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?
It is often overlooked, but the most important relationship for a successful yachting experience is that between the Captain and the Yacht Owner, or Principal Charterer. Long past the heady days when deals are signed and photos are taken with designers, brokers and shipyard owners cutting ribbons, the Captain and the Crew are tasked with delivering on the promise.
I was recently asked a question during an interview, “As a Superyacht Captain, how do you manage the expectations of an Owner?”
On the face of it, a simple question but the answer is rather more complex. Let’s think of a sample 100 metre yacht; the cost may exceed €200M and the yacht owner has waited 5 years – 2 years of development with designers and brokers, and 3 years in construction. So when their dream is finally delivered and their anticipation is heightened, how does a Superyacht Captain manage their expectations?
There is no way to perfectly match the expectations an Owner has built up over the years as he waits patiently for delivery day. To take it further; how should the Captain deliver bad news to this Yacht Owner? News that may reflect that the yacht does not function in the manner presented during the design, sales, purchase cycle. Or on charter, the promotional photo that shows all watersports in use, seemingly on demand, is a guest expectation that cannot be delivered; with the Captain trying to respect the legal obligation for hours of work and rest.
The honeymoon is now over and there is a risk of a breakdown in the Owner / Captain relationship, there is nobody else in the room. The photo of the ribbon cutting may be sitting in a frame or the charter brochure open on the web browser, but the actors belong to a time long-forgotten, all shortcomings are directed to the Captain.
This is a scene in which I have had a walk on role many times; as have most Captains. Standing before an unhappy Yacht Owner for an operational shortcoming that was built into the yacht with no way to address, is a humbling experience. And, as awkward as an operational ‘moment of truth’ can be, it is preferable to the personal rebuke that can’t be blamed on a technical or manning deficiency.
The Owner / Captain relationship has a sense of intimacy. The Yacht Owner spends significant time on the yacht, and the Captain is brought into their World. Many new Captains are swept up in the intoxication of being within this inner sanctum, wiser Captains maintain some separation knowing that such personal intimacy is fragile and can easily fracture – often without warning.
I recall from my own career, a time when I would greet the Principal on every arrival and departure from the yacht. This was and remains an accepted practice; one learnt from observing my former Captains, and absorbed automatically into my own Captaincy. It was some years into my time with a Yacht Owner when, during a particularly challenging conversation, he said, “and why do you meet me every time I move? Can’t I have some privacy?” It seemed such a small point but, over time, it had catalysed into a real annoyance for this exceptional Yacht Owner.
It should not have escalated to this level, but a Yacht Owner is not normally driven to address the issues of their day to their staff unless it is of a serious nature. Too often, a Yacht Captain’s success is measured only by the departing comment of the yacht owner who says, “Thank you, we had a great time.” This may be authentic or, likely the yacht owner is not ready to invest the time to deconstruct the trip at that point. Not unlike the automatic response when the ever-friendly waiter asks, “did you enjoy your meal?” The question is more rhetorical than a real enquiry of the dining experience.
I was only awakened to this cold reality when an Owner’s Representative confronted me with a concern of the Yacht Owner. I held my position that the Yacht Owner expressed gratitude and pleasure with the last visit. The Representative quickly cut me down and made clear what is said onboard is very different to the detailed debrief he received in the office some days later. It was a growth and career inflection point for me; I would no longer take for granted any Owner’s praise or make assumptions based on yachting’s normal practices.
I did not enjoy being admonished by the Owner’s Representative, but he caught what could have been a fatal rupture in an otherwise successful relationship. From that time on, we worked together to ensure the good health of the Owner / Captain relationship. I would no longer take for granted the warm smile on departure and would readily seek the ‘truth’ from my colleague in the Family Office.
OnlyCaptains seeks to support Captains and Yacht Owners through their model of Search, Select, Place and Mentor. We have lived the Owner / Captain relationship and realise it is the cornerstone of a successful yacht experience. We are the knowing advisor; able to listen, reflect and interpret the concerns of a Yacht Owner and use this insight to help coach the Captain to their success.
Co-founder of OnlyCaptains Brendan O’Shannassy talks of his own experience of mentorship and how this experience awakened the need for this service in yachting.
In my early yachting career I often felt the ‘imposter’ as I stepped onto the bridge ready to manoeuvre. As my experience increased this feeling reduced but there was still something missing. There is a good chance that, like many of my peers, I may have even managed a career without knowing what the ‘secret sauce’ to achieving true technical competence in shiphandling was. This same observation could be extended to decision making, counselling and the many daily challenges of yacht command – I had the ticket, but did I have the knowledge?
