Democracy on the ship

Position: 26°20,0´N, 034°43,5´W

Who is in favour? Who is against? Any one who wants to abstain?
Maybe many readers think that on a ship only the captain has the right to decide and the crew has to follow any orders and does not have a say. This picture is not completely wrong and in history probable many captains had the sole right to decide. But today it is different, or at least on our boat-the Thor Heyerdahl.

At our ship we make many decisions democratically together. Of course, if we are talking about nautical decisions our captain has the last word because he has much more experience, but in other areas we also have a great right to have a say.

We have a committee on board, comparable to a court, elected by the whole crew, which consists of both students and adults. Normally once a week on Saturday this “court at sea” meets on the quarter deck and talks about problems that affect students, teachers or the entire crew and tries to provide solutions for the whole community. This committee checks for example the cleanness of the ship or passes judgement to somebody, who broke the ship rules. In this case the committee works like a real court. The person, who has broken the rules has to come afront of this group and has to defend his position. Afterwards, other crewmembers come as witnesses and the court finally passes a “judgement”. The judgements can differ very much. If the offence is low, you will have a special kind of conversation with one of the members of the commite and a punishment, which is low too. If the offence is strong, you have to work for example some hours in the galley to serve your guild or in worst case you have to leave the project. Fortunately, we are a very harmonious community and the “sea -court” has worked only in the theory-so far.

Problems, that do not concern the entire crew, just the students, can be discussed in the students meeting. Also, we meet once a week on Saturday or Sunday in the messroom to talk about disputes between us or other things that are on our minds. There are no elected members in this meeting and it is very important that everybody uses his or her own right to have a say in this discussion. Only two of us, who are acting as moderators, lead our meetings. Every new stage two other students get chosen for the job.

A normal meeting looks like that:
At first the hosts will introduce the topics for that day or ask us, if there are any other issues we want to talk about. After that we start to go through the different topics on the agenda and everybody has the possibility to give a statement on his or her own opinion. Possible topics that could be discussed in that kind of meetings are the planning of the watches, or the distribution of topics for presentations. Often, we talk for a long time and in the end it can be very tiring. Everyone wants to say something or refer to the problem from his or her point of view, but we are 34 students and so it takes a lot of time. After all students had the chance to make their point clear, we start to find a compromise, which is fine to everybody. After that we discuss our result with the project leader, especially, if our suggestion has any impact on other crewmembers. At last our plan is overworked if necessary, so we can find the best possible compromise.

This way we take serious decisions together in many areas and try to find good solutions for our problems everyone can live with. We are like a little democratic island in the middle of the ocean.