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.
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: –
Testing, Screening and Exposure Reduction
Sanitation and Ventilation
Response, Contingency Planning and Execution
Destination and Excursion Planning
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.”
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.
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.
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.
I stepped ashore in March to take break from Yacht Captaincy; to get to know my family again after two years of more time afloat than ashoreand, a home–time punctuated with boat business. Something I am sure is familiar to so many Captains. Seven-months later it is a different World than that last tender ride ashore in the Pacific.
With 2020 travel restrictions forcing a greater slowing down than planned, I sought to use this time as a period for growth, allowing me to work on aspects of my Captaincy where I felt I could improve. Listening was one.
I had been a Captain for so long that it had damaged my conversation. I was good at quickly absorbing information and finding solutions. This served me well in the fast flow of daily yacht operations but let me down on supporting others and working on solutions to longer term problems. I realised that within the gunwales, it felt easier for me to speak, and others to follow, rather than to take the time tolisten to what a crewmember was trying to say or contribute. Even though this limited the solutions available.
To address this, I searched for information on better listening. It is a topic fraught with poor information though within the coal heaps of the internet there were some diamonds. These are summarised in this OnlyCaptains knowledge piece.
“We assume a winning negotiation strategy is about talking, when in fact it is about listening.”
William Ury (founder Harvard Negotiation Project)
Having discovered William Ury’s TED talk it then led me to Sheila Heen. Heen is a senior lecturer on Law at theHarvard Law School and member of the Harvard Negotiation Project, she is renowned for her work on communications and negotiations. Specifically, difficult conversations. A topic that seemed to match about 80% of my Captaincy. I listened to her being interviewed before further researching her work. She is an engaging speaker and,whilst all her points were of interest, there were a couple of phrases that woke my attention:
“[We use] Listening as a strategy of last resort, we really just seek to give our opinion.”
“I will pretend I am listening whilst I am trying to figure out what I am going to say.”
Ouch! These seemed personal to me and, for the slightest moment, I thought Professor Heen was speaking directly to me. Her talk identified a couple of my known weaknesses and prompted me to dive deeper.
Following more dead ends I chanced upon Jenifer Garvey Berger who echoed Professor Heen’s words, but then defined and framed them further. Garvey Berger spoke of levels of listening that we all unknowingly move through. The first I recognised, the second I understood, and the third was new to me.
Without trying to duplicate the tone and eloquence of Heen or Garvey Berger, the levels in order of their prevalence were;listening to compete, listening to solve and listening to learn.
Listening to Compete / Win
An example of this can be found when captains and creware exchanging stories in a social situation; with each competingto beat the other with aneven more outlandish and unbelievabletale of life onboard. It’s one–up–man–shipand, mostly there is no harm in it, but there is little value either. Engage in this for the fun but be cautious of ever thinking this is a true or ‘self-defining’ conversation.
The darker side to listening to compete is moving the conversation to your preferred outcome, to win the conversation. Rank being the lever rather than the merits of your solution. Unlike the almost comical competition aspect, listening to Win is very negative when, “[you are] no longer talking with someone, you are talking at them”. I use this phrase as I was correctly accused of this by a former second officer (now excellent Captain). It sat me back with self-awareness and I sought to avoid this toxic conversational style.
Listening to Solve:
Using the blunt feedback and some maturity my ‘winning’ conversations reduced, but they seemed to be overtaken by me seeking to hear just enough to solve the speaker’s problem and move on. I like being recognised as a problem solver and would be in such a rush to provide the solution that I often missed thesignalsexpressedby the other party. With onlya superficial grasp of the situation I sought to act.A bit like walking into a garage where the attendant did not listen to what the problem was and replaced the wing mirror when it was the suspension that was broken.
Identifying and reducing Compete/Winapproach was not too hard.Avoiding the Solve approach was much harder, many times the crew member has come to the Captain seeking a fix and you feel it is your role to deliver this, and in simple cases this is often correct, but our haste to resolve sometimes we can make things worse.
When a conversation was more strategic and there was not a binary solution, I tried to see past the problem itself and, by actively listening, probe for the root cause of the situation. If I could unlock this, I was then able to help them find asolution themselves. What I learnt was that it was often not a lack of knowledge that prevented the crew memberfrom finding a solution themselves, but a lack of confidence in themselves or, more often, a lack of confidence that I would support their solution if it was not 100% aligned with my own.
