The Triton


Owners don’t want to hear ‘no’; try ‘yes but…’


Owners of big boats are not generally known to enjoy hearing the word no from anyone. The income required to support our yachting habit is often concurrent with a healthy ego and eternal optimism, places where the word no isn’t heard as frequently as with lesser-driven individuals.

Good captains are required to say “no” in a variety of situations, and learning how to say it right is an important, long-term skill. Often, saying “yes, but …” is a better approach. For example:

  • An owner has just decided to use the boat for an unscheduled cruise. He calls the captain and says, “Hey, my New Year’s plans just changed and I want to use the boat with my family Dec. 30 to Jan. 5.”

The captain has long ago booked his overdue vacation with his extended family for those dates. He would like to say “No, you can’t. I am not available,” but this will most likely not make the owner happy.

Another answer might go something like this: “Hey, Mr. Owner, that is great. Anytime you want to use your boat, we will make it happen. Since our agreed schedule included time off for me that week, and I have a big family event already booked, would you mind if we did that cruise with my good friend, Capt. Bob, who is familiar with the boat and crew and is almost as good as I am?” (Great captains do have a backup captain or captains trained on the boat and ready to call.)

This way, the captain gets his vacation and the owner does not hear “no”, but rather “yes, but …”, a far more palatable answer.

  • An owner spent four days at the Ft. Lauderdale boat show, and he and a shrewd generator salesman decided that a night generator might be a great addition to the boat. It would be a little quieter and save fuel. The owner tells the captain his brilliant plan. The captain knows that this seemingly simple “improvement” will end up being a giant, painful project. He also knows how to use a calculator, so he responds with this:

“Mr. Owner, that is a great idea. Let me do the math on the cost of the system and installation vs. the fuel savings and get back to you on what it would look like financially.”

The captain figures out this will be a $50,000 project. The night generator will save about one gallon per hour vs. the main generators, for the eight hours it will be used at night, times the 30 nights per year the boat is used by the owner at anchor. His call back to the owner goes something like this:

“Mr. Owner, I did the math, and at our current $2 per gallon fuel cost, it will only take 104 years to make that investment pay for itself. Or if fuel prices go up to $5 per gallon, we would pay for it in about 40 years. I think with about $1,000 of new sound deadening materials, we can solve most of the noise issue.” (I love my crew.)

Notice that he didn’t say “no”, but he made a “yes” pretty illogical.  Even factoring in overhaul times on the main generators, I cannot really justify the project financially. Owners understand numbers.

  • It is blowing hard in the Abacos, and the boat is anchored on the calm, lee side of an island. The owner wants to take the big boat out and chase some fish. The captain knows this is going to be a rough and miserable ride for all involved. Instead of saying “no”, he suggests that perhaps the guests should split up into the fishing people and the non-fishing people. The folks who want to fish can take the big tender into some nearby flats and catch bonefish while the other guests enjoy cocktails on the big boat, anchored in the nice calm water. Again, “yes, but …” is a better alternative.

Sometimes, however, a “no” is required, particularly on safety issues. A respected captain should always have the last word where safety is involved. Whether an owner’s desire is to make a rough crossing in bad weather to meet a schedule or trying to cruise with suspect mechanical systems, the captain must explain his firm “no” as it pertains to safety. And I did say explain.

Sometimes, a “no” comes without explanation or justification, but not often. Whenever possible, an owner will more favorable respond to a “yes, but …” explanation.

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

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