Methanol A Promising Solution?

There has been much talk about reducing CO2 emissions from superyachts and apart from incremental changes that may be possible through technology such as hybrid propulsion, batteries, digitalisation and efficient hull design, the uncomfortable truth is it will not be sufficient to reach the goal of zero-carbon yachting.

The only way to achieve that goal is to move from fossil fuels to alternative fuels or energy carriers that are suited to the operational profile of the vessel. In the shipping industry batteries and Hydrogen are seen as viable solutions for coastal vessels where refuelling can be done regularly but, other fuels such as Methanol and Ammonia (very challenging on storage and safety) are seen as more practical for ocean going vessels.

The main problem with Hydrogen and batteries is the volumetric energy density compared to fossil fuels – this can be seen in the diagram below.

This is certainly a consideration with superyachts where space is at a premium. Requiring more volume for fuel, ancillary equipment, and associated safety systems, will either compromise the interior, significantly reduce the range, or both.

Apart from bio-diesel such as 2nd generation Hydrotreated Vegetable Oils (HVO) the most promising fuel may be Methanol.

What is Methanol

Methanol (CH3OH) is one of the four basic chemicals used to produce all other chemical products such as formaldehyde, acetic acid, and plastics.

It is a colourless water-soluble and biodegradable liquid at atmospheric conditions with a mild alcoholic odour. Energy density is approx. 14MJ/l compared to diesel which is 34MJ/l. It boils at 64.6 C and has a Flashpoint of 11 so requires additional precautions for use, storage and handling but, these are well understood.

It burns cleanly with no particulates, does not contain sulphur and the combustion of Methanol emits a very small amount of NOx. Engines using Methanol can be Tier III compliant without exhaust gas after treatment.

Methanol is mainly produced from natural gas or coal and, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), annual production is around 98Mt and accounts for about 10% of the CO2 emissions from the chemical and petrochemical industries.

Green Methanol

With all alternative fuels it is important to understand the GHG emissions along the whole value chain, including production, storage, transportation, and final use. Methanol does emit CO2 when combusted and in the reforming process for Hydrogen but, importantly, it can be carbon-neutral depending on the energy and feedstocks used in the production of the fuel.

Production methods include: –

• Bio-Methanol from bio-mass such as agricultural waste, bio-gas, sewage, municipal solid waste and black liquor from the pulp and paper industry.

• E-Methanol from Green Hydrogen and, either CO2 from direct air capture (DAC), or carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Currently only about 0.2Mt of Green Methanol is produced. Studies suggest this is forecast to grow to 2Mt by the end of this decade. It is one of the easier fuels to scale as the technology is well understood and much of the infrastructure, such as storage and distribution, is already in place.

Availability

Like all alternative fuels this is a challenge, and much will depend on demand and the scaling up of production and bunkering infrastructure.

Shipping companies such as Stena and Maersk are already driving maritime demand, and the chemical industry will require Green Methanol to reduce their CO2 emissions. This increasing demand will provide the producers the confidence to invest in production and improving availability – it’s likely there will be more demand than supply in the early days.

In the meantime, Grey and Blue Methanol that use natural gas, carbon capture and renewable feedstocks, could be a suitable pathway until such time Green Methanol is more widely available.

According to the DNV Alternative Fuel Insight, Methanol is already available in 117 port terminals around the World, including Algeciras, Tarragona, Genoa, Livorno and Trieste. It can also easily transported by truck.

Maritime Fuel

A major benefit is Methanol, unlike Hydrogen and Ammonia, can be carried in structural tanks – the same as diesel. It does require additional barriers, double walled piping, ventilation, and inert gas, but there is wide experience in its transport and use. The IMO have produced guidelines for its use as a marine fuel under the IGF Code – Interim Guidelines For The Safety Of Ships Using Methyl/Ethyl Alcohol As Fuel (MSC.1/Circ.1621).