Listening to Learn:
This conversation nirvana remains a work in progress for me. It is tiring and takes some re-wiring of learned and (mostly) successful behaviours. When a crew member seeks a conversation where there is no linear problemsolution path, is when Listening to Learn is so valuable.
As an antithesis to ‘Listening to Win’ where you gather information to be used to your benefit, ‘Listening to Learn’ is a deeper conversation where you must slow down and use the information to understand the other person’s perspective. This requires active listening, including taking cues from their tone of voice, eye contact, body language, etc.The hardest thing with this is to supress my own Win/Solve habit before they have chance to fully express themselves. In the times I have been able to listen more than talk, and draw more from the other person, I immediately see I have far more information and better appreciation of a situation. It was clear, that in certain situations, this shift in approachprovided much better outcomes.
Before the research gave a framework I had already implemented tools to help me. I knew I had a problem but did not know the structure for the solution, luckily the tools remain valid. They are simple and worth sharing:
In my notebook, which was always with me during conversations, I would write, ‘listen, reflect, repeat before response’ on the top left of the page – I wrote it a lot before I started to learn the behaviour and did not need to reinforce through writing.
The next was a series of questions that I still have on a page in front of my notebook that I can flip to without disruption to the conversation, they can be inserted to most topics and deliver great outcomes. These are a few examples; I am sure you can get the drift:
“what was that like?”
“how did that feel?”
“can you expand to help me understand a little better?”
“what other items are left to discuss?”
“what are the next steps?”
My last tool was taught to me by a talented Executive Assistant to a Yacht Owner. As we finished each conversation he would, by default, conclude with “is there any more I can do for you?” and “Are there any barriers left that I could help with?” It was so pronounced that I asked him about it. He said it was the way his former boss (a US member of Congress) finished every conversation. He found it so successful that he embraced it as well. I may not be quite so robotic with my own adoption, but I do think it is empowering.
So listening is a key component of better conversations and communication – knowing when to speak and, when and how to listen, is the challenge. I have found in my own journey that I as I strive to change, I am working against learned behaviours and regularly need to turn to my notes, references and mentors in order to improve. Maybe your conversational performance is way ahead of my own but, maybe there is room for little more improvement?
Being a yacht Captain is an amazing experience and a never-ending journey. OnlyCaptains seeks to join the Yacht Captain Community together to learn from collective experiences. Our articles are not meant to lecture or presume to have all the answers; their purpose is to help ignite debate, and to share knowledge, ideas and experience that others may find of value on their own journey through Captaincy.
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.
Inrecognition of the requirements of the yachting industry, in2002 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 qualificationsor 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 hasadapted sufficiently to the changes and challenges we have seen within our industry and, of course,why there is still abarrier that prevents Yacht captains serving on Yachts >3000gt?To answer this and other questions we need to explore the options available.
For unlimitedtonnage 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 differencesin 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 500gtand, 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 thedifferences 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 tonnageyachts 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 MasterUnlimited. Due to time/cost considerations, thisonlymakes 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-basedemploymentwith a Class Society, FlagAdministration 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 andmy 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 attendingcollege 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 samemaritime 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 Officeron Katara thenEclipse 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, thethe cost of taking a significant amount of time off, leaving a good jobwith loss of earnings, living expenses, college fees, etc., all mounted 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 beena farmore importantmeasure of success than the monetary cost.
For those starting their career, it is worth considering the MCA or, equivalent, Commercialqualificationpathway. 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. Theoptions are, the MIMaster Yachts (Unlimited) or, the MCA Unlimitedor, 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 better – they 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…
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.
When I was asked to write a piece on Minimum Safe Manning (MSM) and how it affects yacht operations for the Superyacht Report, I knew that, although an important factor, it was only one of a number of considerations used to determine the crew complement. However, what was also clear, is that many yachts do not have sufficient crew to meet the expectations and demands of their owners and guests. A point that was recently expressed in article from the International Superyacht Society (ISS) Captains Committee, where they raised concerns about fatigue and its dangers, and asked:
Why is it that manning levels that were appropriate years ago are still accepted as the norm today?
From my own experience I can empathise with this.
