second-in-command, Trevor Lane.

by Richard H. Wagner
The title "staff captain" is not self-explanatory.  A literal interpretation
would seem to imply that the person in that position is in charge of the
personnel of the ship.  However, it is not a human resources position.  
Similarly, while there are some elements of being a chief of staff amongst a
staff captain’s responsibilities that does not completely describe the job.   
Seeing the deference the staff captain is accorded onboard, it is clearly a
prestigious position but to many passengers its actual parameters are
something of a mystery.
    To find out what a staff captain does, I spoke with Trevor Lane who is the
Staff Captain on one of the most prestigious passenger ships in service today,
Cunard’s Queen Mary 2.  In order to get an idea of how one becomes a staff
captain, I first asked Captain Lane to outline his career.  Then, we spoke
about what being the staff captain on QM2 actually involves.

Captain Lane’s Career

    Trevor Lane seemingly was destined for a life at sea.  He was born in
southern England in the town of Woolich, where once Henry VIII maintained
an arsenal for his navy.  His family’s business was in Depford,   which had
been a shipbuilding center in Tudor times.  And, he grew up in Greenwich,
which some have called the maritime capital of the world.  “Greenwich Park
was my playground as I grew up.  There was the Cutty Sark and the Maritime
Museum and the Royal Navy College, the Royal Observatory, were all things
that I grew up with - - I grew up surrounded by maritime history.”
    At the age of ten, Lane was in a naval uniform attending a nautical school.  
When he was 15, he signed indentures with Peninsular & Oriental Steam
Navigation Company  (P&O Line) and a year later he went to sea as a cadet.  
“My first trip was on a passenger ship called the Orsova.  I went out to
Australia, and then I was sublet, if you like, to Eastern Australian Shipping
Company, which used to run ships around Australia and Japan and
everywhere in between.  It was a good way to be at sea because they carried
300 passengers and had five cargo hatches so when you arrived in Hong
Kong, for example, you were there for five days while you discharged and
loaded cargo.”
    “My apprenticeship lasted four years during which time I covered cargo
ships, container ships, tankers - - all kinds and varieties of different ships.  
But once I qualified, I [went] to P&O’s passenger division.  I spent many
years on the Canberra and was involved in the war in the Falklands as the
ship’s navigator (
See related story on Captain Lane’s experiences in the
Falklands).  Then, I transferred from P&O to Princess Cruises and worked
my way up to chief officer of the Royal Princess, which is now the Artemis.”
    “In 1993, my family and I decided to emigrate to Canada.  I had spent
quite a few years doing Vancouver to Alaska cruises, had gotten to like
British Columbia and had made friends in British Columbia.  My sons were
very young and my wife and I decided that a good place to bring them up
would be Vancouver Island.  So, we emigrated to Canada in 1993.  [To be
near home], I left Princess Cruises and joined the British Columbia Ferry
Corporation.”
    Lane worked for 11 years commanding large ferries in the water around
British Columbia.  However, when his children came of age, he decided to
return to the high seas.  The fact that he now works on ocean-going passenger
ships as a matter of choice makes the work experience fundamentally
different than when he left the cruise industry in 1993.  Whenever he thinks
that he is working too hard, he remembers that he is there because he wants to
be, not because he has to be there.  “Unlike driving a ferry or doing most
other jobs, every day here is different.  I have a rough idea of what I am going
to do when I leave my cabin in the morning.   The rest of the day develops as
it develops, you handle things as you go along.  I found that once my sons
didn’t need me to deal with their situations as they developed, life at home
was less challenging than what I need as a person.  It was a great life but I
needed more challenge.  The challenge really is to deal with things as they
present themselves.  This life provides that kind of challenge.”
    Upon returning to the cruise industry in 2004, Lane received a
concentrated refresher course in contmporary cruise ships.  He was given the
assignment of relieving senior officers who were going on leave.   
Consequently, he served on eight different ships for Princess Cruises and
P&O Australia Cruises in a two year period.  These ranged from the brand
new mega-cruise ship Caribbean Princess to the venerable Pacific Star.  “It
was a beautifully built ship.  In its day, it would have been fantastic.  You
had teak about three inches thick and real hard teak.  Much of the teak you see
these days is very soft but that was real, seasoned, hardwood on that ship.”
    During this period, senior officers from Princess Cruises and Cunard Line
were being exchanged in order to broaden their experience.  As a result, in
2006, Lane was assigned to his present position, Staff Captain of the Queen
Mary 2.