It can also be used in diesel engines and reformed to produce Hydrogen for Fuel Cells.

Diesel Engines

Diesel engines are a mature technology with some engines around 45% energy efficiency at optimum power. Overall efficiency can be further improved by using hybrid systems, waste heat recovery and power management to optimise engine performance and electricity generation. In addition, they are well suited to running on alternative liquid and gaseous fuels.

In a recent White Paper titled “The Future of Internal Combustion Engines” Rolls Royce maintain combustion engines will continue to play an important role but, with a steady transition away from fossil fuels to sustainable fuels. And, as well as new engines optimised to run such fuels, they also see the need to offer conversion kits for existing engines.

As an example the Stena Germanica, operating in an Emissions Control Area (ECA) between Germany and Sweden, was successfully converted in 2015 to burn Methanol in its engines.

AP Molller Maersk believe in the fuel for shipping and have signed a contract for 8 x 18,000 TEU container ships to be delivered in 2024 with engines running Green Methanol.

ScandiNAOS has produced a diesel engine with power outputs from 150 – 450kW that runs on Methanol for propulsion and genset applications. Approved by Lloyds and DNV.

Image: Courtesy of ScandiaNAOS

There is no doubt that in the coming years we will see most engine manufactures launch new engines to run on alternative fuels such as Methanol, as well as upgrade kits for their existing engines.

Fuel Cells

Most Fuel Cells require Hydrogen, and Methanol is a great source of Hydrogen.

Unfortunately, whether Hydrogen is stored as a liquid or a compressed gas, it has low volumetric energy density. You need about 7 – 10 times more volume than for the equivalent amount of diesel, whereas Methanol requires about 2.5 more volume.

Methanol can be reformed into Hydrogen onboard for use in the Fuel Cell. And, interestingly, there are reformers that use a blend of di-ionised water to achieve 30% – 40% more Hydrogen, compared to using pure Methanol.

This and the other characteristics of Methanol, make it an ideal fuel for Fuel Cells.

Superyachts

Lurssen have announced they are building a 100m+ yacht that will use reformed Methanol in a Hydrogen PEM-FC as part of the energy mix.

Feadship, with the ‘Pure’ concept, have engineered different solutions that will allow for a phased transition from Diesel – HVO – Methanol by including this pathway in the design and build. Partial or full conversion to Fuel Cells may also be a possibility.

Copyright “Feadship”

Though the above are large yachts, the Fastwater Project has recently shown how it can be used in a smaller vessel. They successfully converted a Swedish Pilot boat to run on Methanol.

Future Proof

The idea that electrification of superyachts via hybrid or diesel electric will ‘Future Proof’ a yacht misses a critical component, the fuel. Claims of this type need to be treated with caution.

It’s one thing to swap out a diesel engine for a Fuel Cell, but it’s a totally different matter to convert a yacht for a fuel that is higher risk and less energy dense. Apart from the high cost, it is unlikely to be practical without significantly compromising space and/or range.

Building a yacht ‘Methanol Ready’ by including the extra tank capacity, cofferdams, ventilation, piping and, later inert gas system, would be one way to ‘Future Proof’ a yacht. And, like ‘Pure’ It would allow the yacht to initially run on MGO or HVO and, in the future, covert the engines to run on Methanol and allow hybrid solution that includes Fuel Cells in the mix.

Conclusion

The evidence suggests that Methanol is a serious alternative to diesel fuel that would significantly reduce a yachts GHG emissions and improve overall air quality.

There are still some challenges to overcome such as the availability of Green Methanol, though Grey and Blue Methanol could help with the transition.

A limiting factor at present is the availability of engines and/or conversion kits. The indications are that we will see more these in the next few years, and with the power required by superyachts. And, although PEM-FC are relatively mature, combining reformers in a maritime setting in MW scale, is less so, and may restrict earlier adoption. However, a hybrid solution using Methanol engines and PEM-FC could certainly be a viable solution in the near term.