I had received great support by yacht captains through my career but there had been no structured mentoring and learning plan in place. And, often it seemed, that the issue of a Master’s CoC was viewed as the end game, and not the beginning of the Captaincy journey.
Taking a break from yachting to train and work as a marine pilot, I entered a formal training / mentoring programme. New entry pilots are assigned a mentor, a more senior pilot that inducts, trains and supports them in their struggle to move from former captain and nervous shiphandler to competent pilot. A competent pilot who is expected to; step onboard any ship, at any hour, in any weather, take command and bring that ship safely to the port. Whilst my mentoring was focussed on ship handling, I found the learning extended far beyond the bridge; weaving the lessons into my wider Captaincy responsibilities also improved my performance, enjoyment and efficiency.
Returning to shiphandling, I finally understood the importance of defining and communicating the metrics of a manoeuvre. Everything fell into place. What speed? when and why? These need to be known at all times and this must be shared with all on the bridge. It is so important because at all times the entire bridge team must be able to assess every action of the manoeuvring Captain / Pilot against an earlier briefed and agreed plan. The Captain must then be able to communicate any deviation and why.
By communicating this it does not limit the Captain, it allows the Captain to vary the plan in response to the conditions and circumstances at the time. It also allows a challenge from other members of the bridge team if the deviation is not validated, – this is the philosophy of ‘challenge and response’ that is the bedrock of effective bridge teams.
During my first days of induction as a pilot I observed several senior pilots prior to being assigned my mentor. I was intrigued that the more experienced pilots exercised greater diligence with their pilotage briefings than those more junior. Their sketches of the ship’s planned manoeuvre into port were precise, their briefing books had photographs of landmarks relative to the pilotage and during execution they communicated to the entire bridge team what they were doing and why.
I had never seen this or, thought to do this myself, on yachts. Up to this point I would take control at some point on the approach and, whilst I would seek port information from the pilot, I really set my own approach speeds, headings and approach angles based on my best judgement at the time. Often I was monitoring my speed on the simple ‘ten-through-one’ method of checking speed reductions against the last ten cables. Although an effective approach, it is crude, not tailored to wind and tide, and a little too cautious with modern yachts. Through all the training and sea service to Yacht Captain, I had not learnt to communicate my intentions to the bridge team and I may as well have been there on my own – almost without saying, this extended to all leadership decisions.
After induction I was assigned a mentor pilot that was more than I could have hoped for. Ian had emigrated from the United Kingdom to Australia and with nineteen years as a Thames Pilot he had learnt from some of the best in the World and had experienced all the conditions that UK waters could offer – this made Ian a compelling mentor.
The North Queensland commercial port was a very different environment to my yachting experience. It had large tides, strong currents, steady wind and then strong gusts form the opposite direction. It was as unforgiving as I could imagine. The ships were also very different; replacing my delightfully over-powered and easy to manoeuvre yachts, were single screw bulk carriers that were also not as reliable as their Captains would have you believe.
All of this Ian took in his stride, in fact more than that, he actually expected everything to go wrong on every pilotage. He planned for it and whilst I would never be as bold as to call him out, I think he was at times disappointed when yet another of his ship moves went seamlessly. During one memorable departure of a fully loaded Cape Size (a Cape Size ship is 280 metres long, 52 metres wide and when loaded 18 metres deep) Ian turned to me and said, “see that?” I didn’t. My body language was enough to confirm this and asked I remind him after the departure.
Ian took the ship to the port limits safely, we both departed by helicopter and walking back from the helipad after the four-minute flight I asked him what I missed. He recalled that when he had asked the question, the bow of the ship was being pushed back by the water resistance as the ship ‘cut’ across the berth pocket.
This might need some explaining. The berth pocket was deeper than the departure channel and departing the berth needed the ship to move from 5.0m under keel clearance (UKC) to 0.9 metre (UKC). This required a wall of water 280m long and 18m high to be relocated through a very small gap – the water did not appreciate being forced through the gap and pushed against the ship.
In the departure we had shared, Ian had observed the ship being pushed back by this wall of water and the bow was moving 0.2 knots in the wrong direction, a speed almost imperceptible to the eye, however Ian was using both the pilot’s precise navigation unit and his highly-tuned sense from so many manoeuvres.
