There has been much debate about the quality of education and training for superyacht crew and, of course, the 3000gt limit. On the latter point, not only does this prevent you from working on the largest superyachts, but also restricts career opportunities.
Yes, but the commercial CoC is not practical for yacht crew, it is expensive and time consuming!
As I previously wrote here for those wishing to serve as Master on Yachts >3000gt there is a difference in cost and time due to the breadth and depth of education and training, though when all factors are taken into account and weighed against the benefits, not as much as you might imagine.
Now the option of ‘blended learning’ makes an OOW Unlimited a more attractive, practical and cost effective proposition. In the following piece I take look at this pathway and compare against the traditional Yachting route.
Note: This is based on the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) who developed Yachting training and certification, now MSN 1858, as an equivalent allowed under Article IX of STCW and their requirements for Merchant Navy Deck Officers under MSN 1856.
The last 18 months has seen an evolution in the way education is delivered; I suspect accelerated by COVD-19. There are now many more education and training establishments that are offering courses online or as ‘blended learning’ where there is a combination of self-study and classroom time; this is also true of maritime education.
One such establishment is Warsash Maritime College who offer OOW Unlimited and Chief Mate/Master Unlimited as ‘blended learning’ following the HNC/HND experienced seafarer route under Merchant Navy Board (MNTB) guidance and MSN 1856.
One of the major benefits of self-study is that you no longer need to spend months at college which, can be expensive due to loss of earnings and expenses – I know what it cost for my Chief Mate/Master Unlimited! You can now study for your CoC whilst still working – Warsash suggest 20 – 24 hours per week.
The Two Main Pathways
The table below summarises the two main pathways – there is also cadetship, but this is not currently widely used in the superyacht industry.
Note: table best view in landscape on mobile phone.
YACHT – MSN 1858
MERCHANT NAVY – MSN 1856
OOW (Yacht) <3000gt
HNC Nautical Science
Training Record Book required
RYA Qualifications required
36 months sea service – see MSN 1858
Plus required RYA sea service if YM on vessel <15m
36 months sea service –inclusive of 6
months engaged in bridge watchkeeping duties
Yacht Sea Service Verification
PYA or Nautilus
PYA or Nautilus
RYA/IYT YM Offshore.
As an example, the UKSA Professional YM Offshore is 16 weeks and GBP 9,900 all inclusive.
OOW Genral ship knowledge
OOW Nav and Radar
Excluding RYA/IYT YM Offshore
HNC Nautical Science blended learning – see breakdown below
Fees without RYA/IYT and short courses
*Correct 20/21 intake
Short Courses required
STCW Basic Safety
STCW Basic Safety
Medical First Aid
Progression to Chief Mate Yachts <3000gt
RYA YM Ocean – time and cost
Medical First Aid
Progression to Master Yachts <3000gt
24 months onboard yacht service, inclusive of 240 days wathckeeping whilst holding OOW (Y) <3000gt
NASRAS (Master Y)
Business and Law Master (Y)
Celestial Nav (Master Y)
Stability (Master Y)
Seamanship and Meteorology (Master Y)
24 months onboard yacht service, inclusive of 240 days wathckeeping whilst holding OOW (Y) <3000gt
NASRAS (Master Y)
Business and Law (Master Y)
Celestial Nav (Master Y)
Stability (Master Y)
Seamanship and Meteorology (Master Y)
Progression to Chief Mate Unlimited
12 months wathckeeping service while holding OOW Unlimited
HND Nautical Science (9 months blended learning)
Proficiency in Medical Care
Progression to Master Unlimited
36 months watchkeeping service whilst holding OOW Unlimited. Can be reduced to 24 if at least 12 months served as Chief Mate whilst holding Chief Mate Unlimited
OOW Unlimited via HNC
This includes online studying for a Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Nautical Science that provides the underpinning knowledge for OOW Unlimited. A HNC is a recognised UK academic qualification at level 4 which can then be topped up to level 5 with HND or, even Degree level 6 (BSc). Subjects include:
Chartwork, Tides, Sailings and Celestial Navigation
Law and Management
In addition, there are several required courses, some on campus, some online.
Navigation Equipment Theory and Practice NASET (O)
Preparation for SQA exams
Preparation for MCA Signals exam
Preparation for MCA Oral exam
There are 3 written assessments mid-course, and final SQA exams in Navigation, Stability and Operations.
The total time for the above is around 27 weeks, approx. 20 weeks online and 7 weeks at Southampton Campus and Simulator Centre.
On top of this you would require the STCW short courses, which are the same as for OOW (Y) plus the addition of Advanced Firefighting and Medical First Aid, which make a lot of sense to have anyway.
Some Pros and Cons
Once you add the time and cost for RYA qualifications on top of the OOW Yacht 30000gt sea service and courses, there is really very little difference compared to the OOW Unlimited. And, unlike a OOW Yacht <3000gt, an OOW Unlimited allows you to progress to Chief Mate Unlimited following similar ‘blended learning’ (HND) and then onto Master Unlimited.
You can also apply for funding to help pay for the qualification.
Apart from the higher standard of education, academic recognition and training provided, there are other significant benefits. You could serve on the largest superyachts, career prospects are improved and not just commercial shipping, but also land-based occupations such as with Flag, Class Societies, insurance, ship management and operations, etc.
It is important to note that currently a Master (Yachts) <3000gt who wants to obtain a Master Unlimited will have to first start with OOW Unlimited and then progress as per MSN 1856 – I have heard that there may be some dispensation following OOW Unlimited for past sea service as Master on a yacht, but this would need to be clarified with the MCA.
For those wanting to serve on Yachts >3000gt, there is also the Marshall Islands (Yacht) Unlimited, but you need to hold a Master Yacht <3000gt and fulfil certain criteria. It is currently only recognised by the Marshall Islands and Cayman Islands registries and restricted to Yachts. This may make sense for those who already have Master Yachts <3000gt, less so for junior officers who have the opportunity earlier in their career to opt for Unlimited certification.
The main challenges I see with the OOW Unlimited pathway are:-
Self-study – this requires commitment and dedication and may not suit everyone.
Watchkeeping service for OOW and Chief Mate/Master may be a little more challenging to obtain on some yachts.
For those who want to work on the larger superyachts e.g. 500gt and above, there is no doubt the option of ‘blended learning’ for the OOW Unlimited and Chief Mate Unlimited that allows you to study whilst still working, is a positive development.
With its clear advantages, this pathway is now definitely worth considering by those newly entering the superyacht industry, and by those who may be looking to attain Unlimited certification to further expand their knowledge and career opportunities.
If this is of interest my advice is to do your own research, read the MSN’s, contact the various maritime colleges, obtain the very latest information, weigh up the pros and cons, and then decide which pathway best suits your current and future career goals.
There have been several concepts, and a good many articles and discussions relating to the use of solar panels on superyachts. And, as a zero-emissions energy source, this would seem to be an ideal technology to reduce or replace a yachts reliance on fossil fuels. You could have large arrays of panels on the superstructure or build them into sails to provide all the yachts energy…but could you?
Like many alternative energy solutions, away from the sensational headlines, it’s only when you look at the details do you begin to understand whether they are practical solutions or not.
In this piece I will shed some light on the use of solar panels on superyachts.
Using a 65m yacht as an example, I will assess the energy required from generators for a 24 hour period and the area of solar panels that would be required to generate this energy.
Sunlight As Energy
Studies suggest that the amount of sunlight that strikes the earth surface in 1.5 hours is sufficient to handle the Worlds entire energy consumption for 12 months. It is important to understand that although this solar radiation bathes the entire World it is dependent on time, date and location.
This is the monthly variation due to the sun’s declination, but there is also the diurnal variation due to the elevation of the sun from sunrise to sunset, as shown below.
Of note, the total radiation (Global) is based on Direct and Diffused radiation e.g. reflected.