Methanol clearly has advantages over many of the alternative fuels. Given the available build slots and projected launch dates, a forward-thinking owner might be well advised to consider the use of Methanol in their next superyacht to not only protect the environment but also protect the future value of their investment.

By |2021-12-17T15:24:13+01:00December 17th, 2021|environment, Sustainability|

Plastic Pollution Below the Waterline

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests a large percentage of the microfibres in our oceans is the result of washing clothes in automatic machines. Many of those microfibres are from man-made fibres i.e. plastic. It is suggested that up to 30% of the micro plastic pollution in our oceans may come from this source.

One such study detailed in the report “Me, My Clothes and the Ocean” by Ocean Wise and sponsored by the Canadian Government, revealed a surprisingly large variance in the amount of microfibre textiles shed in a single wash; ranging from a loss of 9.6 mg to 1,240 mg, or an estimated 9,777 to 4,315,371 microfibres, per kg of textile washed. Factors include the type of machine, wash cycle, type of fabric, fabric finish and age. Amongst the worst products are fleeces made out of man-made fabrics.

Just think how many kg of clothing a yacht laundry handles on a daily basis!

Various countries are starting to take this plastic pollution seriously. Within our European waters France has already introduced a law (LOI n° 2020-105 du 10 février 2020) that will require manufactures to include microfibre filters in washing machines sold from 2025 and, in the UK, an all-party group of MP’s are trying to introduce similar legislation, and have produced their first report.

But what has this to do with superyachts?

Unless your yacht has an Advanced Wastewater Treatment System (AWTS) that processes black and grey water, laundry effluent – including the microfibres – is discharged straight into the sea, often at anchor or in port.

Even if an AWTS is installed, the microfibres will end up in the residual sludge that is eventually discharged in compliance with MARPOL at least 12nm offshore. It is not being prevented, just displaced by time and place and still finding its way into our oceans.

So, whilst the industry has been focused on reducing plastic onboard, we may have been ignoring what happens below the waterline. Along with other pathogens, contaminants, and organic matter – see my previous article “What Lies Beneath” grey water is perhaps having a more profound effect on the ocean and marine life than stopping the use of plastic straws or bottled water onboard, especially in the coastal waters where yachts congregate. After all, we play in that water and may also consume seafood that may have been harvested from inshore waters.

Until microfibre filters are installed as standard then the only real solution is to fit external filters to the waste discharge from washing machines.

In a 2020 Bloomberg article, PlanetCare who produce an external washing machine filter, mentioned their filter can fill up in about 20 laundry cycles, after which they are sent back to PlanetCare where the fibres are collected, repurposed and the filters recycled. That would be a day’s use in many superyacht laundries – though they have commercial solutions as well.

Superyachts will require a more practical solution with easy access for cleaning and procedures for storing and disposing of the waste.

With the right filter the superyacht industry has the opportunity to help protect the marine biota and improve sea water quality by removing microfibres before they enter the grey water tank or AWTS and preventing their discharge into the sea.

By |2021-12-17T14:40:36+01:00November 30th, 2021|environment, regulations, Sustainability|

What Lies Beneath

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.

Source Grey Water Definition
MARPOL 73/78 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.

RESOLUTION MEPC.219(63) 1.6 Definitions

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.

Water Source Characteristics
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.

Type Units Av. Concentration Untreated Domestic Water
Pathogens
E.Coli MPN/100mL 292,000
Enterococci MPN/100mL 8,920
Fecal Coliform MPN/100mL 2,950,000 10,000 – 100,000
Other Pollutants
Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD 5 day) mg/L 1,140 110 – 400
Chemical Oxygen Demand mg/L 1,890 250 – 1,000
Alkalinity mg/L 53.8
pH 66.9% between 6.0 and 9.0 Between 6.0 and 9.0
Sulfate mg/L 49.9
Totals Dissolved Solids (TDS) mg/L 578
Total Suspended Solids (TSS) mg/L 704 100 – 350
Turbidity NTU 224
Nutrients
Ammonia – Nitrogen mg-N/L 2.13 12 -50
Nitrate/Nitrite mg/L 0.0872 0
Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen mg/L 10.1 20 – 85
Total Phosphorous mg/L 10.1 4 -15

*MPN – most probable number

Pathogens

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.