Ian increased the power on the ship astern to move the pivot point to his advantage and also the forward tug was increased to lifting off (pulling) at three quarter power to recover the bow. The entire event was observed, acted upon and rectified within two minutes. Ian’s point was, if it had not have been acted upon at that point it would have been very dangerous, and with a smirk he asked, “Do you know the fastest thing in the World?” I returned the smile and let the story play out…
“Brendan, the fastest thing in the World is a fully laden Cape Size bulk carrier moving half a knot in the wrong direction!”
It was a great lesson and, as the months progressed, and I moved from observer to the pilot executing the pilotage, the lessons still flowed. I never accepted anything Ian shared without chasing him with follow-up questions. He warmed to this and my shiphandling education accelerated at a rate where I began to surprise myself with my ability to anticipate and react to seemingly unlinked events. When I was a solo pilot and there was a complex move I would speak with Ian before boarding the ship to communicate my plan and build my confidence. My first call on completion would be to Ian to debrief; he was so good, he could picture the move from the call.
Ian had given me tools to use and these were centred around two aspects; the plan and the team available as a resource.
The planning began well before arriving to the ship. We would do the simple things of checking the radio battery was fully charged but, went further, and put a spare battery in our pockets ‘just in case’. The portable pilotage unit never failed, but nevertheless we turned it on and calibrated it ashore, every time. We would visit the control tower to look at their weather information; sure, we could look to reliable weather forecasting from our mobile phones but the control tower had real data from wind sensors on the docks and we could also look to an array of cameras that would also show detail as small as the wavelets on the water. The actual ship movement plan included; speed reference points, headings, abort points and of course final docking plan. This did not vary from the training I had received and, had perhaps previously belittled; it was just my mentor pilot had sewn it all together.
Ian had coached me to communicate each of these references in real time during the pilotage and the manoeuvring. If at 5 cables to the berth the plan was to be at 5 knots and the ship was at 6 knots, I would now say “the ship is above our agreed plan and I am comfortable with this but will reduce speed and report again as we pass 4 knots.” This narrative continued across all aspects of the plan and the ship’s Captain and Bridge team. Ian had trained me to make sure the dialogue was both ways, as the crew’s opinions were sought to the point of being demanded. It changed everything. I was no longer ‘alone’ on the bridge, everyone was working with me, as Ian commented:
“You have multiplied your safety by the number of people now engaged”.
Transferring this to yachts, it is possible to gain benefit from any crew member, even when numbers are thin. The discipline of verbalising ship movements to anyone creates confidence and accountability – If you can’t communicate what you are doing, are you really in charge?
I was appointed a great mentor with a structured training plan, but this might not always be the case. I knew that moving forward if there was no, assigned mentor, I would identify the person I wanted to learn from, approach them and let them know I wanted to learn, an important factor as the mentee’s desire and commitment to learn is as crucial as the mentor’s role in supporting their development.
I find many of these great ship handling lessons can also be applied to life; Ian, taught me to:-
test and verify equipment (or ideas),
develop a plan,
communicate the plan,
amend the plan in sympathy to the changing conditions, and
engage others to support and challenge the plan.
The same sense of ‘going it alone’ that I felt on the bridge before Ian’s tutelage may well have spoken to my previous leadership endeavours as a Yacht Captain. My ability to communicate and embrace the support of a team to safely bring a large ship into port gave me a new framework with which to lead a team on returning to Europe where a new Yacht Command beckoned. I would not say it was a silver bullet to success, but it certainly helped – and I still have not stopped learning.
Back on the yacht I missed my mentor and sought to replace this support and extend it to all aspects of my command. Unfortunately, there was no knowledgeable Captain to air my professional challenges in confidence and, although I worked well with management, none had held seagoing command, so they could not provide effective counsel.
Often, Captains, are just expected to ‘get on and do the job’ we have the ‘ticket’ after all, shouldn’t that be enough? However, the reality is that whatever the perceived experience level, we cannot know everything and, it is a dangerous Captain who thinks he does. We are learning all the time and regularly encounter situations never faced before, where the decision making could benefit from confidential counsel with someone who has ‘lived’ experience and can add value to the decision making process and personal development.
OnlyCaptains commitment to our mentoring role was created in response to my experience and that of my fellow Captains who, when I spoke of my journey, asked ‘”how do we access a mentor?” We provide an answer by making sure command is not a solo affair by providing our Captains with support and mentoring that can help them grow and develop their skills as Captains and leaders.