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Yacht runs full speed into turn-around, guests, crew schedules

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I am on a flight returning from a week on my boat in an unnamed island group in the Caribbean. (Un-named only because I am writing a scathing story about why I will never return there. Another story for another time.)

As always, my family and I had a great time and learned more about crew/owner relations. No one will ever accuse our boat of being a dock queen, but a boat in motion creates crew challenges.

We have been running our unchartered boat hard. Over the last 120 days, guests have been on board for 62 nights and more than 3,000 miles cruised. The three owners have been eager to use the boat whenever possible.

This is a good sign. But with partners new to yacht ownership, there is a learning curve as to what is acceptable usage vs. appropriate crew time off.

My views are apparently outdated, reaching back many years ago to the time we went from Maine to Alaska and back with seven crew and the generators ran non-stop for 18 months.

While staring into blue skies and waters this week, the captain and I discussed our cruising plans for the next nine months. The captain made a prescient comment, which I appreciated.

“You are the boss and we are here to serve you. But remember, we are a tool for your enjoyment. Like any tool, we need maintenance and time off.

“We missed Christmas banging into 15-foot head seas going to Grenada and New Years was 12 guests followed by another week of eight kids demanding JetSkis. We love our jobs … but we need a break; a little time off is due.“

Sometimes I forget that pre-guest arrival and post-guest departure is lots of work for the crew. I also do not fully grasp the mental and emotional cost of five or six people living in close proximity who need time apart and off their floating home.

As an owner, I look at any time in tropical paradise as heaven and forget that for crew it is work!

In trying to plan the next few months, I asked the captain: “What would be an acceptable guest time on board over a normal year?” His response was quick and concise: “two weeks per month.”

I pointed out that may come as 12 weeks in a row (with 72 hours between use?) and then zero weeks of usage for three months. He smiled, then grumbled; there was not a definitive answer. Our conversation was cut short by the mate and a mahi, but we will continue when I see him further north in a couple of weeks.

This delicate balance is critical to low crew turnover, which ultimately creates happy guests. The challenge we have is that my partners are loving boating. We fill every open slot with usage, taking the captain’s “give me 48 hours between cruises, please” literally.

(This is all actually a good thing for the industry, as I predicted when we bought this almost a year ago that they would each have their own boats in due time. Due time is just coming faster than any of us thought.)

The discussion brings up interesting questions I would love to have comments on from Triton readers:

  1. What is the “acceptable” usage of an owner-used (not chartered) boat?
  2. What should be the duration between one cruise and the next?
  3. Where do you find a great chef who is not crazy?

I realize the above questions are subjective based upon an owner’s service level requirements, cruising area, crew level, the boat, etc. But any comments would be appreciated.

Our partnership is on the hunt for a second 30m-plus boat. No matter how you slice it, there is too much demand for the supply of fun, relaxation and business entertainment venue for three guys with only one boat, so I guess we will have two and double the craziness.

I want to find a balance between keeping the crew happy (critical) and using the boat as much as humanly possible.

Peter Herm is the pen name for a real yacht owner who is an entrepreneur based on the East Coast of the U.S. It comes from Pieter Harmensz, original owner of the oldest known stock certificate in 1606, issued for a Dutch company with the largest shipping fleet in the world. Comments on this column are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com.

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14 thoughts on “Yacht runs full speed into turn-around, guests, crew schedules

  1. Scott

    I work on a busy private yacht which sees three owners using the boat through the summer months. Each owner gets 1 month, June/July/august. Each owner has his immediate family on for the whole month, and every 10 days they swap out friends. We will have 48 hrs at most between owners.
    Owners are very active (read tiring).

    Each owner and some of their friends will bring gifts for the crew. All crew equally. And they try and put some heart into it. This is very well recieved not just for the monetary value, rather the thought that the owners and their guests appreciate the crew.

  2. Melvyn Miller

    With owner’s party on board almost constantly, we staff sufficiently so that no one works more than 48 hours per week while the boat is moving or 40 hours per week when at her berth. Hours worked beyond that are compensated with equivalent time off as soon as possible. Crews with charter experience may expect to work longer hours and more consecutive days but to have much more time off.

  3. James

    Use the boat every day of the year if you want to. You’ve earn’t it.
    Yes crew need time off.
    If crew time off impinges on owner time, rotate crew.
    Boats should be used and crew should work hard.
    Yet, there has to be a balance.

  4. Craig

    Hello Peter. To be brief: this is one of the topics in the MLC 2006 code. I.e crew work hours. Crew burn-out is one thing, but then there is the other :- safety. Running hard with little to no time off is a huge safety factor! Safety drills are put on the back seat as either the crew are too busy or too tired.

    Crew rotation then is the most effective way to keep the yacht both safe and happy. yes. It’s an additional expense but many professional crew would love this and be prepared to accept a slightly lower salary in order to work a rotational shift.

    The bottom line: crew running hard constantly is an accident waiting for a place to happen. Are yacht owners prepared to accept the consequences where someone, a family member gets hurt, or worse…..?

  5. Rob

    The best solution for Owner under the circumstances of wanting to maximise use of the yacht whilst ( :-) caring for the well being of the Crew and the safety of the vessel in such intensive use) is quite simply… to have two crews work a shift system.

  6. Dave unknown

    The only non crazy chef you will find will be required to be paid $8000/month usd +\- and have rotation. I say this as a seasoned yacht chef. The great chefs all have their pick of the best jobs. We work long hours, often 5am to 12-1 am. Maybe we can get a nap in the afternoon but the post here border lines on abuse and doesn’t comply with mlc regulations at all. There are plenty of nut bag drug addicted alcoholic chefs out there who will be your slave and happily cook second rate food for you though.