Taking the monthly figures, the average daily amount of energy is therefore:-
July 6.6 kWh/m2
January 1.56 kWh/m2
Much like a stabilised VSAT or TV antenna depends on pointing directly at the satellite for the best signal, the same is true for solar radiation; the highest levels of insolation are when the sun’s rays are perpendicular to the plane – hence the improvement in solar cell performance with systems that track the sun both in azimuth and elevation.
For those projects that have suggested using solar panels on sails, the angle of the sails relative to the sun’s rays will impact heavily on the energy generated. Underway, the wind is unlikely to allow for the most optimum angle and, at anchor if windy, you would need a method of ‘stalling’ the sails to achieve the best angle.
Solar Panel Efficiency
But I have seen powerful solar panels rated at 500-550Wp!
This is true they are available, but panels of that power are approx. 2.2m2 and power rating is the peak performance based on the Standard Test Condition (STC).
The STC is based on horizontal solar radiation of 1000W/m2 at an internal cell temperature of 25°C. Efficiency is measured by how much of the solar radiation is converted into electrical power and currently the best panels have an efficiency rating of 21%.
This means under STC conditions the best 1m2 panel would produce 210Wp but, of course, as can be seen from the graphs above, solar radiation is not constant. And, along with seasonal and diurnal variation, a solar panel is also affected by angle of incidence and other factors that can reduce efficiency, such as system losses, contamination on the surface and temperature.
Air temperature has a major effect on the cell temperature, and higher or lower cell temperature will either reduce or increase the power output by a specific amount for every degree above or below 25°C (STC). This is known as the power temperature coefficient (PTC) which is measured in %/°C.
As an example, monocrystalline panels have an average PTC of -0.38% /°C, while polycrystalline panels are slightly higher at -0.40% /°C.
In general, cell temperatures run approx. 25°C above the ambient temperature. So, on a summer’s day with air temperature of 30°C you could see an approx. 11% reduction in efficiency of a Monocrystalline panel.
Daily Solar Energy Example
Knowing the efficiency of a solar panel enables us to do some basic calculations on daily energy produced from a 1m2 solar panel in July and January for Monaco.
Average daily solar radiation is 6.6kWh/m2
Total energy produced 1.39kWh/m2 per day
Average daily solar radiation is 1.56kWh/m2
Total energy produced 0.33kWh/m2 per day
How Much Energy is Required?
Taking a 65m yacht fitted with 200kW generators and, assuming with ‘guests-on’ will require around 4500kWh/day for the non-propulsion such as air-conditioning, stabilisers, water-makers, refrigeration, galley, laundry, water heaters, av/it., etc. This will be less ‘guest-off’ with good power management practices employed by the crew.
On this yacht the flat surfaces available for solar panels is approx. 407m2.
From the above, in Monaco in July, if you wanted to generate the energy from solar panels alone you would need approx. 3,240m2 of panels – approx. 8 x available area.
In addition, you would need and a battery bank of approx. 2.8MWh (only 80% useable due to battery cycling) for the hours when the sun is not shining.
This is assuming maximum efficiency and does not include any de-rating due to shade, cloud, rain, contamination on the panel surface or high air temperature, all of which impact efficiency and final energy generated.
And, in January…well you can work that out!
The Potential of Solar Panels
As can been seen given the variables that effect energy produced and the large surface area required, it would not be a practical solution to replace diesel generators with solar panels – not for large yachts anyway. However, they could be used as a part of a hybrid solution to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 and other exhaust gas emissions.
With the above example 407m2 x 1.39kWh/m2 = 565kWh or approx. 3 hours of generator use. This is a useful saving especially if combined with batteries and power management systems that can use that energy to help with generator efficiency. But, don’t forget, season and location will have a large effect on this number.
The challenge on any superyacht will be finding sufficient flat surfaces and the issue of heat and efficiency. New panel technologies are in development with higher efficiencies, possibly up to 50% and this will help the adoption of solar panels in the energy mix but, by themselves, do not offer a replacement of fossil fuels on superyachts.
Some Captains don’t like to use two anchors and, given some of my early experiences, I can understand the reluctance and the ‘you must be joking, more trouble than they’re worth’ sentiment.
Those early experiences were not always successful and, on occasion, the chains would end up not just crossed, but knotted together – even though I was sure I had spread the anchors wide enough. I didn’t really understand why, and it felt like Aquaman and his water breathing buddies had been having a bit of a laugh seeing who could tie the most overhand knots in my chains – I’ve heard they may also operate in Porto Cervo!
However, I persevered and, when I did get it right, the benefits were obvious.
In this piece I will share what I learnt and one method I used with regular success.
When anchored in calm conditions with little wind, sea or current, you don’t need to worry much about the yachts movement, it’s inertia and how it might affect the holding.
Without external forces the yacht just sits atop the point where the chain touches the seabed. But, when wind, current, waves, interact with the yacht you get movement which, in sheltered waters, is mainly surge (longitudinal) sway (transverse) and yaw (rotational).
The manifestation of this movement is that in strong winds a yacht will ‘sail’ around its anchor; sometimes with significant changes in speed and heading. That movement and resultant inertia, combined with the wind force against yacht, places large loads on the mooring equipment, chain and anchor – enough to break the anchor out of the seabed.
We have all heard and felt the terrible shudder as the bow finally comes to a stop against the stretched chain at the extreme of each swing. And, stood on the bridge, bleary eyes transfixed on the ECDIS in the hope that ‘smiley face’ being traced doesn’t turn into the ‘Mark of Zoro’ – a sure sign of dragging!
I found that two anchors could significantly reduce that movement and minimise the chance of dragging. This made staying at anchor in strong winds more secure and comfortable for everyone onboard. I certainly slept better with two out!
It became my preferred choice, not just in strong winds but, also as an option when trying to keep the wind off the aft deck where guests were dinning. Preventing wind blowing away glasses and table settings certainly helps the departmental dynamic!
Along with the normal factors such as depth, scope, quality of seabed, hazards, weather, etc., there are some basic considerations that I found held true.
Set the anchors too close and you do not make significant difference to the yachts movement, and it’s easy to cross when dropping and/or dragging.
Set the anchors too wide and, although the movement may be dampened, their pull works against each other, reducing the holding power of your anchors.
Through trial and error, I found that the Admiralty Manual of Seamanship recommendation of forming an equilateral triangle between the bow and the two anchors worked the best. It provided sufficient spread to reduce the movement and also prevent fouling of the chains.
The method set out below is just one of a number I used. It could be described as ‘precision anchoring’ as the end result was you ended up ‘brought up’ on the spot you originally selected. It gives you a lot of confidence when you have to set two anchors in a tight or busy anchorage.
As it requires more a bit more thought and planning to get right, it’s also a great way to teach the bridge and deck teams about anchoring.
Once I have selected the area, using ECDIS and radar to ensure the area is clear, I construct my reference points on an over scaled ENC – changing the VRM units to metres also helps. As I am interested in my final position, I also need to make an adjustment for the position of the CCRP (Continuous Common Reference Point).
It’s an easy calculation as follows – you can access Trig functions on an iPhone by opening the calculator and rotating the screen.
Once you know the amount of chain (scope) you intend to use, you can calculate VRM1 and VRM2 and draw them on the ENC and set EBL1 to point directly at the true wind, and EBL2 perpendicular to wind pointing in direction of 1st anchor – as per the animation.
One word of caution; there is often the temptation to let go the 2nd anchor too early, either before the full scope is paid out, or before the chain is off the beam at a medium to long stay…resist the temptation or you will not achieve the correct spread and you may end up fouling the 1st anchors chain.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with using the bow thruster to move transversely to the 2nd anchor position but, for me, I preferred to use the wind as my thruster as it gave me a better feel of how it was affecting the yacht.
And, when the wind finally abates or shifts direction, it’s time to heave up the leeward anchor before a tangle is created – don’t delay, it’s no fun trying to take a turn out. If you’ve set them properly you can often do this using the windlass without engines or thruster.