Some time ago I took command of a yacht owned by a lovely family with a large family residence serviced by what seemed like an inexhaustible number of staff. For them, they were used to having the most attentive service 24 hours a day and had the same expectation for the yacht. They built a beautiful yacht that could carry up to 22 passengers which, she often did, but unfortunately was manned with the same number of crew as an equivalent 12 passenger yacht. As might be expected, it created significant challenges!
Following that experience, I also had the opportunity to review three new build PYC yachts and their manning. My observation on all of them, was that there was insufficient crew, partly because PYC compared to LY3 required additional MSM numbers, which impacted on the hotel side, but also due to the number of guests carried and services expected. After delivery, two ended up building more crew cabins – imagine the expense – and one downgraded to LY3 because they could not meet the MSM requirements without negatively impacting on the interior service. Clearly, if it was so obvious to an experienced mariner, why was it not obvious to the broker, designers and the shipyard?
The suitable manning of yachts is not restricted to large yachts either; there has been numerous discussions and articles written about crew on various sizes of yacht having to be ‘creative’ with their hours of work and rest in order meet owner/guest demands and remain compliant.
I suspect that many readers who have worked on busy yachts will have all had the same experience, where the team spirit, professionalism and commitment of the officers and crew to deliver the very best experience, overrides concerns about fatigue and the effect on performance, welfare, mental health, safety and crew retention.
So how are manning levels determined and, how can they be better understood?
Along with the MSM (more of which below) there are other factors that normally determines the size and makeup of crew:
Finance is an important consideration as crew expenses are amongst the highest operational costs so obviously it makes sense to optimise manning
Manning levels on similar sized yachts are used as a comparable standard, especially applicable to production yachts
Given the high value of the yachts ‘real-estate’ owners, understandably, will want to maximise owner/guest accommodation – the luxury spaces
Technical, service, access and operational spaces also require a large volume
Additionally, some in the industry may be keen to gloss over crew numbers to help with a sale, they may fail to manage the owners expectations or, just do not possess the operational experience to understand the numbers needed for a particular owner and yachts operation.
Once the above factors are considered and the various spaces assigned, the crew accommodation is designed following the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) guidelines and the number of cabins/berths can be defined. Interestingly, MLC may actually be having some unintended consequences; as one respondent – maybe controversially? – in the ISS article suggested:
What we need is more berths not more space!
Minimum Safe Manning
A commercial yacht will require a Flag state approved MSM – many private yachts, as with other regulations, may also choose to comply on a voluntary basis.
An owner/operator will make an MSM application based on Flag guidance and the IMO Principles of Safe Manning Resolution A.1047(27). Once approved, an Administration will issue an MSM certificate, however, this is only the minimum number of crew (those requiring STCW or equivalent qualifications). This is the captain, deck/engineering officers and ratings and, cook, depending on crew numbers and Flag requirements, necessary to safely operate a yacht when it proceeds to sea:
The ship named in this document is considered to be safely manned if, when it proceeds to sea, it carries no less than the numbers grades/capacities of personnel specified in the table
This does not include the hotel team; service, housekeeping, laundry and galley, or the additional deckhands necessary to launch tenders, run the water sports, etc., or other specialists required these days – these are all additional to the MSM.
Of note is that the A.1047(27) changed from previous resolutions as follows:
A.890(21) and amendment A.955(23)
1.1.1 maintain safe navigational, engineering and radio watches in accordance with regulation VIII/2 of the 1978 STCW Convention, as amended, and also maintain general surveillance of the ship;
1.1 maintain safe navigational, port, engineering and radio watches in accordance with regulation VIII/2 of the 1978 STCW Convention, as amended, and also maintain general surveillance of the ship;
As you can see, safe manning in port was added but, so far, I have not seen any yacht specific guidelines on ‘port’ safe manning – commercial ships are normally involved in cargo operations so they tend to be more fully manned in port. In-port-manning can be a difficult issue for captains; it is often left to them to determine and they have to strike a fine balance between safely manning the yacht and providing crew valuable shore leave but, given number of incidents and fires in port, perhaps it should be better regulated? Running drills with reduced crew will help identify what is a safe number.