  7. ex-stew

    I worked an entire season in the med with owners and guests on board every single day for 60+ consecutive days. Early mornings, all nighters, and they hardly ever left the boat even for a stroll on the quay. One day they went to lunch ashore. One day out of 60 that they took a meal on shore. But, they insisted a stew (me) go with to help with their brats, and 2 deck crew to drive tender and help schlep their stuff….at most we were gone 2 hours. Needless to say, it took a huge toll on the crew, especially the chef and stews. I don’t know how long the owners stayed on board, because I resigned in august. They had definitely been there at least 2 months straight.

  8. A & A

    This is a subject/article I hope most owners read and truly think about. It’s crucial for owner and crew relationships. Very happy to see an owner take the time to think about the crew. Note, I’d tend to agree with the captain that two weeks out of a month would be great! Logical, in the middle of a season – not always. Understand that while you state that the boat is “unchartered”… with three owners/families, it’s close enough to charter without the cash bonus at the end. Your crew needs to learn the full preferences for an unknown large group of people – not just one family. I’m sure every family has different personal items, meals preferences, and different levels of service they expect from crew. It can be difficult for crew to turnaround from one style of “cruising” to another with a nonstop itinerary and only 48 hours in between. Expect exhaustion by the end of each season.

    The owners of the vessel I’ve been with for multiple years are not extremely demanding or difficult (very pleasant actually), but they like to have many guests aboard, use of their tenders and toys, and meal service (equal meals on as off). While this wouldn’t be overly difficult for a full crew, it’s difficult for just 3 (our current situation). We should have at LEAST 5 crew, however, we’ve found most crew are crazy and starting people in the middle of the season can be just as difficult as going without. Stewardesses and chefs (good luck with finding either in a sane state of mind) especially!

    On our vessel, by the time we’re done this season, we will have worked 120+ days with about 9 days without guests on board. My work day starts at 6:30am and goes until just after 9:00pm on average. (These working conditions would be technically illegal if we were a charter vessel or over 500g tons due to MLC laws – but I could be wrong with these statements) Now, those 9 days without guests were not full days off. A majority of interior and exterior turnover and projects are completed when guests are off the boat. We don’t just throw on bikinis and drink champagne the moment the guests fly away. (we wish!) If the 3 of us weren’t all long term veterans of the yachting industry, I don’t think we’d even be able to finish the season at the pace we have. Luckily we’ve worked together for years and aren’t ready to kill each other … quite yet.

    Our season is coming to an end soon. We’ve actually started counting the days on the calendar until we can head home to an insanely busy yard period (sans guests) – where we will gain another crew member shortly thereafter. We may not see the owners or any guests for about a month and a half, but its still difficult when you have a laundry list of projects to complete in the shipyard. Especially when you’re forced to watch contractors like a hawk when they can’t seem to keep deadlines in check!

    Please take into consideration that your boat isn’t exactly “charter”, but it is run just as a charter vessel does. Also, if a partner can purchase himself a boat soon for the use of all three partners, it’ll make everyone else involved have a much better time! Twice the boat, twice the crew, twice the fun.

  9. Laura Faulkner

    I can’t comment on 1, or 2, but for 3, the answer is to get your chef from Yacht Chef Agency, we fully vet all our chefs, and supply a three month warranty for added assurance. I shall remain fully at your disposal. Rgds, Laura Faulkner Director @ Yacht Chef Agency

  10. B. Robinson

    Those of us that are Captains or the go to guys for an owner already know the answer. We strive to: “Be ready when you are” our mission is have the vessel in ready fashion as many days as possable. Which means Boat , Crew, Provisions, Toys, etc. When the schedule is such that the crew runs out of time or is constantly right on the edge of not making a deadline it causes internal stress on everyone. It does not go away just because you actually made the deadline. The crew carries that feeling around… And it builds. Causes people to snap at each other. The end is near for someone or all when that starts.
    From the description of how the Boat operates the answer is easy. Rub it with Money ! There is no subsisitute for extra hands. If you don’t want to pay what it takes to have enough crew for 48Hour turn a rounds then your Captain is correct. Extra time between guests.
    You have any idea what it takes (time and manpower wise) to provision for feeding and watering 12 people for 2 weeks ? Every owner should take a few days and run around with the crew.
    Best of luck”

  11. Erik H Goodwin

    You continually use the term unchartered, like its a positive in this case. It probably isn’t, 3 different owners who run it hard like a charter, but without the tips. Partnership boats are probably the hardest to work for, charter guests leave, but you all come back, and are all equal as owners, but I guarantee not equal as guests. If you want the same crew to stay with you and have a great ongoing experience, you either need to have a rotation crew, or give enough recovery time during your long runs. As others have stated, there is a lot of work after guests leave, and before new guests arrive, figure that into the time between guests and time off. I am always amazed what they expect out of crew compared with what they expect out of their workers at their company. If you asked the same out of those at the company, what do you think the results would be?

  12. Lee Kline

    I have never been on a yacht or any boat fancier than a conventional cruise ship. But this article telling the point of view of crew members on private yachts is absolutely great. I believe you all have to be really special people to work in such a demanding job for folks who are used to a quality of service unfamiliar to many of us. Thank you all so much for allowing me to take a peek at an amazing world. I get to read this newsletter because I am friends with the editor and publisher.

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