There are several factors to take into account when choosing the best method for stews to handle money onboard, and the size of the yacht is one of them. The smaller the boat, the simpler the system.
Some boats have a very basic system where receipts are handed in on a regular basis, entered on a spreadsheet, and then sent on to the owner’s accountant.
Even if there are only one or two departments on the boat, it is always helpful to keep track of spending in different areas. For instance, food, cleaning supplies, toiletries and amenities can all be broken down into crew and guest categories, and receipts should be separated.
With a bit of practice, it becomes second nature to keep items organized in your grocery cart and then rung up by the cashier in a specific order. This can save a lot of time later when you are sorting receipts. Organizing and unloading the cart in a specific order also helps save time when you get back to the boat and start putting everything away.
On bigger boats that have more departments and more crew, the accounting becomes a bit more complex. Most boats use some sort of accounting software. Very large yachts may have pursers onboard who handle all funds for purchases and provisioning according to the accounting software they have.
Many of the captains I know who have 5-12 crew use Quickbooks or Quicken. These systems are two of the most popular accounting software programs. They are pretty similar, except that Quickbooks has more features and allows you to do double-entry accounting, keep track of inventories, do payroll, and use different codes to track different departments. Quickbooks is popular with most accounting firms, because it has more options and allows you to keep an inventory of purchases by department.
Quicken, on the other hand, is the simpler of these programs. It is called “check-book accounting” because it works very much like a checkbook to provide single-entry accounting. For example, when a single boat credit card is used by all crew, Quicken works very well. Receipts are handed in daily, and entered into the captain’s accounting program. This way, the captain keeps tabs on the budget, and the accounting can be reviewed easily at any time.
When you have to account for your purchases on a daily basis, you tend to scrutinize spending more carefully, purchase only what is needed, and be more aware of total costs.
Inevitably, there will be times when everyone needs the card at the same time, especially when you are getting close to the end of a yard period or preparing to get under way. When you have several people doing a lot of provisioning at the same time, you reach the spending limit on the card pretty quickly. By tracking your spending daily, you can help eliminate the dreaded “your card has been declined” comment by letting you know that you are close to the limit on the card.
As a side note, when the crew shares one American Express credit card, there can be problems with signatures and identification when you go to pay for items. American Express is pretty strict and it will usually ask for identification to verify the signature. If the captain is a male and his name is on the card, female stews are likely to have a problem convincing anyone that they are John B. Smith, for example.
Some merchants will let it pass because they are used to dealing with this situation and do not want to lose the business, but they are required to ask for identification to protect the cardholder from unauthorized spending. It helps to carry a letter from the captain stating who has permission to use the card. Many times, that will suffice.
At other times, the captain will just have to come to the store and sign the card. This almost always happens when you are under pressure to provision and get under way as quickly as possible. More than likely, it is just one more thing that the captain has to squeeze into the day, and it probably drives him or her crazy.
I can’t tell you how many times I have waited patiently with a dozen carts full of merchandise at Costco or Bed, Bath and Beyond until the captain could get there to sign the card. Sometimes, I would plan my provisioning to shop at night, put everything on hold, and come back the next day with the captain in tow. (Costco is great, because they will just put all of your carts into a big walk-in cooler.)
Visa and MasterCard debit cards do not usually have the same issues. When you swipe the card through the machine and it asks for your pin number, you can hit ‘cancel’ and it will ring up as a charge. You just sign the receipt and away you go.
Another method that works well with Quicken or Quickbooks software, is where each department head has their own credit card, and they turn receipts in monthly. Most of the time, there will be a set spending limit on each card, so crew cannot overspend.
If a card is shared with several members of a department, the head of the department keeps track of everything and reports to the captain, who enters the information into the accounting program. One drawback to this system is that spending can get out of control. It is easy to get carried away and not really pay attention to your total spending until the day you turn in receipts.
A good middle ground arrangement is where each department has its own card, and the department heads turn in receipts and report to the captain weekly. This gives them the opportunity to review their budget frequently and take more time to plan and discuss purchases.
The other factor in choosing the best way to handle money is whether the yacht has a management company. Each management company will have an accounting systems of its own set up, and captains and crew will follow instructions on how to handle money.
Every captain I spoke to agreed that it is not a good idea to use a personal credit card or personal cash to make boat purchases. It may not be as easy as you think it is to get reimbursed.
Also, no matter what method of accounting you use on your boat, remember to be responsible, keep the boat credit card safe and use it wisely.
Alene Keenan has been a megayacht stewardess for more than 20 years. She offers interior crew training classes, workshops, seminars, and onboard training through her company, Yacht Stew Solutions (www.yachtstewsolutions.com). Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.