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Yacht captains positive on brokers in sale, but offer advice

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Captains have suggested for years that we conduct a survey about brokers. Usually, they had had a negative experience and wanted to vent. We’ve resisted since we didn’t want it to become a way to beat up on this necessary part of the industry.

But I’ve recently been asked to moderate a panel of captains at a brokers seminar in Ft. Lauderdale. Suggested by an innovative and by most accounts enlightened broker, it seemed like a great way to get the two sides to understand each other a little more.

The relationship captains have with brokers is complex and may touch many facets of a captain’s yachting career, including finding a job. But in an effort to focus the conversation, we asked about just one slice of it, where captains and brokers interact to sell a vessel.

(And we purposefully left out the big ingredient of a gratuity after the sale. That’s a whole other survey.)

We started simply by asking Have you ever been involved with a broker and a yacht for sale?

All but one of the 78 captains who took this month’s survey have been involved in the sale of a yacht.

“It takes a well developed and cohesive team to effectively sell a yacht — owner, broker and captain (and his crew) — and to present a unified front to a prospective buyer,” said a captain in yachting more than 10 years. “This shows the buyer this vessel has professionals involved with it and makes a positive impression rather than a negative one.”

In general, how would you rate that experience?

After all the complaining we’ve heard from captains over the years, we were surprised to learn that 80 percent said the experience they had with brokers was mostly good. When we asked our respondents to elaborate on their answer, we got a lot of “mostly good, but…”

“Other than making too much money for doing so little, lack of notice for showings, etc., and general lack of appreciation, the experience has been OK,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years.

“I picked ‘mostly good’ but the reality is it depends greatly on the broker,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “In my case, maybe 60/40, good to frustrating.”

“I have been fortunate to have a long relationship with an excellent broker,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “Most deals, of course, involve a seller’s and a buyer’s broker, and some can be difficult.”

“I have been involved with two different brokerage houses on the same yacht, one good, the other mediocre,” said a captain in yachting more than 15 years. “Communication is paramount, and respect.”

“A lot depends on the owner and his relationship with the broker,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “It only takes one bad experience to sour one’s view of the whole group.”

“I’ve had several experiences with brokers; some are extremely helpful with the captains but other ones didn’t care at all,” said a captain in yachting more than 10 years. “I strongly believe that to optimize a sale and do it smooth, the communication between parties should be excellent for the benefit of sellers and buyers.”

Still, one in five of our respondents said the experience of selling a yacht was mostly bad.

“Basically setting up a 24/7/365 scenario where the captain will be available to show the yacht to un-qualified tire kickers who often never show up for viewings, often after the yacht has been prepared for showing on Sundays,” said a captain in yachting more than 10 years. “Broker often absent and asking captain to show vessel. A few brokers insist on doing their job as professionals. My sincere respect for them is acknowledged here.”

“There are some great brokers out there but many are just marine used car salesmen,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years. “They don’t care what it takes to sell the boat as long as they get their commission.”

“There’s good and bad to the experience,” said one captain in yachting more than 30 years who didn’t choose an answer. “The bad being that captains do all the physical acts involved in a sale: preparing for a showing, demonstrating equipment, sea trials, and the toughest part of going through the survey and list of recommendations, polishing all the while. And then comes acceptance, delivery and training new crew/owner. All the while, Mr. Fancy Pants stands on the sideline telling you he’s going to buy you a beer when all is said and done.

“The good being that owners often offer an incentive to remain through the sale,” this captain said. “I know some stand-up brokers do, but often conveniently forget or are unavailable.”

With there being two sides to a sale, we started with the listing broker, the one who presumably knows the owner, captain and yacht. Do you create a relationship with the listing broker?

More than half — 58 percent — said they do, that it’s helpful for the sale to get to know the broker well.

“Brokers need to remember that captains will help wherever they can because the owner wants the boat sold,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years. “However, the captain works for the owner, not the broker, and as such represents the owner’s interests, not the broker’s.”

And most of the rest — 38 percent — said “sort of”, acknowledging that they work together professionally but they don’t really create a relationship.

Just 4 percent said that creating a relationship was unnecessary, that each has his own job to do.

When it’s time to show a vessel, we were curious if listing brokers helped, so we asked Do you want the listing broker there during a showing?

Most — 84 percent — said yes, but they fell in two categories: those who felt strongly that the listing broker should be there and those who didn’t think it was required but that it was a good idea.

“First of all, it’s his job to sell the boat,” said a captain of more than 20 years. “We are not paid a commission for doing this and may very well be selling ourselves out of a job by doing so. Being helpful and cooperative is one thing, but too often there is not a recognition from the broker that ceasing corrective or routine maintenance to set up the boat for a showing takes time. While this is often a necessary event, the least the broker can do is to show up to personally conduct the showing.”