The Role of the Staff Captain

    The staff captain on QM2 is second in command of the ship.  However, he
is also one of three department heads who report directly to the captain, the
other two being the chief engineer and the hotel manager.  Encompassed
within the staff captain’s department is a diverse set of functions.
    The most prominent of his responsibilities is command of the ship’s
bridge.  While the captain takes direct command when the ship is entering or
leaving port, the staff captain assists the captain and is actively involved in
those operations.  At sea, making sure “the ship is going the right speed and
the right direction” is the staff captain’s responsibility.  Moreover, reporting
to the staff captain are the six watch-keeping officers who drive and navigate
the ship on a day-to-day basis.
    “When they are not driving the ship, they all have other tasks that they are
involved with.  The level of responsibility that they have depends upon what
rank they are.  All of them are important.  For example, an officer might be
driving the ship this morning and this afternoon he may be preparing the track
chart that is displayed by the Pavilion Pool for the next voyage.  As small as
that is, a lot of people look at that track chart and if he has us going to the
wrong port or puts the ports in the wrong order, it does not give the guests
much confidence in what we are doing up here.”
    Perhaps less glamorous but of crucial importance is the maintenance of the
ship.  In the past, much of the maintenance on passenger ships was done
during periodic refits in shipyards.  However, the cruise industry has become
so competitive that it is no longer feasible to take ships out of service as
often as they were in the past.  Therefore, more of the maintenance has to be
performed while the ship is underway.
    “A ship like this needs constant maintenance, particularly since it is
battling back and forth across the Atlantic in harsh conditions.  I always like
to use the analogy of dentistry.   The ship is like your teeth - - if you keep
them clean and you keep your gums healthy, there will not be problems.  But,
if there are areas that you don’t keep clean, there are problems.  On a ship,
any accumulation of salt or dirt will cause the equivalent of a cavity, it will
cause the equivalent of decay.  So, you want to keep it salt and dirt free.”  
    “Ideally, you would keep all of the ship clean all the time.  On this ship,
you have over 1,000 balconies that are all places crying out for constant
cleaning. Those are places that are the ideal example of a salt trap - - boxes
that are open to the sea that are going to fill up with salt and dirt.  Of course,
you can’t keep them all constantly clean because quite a lot of time guests are
sitting in them or guests are sitting next to them, or underneath them.  You
have to pick your time.  It is all compromise.”
     “Yesterday, we were painting balconies but what we did was research
who was going on tour beforehand.  We sent the ones going on tour letters
asking ‘would you mind if while you are on tour, we come in and paint your
balcony.’ It takes a lot of coordination between different departments
working out where we are going to paint.”
    “The success of the ship is really communication between all of the
departments - - everybody understanding each others’ issues and trying to
work together to resolve them.  Understanding that my priority may be
painting a balcony but the hotel manager’s priority is taking care of that
guest.  So, someway we have to come to a compromise because in the end the
guest won’t be happy if the balcony is rusty.  It is compromise and prioritize,
which is what you train to do over a long period of time.  You train to be a
manager to manage these situations.”
    “Every so often, you get a cavity.  You get decay.  That decay has to be
treated much the same way as when you go to the dentist.  The decay itself
has to be removed. It is just like having your teeth drilled and the decay
scarped out.  On a ship, it usually has to be removed with an old-fashioned
chipping hammer.  You bash away the rust and then you wire brush out the
rust.  Then, you have to fill the hole and paint on top of the hole.  The
problem there again is how do you chisel, scrape and make a noise and still
not impose on the guests’ onboard experience.”
Maintaining the exterior of the ship is only part of the battle.  “Below we
have a lot of tanks - - ballast tanks and fresh water tanks - - that need similar
attention.  They all have special coatings on them.  The ship is only five years
old so most of these coatings are okay but no coating is perfect. Every so
often you get a breakdown of a coating and that has to be dealt with and
treated.  You can only open up a tank when you are in port, however.  So,
now you have the problem, it is preferable to work outside when in port
because I do not want to disturb the guests but I can only work on the tank in
port.”  Further compounding the problem is the fact that with 26 transatlantic
crossings a season, QM2 is not in port that often.  Also, when the ship is at
anchor in a cruise port, the same people who do the maintenance are driving
the ship’s tenders.
     “I only have 35 men.  The number of staff in my department is not
proportionate to the size of the ship.  So, you have to get that much more out
of the staff and that is always a challenge - - being efficient with your time
and with their time and with the resources you’ve got, lots of balls in the air
and constant prioritizing.”
    Also reporting to the staff captain is QM2’s safety officer whose