Chlorine

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.

Oxygen Demand

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.

Dissolved Solids

Suspended solids can affect the clarity of the water and in turn adversely affect the photosynthetic activity of marine biome.

Micro Plastics

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.

Dilution

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.

By |2021-12-17T14:40:55+01:00June 11th, 2021|captains, environment, Operations, regulations, Sustainability|

I can sleep when I’m dead

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.

*1 World Maritime University (2020). A culture of adjustment, evaluating the implementation of the current maritime regulatory framework on rest and work hours (EVREST). World Maritime University. (Attributed authors: Baumler, R., De Klerk, Y., Manuel, M.E., and Carballo Piñeiro, L.)
By |2021-06-28T08:54:52+02:00May 3rd, 2021|captains, crew, leadership, Managment, regulations, Safety|

Future Proof

Is it possible to ‘future proof’ a superyacht?

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.

Specific energy volume and weight
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.

By |2021-06-14T09:36:42+02:00April 22nd, 2021|captains, environment, regulations, Safety, Sustainability|

Crew Rotation In the Superyacht Industry – Part I

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.

Brendan

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?

READ PART II….

By |2020-11-05T12:55:57+01:00October 22nd, 2020|captains, regulations, yachtowners|

COVD-19 Recommendations From the Healthy Sail Panel

It could be suggested there is too much information available on COVID-19 and the pandemic; including, an almost infinite number of articles and commentary on the internet, numerous Circulars and Guidance from the IMO and, publications from the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) such as Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Ship Operators for the Protection of the Health of Seafarers (version 3.0 29th September 2020).

This excess of information can be confusing and, also as suggested in Tom Nichols book “The Death of Expertise” result in a tendency to trust in the internet to make us ‘experts’ in all manner of subjects and, resist or even ignore, advice from those with a deep understanding and experience of the subject matter, including COVID-19 – this can lead to poor outcomes.

With the absence of a collective response from the industry, it has been left to individual yacht management companies and/or captains and crew to wade through the mass of information, try to assess its quality and efficacy, and then develop and implement their own protocols and procedures in response to the virus. And, whilst some of these are well thought out and effective, others on deeper analysis, are perhaps like the ‘Swiss Cheese’ risk assessment analogy, have holes for the virus to pass through.

Recommendations from the Healthy Sail Panel

So, it was a great relief to come across the “Recommendations from the Healthy Sail Panel.” This is the first document I have seen from a related industry with a well-researched and holistic approach to the prevention, protection and mitigation of COVID-19, in an easy to follow format.

The Healthy Sail Panel is a collaboration between Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd who put together a panel of World leading experts to help inform and find a new pathway back to the “new normal” of sailing. The resulting research and recommendations are broken down into 5 key focus areas, with over 70 recommendations, many of which are applicable to yachting.

The key focus areas are: –

  1. Testing, Screening and Exposure Reduction
  2. Sanitation and Ventilation
  3. Response, Contingency Planning and Execution
  4. Destination and Excursion Planning
  5. Mitigating Risks for Crew Members

It is well worth downloading and reading. I suggest you also follow up on some of the footnote references.

COVID testing is one of the subjects with references in the footnotes. Further reading clearly highlights the value of testing for screening and diagnosis but, like the use of electronic aids to navigation, you have to be aware of the limitations, errors and accuracy.

I was certainly confused by the various tests; Rapid Antigen, PCR, Antibody, etc., their effectiveness for screening, diagnosing present and past COVID infection. The US CDC footnote reference in the Healthy Sail Panel certainly helped my understanding, along with the infographic below – found on the Nature website in their article Fast coronavirus tests: what they can and can’t do.”