“The owner expects it,” said a captain of more than 30 years. “The captain is too detail oriented and can say things better left to the broker to explain.”

“One hundred percent there for every showing,” said a captain of more than 20 years. “They are being paid huge fees to sell the vessel, so be there. But, with that being said, the captain and crew can make or break any showing by the way the product is presented to a buyer. So the broker better have a good relationship with the owner, captain, crew, and vessel manager because it truly takes the entire team to put a sale together on some of these super yachts.”

“The broker is getting the commission, not the captain and crew,” said a captain of more than 35 years. “The captain and crew are there to compliment the broker but not do his job.”

“They represent the owner and have a contract to sell the vessel,” said a captain of more than 15 years. “They should be handling the showing.”

“What else do they do for their commission?” said a captain of more than 25 years. “Of course they should be there. A listing and a little advertising is not enough for the commission amounts.”

Many of these captains didn’t think the listing broker needed to be there, but felt it was a good idea.

“I don’t really care either way,” said a captain in the industry more than 10 years. “But I think they should be because they made a commitment to my boss to sell the boat.”

“Not necessary for listing broker to be there, but if there is an issue with what you did or did not say to the potential buyer, it helps that there is a witness,” said a captain in yachting more than 35 years.

“For the first showing, yes, but after that the buyer is looking for more information and 99 percent of the time the captain will know the answer, not the broker,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years.

Those who said no, 16 percent of our respondents, agreed that the listing broker can make the showing awkward.

“Having the listing broker present can make the buyer’s broker nervous,” said a captain in yachting more than 15 years.

“The buying broker does not want his client to be influenced by anyone other than himself,” said a captain in yachting more than 35 years.

Do you participate in the showings by giving tours and answering questions?

The majority — 69 percent — said yes, and 29 percent more said they do but it depends on the broker.

“It’s his job to answer the tough questions or not; it’s my job to assist and only answer questions when asked, go over with the broker the pitch he will be making and support him,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “Tell him straight off you are not going to mislead anyone or not be honest.”

Just 3 percent of our respondents said they do not give tours or answer questions during a showing.

One of the most conflicts between captains and brokers is the belief that the listing broker doesn’t do much to sell the boat, other than create a sales listing and brochure. So we wondered Has a listing broker ever helped you get the boat ready for a showing or for sale? Perhaps the broker has brought beverages or flowers to the boat, or maybe made a case with the owner to hire some dayworkers to help with maintenance.

Seventy percent said no broker had ever done anything to help get the boat ready for a sale, leaving about 30 percent who had brokers who did.

“The brokers should advise the owners about a fair severance package or handover fee,” said a captain in yachting more than 15 years.

And finally, when it comes to listing brokers, we asked this open-ended question: From a captain’s perspective, what could listing brokers do better?

The most common response — mentioned by more than half of captains — was to communicate better about showings and cancellations.

“Make sure there is always reasonable notice for a showing,” said a captain in yachting more than 35 years. “Reasonable depends on what the boat has been doing the past few days, the number of crew, etc. A minimum of 24 hours, and maybe don’t expect a perfect boat with that.”

“Be more realistic with time frames to show a boat,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years. “Don’t call me on a Sunday at 6 p.m. and ask to have another broker show the boat at 7 p.m. and you need the boat opened up and the entire outside uncovered and I have one crew member on watch.”

“Try to give at least 48 hours notice if the yacht will be visited by a serious buyer,” said a captain in yachting more than 15 years. “Often we will have maintenance going on, and a yacht should be at its best when being shown.”

“Often they will cancel and not tell you,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “A showing stops the regular day-to-day work and costs the owner. If the broker is a no-show, it wastes everyone’s money and effort. If the client cancels, have the decency to take 5 minutes and call the crew. Most brokers don’t bother.”

“Be on time or arrive earlier than the client for a briefing with the captain,” said a captain in yachting more than 10 years.

The next most common suggestion was to have listing brokers more involved with the crew and more knowledgeable about the boat.

“Help with some of the work, not just show up and try and sell the boat,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “Do you know how many times at the shows brokers show up 2 minutes before the show and say ‘let’s sell a boat’? This is after all the real work has been done.”

“Take time to fully understand the boat properly and all the little things that make that particular boat special,” said a captain in yachting more than 35 years.

“Stop misleading or flat out lying to potential clients about the vessel’s abilities, true operating costs and manning, and asking crew to ‘just go along with it’,” said a captain in yachting more than 20 years.