Often the Manning Scales provided by an Administration will be used as the standard. However, they allow some latitude on numbers based on the strength of the application and, operators can also take advantage of manning reductions allowed due to ‘distance from safe haven’ – which, for yachts, seems contrary to their operational demands?
Once the MSM has been agreed the rest of the crew can be determined – if the total number of berths is 15 and the MSM is 8, that leaves 7 berths for the rest of the team.
Three Hundred and Sixty Degree Approach
As can be expected expect this approach produces mixed results – a bit like the ‘off-the-shelf’ budget that so often disappoints.
What is necessary a three hundred and sixty degree approach; an in-depth assessment of all the factors and how each unique owner wants to use their yacht. Only once armed with that information can you estimate the right manning levels and/or manage expectations by modelling the expected demands, peaks and crew work schedules.
The point of managing an owners expectations is key, especially in the case of production and semi-production yachts where crew accommodation/berths tend to be fixed. In these circumstances it is still important to make the assessment. This helps avoids frustration and disappointment by communicating any limitations that may surface, along with possible solutions, such as use of external laundry services, shore-based crew, or shadow boat, at the earliest stage to an owner.
Yes, the yacht can operate with these crew numbers but, the service onboard will be limited in these areas…is that what you want?
Making a proper assessment requires effort and collaboration; asking questions, getting to know an owner, how they expect to use the yacht and the style and depth of services that are important to them.
• Likes quiet time with wife and one or two guests
• Meal times, silver service and large and varied selection
• Rises late goes to bed early
• Has boat full of family and friends
• Likes to be in port as often as possible
• Likes to party and stay out late
• Eats very light diet and at strict times
• Loves to be at anchor
• Guests have to follow his rules
• Some guests rise early late, others rise late and bed late – no rules set for guests
• Wants very light touch and informal service
• Love water sports, all the toys setup and available
• Happy to help themselves
• Tender rides for sightseeing, shopping trips, etc.
• Doesn’t want fuss
• Wants a masseuse available
• Just love being on the yacht
• Expects crew to look after children
• Wants formal service at all times – loves the attention and show
• Will not help themselves and expects stewardess on call 24/7
• Often invites friends over for drinks/meals at short notice
On both (A) and (B) the normal crew complement was 19. The manning on (A) worked well, but on (B) we were unable to deliver and maintain the standards of service expected and without being non-compliant. Fortunately, the owner was understanding and pragmatic and, after detailing the issues and possible solutions, it was agreed that we would use two guest cabins for 4additional crew that allowed us to provide the level of service that was important to him. Later, the the yacht was modified and 2 additional crew cabins (4 berths) were added at considerable expense.
Understanding use and gathering information similar to the above example will help to determine the appropriate manning levels, especially during those important peak times in guest operation, and allow you to develop work schedules for all crew and each department. It may need several iterations and some finessing to get right but this is a crucial exercise as it provides the information necessary to have a meaningful discussion about manning with an owner.
Operational vs. Standby
Unlike a commercial ships where workload and manning is more easily determined and manage accordingly, yachts are a much more difficult and, not just because of different owners demands and expectations but also the seasonality and operational profile.
Many yachts, apart from shipyard periods, operate all year round, on standby for visits at the drop of a hat. These tend to be larger yachts and so full manning required can more easily be justified.
Smaller, or one season yachts, are a more complex situation. Whilst it might be essential to have 19 crew during the season, it may be difficult to justify that number sitting in port for the winter with no guest movements where a more appropriate number might be 12 i.e. sufficient to safely man and maintain the yacht in good order. And, if that choice was made, at least you have the berths necessary to increase crew for the season; though it should be noted it is easy to downsize a crew but, much more difficult to upscale again and expect the same quality of crew, personalisation, level of service, operation and safety standards.
Importantly, manning levels should be determined by the peak periods of operation; after all, that is when an owner or charter guest gets to experience the depth and quality of service.
In my time I have seen the whole industry evolve and so many positive changes have taken place.