responsibilities include training the crew in emergency procedures.  “This
ship has 22 lifeboats and thus needs 22 crews to man those lifeboats.  All of
them have to be certified.  They have to pass an exam in being able to take
care of a lifeboat.  As people come up through the ranks, we need to keep
training people.  [This training is] usually given when a person becomes a
supervisor or manager, crew members] who have proven themselves to be
able to take charge of a group of people.  In today’s class, we have quite a
few assistant housekeepers.  They are in charge of groups of bedroom
stewards so they can be in charge of groups of passengers.  They have that
kind of personality and can handle that type of responsibility.”
    Along the same lines, safety equipment such as the lifeboats has to be
periodically tested in order to meet legal requirements.  For example, “every
five years, the MCA, the governing authority for the ship, requires us to test
whether the lifeboats on the davits will take the equivalent weight of 150
people plus 10 percent [in an emergency stop situation].  What they want to
be sure of is that you could stop if you were lowering the boat at full speed
and you suddenly realize that there was another boat caught underneath it.  
You can imagine if a boat has that kind of weight in it and is going full speed
down the side, there is a lot of dynamic force on those davits if you suddenly
stop it.  Yesterday, we were doing those kind of tests.”
    “Then, in the background, the security is going on.  I have a security
officer who takes care of most of the day-to-day running of things but I am
responsible for the security of the ship.  We have a staff of 16 at the moment.  
Security is a very high profile aspect of the job.”
    The security force is most publicly seen checking IDs and running the
metal detectors by the ship’s gangways. “When they are not on the gangway,
they do fire rounds, so they are patrolling the ship 24 hours a day.”  
    “The security officer investigates all of the accidents.  If you have a slip
and fall type accident, he will investigate that and submit his report to the
chief officer and a report is filed ashore.”
    A related responsibility is performing safety checks.  Security personnel
“check fire extinguishers, the routine things that need to be checked - - smoke
detectors.”  They also check the flooring for slipperiness.  “There is a
machine that crawls along and can measure how slippery it is.  [This ensures
that] when you spill your coffee on the marble floor, it doesn’t make it
excessively slippery.  We are checking that constantly to make sure we don’t
have accidents.”
    The security staff also acts as a police force.  “If you have trouble on the
ship, which thankfully here we have very little, you would need the security
staff to assist you.”
    Beyond the staff captain’s departmental responsibilities, there is more to
being second in command than prestige.  “On a crossing of the North Atlantic,
you have to face a lot of fog [and either the captain or the staff captain must
be on the bridge at all times].  If we have several days of fog that can be very
challenging - - you are trying to deal with fog and do all this other work as
well.”  
    “And the captain has responsibility for the whole ship, so you have to
keep an eye  on what t is happening in the whole ship, not just your little
domain.   You have to know all the issues.  He needs to keep you informed in
case you have a need to take over.”  
    As a senior officer, there are also social obligations.  “We have various
functions that we are required to attend.   It humanizes the whole thing.  
Because you are living with the job, the job never stops. You will never be
able to say: ‘Okay I have finished, today, I have completed everything, I can
close the books and open them again tomorrow.’  There is always something
to do.  If you weren’t careful, you would work 24 hours a day every day and
do nothing but think about ship issues and how you are going to resolve those
problems, [which leads to burn out and inefficiency]. The fact that here you
are encouraged strongly to take part in the social program of dining with the
guests and going to parties with the guests,  forces you to think about
something different.  I have come to believe that is much healthier.  It doesn’t
matter how hard you work, how busy you have been during the day, how
frustrating a day you have had, I have found that I sleep better if I go down
with the guests.  For me that is part of the attraction of working here.  It is not
everybody’s cup of tea but it certainly works for me.”

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LARGER VIEWS
Above: Staff Captain Trevor Lane.

Below:  Queen Mary 2
The Deck Department is constantly
painting and maintaining the ship.
Click below for photos,
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about:

QUEEN MARY 2

QUEEN ELIZABETH 2

QUEEN VICTORIA
Amongst the ships that Captain Lane has served upon
are the Caribbean Princess (above) and the Pacific
Star, now the Ocean Dream (below).
 
The senor officers are introduced at a Captain's
Reception on QM2.  Lane is second from the left.
 The staff captain's department is responsible for
training the crew in how to use the lifeboats (above)
as well as ensuring that the boats function properly
(below).  
The same people who maintain the ship operate the
ship's tenders when QM2 is at anchor in a cruise port.
The  staff captain has responsibility for the bridge.
Lane served as Chief Officer on the first Royal
Princess, now the Artemis.
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