Although I struggled initially, partly because it was something that was not taught and, I also failed to seek advice from others. When I finally got it right, the benefits were clear and as a bonus I found that the thought process involved helped improve my overall approach to anchoring.
I hope this has provided some food for thought, especially for those who have never used two anchors or, have been reluctant due to the horror stories told about fouled chains and anchors.
It is by no means the only way, but it is one that worked for me!
Although the primary environmental concern challenging our industry is C02 and other emissions generated from burning fossil fuels, there are other vectors such as sewage and grey water that can also have an impact.
Whilst on the larger yachts the new treatments plants take care of both, producing effluent that can be clean enough to use as wash down water, smaller and/or older yachts may not be so well equipped, or have inadequate black/grey holding tanks. Grey water is often simply discharged overboard.
For those of us who have had the ‘pleasure’ of sticking their head into a grey water tank, we are only too aware of the odious and putrid soup that is contained within, in fact, I suggest many crew would rather inspect a sewage tank than a grey water tank such is the assault on the senses. And, given these sensory observations, and the impact grey water can have on tank coatings, why is grey water treated essentially as a harmless liquid?
Whilst the discharge of sewage (black water) is mostly regulated under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Annex IV and other national legislation such as United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Water Act (CWA) grey water from ships and yachts is discharged untreated directly into the sea. On yachts, this is very often in close proximity to the coast, beaches, ports and marinas, where there are swimmers or other recreational water users and where it has the potential for the greatest impact on the marine ecosystem.
So what is grey water?
*If using mobile phone, swipe or rotate screen to see the full table.
Grey Water Definition
Annex V Reg 1 Definitions
4. Domestic wastes means all types of wastes not covered by other Annexes that are generated in the accommodation spaces on board the ship.
Domestic wastes does not include grey water.
1.6.1 Dishwater means the residue from the manual or automatic washing of dishes and cooking utensils which have been pre-cleaned to the extent that any food particles adhering to them would not normally interfere with the operation of automatic dishwashers.
1.6.2 Grey water means drainage from dishwater, shower, laundry, bath and washbasin drains. It does not include drainage from toilets, urinals, hospitals, and animal spaces, as defined in regulation 1.3 of MARPOL Annex IV (sewage), and it does not include drainage from cargo spaces. Grey water is not considered garbage in the context of Annex V.
*Note: if in-sink macerators drain into grey water tanks, then the contents and discharge of that tank will need to comply with Annex V.
Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 312(a)(11)
Galley bath and shower
Coast Guard regulations, 33 CFR 151.05
Drainage from dishwasher, shower, laundry, bath, and washbasin drains and does not include drainage from toilets, urinals, hospitals and cargo spaces.
So, whilst grey water is well defined, what is less well understood is that untreated grey water contains many undesirable pathogens, organic matter, chemicals and micro plastics (the microfibres that are shed during washing of man-made fabrics) often at levels that can be higher than domestic effluent from sewage treatment plants, and can have an impact on human health and the marine ecosystem.
One of the largest studies on grey water was done by the EPA following a petition in 2000 from Bluewater Network who represented 53 environmental organisations who wanted the EPA to take regulatory action on cruise ship pollution. The report – Draft Cruise Ship Discharge Assessment Report (EPA842-R-07-005) – was published in 2007 and covered sewage, oily bilge water, solid waste, hazardous waste and grey water. And, whilst there are significantly more crew/passengers on cruise ships and waste volumes greater, the sources and treatment are very similar to the superyacht industry.
From that study they list common sources and characteristics of grey water in the table below.
Automatic Clothes Washer
bleach, foam, high pH, hot water, nitrate, oil and grease, oxygen demand, phosphate, salinity, soaps, sodium, suspended solids, turbidity
Note: recent studies also suggest micro plastics from man-made fibres are also contained with the waste water.
Automatic Dish Washer
bacteria, foam, food particles, high pH, hot water, odor, oil and grease, organic matter, oxygen demand, salinity, soaps, suspended solids, turbidity
Sinks, including kitchen
bacteria, food particles, hot water, odor, oil and grease, organic matter, oxygen demand, soaps, suspended solids, turbidity
Note: if food waste from in-sink macerators is draining into grey water tanks this changes the grey water to food waste and therefore discharge must comply with MARPOL V.
Bathtub and Shower
bacteria, hair, hot water, odor, oil and grease, oxygen demand, soaps, suspended solids, turbidity
Source: ASCI 2001
Of course, the quantity and quality of grey water varies considerably depending on many factors, such as the number of crew and passengers, the various types of detergents and cleaning products used, personal grooming and hygiene products used by the crew and passengers, and various filters and fat traps if installed.
The EPA study, combined with findings from a previous study by the Alaskan Department of Environmental Conservation – Alaska Cruise Ship Initiative in 2001, found a range of readings of various analytes. A sample of which are found below.
Untreated Domestic Water
10,000 – 100,000
Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD 5 day)
110 – 400
Chemical Oxygen Demand
250 – 1,000
66.9% between 6.0 and 9.0
Between 6.0 and 9.0
Totals Dissolved Solids (TDS)
Total Suspended Solids (TSS)
100 – 350
Ammonia – Nitrogen
Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen
20 – 85
*MPN – most probable number
Untreated grey water contains many pathogens and, in addition to those listed above, can also include, Salmonella, shigella, hepatitis A and E, and gastro intestinal viruses (national Research Council, 1993). Pathogens can pose danger to human health by contact or ingestion of contaminated water, or by consuming shell fish which feed by filtering water.
The 1986 EPA Quality Criteria for Water, commonly known as the ‘Gold Book’, references pathogen indicators and has defined water quality standards based on two activities of import to yachting: marine water bathing and, shellfish harvesting.
From the samples of untreated grey water analysed in the study, the average fecal coliform contamination exceeded the standard of 43 MPN/100mL for shellfish harvesting and, the average enterococci contamination exceeded the standard of 35 MPN/100mL for marine water bathing.
Although not a major indicator in this study, chlorine is used on yachts in a variety of applications including sanitising fresh water tanks, the discharge of which is generally pumped overboard, often via the grey water tanks, so levels must be carefully controlled so they do not exceed recommended limits.
Studies have found that chronic affects to the marine biota such as poor reproduction and health can be observed at concentrations above 230mg/L with acute effects, severe illness or death, at concentrations exceeding 860 mg/L.
Organic matter from the grey water acts as food for water borne bacteria. The more food available, the greater the number of bacteria decomposing the waste and using oxygen in the process. Nitrates and phosphorous also contribute to high oxygen demand by providing nutrients for plants and algae to grow quickly, contributing to organic waste when plants die and decompose.
Reductions in oxygen level can be harmful to aquatic species and can, in extreme cases, create ‘dead zones’ where no fish or other organisms can live.
Suspended solids can affect the clarity of the water and in turn adversely affect the photosynthetic activity of marine biome.
This is a more recent and topical concern relating to plastics entering the food chain, consumption by humans, and the longer term environmental and health impacts.
A number of studies have shown that during machine washing of man-made clothing significant numbers of tiny fibres are released into the waste water; and, in the case of yachts, into the grey water tank and eventually into the sea.
One such study is ‘The release of microplastic micro fibres from domestic washing machines: Effects of fabric type and washing conditions’ (Elsevier: Imogen E. Napper, Richard C. Thompson).
This study examined the release of textile fibres during machine washing of clothes from three commonly used fabrics; polyester, polyester-cotton mix and acrylic. The results showed that laundering 6kg of synthetic material could release between 137,951 – 728,789 fibres per wash, ranging in size between 20 𝜇m and <5mm. Given the load on most laundries and, composition of the fabrics washed, one can see the potential for a significant number micro plastics being discharged into the sea on a daily basis.