Today, yachts are better built, more reliable, safer, officers and crew better qualified and trained, employment conditions improved, and there is now much better support available from yacht management and other shore-based service providers. At the same time, there has also been an incremental increase in owners expectations – some examples below: –
Yachts and guests now rely heavily on electrical/electronic and AV/IT systems
Beach clubs’ add another deck to be servced
SPA therapists, hairdressers, gym instructors, nurses, nannies, are now routinely carried – are they single or dual role? Whatever the case, it generally means service and housekeeping are stretched as they lose a member to other activities
Every night is ‘theme night’ with new table decorations and service expectations
Photograph/video guest experience and provide a personal record for guests to go home with
Flight crew, security and owners staff can add to numbers carried and place their own demands on crew
Tenders are bigger, requiring more crew to launch and operate
More toys carried like inflatable slides -heavy and labour intensive to setup/breakdown, especially when wet! – an ever-expanding list of toys, diving equipment, motorcycles, etc. – all require crew and maintenance
Diving, Pilates, jetski, sailing, windsurf, kite surf…an almost endless list of activities
Accommodation for river or ice pilots for yachts traveling further afield
These are further compounded by an increase in paperwork that is a fact of modern yachting e.g. budgets, purchase and approvals, crew HR functions, maintenance and refit planning, safety management systems, and management reporting – this generally falls on the shoulders of the captain and senior crew. One study on a 100m+ showed that the captain was spending 33% his time on their management companies demands which, along with their normal duties and responsibilities, was clearly unsustainable.
Whilst there has been some positive changes in the industry that should be celebrated, the evidence suggests that manning levels maybe one element that has not profited from the evolutionary process.
Perhaps yacht crew are partly to blame for this due to yachting culture, as already posited, where they will work all hours necessary to deliver the very best experience for owners and guests, and often do so without complaint or communicating the problem outside of the yachts team. And, apart from this cultural norm, there are also undeniable concerns about job security where captains and crew may be reluctant to speak-up and/or report their hours of work and rest accurately for fear of losing their job. However, it is important as proper reporting helps to educate owners and the wider industry. Furthermore, if there was an incident and an inquiry, if falsification of hours of work were discovered and fatigue the root cause or contributing factor, it could have serious consequences for the crew, especially the captain.
The quality of captain, officers and crew and, the onboard experience is, without doubt, key to the success of a superyacht and this can only be achieved with the right manning levels which, unfortunately, have not kept pace with the advances made in the rest of the industry.
As the ISS piece stated ‘for the love of yachting’ we need to have an honest conversation about manning that includes owners and all industry stakeholders, especially those with operational experience. Getting this right improves the health and well-being of the crew, their performance, retention, yacht safety and, ultimately, leads to a better ownership experience.
There can be no doubt that we have seen some significant improvements in employment of yacht crew over the last decade or so and, on the whole, they fare very well compared to many working on commercial ships. Unfortunately, disputes still do arise and, if it cannot be resolved amicably, legal action may be necessary.
With that in mind, a recent UK Employment Tribunal hearing raises some interesting questions for both owners and crew. The case involved a claim of unfair dismissal; however, the preliminary hearing was not to judge the merits of the case, but to ascertain whether the UK Employment Tribunal had jurisdiction over the claim.
The case involved a captain who was not a UK resident, working on a Cayman Islands flagged and owned yacht that spent time in UK waters, the captain was employed via a Guernsey employment company and the yacht was managed by a company based in France. His employment agreement also expressly stated that it was based on Guernsey law and that all parties would submit to Guernsey jurisdiction in matters relating to the agreement.
As per most maritime employment claims, a rather complex mix of parties and jurisdictions were involved. In this example, based on the submissions of the claimant and plaintiff, and case law, the decision was that it could be heard by a UK Employment Tribunal and, interestingly, despite the ownership structure, the judge also determined that the ‘effective owner’ was resident in the UK.
This raises some questions, such as; do the common employment practices provide the necessary protections for crew in the event of a dispute? And, is the protection often cited for owners, as robust as some would suggest?
In the past it was quite common for crew to be employed without employment contracts, I certainly never had one in the first 20 years of my time in the industry. But, with the growth in management companies and the introduction of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) Seafarers Employment Contracts (SEA) became the norm for Commercial yachts – with many Private yachts adopting the format of SEA for their crew.
Putting MLC to one side for the moment, one of the reasons why it was recommended that owners use an offshore employment company, was to distance the crew (Employee) from the owner (Employer) in order to limit the latter’s liabilities. With the introduction of MLC, an added advantage in using an offshore employment company in a sympathetic jurisdiction, was to minimise the number of social protections required by MLC – a minimum of 3 are required out of a total of 9 branches, which can be covered by insurance or National schemes – thereby, reducing liability and costs for an owner.
