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Owner cannot stand in the way between a yacht captain and crew

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In the December From the Bridge captains lunch article, captains discussed the chain of command and the state of the crew pool in South Florida. I was struck by the portion of the conversation that held owners accountable for being too nice, and somehow thwarting the chain of command.

If an owner intends to hold a captain responsible for the management of the boat and the actions of the crew, there is no question how owner/crew relations should be handled. Very simply, the captain is the boss. Crew who circumvent the captain and deal directly with the owner on any issue should be immediately pointed back to the captain.

I am sure there are exceptions to this rule, including possible moral turpitude or suspected financial infidelities on the part of the captain, but for anything else, the captain should have the only and final say when it comes to crew management.

Yacht owners who do not give their captains 100 percent freedom to hire, fire and manage their crew cannot expect their captains to do their job effectively.

I make it clear early on that the captain is the boss and so I have not really had any issues with this in more than 25 years of boat ownership. It’s really no different than the accepted management principles of any business. The various executives or managers in a company are hired to do a job. Their employees are their responsibility to manage, hire and fire.

It is the manager’s job to ensure that the employees do what is expected of them to achieve the manager’s — and thus the company’s — overall goals as communicated by the CEO.

In the case of a boat, I guess the owner is the CEO and the captain is the president. The CEO reports to a board of directors, which in the boat analogy is often the spouse of the CEO, better known as the chairman of the board.

To keep my “job” (husband and boat CEO), I have to meet the chairman’s demands, and I count on the captain to deliver on the boating part of our business (relationship). Fortunately, my chairman is tolerant and benevolent.

I admit to being one of the owners who likes to treat a captain and crew as a part of the family. One of my old captains (now retired) regularly joins my family for holidays and other special events after more than 25 years of loyal service and, yes, friendship. I would like my current captain and his team to be around for just as long, assuming I am.

But there is still a line. I set out clear expectations up front. Half of the problems with crew circumventing the chain of command are really a failure to communicate early on in a relationship what is expected and what is forbidden.

This line is defined between me and the crew on our boat. It is crystal clear that although I may provide the funds, the crew are solely responsible to the captain; only he can hire and fire them. His job, directly and through the actions of his crew, is to enhance my enjoyment of the boat and cause the least brain damage and stress possible.

This whole business of yachting should be fun for an owner, not another painful part of a business to manage. It ain’t cheap, so it better be fun.

As for the crew pool in South Florida, a yacht owner friend has just gone through crew turnover. His stories of this process were chilling. I would agree that the crew pool could use some new, disciplined, non-entitled genes, but I don’t think this challenge is unique to boating.

The amazing thing in the candidate submissions I see is the total inability to write and the lack of regard for details on a resume. Anyone who submits a resume for any position in any industry that has poor writing, typos or grammar errors is a fool. If I get a resume that is not perfect, it is deleted or trashed.

Any crew applying for work on a yacht should have five intelligent people edit and review their resume prior to submitting it. A resume should be the cleanest, sharpest, most edited document a person ever creates. It should be flawless. No exceptions.

Bow west and high tide only.

Peter Herm is the pen name for a veteran yacht owner who is an entrepreneur based on the East Coast of the U.S. Contact him through www.the-triton.com/author/peter-herm.

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3 thoughts on “Owner cannot stand in the way between a yacht captain and crew

  1. Erik Goodwin

    As someone that has seen or heard of the most unbelievable resumes, or interviews I agree with Peter. This is your presentation to a prospective employer that you have total control over. Spelling errors, someone writing they are an avid drinker, another one telling of his last review of 2 out of 5, showing up in shorts and a tee shirt, showing up late to a time they chose, first thing they ask is about time off, it is truly amazing. On the subject of treating like family, I submit that this is something that should be earned, and that it should foremost be treated as totally professional. I have seen too many times owners that want to be buddies, and friends, until certain guests show up and then there is a change in attitude. Other than rare times, crew should not dine with owners, hearing crew complain that they have to go to dinner, after working a whole day, they think it is work, and the owner thinks they are doing them a favor, both sides feel they are owed something.leave it professional.

  2. Duncan Warner

    Unfortunately its never cut and dried with regards the hiring and firing of crew. Yes the Captain should be responsible for this. However if a crew member doesn’t “click” with the owners and is having a negative effect on the owners boating experience then he/she needs to go. I have had to let go crew members who worked well but with whom the owner didn’t feel at all comfortable for one reason or another. If the owner is alone or with one or two friends I will enjoy a dinner with them, if circumstance’s are right, if not I wont. I do have a close relationship with the owner of my vessel, but it is always professional first. This takes some maturity to grasp, and younger crew members may not fully grasp this, or if they do, put it into practice. Overall though a great article. I just subscribed to Triton and it makes interesting reading for me as I am the Master of a smaller Yacht based in Indonesia, good reading, many thanks.

  3. Alene

    Peter Herm, I really enjoy your articles every month–actually peering inside the Secret Mind of the owner…..but this column really struck a chord with me. I have been writing about standards and expectations for years. I think that is the core structure of the yacht’s entire program and that the owner and captain have to work together to set the standards and policies. The CEO, The President, and the Chairman of the Board have to work together!!
    Having spent 20 years as a stew on 125-200 foot yachts I was fortunate to work with captains who had a good working relationship with owners and there was a communication system already in place that outlined the service environment when I joined each vessel. I was always a long-term crew member and worked within the chain of command and respected the captain’s position. I know that different relationships start to form between crew and owners/guests and it was my job to make sure that junior stews knew what the proper boundaries are and that they were kept in place.
    I really value professionalism, and your comments about resumes really struck a chord with me. I spend a lot of time counseling my students on proper resumes and the importance of a flawless resume.
    I wrote and teach regularly scheduled courses for interior crew here at Maritime Professional Training and on my own time I do onboard training. I also work with owners and management teams for “smaller” yachts between 60′-130′ to write manuals that set out parameters and help owners and captains set policies for the service environment. I really look forward to your column every month and value your candid insight.

    Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with us!

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