Courtesy: Nature Fast coronavirus tests: what they can and can’t do

It became clear that, amongst other factors, the timeline of infection has a big effect on the various tests and why caution is required – especially with the Rapid Antigen tests that may be used by yacht crew.

Indian Ocean and Caribbean Passage

As many yachts and crew are readying themselves for passages to the Caribbean, Indian Ocean or further afield, I thought it was also worth considering this in the context of COVID-19 and posing the following question: –

“Should you self-isolate the yacht and crew and test before departing?”

Clearly, the time taken in transit is likely a suitable quarantine period for destination arrival purposes. However, the reason I pose the question is that given that most yachts will be departing from countries/areas with high rates of infection, and crew will have been enjoying shore leave and their time in port, what happens if a crewmember is infected, but tests negative (if tested) and is asymptomatic prior to departure?

Once underway and symptoms present, not only would there be concerns of further infections amongst the crew, and medical treatment if severely affected, there would also be concerns about at the port of destination; would the port allow the yacht to berth and what are the reception and medical facilities for any infected crew?

The same goes for ‘crossing crew’ do you bring them in early and quarantine (onboard in single cabin) and test prior to departure?

Clearly, no captain wants to restrict well-earned shore leave but, then again, it is important to avoid any crewmember being infected and becoming a medical emergency and/or a vector for further transmission, especially on a long sea voyage, so it makes sense to try and prevent this outcome.

I’d be interested to know how yachts and management companies are dealing with this. Some considerations:

  • What methods are in use for mitigating the risk of infection prior to departure
  • Has the port authority of your arrival destination been contacted and what is their policy in the event of an infected crewmember on an arriving yacht
  • Do the hospitals have the facilities and capacity to handle a COVID-19 patient
  • Are there any additional medical supplies and PPE above ‘Medical Scales’ that may be recommended to carry

The above, departs slightly from the main reason for this post but, for those about to embark on a lengthy passage, it’s something worth thinking about?

As always at OnlyCaptains, or goal is to share knowledge and help inform. Hopefully, the Healthy Sail Panel offers some useful information on COVID-19 that may help with your own procedures. And, perhaps it might be used as a reference by industry associations such as MYBA, LYBRA, IYBA, in a collaborative effort to create our own yachting recommendations. These would not only be of value to captains, crew and yacht management, they would also help to instil confidence in owners and charterers through the knowledge that industry accredited measures were in place to protect them whilst onboard.

By |2021-06-14T09:38:08+02:00October 9th, 2020|captains, covid-19, environment, yachtowners|

Measuring Yacht Efficiency – How And Why It Matters

Last week, I attended the Yacht Cub de Monaco: Capital of Yachting Experience. It was a very well organised and attended event, with some very interesting presentations and discussions.

It was also the launch of the Yacht Club de Monaco Superyacht Eco Association (SEA) INDEX. Supported by Nobiskrug and Credit Suisse, this is an important initiative with a goal to benchmark yachts in terms of their CO2 environmental performance. And, whilst there are other emissions, CO2 is by far the largest greenhouse gas (GHG) of importance and the one most visible in the public eye.

The principle is that it uses the IMO’s Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) formula with a few changes to make it more specific to yachts.

The SEA INDEX is the first tool designed to assess and compare the efficiency of a yachts design and its environmental impact in terms of CO2, with a transparent and easy to understand rating system. Stars are awarded from 1 (lowest rating) to 5 (highest rating) depending on where a yacht sits above or below the rating bands relative to the baseline of sampled yachts.

SEA index graph

Image: Courtesy of the SEA INDEX

The data from approx. 130 yachts of various length and displacement was sampled and their data entered in order to develop the initial baseline – there are now over 200 yachts.