It is important to note that when grey water is discharged into the surrounding sea it mixes with the sea water and dilution takes place. This effect can be affected by factors such as discharge rate, salinity, water temperature, wind, currents and, of course, a yachts movement.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) concluded that dilution factor would range from approx. 5 to 60 and occur between 1 and 7 meters from the ship (ADEC, 2004). The EPA report suggests that the initial dilution estimated by ACSI and ADEC for a vessel at rest would not likely be great enough for untreated grey water to meet the ‘Gold Book’ standards for fecal coliform and enterococci
From tests conducted by the EPA, it was shown that the dilution effect, due to the movement of a vessel and the mixing by their propellers, for a ship underway between 9.1 and 17.4 knots was a factor of between 200,000:1 and 640,000:1 immediately behind the vessel and, based on those results all ‘Gold Book’ standards for water quality, apart from fecal coliform, would be met.
From this it can be seen there are significant benefits in only discharging when underway and away from the near shore.
Apart from yachts that have advanced waste treatment systems that treat both grey and blackwater compliant with MARPOL IV 9.1.1 and the guidelines in MEPC.227(64) most yachts will be discharging untreated grey water from their holding tanks, often with food waste contrary to MARPOL V, whilst static, directly into the sea. The effect of this can be observed in busy marinas and crowded anchorages on windless days when there is little water movement or seabed disturbance and the water takes on a milky and/or scummy appearance – the difference in water clarity around Cala de Volpe in and out of season is quite striking.
Furthermore, the grey water has the potential for human health risk – depending on contamination levels – especially for those engaging in activities such as swimming, jet ski, wake-boarding, or any other activity where they may ingest seawater or have contact via an exposed scratch or wound. There are also short and long terms considerations related to the marine ecosystem such as algae blooms, bacteria in shellfish, and the introduction of micro plastics into the food chain.
Whilst the issue surrounding grey water applies to commercial shipping as well, due to their sailing and trading patterns they tend to have little impact on inshore waters – as can be seen from dilution effect underway. For cruise ships, if they do not have suitable onboard treatment of grey water, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) members voluntarily agreed to limit the discharge of untreated grey water to when they are underway at not less than 6 knots and at least 4 nm from the nearest land and not to discharge grey water when in port.
What can we do?
I outline some of the steps could be taken to reduce the impact of grey water discharges.
As per CLIA, no grey water discharge closer than 4nm from nearest land, underway at not less than 6 knots
No discharge of grey water in port if facilities available – marinas have work to do here?
Where available, discharge grey water to suitable reception facilities e.g. barge or ashore
On new builds, increase size of holding tanks to more practical sizes based on ‘practical’ use of yachts, so discharge can be better managed – including smaller yachts
Install filters to remove micro fibres from washing machines
Use ‘environmentally friendly’ cleaning and personal hygiene products – not just ‘ECO or Green’ labeled as these are often-abused and misleading descriptions – carefully scrutinise such claims and check if they have been independently assessed and verified
On new builds specify and install only black/grey water treatment plants
On refits, consider updating your treatment plant and include grey water
Consider dosing grey water with additives that reduce pathogens and/or organic matter
Avoid using in-sink macerators if the pulp discharges directly into grey water tanks – instead, bag, store and dispose as per MARPOL V
Installation of fat traps
Some of the above does not require major expense, just a change in operational procedures and, of course, education costs nothing.
The quality of our oceans, and its health are fundamental to yachting – it is the ‘playground’ from which we experience so much pleasure. With our intimate connection to the to the sea we have a responsibility to minimise our environmental impact, protect the long term health of our oceans, and to ensure that future generations get to experience the same pristine seas and diverse marine life that we have all enjoyed.
I was prompted to write this because of the increasing restrictions in France due to environmental concerns and the impact anchoring has been having on the sea grass/Posidonia. This means that in many places along of the French coast, yachts will have to anchor in water >30m depth.
Although the French rules have perhaps highlighted this, it is not the only place where anchoring in water deeper than 30m is required; other places include Monaco, Capri, the Amalfi Coast, some anchorages in Croatia, Greece and Turkey, the fjords in Norway and Chile and, some of the Caribbean islands – it is not uncommon.
With that in mind, and my own experience of the yachts I have run, I ran a short survey on LinkedIn to gauge how much chain yachts carry.
Although not a huge response, the results were sufficient to mirror my own experience of the amount of chain some yachts carry – in some cases, totally inadequate.
The results to “how many shackles do you carry per anchor?”
Less than 6 shackles – 18%
7 shackles – 18%
8 shackles – 33%
More than 9 shackles – 30%
Rule of Thumb
Of course, there are several ‘rules of thumb’ to help determine how much chain cable is laid depending on the depth of water, among other factors such as type of seabed, weather, current, length of stay, etc. Two such examples are: –
The International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) – length of chain in Metres = ratio 6 – 10 x Depth of Water in Metres.
For 30m this would be a minimum of 180m or just shy of 7 shackles.
The Admiralty Manual of Seamanship uses a formula – number of shackles = 1.5 x √Depth of Water in Metres.
For 30m this would be a minimum of just over 8 shackles.
With the above figures, if you err on the side of safety, just under 40% of yachts who responded may not have sufficient chain cable to anchor in water >30m depth and, at 35m depth, only 30% of yachts would have the recommended amount of chain. How this compares to the total fleet would be very interesting.
Interestingly, the RYA recommendation is for a minimum of 4 x Depth. For 30m depth only 4 shackles – approx. half of IACS and The Admiralty recommendation. This may be fine for recreational boats, but for superyachts this seems at odds with both IACS who test and approve anchoring arrangements for ships and superyachts, and the experienced seafarers of the Admiralty.
As RYA qualifications are inherent to Yacht Deck Officer training and certification, has their ‘rule of thumb’ become the standard that most superyacht crew use – again an interesting question!
There is no doubt IACS and The Admiralty are a more qualified authority when it comes to anchoring of ships and large yachts and in my opinion captains would be wise to use their ‘rule of thumb’ rather than the RYA.
The Mysterious Equipment Number
Until I did my Master Unlimited CoC, I never took time to consider how the size of anchor and length of chain were determined for a given vessel. That’s when I learnt about the Equipment Number (EN).
Most superyachts are Classed by one of the IACS members such as Lloyds, DNV GL, ABS, RINA, etc., and they use common rules to determine the mooring equipment. This is based on the EN which is calculated for every Classed vessel – the formula is as follows: –
EN = △ ² ⁄ ³ + 2 BH + 0.1A
△ = moulded displacement in tonnes to Summer Load waterline
B = moulded breadth, in metres
H = effective height, in metres, from Summer Load waterline, to top of uppermost house
A = area, in square metres, in profile view, of the hull, superstructure and houses above Summer Load waterline.
The resulting EN is used in a table that details the number and mass of the anchor, chain length, diameter and grade, as well as towing and mooring lines.
Excerpt from Equipment Table – note ‘Total Length’ of chain is normally split equally between the two anchors.
It is important to note that the EN and anchor equipment is based on the following assumptions and limitations:-
Temporary mooring in harbour or sheltered waters
Current velocity: max 5 Kn
Wind velocity: max 48 Kn
Length of chain paid out, scope 6 -10
Good holding ground
The effect of waves is important – a significant wave height of just 2 metres would reduce the equivalent max current and wind velocities as follows:-
Current velocity: max 3 Kn
Wind velocity: max 21 Kn
A significant reduction in the holding power.
As most yachts use high holding power anchors (HHP) the rules also allow their mass to be reduced to not less than 75% of the table value.
Bitter End – Caution!
It is also important to know that the pin securing the bitter end to the chain locker is designed to be sacrificial and break at a load between 15% – 30% of the minimum breaking strength of the chain cable – it is designed to fail to prevent structural damage to the vessel.
It should be a fundamental part of the yachts risk assessment and procedures that, in the event of a runaway chain, the mooring team evacuate to a safe area as the flailing end of an anchor cable can have devastating effects – as was sadly experienced on Ocean Victory.
The anchor and mooring arrangements need to be carefully designed for the risks involved; unfortunately, some yachts, especially those with enclosed decks, place the windlass operator in harm’s way and do not provide safe egress in the event of a failure. Like many operational aspects of yacht design, work is still required to improve safety.
