The following is just a handful of quotes from those who commanded ships and men in former times. But the words are memorable. They should resonate with today’s merchant ship captains, who face essentially the same challenges as those who came before them.

I cannot command winds and weather.

— Horatio Nelson (1758–1805), British naval commander in the wars with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, as quoted in Letters and Despatches of Horatio, Viscount Nelson, K.B. (1886)

Only a seaman realises to what great extent an entire ship reflects the personality and ability of one individual, her Commanding Officer. To a landsman, this is not understandable—and sometimes it is even difficult for us to comprehend—but it is so! A ship at sea is a different world in herself, and in consideration of the protracted and distant operations of the fleet units, the Navy must place great power, responsibility and trust in the hands of those leaders chosen for command. In each ship there is one man who, in the hour of emergency or peril at sea, can turn to no other man.

— Joseph Conrad (1857–1924), Polish-born British writer and sea captain, Command at Sea: the Prestige, Privilege and Burden of Command

There’s a proverb that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. All I can say is that any senior man who is incapable of assimilating sufficient knowledge to understand all the latest and most up-to-date gadgets now in use on board the floating palaces– well, the sooner he swallows the anchor and moors up on shore the better.

— Arthur Henry Rostron (1869–1940), captain of RMS Carpathia which rescued survivors from the RMS Titanic, Home From the Sea by Sir Arthur H. Rostron (1931)

I was a natural; I liked what I was doing every time I stepped on board a ship, big or small.

— John S. Tucker, one of the last captains of the SS United States (1967–1969), from abridged interview with Captain John S. Tucker. Summer 2008 issue of STEAMBOAT BILL, The journal of the Steamship Historical Society of America. Read more about Captain Tucker here.

There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.

— Francis Drake (c. 1540–1596), English privateer and navigator, Letter to Sir Francis Walsingham, from off Cape Sagres, Portugal (17 May 1567)

Forty years at sea is sufficient. It’s time to quit when one is at the top.

— Harry Manning (1952–1953), skipper of the SS United States, as quoted in “Captains of the United States: The Last Great Race The S.S. United States and the Blue Riband” by Lawrence M. Driscoll. Read more about Captain Manning here.

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