It uses max power and speed, which may seem excessive, but a metric was required and, if you consider this as the ‘maximum emissions potential’ of a yacht, by using the same set of data points for all yachts, it provides a ‘standard’ for comparing their designs. For example, on comparable sized yachts, a more efficient hull will require less power for the same speed, and more efficient HVAC and hotel systems power management, will require smaller generators, both of which will result in reduced emissions and a higher INDEX rating.

And, as new designs and engineering innovations are introduced into yachting, the SEA INDEX will help highlight the improvements being made.

Of course, actual emissions depend on many variables that are affected by an owner and the operational profile of a yacht – these are hard to assess in any consistent or meaningful way. If we had recorded all yacht activity and consumption over the last 10 or 20 years, we would be able to draw a curve of standard deviation and have an idea of what might be described as ‘average use’ on which to make comparisons. Unfortunately, we don’t have this information, and this is perhaps the flaw in all such tools, so the only true account of a yachts CO2 emissions has to be calculated from their fuel consumed.

The factor the IMO use for CO2 emissions from MGO is 3.206, this means for every 1,000t of MGO used, 3,206t of CO2 is generated so it is easy to calculate your CO2 from fuel.

Any design efficiency gains, and improvements that can be made in the operation of the yacht, such as running at lower speed, managing power, switching off unused lighting and equipment, etc., will reduce the power required, fuel consumed and emissions.

In combination with efficiency gains, Carbon offsetting is one way to mitigate a yachts emission. Though, as I have written in a previous piece Superyacht Carbon Offsetting great care is required to select one that is fit for purpose.

But, it’s not just the amount of CO2 that is an important consideration. Looking to the future, it is very likely that shipping, like other industries, will be impacted by Market Based Mechanism’s (MBM) to drive forward the transition to a greener future, and these will have cost implications.

The IMO by 2023 will introduce their new framework for the reduction of GHG emissions from shipping and it could include a carbon tax. The EU in a recent plenary session of parliament, agreed that shipping should be included in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) possibly in 2021and include vessels less than 5000gt. Trafigura, one of the World’s largest ship charterers, published on 25th September “A proposal for an IMO-led global shipping industry decarbonisation programme” calling for a $100 – $200 tax per ton of CO2 on shipping as the only way of driving the necessary industry change.

As further evidence of the direction of travel for CO2 emissions for business, Swiss Re made this announcement on the 15th September 2020:

“Swiss Re steps up its internal carbon levy to USD 100 per tonne as of 2021 and will gradually increase it to USD 200 per tonne by 2030”

Any such taxes or levies imposed on CO2 emissions will increase the cost of yacht ownership.

On top of that we have Environmental Governance and Sustainability (EGS) targets that are becoming ever more prevalent, especially in investment and finance. The Poseidon Principles is just one initiative, launched the 18th June 2019, “major shipping banks will for the first time integrate climate considerations into lending decisions to incentivize maritime shipping’s decarbonization” their goal is to work towards the IMO 2030 and 2050 reductions in GHG by ensuring that their loan books are aligned with those targets – finance will become harder for vessels that fail to meet efficiency improvements and GHG reductions.

Could similar lending rules apply to yachts in the future, how would that affect the value of older less efficient yachts?

Whilst it is not yet clear how taxes and regulations will be imposed in the future, what is clear, is that yachting is unlikely to escape their embrace. And our intimate connection to the sea and the environment places additional responsibility on the industry to protect the health of our oceans and planet. The SEA INDEX is the first of many important tools, including those from the Water Revolution Foundation, that will help us to understand our environmental footprint and drive the necessary change that puts us on a pathway to a sustainable superyacht industry.

Like any instrument that is reliant on data; the more yachts that participate, the more refined and accurate the SEA INDEX will become – I would call upon all Captains to get involved.