A Guide to Anchoring
The video ‘Anchor Awareness’ produced by DNV, GARD and The Swedish Club, although based on commercial ships, is also valid to larger yachts and is a useful resource that helps demonstrate anchor procedures and safe practice and is well worth a watch – especially for junior officers and deckhands who may be part of the mooring team.
Can be accessed by taping on the image below.
This piece was not meant as a guide to anchor best practice, but to try to assess if yachts carried sufficient chain for the intended depth, and help fill in some of the knowledge gap that may be missing from the yacht syllabus.
I hope it imparts a better understanding of how anchor and chain cable size and length are determined for yachts. And, importantly, the amount of chain paid out relative to depth that is recommended by authoritative bodies.
This knowledge may result in more secure anchoring and the provision of chain more appropriate to the expected use, water depths and conditions that may be encountered.
I suspect many captains and crew will have succumbed to the embrace of this maxim – I know I have in my past.
Working long hours and having minimum sleep was often worn as a badge of honour, it demonstrated a grafter, someone who was willing to put in all the hours necessary to get the job done. But as research has now shown, sleep deprivation, whether acute or chronic, can have short term consequences – sometimes devastating – as well as long term physiological and/or mental health effects.
I was somewhat aware of the importance of sleep and things such as the circadian rhythm, but it was only recently after reading ‘Why We Sleep’ by Mathew Walker, who is currently Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, that I began to really appreciate why sleep deprivation can be so damaging to not just health, but also performance and safety.
The book details the reasons why we sleep, what happens during sleep, the benefits of sleep and the effects of disruption and/or deprivation. Like the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat, sleep is essential to our health. The Guinness Book of World Records happily records extreme activities such as a freefall from 41,422 metres and other events such as tight rope walking across the Grand Canyon without safety net or tether but does not recognise sleep deprivation records because of the danger to health!
What’s this got to do with yachting?
The World Maritime University (WMU) Report1 into the hours of work and rest (HOWR) in shipping also considers this subject and the effects of lack of rest, fatigue, safety and well-being of crew and these issues are equally applicable to yachting.
We know that the demands on crew have been increasing for many reasons and, in the main, there has not been any real change in the manning levels to meet that demand and on many yachts, it is likely that the quality and quantity of sleep is suffering as a result. Compounding the potential for sleep disruption are the variable work patterns that are an operational characteristic of yachting as the program and use changes e.g. guest-off, guest-on, daywork, watches, late finishes and early starts, even if crew are maintaining their HOWR.
Consider that the HOWR minimum rest period should not be less than 10 hours, but can divided into two periods, one of which not less than 6 hours. And that within that time there are factors such as eating, socialising, waking and preparing for work, that eat into sleep time. If working to the minimum regulations the longest period of sleep could be less than 5 hours – less than the amount research suggests is optimal.
I’m sure we all know how bad we can feel for days after a long-haul flight, yet crew are often expected to switch from working during the day to night at short intervals. Studies have shown it takes a day per hour of time zone difference for the body to acclimatise. It would take days for a crewmember assigned to work a night watch to properly adapt and perform at their best and they would likely be feeling the undesirable effects when they switched back to daywork at the end of the week – when they would have to go through the whole process again.
The working pattern and allowing sufficient time to acclimatise to the working hours is an important factor in helping with sleep and fatigue. I know in the past we used to rotate deckhands onto night watch once a week and stewardesses would frequently switch from late nights to early morning with the result their body clocks where probably always jet lagged. Having a schedule that allows acclimatisation to working hours is not an easy task given limited crew and variable demands but, where practical, it warrants a more considered approach.
Of course, it’s not just the work pattern that can disrupt sleep. The environment, such as noise and light, can affect the quality and quantity of sleep. Noise from being underway, picking up and dropping anchor, bow thruster operation, light from portholes or crew entering the cabin. And as we all know, the violent motion and noise of a yacht in rough weather also can severely disrupt sleep.
Crew accommodation and cabins are also a factor. Having somewhere free from noise and light pollution, with a comfortable ambient temperature, can be a challenge on some yachts, especially the smaller yachts where space is severely limited and often the crew mess and laundry are in the same space. Though, even on some larger yachts, the crew cabins can sometimes seem like an afterthought.
Minimising noise and light – beyond the minimum MLC standards – should be a priority such as: –
Black out blinds for portholes
Curtains around bunks that can also block light and afford some privacy
Low intensity lighting for crew corridors
Better sound insulation – especially crew corridors and where cabins back onto the crew mess or technical spaces
Improved isolation of equipment; resilient mounts, sound boxes.
Doors at corridor ends
Carpet with underlay in cabins and corridors
Some of the above could be applied to existing yachts.
For those who believe they can manage on minimum sleep, it is interesting to note, though not scientifically proven, that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, two of the most well-known exponents of 4 – 5 hours of sleep, suffered in later years from Alzheimer’s. The point being, perhaps the cumulative effects of restricted sleep may be more profound than we might think.
Unlike shipping, our industry is not driven by commercial pressures but by more esoteric metrics such as pleasure, enjoyment, quality, safety, and security, all of which are heavily reliant on the crew. Yet often yachts are designed to comply with the minimum standards rather than the operational realities of delivering incomparable experiences to yacht owners and/or charter guests.
The ‘WHU Report’ and ‘Why We Sleep’ should be essential reading for anyone involved in the design and operation of a superyacht. They offer compelling reasons why better sleep can result in happier and healthier crew, better performance, safer yachts and why it deserves more attention in our indusrty.
The reason for this question is that it doesn’t take much to realise that being able to switch your yacht from fossil fuel to green fuels in the future will have a positive impact on use, cost, and asset value.
Whilst these concerns and the transition away from fossil fuel seems to be far away, the impetus is growing and the reality is that when you take into account the design and build cycle along with the lifetime of a superyacht, you begin to understand why this may be an important consideration for anyone investing in a new build today.
Indeed, Lurssens recent announcement of a project using methanol and fuel cells may represent a paradigm shift for the industry. Though there are still questions about the availability of green methanol and storage and bunkering, this is probably the only superyacht in build that has the potential to adapt to a zero emissions future.
From discussions with other shipyards, it is clear that the environment is becoming an important consideration for some owners, and the pressure to act will only become more intense in the coming years.
The current narrative seems to be that ‘hybrid’ or ‘diesel electric’ (propulsion from electric motors) will allow you to simply remove the generators, replace them with a stack of fuel cells and then load up on green energy. On the surface these seems to make sense, however I think reality may be a little different.
When you look more deeply at the how, the challenge will not come from the replacement of the generators, it will come from the availability and choice of the green energy carrier that replaces the diesel fuel.
Currently hydrogen, methanol and ammonia seem to be the leading fuels in the drive to zero emissions shipping. LNG and biofuels also provide a useful pathway that helps reduce emissions but are unlikely to be the long-term solution.
The production of green ammonia or methanol, also known as ‘e’ fuels, require hydrogen produced via electrolysis using nuclear or renewable electricity and synthesis with air (e-ammonia) or CO2 (e-methanol). It is a very energy intensive process and methanol also depends on the supply of green CO2 e.g. biomass or direct air capture (DAC).
Due to the amount of energy required to produce these fuels and supply chain costs, these fuels are likely to be more expensive than today’s diesel. Technology and innovation in all its forms will still be necessary to reduce energy consumption.
Worth noting is that hydrogen, ammonia, and methanol, can be used in internal combustion engines (ICE). For example, the Ro-Ro/Pax carrier, Stena Germanica was successfully converted to run on methanol. This could provide another pathway for us; though I don’t know if these ‘gas’ or ‘dual fuel’ ICE’s are suited to superyachts? Maersk has also announced the building of a ship to run on methanol, whilst acknowledging that they are not entirely sure of fuel supply or infrastructure – I think it demonstrates a leadership that may help break the supply/demand impasse and drive change.