Under MLC there is a requirement for a connection between the Shipowner and the Employer; an SEA can only be signed by an Employer if they have authority from a Shipowner and there is evidence of that authority e.g. Power of Attorney – a ships Master can also sign. Those who are authorised should be noted in DMLC Part II. So, in the case of an MLC compliant yacht, there should always be a contractual link between Crew (Employee) and Shipowner.
Depending on the agreement, a management company who has taken on the responsibility for the management and operation of a yacht, could also be the ‘Shipowner’ under MLC – a similar definition as ‘Company’ as per STCW and the ISM Code.
As per Article II.4 of MLC, many flag States exclude pleasure yachts ‘not ordinarily engaged in commercial activity’
As per Article II.4 of MLC, many flag States exclude pleasure yachts ‘not ordinarily engaged in commercial activity’ (defined as Private throughout the rest of this article) from their enactment of MLC. Therefore, it is important to understand that SEA’s issued by Private yachts will not be MLC compliant unless a yacht has the necessary MLC certificates. And, if a yacht is not compliant, the SEA’s will probably fall outside the jurisdiction of flag State law. Even if a Private yacht is compliant, there are still questions about jurisdiction if they are expressly excluded from flag State legislation.
I believe some flag States are making progress towards making SEA’s compulsory for Private yachts, which will be a good thing however, they will also need to have a legal framework in place to provide the necessary oversight and enforcement powers. I wonder how easy that will be without upending the whole concept of Private yacht ‘voluntary compliance’ with MLC and other maritime codes and conventions?
In the meantime, perhaps Private yachts should rename their agreements simply as a Crew Employment Agreement (CEA) to avoid confusion and legitimacy with an MLC SEA?
Irrespective of whether yachts are Private or Commercial, where used, SEA’s have no doubt improved employment by the provision of a contract detailing the terms and conditions such as salary, leave, repatriation, notice period, working hours, sickness benefit, etc. – this has been a very positive advance. However, there is still a perception within the industry that crew feel there is little they can do in the event of an employment dispute.
Indeed, to illustrate this point, the Professional Yachting Association in a recent article stated:-
In reality, there is no job protection in yachting, and anyone can be fired at any time, without reason.” (PYA What to do when things go wrong – 27 Aug 2019).
It is likely that readers will have some knowledge of situations where owners, management companies and, yes, captains as well, have dismissed crew for a variety of reasons that would not withstand scrutiny under most domestic employment laws where there are better protections against such things as:-
Unfair dismissal – e.g. no reason given or, reason not one of those described within SEA or crew handbook.
Wrongful/constructive dismissal – e.g. forced to resign due to a breach of employment law or SEA, such as lack of due process, discrimination, sexual harassment, salary or leave disputes.
On many occasions crew are ‘persuaded’ to resign rather than being fired due to a belief it is better for their future employment prospects – this could be judged as constructive dismissal.
The latter point, along with the lack of clarity on the legal protections and jurisdiction, is probably why there may be a reluctance to make a claim; crew fear they may be labeled a ‘troublemaker’ and it might affect their career. This feeling is not limited to yachting, it also applies to shipping as highlighted in the EU report “Service contract regarding a study on the implementation of labour supplying responsibilities pursuant to the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC 2006) within and outside the European Union – Final Report October 21, 2015”. And, although ‘blacklisting’ is illegal, there is plenty of evidence to suggest it goes on within our industry.
It should be noted that most countries have time limits and qualifying periods of employment as prerequisites in employment disputes, particularly unfair dismissal However, if a case involves acts that are contrary to certain specified rights or civil liberties, e.g. discrimination, sexual harassment, etc. such time limits and qualifying periods may not apply, additionally, such cases may raise the possibility of criminal prosecution. It is therefore important to obtain the proper legal advice.
As alluded to previously, not helping matters is the confusion over the appropriate jurisdiction given the number of parties and administrations involved and their domestic, international and maritime laws: –
The Flag State (FS)
The Yacht Owning Company (YOC)
The ultimate beneficial owner (UBO)
Employment Company (EC)
Management Company (MC)
UNLCOS and UNCTAD state that a Flag State has “jurisdiction and control in administration, technical and social matters of ships flying its flags.