And they want to be treated with respect.

“The captain can make or break a sale,” said a captain in yachting more than 35 years. “Just treat us as professionals, not slaves.”

We shifted gears here and asked a few questions about the buyer’s broker. Do they ever show up ahead of time, without a buyer, to preview the boat?

About three-quarters said they sometimes (57 percent) or always (16 percent) do.

Most of the rest — 21 percent — said they rarely do.

Just 6 percent said they never do.

“Brokers are generally lazy (I know that is painting with a wide brush, but …),” said a captain in yachting more than 20 years. “They want an obvious listing to copy and want the skipper or crew to provide information instead of really inspecting the vessel. We only deal with the central broker, and still get poor or inaccurate information. I’ve personally had to correct listings several times, items listed that are not on the vessel or structural errors in description, etc. The days of a broker coming aboard and making copious notes and then asking for updates, equipment details, etc.? I’ve not seen it the last 4-5 years.”

Do you expect the buyer’s broker to know the boat in detail?

Most — 53 percent — didn’t think it was crucial but did agree that it would help with the sale.

Much of the rest — 34 percent — said yes, it is a broker’s job to know the boats they show.

“They should know their product as well as we do,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years. “They are selling it and getting paid, not us.”

About 13 percent said no, the buyer’s broker didn’t need to know the boat because that was the captain’s job.

Do brokers ever show up with a client unannounced?

After hearing that timing is the biggest issue with listing brokers, we were surprised that the answer to this question was as balanced as it was. About 58 percent said buyer’s brokers will show up unannounced; 42 percent said they don’t

Do brokers give you enough notice before a showing?

Again, we were surprised at the general civility of the responses here, considering this issue of notice is important to captains. The biggest group — 53 percent of respondents — said brokers usually give enough notice. And a third more said they sometimes do.

“Sometimes they don’t respect all the time and work it takes to get ready to show a vessel,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “They just call and say I’m coming.”

The remaining 14 percent said they rarely do.

“They think captains are their personal slaves on 5-minute call 24/7, and they have great difficulty with the truth,” said a captain in yachting more than 35 years.

It’s worth noting that none of the respondents chose “yes, always” when it came to brokers giving enough notice.

We wrapped up the section about buyer’s brokers with this open-ended question: <<BOLD>>From a captain’s perspective, what could buyer’s brokers do better?

This time, responses were more diverse. The largest group of captains (34 percent) wanted the buyer’s brokers to be more knowledgeable not only about the boat, but also about their own clients.

“Provide a description of what his client is looking for,” said a captain in yachting more than 10 years. “This would prevent a 5-minute showing. Again, do your job and don’t just play the law of averages game for your commission. You owe this to your client.”

“Preview the boat prior to showing it to make sure it fits the buyer’s criteria, assuming they know it,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years.

“Generally, they do a decent job, but honestly they could do their job better by putting them in a good boat,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years. “Not selling them just anything they may fancy.”

“Know what he/she is selling and be honest,” said a captain in yachting more than 10 years. “There is no point in selling the wrong boat to the wrong person. Nobody comes out well in the end, including the broker.”

“Speak to his client about what he really wants,” said a captain in yachting more than 15 years. “Quite often it is a waste of my time and the client’s time as the boat does not fit the client’s requests.”

And as they suggested for listing brokers, captains wanted more notice on showings, a courtesy phone call when a client cancels, and more communication.

“Touch base with a phone call 48 hours before a showing, rather than 24 hours,” said a captain in yachting more than 15 years. “It makes planning to stop maintenance and start detailing much easier.”

“Show more respect by actually showing up and not blowing us off,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years. “Show up on time as well. We have things to do and we are on the owner’s dime, not yours.”

But the third largest group wanted the buyer’s broker to stop suggesting unrealistic operating budgets and manning levels.

“Have had trouble with them low-balling estimates on crew, wages, etc., to try to make the buyer think it will cost less than it does to own the boat,” said a captain in yachting more than 35 years.

“Not feed their client a load of crap regarding the vessel, like extremely low operating costs just to facilitate the sale, or ‘you can run this boat with four crew’ when manning requirements call for seven. Stop embellishing things just to line your pockets. Be honest.”

“Captains are put in a difficult position where they are encouraged to go along with the broker’s exaggerations regarding running costs, crew levels and generally failing to manage the buyer’s expectations,” said a captain in yachting more than 15 years.

Beyond the interaction with brokers, we were curious about another obvious piece of the sales picture where captains are concerned. As you prepare a yacht for showings and sale, do you feel as though you are preparing for the end of your job?