The major challenge with all these fuels for yachts, where space and aesthetics – a cryogenic hydrogen tank on the aft deck would not be ideal – are major factors, is that they are less energy dense than diesel, require more volume for the same amount of energy, along with special storage and enhanced safety due to the nature of the fuels e.g. flammable and toxic.
More information an be found in The International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code, International Code of Safety for Ship Using Gases or Other Low-flashpoint Fuels (IGF Code) and IMO MSC.1/Circ.1621 Interim Guidelines For The Safety Of Ships Using Methyl/Ethyl Alcohol As Fuel.
This excellent diagram of Volumetric and Gravimetric energy of various fuels from DNV-GL – Comparison of Alternative Marine Fuels, Report No: 2019-0567, Rev. 3, clearly highlights the energy differences.
Energy densities for different energy carriers (inspired by /49/ /72/ and /73/ of the report). The arrows represent the impact on density when taking into account the storage systems for the different types of fuel (indicative values only)
Hydrogen, due to the storage requirements, compressed or liquid, probably excludes its use directly as a marine fuel on superyachts though, as with shipping, it may be well suited to coastal cruising. Much more likely, as with the Lurssen project, is that methanol or ammonia is used as the energy carrier and converted back into hydrogen using reformers onboard if fuel cells are used.
The resultant hydrogen would then be used in Proton Exchange Membrane (PEMFC) or High Temperature Proton Exchange Membrane (HT-PEMFC) fuel cells. HT-PEMFC are less critical on the purity of the hydrogen and the heat can be used to improve the overall efficiency – though, to date, as an industry we have not been very energy efficient with the use of waste heat from engines or generators.
Although solutions for the storage, ventilation, safety and bunkering of methanol and ammonia will no doubt be found – it’s already carried onboard ships either as a fuel or cargo – how this is integrated into the hull of a superyacht may have some significant impacts on space, layout and, of course, range.
I think some caution is required before promoting the use of ‘hybrid’ or ‘diesel electric’ as ‘future proof’ solutions. We need to be able to demonstrate how this would work, the practicalities and impact on cost, safety, use, space and range to name just a few considerations. This will be crucial to the future growth of the industry as yacht owners and their advisors will need to weigh these factors in their decision-making process.
Finally, Lurssen and their visionary customer, may have found one pathway that helps answer the question. That is a real benefit to the future of the industry.
I must admit to a bit of plagiarism here as the title, in part, comes from the World Maritime University (WMU) Report1 into the hours of work and rest (HOWR) in the shipping industry – link at the bottom. When I saw the title, read, then reflected on its contents, it became clear there were parallels with the superyacht industry.
That being said, it is important to recognise that in the superyacht industry the issues surrounding misrepresentation of HOWR are generally limited to the peak periods; those times when guests are onboard when, due to a combination of high demands and insufficient crew. To successfully navigate the obligations and intent of the legislation it is important to fully understand the regulations. The alternative is creative application of HOWR – something I am sure that most yacht captains and crew will have experienced.
In my early days on yachts, working long hours to deliver the guest experience was the norm and just part of yachting. “Harden-up” was often the refrain when someone spoke out on fatigue. It was like the measure of a job well done and validation that yachting was for you. Hours of work and fatigue were given very little attention and remained undocumented; unless you were crew you had no idea of the extent of the problem. Over subsequent years, regulations such as ISM and MLC were introduced to improve vessel safety and pollution prevention and the health and welfare of crew – less about yachting and about preventing the abuse of crew that was prevalent in some sectors of the shipping industry.
Unfortunately, as the WHU report suggests, despite the regulations and a greater appreciation of fatigue and its consequences, there is still a culture where work hours are, either under reported or adjusted to facilitate compliance. There are many reasons given, many of which are analogous to the superyacht industry:
Legacy – it’s part of the ‘can do’ attitude that is prevalent within yachting; the desire to deliver the best experience for the owner or guests.
Manning – having an appropriate manning level to meet the diverse demands of the operation; not just ‘minimum safe manning’ which is often the metric.
Contemporary Yacht Operations – yachting has evolved and so have the demands on crew, not only from owners who expect greater levels of service and experience, but also from the administrative burden that is a consequence of both regulation and management company reporting systems. Manning has failed to keep pace with this and something OnlyCaptains alluded to in this piece – Manning A More Considered Approach Required
Cost – crew are one of the highest costs of yacht ownership and so it is understandable that advisors and yacht owners are driven to reduce manning.
Financial Incentive – charter tips or bonus.
Employment Security – whether it be the Captain responsible for the yacht compliance, or an individual crew member not ‘towing the line’ there are concerns about the effect accurate reporting may have on employment prospects.
Management Pressure – either directly or indirectly they send signals that encourage the misrepresentation of HOWR.
Stakeholder Distance – the physical and psychological distance between the various shore-based stakeholders and the operational crew, means there is often a limited understanding of the work that crew do and what it takes to deliver an exceptional yachting experience, day after day.
Lack of Effective Controls – as proven, it is relatively easy to under report or adjust HOWR, even on some electronic systems, to ensure compliance. The fact that these are not identified by internal audits, Flag or PSC suggests the current inspection and enforcement mechanisms are not fit for purpose.
Also, in yachting due to the cyclical nature of demands ‘guest on vs. guest off’ there is also an attitude of:
What’s the big deal, the crew get plenty of time to rest when we are not onboard.
The reality is often very different; there is still plenty of work to be done that is critical to maintain and protect the value of the asset, safety considerations, and to ensure the yacht and crew are ready for the next visit.
Rest and Fatigue
This leads onto ‘Compensatory Rest’ as allowed by MLC, to mitigate or justify non-compliance; often the rule rather than the exception. Unfortunately, this is not always practical due to a yachts program e.g. short turnaround for next guests (back-to-back guests/charters) repositioning in rough sea, etc. And, unless the compensatory rest is both, timely and adequate, it will not prevent fatigue and its consequences.
There are numerous studies on fatigue; searching ‘fatigue and its effect on performance and safety’ in Google (other browsers are available!) produced 1.5 million hits – I would hazard a guess that none of the results would praise its health and performance benefits!
It is recognised there are three types of fatigue:
Transient fatigue this is acute fatigue as a result of sleep restriction or extended hours awake within 1 or 2 days
Cumulative or chronic fatigue brought on by repeated mild sleep restriction or extended hours awake across a series of days.
Circadian fatigue refers to the reduced performance during night-time hours, particularly during an individual’s “window of circadian low” (WOCL) -typically between 2:00 a.m. and 05:59 a.m.
Research has also shown that the accumulation of sleep deficit e.g. having an hour less of sleep for several consecutive days, needs a series of days with more-than-usual sleep for a person to fully recover from cumulative fatigue.
This suggests that, very quickly into a busy guest period, crew may already be affected by fatigue; their cognitive ability impaired, decision making and judgement clouded, and performance impacted. Many studies compare fatigue to the effects of alcohol consumption, the last thing anyone would want would be crew behaving as drunks due only to sleep deprivation.
Adding to the problem is that many crew cabins are cramped, poorly designed, and suffer from light and noise pollution, these factors, along with the yachts motion, even at anchor, can all affect the quality of sleep – another area worth consideration?
The shipping industry is aware of fatigue and has contributed to the canon of research on the subject, these include The SEAFARER FATIGUE: THE CARDIFF RESEARCH PROGRAMME, MCA MGN 505(M) and IMO GUIDELINES ON FATIGUE (MSC.1Circ.1598) and are all well worth reading.
Interestingly, in 2006 when the Cardiff Research Study was published, one conclusion was:
This study shows the current method for recording and auditing working hours is not effective and should therefore be reviewed.
Seems not much has changed.
As I discovered, honest reporting of HOWR comes with a cost, unless you have a supportive management company and yacht owner, so I fully appreciate why some captains might be reluctant. However, unless we report HOWR accurately we will remain part of the problem and there will be no incentive to change.