Although International conventions such as UNLCOS and UNCTAD state that a FS has “jurisdiction and control in administration, technical and social matters of ships flying its flags,” it is not always the case that they have the necessary motivation, resources or legal framework to provide an effective forum in the event of an employment dispute. And although we mainly use ‘white list’ high-quality flags within the yachting industry, some may have less favorable employment laws for seafarers – beyond that of MLC, if applicable – and crew may find them to be unsympathetic or lacking any enforcement power when it comes to employment disputes.
Employment companies, depending on their residency, and despite what may be stated in a SEA, may also not have the necessary laws in place to hear maritime employment disputes e.g. their employment laws may not apply to non-residents.
Given the above, it’s not surprising that there is a perception that crew feel that the odds seem stacked against them and there is little they can do.
This brings me back to the case mentioned at the beginning.
This case clearly demonstrates that, depending on the circumstances, motivated crew with the right legal advice and support can find a suitable forum and jurisdiction. In this case the UK Employment Tribunal, through domestic employment law and, EU REGULATION (EU) No 1215/2012 – on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters, and the various submissions and precedent, judged that they can hear this case – this is good news for the captain.
It also demonstrated how owners might not be fully insulated from legal action, especially if there is a UK/EU connection and, irrespective of the ownership structure, an owners personal involvement with their captain, crew, yachts finances and operation, etc., may prove sufficient evidence to judge (as it was in this case) that they were the ‘effective owner’. Being identified in this way may be of some concern to some owners and their family offices as it raises questions about privacy and liability,
There have been similar cases in Europe where both yacht and commercial ships crew have taken advantage of EU legislation and domestic law to initiate an employment claim against an Employer and/or Shipowner irrespective of flag.
With respect to France, ‘concealed employment’ was introduced in 1997. Loosely, this description is given to an employment arrangment that helps an Employer avoid their obligations defined by the Labor Code and/or taxes or social insurance contributions. This is particularly relevant to those yachts that might be subject to French Social charges – I believe that some cases in France that started out as simple employment disputes became a more serious matter due to the fact ‘concealed employment’ was involved.
Returning to the questions raised earlier.
Yes, there are much better protections for yacht crew these days due to the widespread use of employment agreements and MLC, but, compared to domestic employment law, some protections may be less favorable. This is why crew may have to seek redress in domestic courts where, despite the perception and challenges involved, it is possible to find a jurisdiction who will hear their case. And, it appears that an ownership or employment structure may not always protect owners from being embroiled in employment disputes. It’s also worth remembering that, unlike arbitration, Employment Tribunals, as in this case, tend to be a matter of public record.
Finally, it is clear from my research, that most maritime employment disputes are not straight forward, they tend to be protracted and there can be significant hurdles involved. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the clear advice would be to try and find an amicable resolution before resorting to the courts.
Whenever I talk to owners and their teams, the subject of running costs and budget always comes up. I always advise, it is a fundamental tool for measuring the financial performance of the yacht but, like fine art, requires careful crafting and curation to be of value, and this always comes with a caveat – there is no ‘one size fits all’ model. That “10% of the value of the yacht” as often cited, can turn out to be a significant underestimation that can lead to financial shock and a negative ownership experience; with some owners withdrawing from the industry because of it.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ model
The cost of running a Superyacht is significant, with annual costs ranging from €2M for a 50 metre yacht, and up to €20M+ for some of todays Gigayachts. And, with such significant expenditure it is essential to have financial controls in place, and a well formulated, approved and monitored budget is one of the most valuable tools available.
A budget must; forecast the amount and timing of funds, measure performance and instill accountability and transparency into the fiscal management of the yacht.
A realistic budget takes time and effort to develop. The schedule of accounts must reflect the expenditure accurately and, as mentioned, this is unlikely to be achieved from ‘an off the shelf budget’ for an identical or similar sized yacht without adapting it to the owner and use.
The process of developing a budget requires proactive collaboration and consultation between the captain, the yachts team, and the owner, his family office, and/or management company. It will be important to understand how the yacht is to be used as this knowledge will help with the accuracy of the budget.
