As the season for repositioning heated up in South Florida, we invited a group of captains to our monthly From the Bridge luncheon to talk about deliveries, both from those who do them occasionally to those who do them exclusively, as well as the captain who has done both full-time and delivery work.
The group ran the gamut from captains who deliver small vessels solo to those who temporarily run yachts in the mid-sized range to those who reposition large yachts with full-time, established crew. And those distinctions impacted their opinions about just about every facet of being a delivery captain, starting with why they choose to focus on deliveries.
They started with the pros.
“It’s always different,” one captain said. “There’s a bit of everything.”
“There’s no owner onboard; that’s a big thing,” another captain said.
“The flexibility,” said a third. “It gives us the chance to have a home-based life.”
“I have elderly parents,” another said. “I want to know I can gome home to spend time with them, go home for Christmas. When you’re in a permanent position, you don’t have that option.”
As always, individual comments are not attributed to any one person in particular so as to encourage frank and open discussion. The attending captains are identified in a photograph accompanying thhis article.
Beyond the advantages of being a delivery captain, these captains agreed that it’s not their first choice in yachting. Nearly all of them said they would prefer to have a full-time job. Being a “delivery captain” sort of just happened.
“I was seriously looking for full time work in 2010, but the phone keeps ringing with delivery work,” one captain said. “So I keep doing them.”
“It takes a different kind of mettle to be a delivery captain,” another said. “You are living on the edge all the time. Every job is different, and there’s no continuity in what we do. Not every captain is cut out for it.”
The world of delivering yachts ranges from the solo captain moving a 50-footer a few states away to the captain asked to take a yacht and her crew across an ocean. And that difference in size makes a difference in how these captains perform their jobs.
On smaller vessels, captains said they dedicate one day to inspecting and preparing the vessel. One captain does a complete walk through and conducts detailed pre-departure checks, including spare parts.
“Most of the deliveries I do are post-sale, so they’re ready,” this captain said. “But some items I religiously check, things that are electrical and mechanical in nature.”
But not everyone does that.
“With larger vessels under ISM, there are very strict controls on the vessel,” a captain said. “You have a reasonable expectation that it is in operational form. There are checks and balances. On smaller boats, it’s a different story.”
Regardless, a large yacht captain said he will always check the keel bolts.
“You take a risk every time you set out to sea,” this captain said.
“You’re looking for tell-tale signs in documentation, safety gear,” another captain said. “With a yacht that’s in service and the crew are in place, and you are jumping in at a moment’s notice, you have a reasonable comfort that the boat’s able to make a crossing.
“If it’s been sitting for a while and it’s time to move and the captain suddenly has a family issue, that’s when I worry,” this captain said. “You have to know what the boat has been doing before you stepped aboard. It’s a big responsibility for guys running smaller boats.”
When captains first get into delivery work, their first question likely is what to charge, so we asked the captains in the room, and the amounts and details varied.
“I aim for what the current [captain] is getting plus 50 percent,” said one captain who works with larger vessels. “He works five days a week and gets benefits. I’m 24/7 on a delivery, working 240 hours in 10 days. Think about that.”
“I charge by size,” another said. “Zero to 69 feet is $300 a day, 70-99 feet is $400 a day, over 100 feet is $500 day. That’s a 12-hour duty day.”
That rate is only for the captain, and does not include expenses and a $40 per diem for food. But it also does not vary depending on the condition of the vessel, this captain said.
“Many times you don’t know the condition of the boat, but you can’t be afraid to say no,” this captain said.
These captains all get a credit card for expenses, and almost all these captains get half their fee in advance (on international trips, it’s 100 percent in advance). One captain, though, does not worry about the up-front payment. This captain only takes jobs from a third source — whether it be friend, broker or industry colleague. That way, if there is a problem with payment later, the third party steps in to mediate and resolve the issue.
“I know the people I work with and always bring in a third person, the referral, so I don’t take payment up front,” this captain said. “It’s always worked out for me.”
Once they get a delivery gig, several captains said they like to pass the time sharing what they know. They’ll conduct drills and get crew more familiar with that goes on in the wheelhouse.
“They know the theory, they studied it, but they get a chance to do things they don’t normally do because they’re busy washing down the boat,” one captain said.
“It’s great to teach them,” another said. “They never get to be in the bridge because they’re always dealing with guests.”
“It’s always a pleasure to find those who want to learn,” said a third.
But sometimes, those crew disappoint, either because they don’t really have the skills needed to be at sea or they aren’t interested enough to learn.
“The level of seamanship of the crew you are sailing with is a concern,” one captain said. “When people don’t have a traditional background in this stuff, it makes [a delivery] more difficult. That’s why it’s very important to have the structure of an ISM.
“There are an awful lot of boats where few people have a grasp of basic maintenance,” this captain said. “They can barely tie a boat up, even after a crossing. I’m the last one to say ‘kids these days’ but when I started at sea, we had a sextant and that was it.”
“But if there’s a structure in place, ISM compensates for that lack of experience,” said another.
The biggest challenges to being a delivery captain is the perennial lack of trust.
“Captains [you are relieving] have to be comfortable that the delivery guy is not coming in to take their job,” a captain said. “It’s a big thing, really. They have to be comfortable or you won’t have work.”
“I get quite a bit of relief work for that reason,” another captain said. “They know I don’t want their job.”
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at email@example.com. If you make your living working as a yacht captain, e-mail us for an invitation to our monthly Bridge luncheon.