If you always operate at max, like an engine constantly run in the red zone, something will break sooner rather than later!
Ultimately the reason why there may be a need to under report or adjust of HOWR is that, in many cases, there is insufficient crew for guest periods. And, this is after all when a yacht owner, their family and friends or charter guests get to experience the enjoyment of yachting.
A Contempoarary Problem
Far from this being restricted to older yachts, this remains a contemporary issue, with some recent prominent examples shown not to have enough crew to deliver consistently the full range and standard of services demanded by yacht owners and charterer guests – this does beg the question; who is advising the owners and how did they assess the manning levels?
In response, I like to reflect on a comment from a respected designer Carlo Nuvolari, of Nuvolari Lenard, when he stated in an interview in Boat International – Nuvolari Lenard discuss the problem with yacht design 18 November 2015 by Stewart Campbell:
A Lot – Not All, But A Lot – Of Our Colleagues Don’t Go On Boats. I Can’t Understand It.
Perhaps ‘a bittongue in cheek here’ a solution would be for every designer or advisor, to spend at least one season working on a busy yacht in all departments, before they are allowed anywhere near a prospective yacht owner and/or its operation…just a thought!
And, whilst we can address the problem with more careful consideration of manning on new-builds, clearly, we cannot re-build each yacht and the demands will not decrease…so what can be done?
Searching for A pathway
Apart from accurate reporting, Captains will need to look at every aspect of their operation and work schedules to find efficiencies and/or time saving solutions e.g. use of a standing shore team that speeds up turnarounds. Yacht management working with their captains to improve SMS and operational reporting, using technology to make the systems more user friendly and efficient. And, where practicable, directing much of the administration back to shore management, freeing Captains and crew to be the operators, focused on ensuring the yacht owners, their guests and charterers are the priority.
Final thought. Would you fly on a long-haul flight if the captain (eyes darkened by fatigue) was trying to finish the plane’s budget, next maintenance schedule, organise his parking at the next airport and was on the phone interviewing a cabin attendant as you boarded? I think the answer is obvious, so why do we run our yachts this way?
Following our last post and feedback, we take a deeper look at rotation. We believe the benefits for crew are well understood, so in this piece we focus mainly on how rotation can improve yacht ownership and whether the benefits outweigh any additional costs involved?
With traditional leave arrangements, crew normally take their accrued leave at the end of a contract if a seasonal job or, when a yachts program allows e.g. at the end of the season, during a refit or crossing, or the off-season lay-up period. This approach means crew may work for prolonged periods before a break and, planning for their leave and/or training required for career progression, is very difficult.
Although a yacht can be admired for its aesthetic beauty and technical excellence, ultimately it is the professional crew who are responsible for ensuring the yacht delivers on the dreams and aspirations of an owner. Employing and retaining the very best crew is, without doubt, fundamental to success. And, as the fleet grows and yachts get bigger, the competition for quality crew will only increase; to meet this challenge terms of employment will need to evolve and rotation will become an ever more important consideration for many.
So What is Rotation?
I think the simplest explanation is job-sharing, where, most commonly, two crew share the same job and alternate their time onboard and on leave. This is normally the situation with the most senior crew with work/leave ratios such as 2:2 or 3:3 and other crew on ratios such as 5:1 or 3.1.
Although there may be different variations/ratios, not all crew have to be on the same terms, the general principle is that the yacht is fully manned at all times and leave is properly scheduled – within accepted variances due to a yachts program.
With any job share, especially in positions of leadership and responsibility, one of the challenges is ensuring the two people sharing the job have mutual respect, similar ethics, behaviour and work standards. This dynamic is important as consistency is fundamental to the health of the team. Any major differences can lead to uncertainty and confusion amongst the crew and a breakdown in the team and performance – success, relies on identifying and employing the right crew.
Yacht Availability – Asset Optimisation
Large yachts are a significant investment, and one of the joys of yacht ownership is the freedom to use it without restriction. Therefore, outside of crossings or refit, any time a yacht is unavailable to a yacht owner or, for charter, would seem to be a poor return on the investment.
Even on one season yachts I have seen where the lack of crew has prevented an owner from using their yacht in winter, and there are some stunning days in the winter in the Med! This was frustrating for the owner and something that did not make sense given the investment involved, including the capital costs and operational expenditure.
Rotation ensures that it is the yacht owner who determines when to use the yacht and is not restricted due to crew leave, or quality diminished by use of temporary crew. Lack of crew due to leave commitments would no longer be a reason to curtail use or compromise on safe manning in port.
Temporary crew is an option for replacing crew on leave and keeping the yacht available to the owner, though this is not normally the most successful strategy as recruitment is often at short notice and choice may be limited.
Further, there is no guarantee they will perform, have the same professional standards, gel with the crew and/or yacht owner and family. The training and supervision they will require and, repeated every time a temp is used, is a drain on crew resources creating inefficiencies in the team’s performance and the yachts operation. This can have a negative impact on the quality of service, levels of safety, standards of maintenance and the yacht owner’s experience.
Employing temporary crew has repeating costs such as agency fees, salary, uniform and travel and these can be used to offset the additional cost of permanent crew required for rotation.
It is widely accepted that long periods onboard without a suitable break can lead to fatigue and burnout, especially on busy yachts, and the uncertainty in leave planning and difficulty in having a normal life off the yacht can affect the welfare and well-being of crew. All these are contributing factors to the high turnover of crew that is so often complained about in our industry.
The senior crew are even more exposed to these stresses due to the pressures of their roles. These are the mature/older more experienced crew that others look to for leadership, training and motivation – they are the foundation on which the long-term success of the yacht is built. Many will have reached a point their career and/or life where they may have a family or, in a relationship, and are interested in building a fulfilling life away from the yacht.
Junior crew tend to have different priorities, as alluded to in Part I, so whilst extended leave is not so important, a reasonable amount of leave and having the ability to plan for their time off is still a key influence.
Rotation also provides opportunities for advancement and helps remove another oft cited reason for leaving. For example, it may allow a chief officer to step up to rotational captain, or a 2nd stewardess to become rotational chief stewardess. It adds to motivation and further helps retain the skills and knowledge built-up through mentoring and their time served onboard.
Although yacht owners may be frustrated by the constant churn of crew, they may not fully appreciate the hard and soft costs involved. The hard costs include such things as recruitment fees, employment setup costs, uniform, training, etc. and easiest to explain. The soft costs, although harder to put a monetary value on, are also important considerations. Arguably, the biggest cost to crew turnover is the loss of knowledge which could be technical, operational or, even personal to the yacht owner and family. There is also the disruption to the team and operation, and the time and effort required to train and supervise new crew on their journey to becoming an integral part of the team. And, all of these could affect a yacht owners enjoyment; something you cannot put a value on!
It’s also difficult to appreciate the importance a yacht owner places on seeing familiar faces amongst the crew; it helps them relax, and gives them comfort in the knowledge that the crew understand their needs and will make their stay flow seamlessly. I have heard familiarity being used as a reason against rotation due to the additional crew, but this should not be a major concern as it doesn’t take long for those crew to be a familiar sight – they just won’t all be onboard at the same time!
Rotation does not completely eliminate crew turnover as there will always be influences outside the control of the yacht but, by incentivising crew through better leave and improved employment prospects, a yacht owner can remove some of the key reasons for leaving.
Yes, But Rotation Is Expensive!
This is often, understandingly, the refrain from yacht owners and rightly so, as the payroll can be between 25% – 40% of the operating budget, and it is frequently the captain who must explain how increasing these costs can be of benefit a yacht owner.
Within any proposal, the crew must also buy-in to the idea and understand that a trade-off may be required on their part. It would seem obvious to anyone that if you work less then you should be paid less? Unfortunately, crew do not always see it this way and some expect to work significantly less days whilst still earning the same money – this stance is often where the idea never even gets off the ground. That being said, there are examples of very generous salaries combined with rotation – there is no standard in yachting!