The process of developing a budget requires proactive collaboration
Knowing the cruising plans and use of the yacht e.g. one or two seasons, stand-by or scheduled use, crew employment terms and conditions, standard of maintenance, along with preferences for economy or speed, marina or anchorage, food and drink, etc., will help in creating a workable budget. There is also the question of private or charter, which although adds income to the yacht – not guaranteed and often over estimated – also has cost implications; extra hours on engines and systems, general wear and tear and crew issues.
The Head’s of Departments (HOD’s) – engineering, deck, interior and catering – should be involved in the development process and should have responsibility for managing their departmental budgets. This helps improve the accuracy of the budget, and serves as a motivational tool by giving senior crew ownership and accountability of their area of expertise.
As yachting is perhaps, the ultimate discretionary expense, and a big part of its appeal is the freedom and spontaneity it affords, one should understand that the budget is subject to many variances, some which can be significant depending on how plans change. In addition a yacht is made up of complex systems and equipment and operates in a hostile environment. This will inevitably result in breakdowns or incidents that cannot be readily modeled into the budget, other than trying to mitigate a potential shortfall by maintaining a contingency for unexpected events.
During the life of the yacht, the reality is that repair and maintenance costs will increase. A new yacht in its first year is covered by shipyard warranty, so associated repair costs tend to be low – although beware of the travel and subsistence costs that may be levied as these can be high if there is a large amount of work carried out remote from the shipyard – in later years, these costs will progressively increase as the operating hours take their toll on equipment, systems and machinery.
Future expenses that I would categorise as Periodic Maintenance, such as dry docking and shipyard periods should also be considered. A Private or Commercial Yacht 12 PAX or less, will require two dry-docks in a five year cycle for works such as – Class survey, antifouling paint, checking and maintenance of shafts, stabilisers, rudders, bowthruster, anchors and cables, hull and ships side valves. It is also likely that the hull and/or superstructure may need a repaint within that period, again a cost that should be budgeted for. The cost of servicing engines and generators – excluding the normal checks and oil/filter changes – is often something that is overlooked and is dependent on use and hours. As an example a service contract by one engine manufacturer for maintaining 2 x 300kW engines over 16,000 hours was around €450k, and 2 x 3600kW engines over 12,000 hours was in excess of €550k.
Periodic Maintenance costs are cyclical and spread over a number of years and there are a number of ways of accounting for these. An owner should decide if he wants he to spread these over a 5 or 10 year cycle, or whether he would prefer each year to be independent, with Periodic Maintenance added separately.
An owner should decide if he wants he to spread these over a 5 or 10 year cycle
Capital expenditure for new equipment and/or upgrades should also be accounted for as a separate category as it falls outside the normal operational expenses of the yacht.
Following good accounting practices there should be sufficient cost centres, sub-catagories and account codes – the metrics – to enable a thorough analysis of expenditure. For example with suitably defined crew costs, the budget could be used to highlight and identify the real cost of high crew turnover by spikes in recruitment fees, uniform, repatriation/travel costs, etc., and provide the financial imperative to resolve the situation. Lumping costs together limits transparency and value of the budget and should be avoided.
Inevitably the budget will go through a number of versions as it is developed, reviewed and finessed, before finally approved by an owner. And, once implemented, the budget will need to be effectively monitored to ensure the defined financial targets are being met and any variances are brought to the owner’s attention without delay.
The budget is an important aid but, is only part of the picture, it must also be backed up with other controls and procedures in order to effectively manage the yachts finances. These include such things as format and frequency of reporting and auditing, purchase order request and approval process, and setting expenditure limits and authority.
As many of the suppliers and service providers we rely on in the industry tend to be small businesses, the effect of delays in the payment cycle can be profound. And, for the yacht, it can create reputational damage – you end up being at the back of the queue or, ignored completely, for services and supplies which, in high season, can impact on the owner and guest experience. Having a budget that effectively forecasts cash flow can ensure funds are available to make prompt payments – although sometimes, unfortunately, slow payment is the policy of an owner or his financial team.
Finally, it should be understood that the budget is a dynamic document and will need to be continuously reviewed and improved upon over time, and changed as circumstances dictate. If crafted and curated well, the budget provides an owner with a valuable tool in understanding and controlling costs, minimising financial shock and, improving the ownership experience.