Nearly two-thirds of captains said they do feel this way but it’s OK because it’s just part of yachting.

“It’s part of the business and inconveniences are sometimes unavoidable,” said a captain in yachting more than 20 years. “A healthy dose of consideration and patience from both sides will help the process.”

“Almost every yacht I have ever run was for sale,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “It’s part of the job, so help as much as you can. There will be another one if you do right by the owner and boat. I have been given bonuses from broker and owner for my help in the sale.”

Twenty-two percent more said they don’t usually feel this way, that they often will stay with the owner even after a sale.

Fourteen percent said they do feel like they are putting themselves of a job and that it’s the pits.

“Unless they tell me directly they either want me to stay on until the boat sells or they are going to be actively looking for another boat and they want me to stay, then I start looking as soon as I get the word,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “Clean it up. Drop it off. Next.”

“It is tricky because to help sell a boat means the crew have worked themselves out of a job,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years. “The solution is the crew often receive 1 percent of the sale price split between the broker and the owner. This turns a lose/win to a win/win. Besides, if the crew is motivated to help with the sale, the boat will sell for more money and quicker.”

Several captains had a few kind words for the brokers they have worked with.

“I had an excellent working relationship with my last listing broker,” said a captain in yachting more than 35 years who noted his experience with brokers has been mostly good. “With an absentee owner, it was also nice to have him as a third party reporting to the owner all the effort I was doing on the owner’s behalf.”

“I have endured over 80 showings as first mate, engineer and captain resulting in four sales,” said a captain in yachting more than 10 years. “One broker called me two days after a sale and asked if we could meet. He handed me a check for $1,000 (from his commission) and said ‘Thank you. This sale would not have happened without you.’ That made my day. Not the money part but the ‘thank you’ part.”

Click to read the comments to Triton Survey on yacht brokers.

Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this survey are welcome at lucy@the-triton.com. We conduct our monthly surveys online. All captains and crew members are welcome to participate. If you haven’t been invited to take our surveys and would like to be, e-mail lucy@the-triton.com to be added.

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2 thoughts on “Yacht captains positive on brokers in sale, but offer advice

  1. Joe Killian

    I started in yacht sales in 1985 and in between was a captain on yachts, tugs, ferries, supertankers, ships etc.. and was a marine surveyor. I have been back exclusively in yacht brokerage for 20 years now. I do not provide my resume to captains. I don’t brag and I don’t think it is necessary if everyone honestly knows their job. The captain has his or hers and the broker has their to do. What I have experienced however is the shortsightedness and jealousy of many captains and crew, politics and posturing. It does not surprise me that only 4% of captains have the same view as myself. That number reflects the elite, the cream of the crop and top professional captains and probably the percentage of brokers that really understand that we do our duty the best we can. I never asked a captain for compensation for helping them get a job. I don’t count other people’s money either. The number one reason for owners getting out of yachting other than financial concerns is problems with crew and the unnecessary drama not brokers by the way.

  2. Kevin Ralph

    I read your survey about brokers and it has a lot of valid points [“Yacht captains positive on brokers in sale, but offer advice,” page C1, July issue].
    The key is to be considerate, courteous and timely. If I am running late (or early), I try to call the captain and let them know. I always call if there is a cancellation. Not to do so is just plain ignorant. Brokers should be there with their clients and the listing broker should also be there, depending on the circumstance and situation. (Sometimes selling brokers are familiar with the yacht or don’t want another broker breathing down their buyer’s neck.) Brokers should know their product and should preview boats whenever possible prior to showing.
    As for the crew wanting a gratuity, it’s a very fine line. As was pointed out, they work for the owner/seller and by accepting third-party compensation, this can create a conflict of interest. Quite frankly, if the captain/crew is fine with their gratuity being placed on a closing statement for the seller to see, then it shouldn’t be an issue. However, I don’t believe it’s the broker’s responsibility to pay for crew to do their job, unless they go above and beyond the call of duty. And that is very subjective.
    I do think it’s in the seller’s best interest to give the crew a bonus upon sale. There have been many an instance where crew will sabotage a showing/sale in order to keep a job.
    What crew fail to realize or see is that brokers don’t have a salary, don’t have accommodation, food, transportation, health care or clothing provided. Brokers can work long hours for multiple buyers and sellers without any recompense. It’s called “commission only” and the reason why so many captains and crew who start out trying to come shoreside go back to yachts. Let’s face it. The money, perks and lifestyle onboard is hard to beat by comparison.
    Just my 2 cents.
    Kevin Ralph
    Partner & Yacht Broker
    Skywater Group
    Ft. Lauderdale

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