Once an owner recognises the benefits it is clearly easier to implement prior to employment of the crew, such as during a new-build or before purchase. Changing an operational yacht to a rotational structure is a little more challenging due to the uplift in costs, and any salary negotiations that may be required.
The examples below show how changing annual leave allowances affects the number of days worked per year.
90 days leave per year, plus one day off per week when onboard, effectively works 236 days per year. On 1:1 rotation they work 183 days per year (no day off per week). This is a reduction of 22%.
60 days leave per year, plus one day off per week when onboard, effectively works 261 days per year. On 1:1 rotation they work 183 days per year (no day off per week). This is a reduction of 30%.
38 days leave per year, plus one day off per week when onboard, effectively works 280 days per year. On 5:1 rotation, plus one day off per week when onboard, they work 261 days per year. This is a reduction of 7%.
An interesting point is that a full-time employee in the UK with statutory holiday, public holidays and weekends, effectively works 228 days per year.
The effective workdays is also the number used to calculate the daily pay rate. Using that figure you can see that to keep the rate the same would result in a salary reduction by the same percentage – as mentioned, this is something that crew may find difficult to accept, but may also make the salary uncompetitive.
As an exercise I developed a detailed spreadsheet that compares a ‘normal’ yacht with a crew complement of 19 onboard with average salaries, leave and travel costs, against the same yacht with a ‘rotation’ – the table below summarises the leave differences.
3:3 Ratio = 183 days
Chief Officer, 2nd Officer,
Purser, Chief Stewardess,
Head Chef, Sous Chef
3:3 Ratio = 183 days
5:1 ratio = 60 Days
3:3 Ratio = 183 days
3:3 Ratio = 183 days
TOTAL PAYROLL NUMBER
The junior crew are on a 5:1 rotation which, in general, may suit them better given their different priorities to the senior crew. There is still a good amount of time off to rest and recuperate and, importantly, an ability to plan their leave.
What this detailed examination highligthed is that rotation does not result in a doubling crew costs which, is often the assumption. In this particular case the increase in crew costs is between 8% – 24% depending whether salaries are adjusted for effective workdays, left at the original rates, or negotiated somewhere in-between.
It is clear that there are costs and benefits associated with rotation; although it is important to perform a detailed analysis of all the cost inputs, outputs and variances – this is a fundamental part of any justification. The benefits, apart from the financial savings that can be made through the reduction in temporary crew and crew turnover, are dependent on the value and importance ‘weighting factor’ that an yacht owner places on these, and whether, on balance, these outweigh the costs and add value to the quality of the ownership experience.
Finally, and worth considering; although rotation is not yet the norm, it is growing trend, especially for the larger yachts – although I have heard of its use on <500gt yachts as well – and more crew will be looking for this in the future – I think most yacht crew would agree that this is a positive change and demonstrates the industries progressive growth and evolving maturity.
As we have mentioned previously, OnlyCaptains are not offering prescriptive solutions, we simply present ideas and suggestions that may offer captains some useful ideas that they can use in their own command and act as a catalyst to further industry discussion – we hope you enjoyed this post and welcome any feedback.
Although commercial shipping has rotated crew for many years, it is a recent phenomenon in the superyacht industry. It started to become a reality on yachts first with engineers, and then on the larger yachts where manning regulations required officers with STCW qualifications.
When rotation first started is a little unclear; it was certainly in use in the late 70’s when I was with BP Shipping – though it only applied to deck and engineering officers. However, what was clear, that it was not born out of regulation, but driven by market forces and a recognition that to attract and keep the right people they had to offer a better work/life balance. Today, these very same reasons are relevant to yachting.
So, in our latest post, we are going to take a dive into rotation and, due to its importance to many captains, their families and yacht owners, we will break it down into two parts and focus on the whys, how’s and the impact this fundamental employment change has had on the yachting community.
This week in Part I, Brendan is writing of his own employment journey to supply some context, then next week in Part II, Malcolm will take a deeper look at the pros and cons and how you might present the idea to a yacht owner using a worked example.
I entered yachting when contracts and structured leave were rare to the point of not known. Leave was when it suited the yacht’s programme, often with little notice. Crew would scramble to make last minute arrangements when a window opened. With limited leave, weekends in port was our time to get away, explore and socialise, leaving the yacht to the care of a couple of watchkeepers. Regardless of age or relationship status, life revolved around the yacht and no alternate lives ashore were maintained.
This began to change for me in 2007 when I joined my first 100m+ yacht and realised there was no stopping a yacht of this scale. It needed crew every day to keep the show running and there were no more ‘weekends with a couple of watchkeepers’. I remember naively saying to the Heads of Departments we would shut the yacht down one weekend for everyone’s rest; they humoured me, said yes, but ignored the instruction and kept the yacht working the way it demanded.
Since that time, I have modelled many and various employment structures for yacht owners and their representatives. When I do these, I do not speak of rotation from a crew’s perspective, it is with consideration of the yacht owners needs and their investment. My point being that the yacht, the owner and guest experience should not suffer because of crew taking leave. I support this position with a crude calculation; add the finance cost of the yacht to the operating expenses and divide by 365 to gain the cost per day of the yacht’s existence. The number can be staggering and to think that you would intentionally stop the operation so the team can take days off does not show good value.
Further to this crude calculation, the owner is reminded that the beauty of yacht ownership is freedom and spontaneity. Rotation can allow that when a gap opens in their diary, they can escape to their yacht and enjoy the pleasure of being on the water with family and friends; something that is even more relevant today.
In one of the presentations the yacht owner agreed for senior crew without hesitation, saying, “but yes, they have families, and we want them to be focussed on us when they are here and not worried about when they can get home.” For junior crew there was a different perspective with the principal asking, “why do these crew want so much time away when they were young?” Weren’t these the years to earn money, travel and gain experience needed to progress?
Malcolm’s comment – the latter point I also heard from an owner. One 80m+ example lost several junior crew because of generous leave/rotation! The basic reasoning was it was expensive to spend so much time at home, all their friends were working so no one to hang out with, and it took far longer to gain the necessary sea time and experience to progress. Sometimes you cannot win!
Be careful what you wish for.
Since 2007 (outside of shipyard construction) I have been on equal time rotation. This is a Nirvana for many but, having defended the position to the owner that the yacht requires 365-day attendance from its captain and senior team to get rotation over the threshold, you are accountable to work accordingly.
So now, during a 2-3-month roster onboard, I tend to focus completely on the yacht and my days exploring the wonderful areas I sail through are a distant memory. Crew come and go in and procession of rotational changes and although bonds are still made perhaps, they are a little weaker? That said, when they return refreshed, the faces are familiar and they quickly adapt back to life onboard without missing a beat; ensuring operational readiness, a consistent service quality, better maintenance and safety.
It could be said that with better leave and rotation means the yacht is now the place we work; it is no longer the centre of our universe and the place where we also lived our lives!
Clearly this is a much healthier balance but, occasionally, I do look back on those time long ago in sepia, when spending 11-months of the year with the same tight crew created my most memorable experiences and learning opportunities. I am open in saying my memory is grander than the reality, it was unsustainable if I wanted any sort of normal life outside of yachting. I could not have raised a family without rotation and so today I am content with a few laps around the yacht at anchor or a quick morning run on the rare times in port. My days exploring are not lost, I now have the time and freedom to return to destinations in my own time and with my family, and that is incomparable.
Done right, better leave and rotation offer crew and yacht owners many benefits and, although there are added costs, carefully planned, they are not as high as might be imagined, and there are many advantages that cannot be measured purely in monetary terms that can add value to the yacht owning experience.
In Part II Malcolm’s deep dive is where you need to go to look to the tools that you might need when structuring your own rotational plans to a yacht owner, their representative or yacht manager. The strength of your case will depend not only of the financial model, but also the quality of your reasoning and supporting facts. Without a compelling case, the yacht owner or their representatives might be thinking “living the dream, sailing the seas, working half a year and still complaining?”