More information, including the Free calculator, can be found here https://superyachtecoindex.com/

By |2021-06-14T09:38:51+02:00September 29th, 2020|captains, environment, regulations, yachtowners|

Yacht and Commercial Qualifications and the Path to Yachts >3000gt

With the superyacht fleet >3000gt still growing, I thought it worthwhile to look at the difference between Yacht and Commercial qualifications, the various pathways to an Unlimited CoC and, some considerations to factor into your choice of pathway.

A Little Background

We know that education, training and experience are vital to ensuring safety on yachts and ships, and although there is the Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) Convention that regulates minimum standards, it was introduced for commercial ships and those destined for a merchant navy career.

In recognition of the requirements of the yachting industry, in 2002 the MCA and, their contributing partners, introduced MGN 195(M) the first yacht specific standards of training and certification as allowed under Article IX of STCW.

Prior to this, commercial STCW qualifications or RYA qualifications for recreational boaters were the only qualifications available to professional yacht crew. Given yachting’s trajectory, it made absolute sense to combine elements of both to develop a qualification that was relevant and attainable. There is no doubt that the Large Yacht Code has significantly improved the standards of safety and professionalism within our industry.

Though there have been amendments, and we are now at MSN1858 (M+F), there are perhaps questions whether it has adapted sufficiently to the changes and challenges we have seen within our industry and, of course, why there is still a barrier that prevents Yacht captains serving on Yachts >3000gt? To answer this and other questions we need to explore the options available.

For unlimited tonnage qualifications under MSN1856 (M+F) there are several different pathways. If we look at the MCA Higher National Certificate/Diploma (HNC/HND) route for experienced mariners the one experienced yacht crew would be more inclined to choose – there are significant differences in the educational and sea service requirements. For example, the classroom time requires an extra 53 weeks compared to Yacht qualifications.

Another difference is bridge watchkeeping. No verifiable bridge watchkeeping duties or, experience, is required for a Yacht OOW/Chief Mate <3000gt, only 4 months for Master 500gt and, 8 months for a Master Yacht <3000gt and Marshall Islands (MI) Master (Yachts) Unlimited – this is in stark contrast to the minimum of 30 months required for a STCW Master Unlimited under MSN1856 (M+F).

Perhaps these are the reasons why it has proved so difficult for the MCA to provide a suitable transition – how do they reconcile the differences and still comply with STCW? Perhaps an Endorsement, like there are for special vessels like tankers, could be a way forward; though, it should be pointed out these Endorsements are on top of STCW qualifications.

The Marshall Islands recognised an opportunity to provide a pathway to unlimited tonnage yachts for experienced captains and introduced their own qualification. This allows experienced captains, through additional modules and an assessment by MI examiners, to obtain an Unlimited CoC restricted to Yachts.

Below is a summary of the main differences.

MCA Master Yachts <3000gt

  • 21 weeks education and short courses
  • Minimum 60 months sea service – including 8 months of bridge wathckeeping
  • Cost approx. €25,000

MI Master (Yachts) Unlimited – including MCA Master Yachts <3000gt

  • 31 weeks of education and short courses,
  • Minimum 72 months sea-service – including, 8 months of bridge watchkeeping, and 12 months served as a Master on a yacht >500GT
  • Cost approx. €40,000

MCA Master Unlimited – following the HNC/HND experienced seafarer route

  • 61 (college) + 13 (home study) a total of 74 weeks of education and short courses
  • Minimum 60 months sea-service, including 24 – 36 months of bridge watchkeeping, and 6 months watch keeping duties prior to OOW
  • Cost approx. €25,000

Of course, there will be additional expense for a MCA Master Unlimited due the course duration, loss of earnings and subsistence costs.

From Yacht to Unlimited

There is the MI Master (Yachts) Unlimited and, although a practical option for those with Yacht qualifications to upgrade, there are some considerations. So far, the Cayman Islands are the only Administration to have recognised this CoC, the fleet of Yachts >3000gt is small, and the Yacht restriction, further reduces its value compared to an Unlimited commercial CoC.

Unfortunately, the MCA don’t make it easy. A Yacht captain, irrespective of experience, still must start at the beginning with an Unlimited OOW, followed by Chief Mate Unlimited before Master Unlimited. Due to time/cost considerations, this only makes sense for those who make the decision to follow the commercial pathway early in their career or, already have an STCW OOW or Chief Mate Unlimited, and wish to upgrade.

There are other Administrations, such as AMSA in my example below, who also have their own pathways. But these are generally based on STCW.

Interestingly, there is a growing number of deck crew, especially those working on the larger yachts, who are choosing the commercial route, it certainly provides them with better career opportunities, including commercial shipping, harbour Pilotage, ferries, as well as shore-based employment with a Class Society, Flag Administration or insurance company.

Whatever pathway you choose to Master Unlimited, there will be a cost and no guarantee of the returns. You might have to accept work as a 2nd officer or chief officer to gain the relevant large yacht experience. And, the reality is that, as mentioned, the Yacht >3000gt fleet is small so opportunities are limited, and you will be competing against commercial officers and captains who have now made yachting their home.

My Own Journey

Late in my career I embarked on my own journey to Master Unlimited. I had earned my OOW Unlimited working for BP Shipping before yachting and with that and my sea service on yachts (all Private) I was accepted into the Chief Mate Unlimited/Master Unlimited pathway with AMSA, the Australian Maritime Safety Agency.

The process involved attending college full-time for almost 10 months in Fremantle, Australia, for my Chief Mate Unlimited. This was an experience, as I was, let me say, a more mature student, and my classmates were all about 20 years younger, with relevant commercial experience; I was that ‘white boat captain’ a bit of a novelty! I was certainly self-conscious of that from the outset. However, what became clear was that, as seafarers, ultimately, we face the same maritime challenges, and whether a ‘white boat’, box boat, tanker, or anchor handler, there was much similarity and we all benefited from the different experiences we brought to the classroom.

On obtaining my Chief Mate Unlimited I then returned to sea to earn another 12 months of sea service necessary to sit my Master Unlimited orals exam. This was not easy as AMSA required sea service on vessels over 3000gt for Master Unlimited (they were supposed to reduce this to 500gt but Australian politics intervened). Fortunately, my industry connections came to the rescue and I found myself as Chief Officer on Katara then Eclipse where I obtained the bulk of the sea service required. I then returned to Fremantle for a months prep before successfully passing the oral exam and becoming Master Unlimited.

So, starting with an OOW Unlimited to becoming a Master Unlimited, took nearly 3 years and I had already worked for nearly 20 years as a yacht captain. And, the the cost of taking a significant amount of time off, leaving a good job with loss of earnings, living expenses, college fees, etc., all mounted up.

Summing Up

So how was my own return on investment?

If I’m brutally honest, the financial rewards have not been great. However, for me, the sense of achievement, professional pride, my greater knowledge and understanding, and the experiences gained from my time served on Yachts >3000gt, have been a far more important measure of success than the monetary cost.

For those starting their career, it is worth considering the MCA or, equivalent, Commercial qualification pathway. This will provide you with the greatest flexibility and broader range of opportunities in the future. And not just at sea, there are many related industries who value a Master Unlimited qualification.

Unfortunately, until the MCA change their qualification standards and pathways, the choice is limited for experienced yacht officers/captains who want to serve on Yachts >3000g. The options are, the MI Master Yachts (Unlimited) or, the MCA Unlimited or, other Administrations, Commercial pathways.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that there are some amazing yacht Owners and yachts below 3000gt and that bigger, is not always betterthey come with challenges and differences that may not suit. Think carefully about the time and cost involved and your career goals. And, find time to speak to those who have already trodden the path

By |2021-06-14T09:40:10+02:00August 27th, 2020|captains, qualifications|

The Captain And Yacht Owner Relationship

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?

You cannot!

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.

By |2021-06-14T09:41:02+02:00August 20th, 2020|captains, leadership, mentoring, yachtowners|
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