Professional yacht crew can do many things. Besides crossing oceans and plotting courses without signposts, they keep a floating city operational. Being good at it takes years of experience and study.
But even the best mariners dread the paperwork.
A veteran yacht captain who has a knack for policies and procedures has created a Web site to share not only his knowledge of more than 20 years in yachting, but also his tried-and-true documents.
Capt. David Clarke of the 240-foot (73m) M/Y Laurel has launched Superyacht Operating Systems (www.superyachtos.com). It includes more than 250 documents with everything from a six-paragraph crew non-disclosure agreement to a 52-page deck department inventory spreadsheet. There are crew familiarization procedures, safety drill schedules, monthly safety inspection checklists and pre-guest arrival checklists for three different departments.
All are available to anyone who can use them, for free.
“It’s a place for guys with no experience on a 30m or a 50m to get experience and to be successful,” Clarke said. “We need them to be successful. We all want owners to have a good time on their yachts. Owners who don’t have a good time because of a bad experience or a bad captain get out of yachting, and they tell their friends not to bother getting in.”
The documents are searchable by topic or department and can be downloaded as Excel spreadsheets or Word documents. Captains and crew then can customize them to meet the operational needs of their vessel.
“We get them 80 percent of the way there instead of having to start at zero,” Clarke said. “I want to share these with individual crew to make the industry better, more efficient, more functional and better documented.”
It took Clarke about eight months to accumulate the documents — and de-Laurel-ize them, he said — to launch the site, which went live yesterday. Crew on Laurel helped pull it all together, including the chief officer, the chief engineer and his wife, former purser Jodi, who contributed most of the interior and personnel documents.
“I developed these systems with the people I’ve worked with, and we tweaked them through just making the boat run better,” he said.
He hopes users will share their operational documents, too, to create a library of tools where efficiency is the goal.
“It starts to build a little community of people who are willing to open up their playbook,” Clarke said. “Up to now, we hold these cards close to our vest. I don’t think that’s good for any of us. We all hire crew, do heads and beds, serve, do passage planning, bunker. We all do the same things.
“And the guys who struggle with a part of it know there’s a more professional way. They just don’t know how to get there.”
Part of the issue is that many captains today became captains early and on smaller vessels, moving up as they gained experience but always in command. On large vessels (and in commercial and military), crew begin at the bottom and work up through the ranks, learning the jobs and procedures as they go. Although those who move up as captains have sufficient technical knowledge, their managerial and operational skills aren’t always as strong.
“The schools teach the technical side and the practical side, but not the administrative side.”
Clarke tested the SOS site among friends during the Monaco show in late September and made some improvements before launching it at the Ft. Lauderdale show. Though Laurel is not officially in the show, she is docked at Lauderdale Marina near the 17th Street bridge.
He hopes builders and owners will recognize his acumen for the operational side of yachting and put him to work setting up their new builds. He doesn’t want to be a project manager or even the build captain, but to work alongside those professionals to set up the vessels operating systems and documentation.
“A new build never has the opportunity to be as good as it can be because it didn’t have the chance at the beginning,” he said. “The captain is busy with hiring, overseeing the build and outfitting the yacht. Something always gives; operation normally does.”
SOS plans to add training, safety and how-to videos for everything from folding napkins to mixing paint.
“I hope it becomes more of an educational tool, as well,” Clarke said. “For someone coming into the industry, it’ll have all the knowledge they need to be successful on a yacht.
“Some guys hate it; I’m good at it,” he said of the paperwork involved in the operation of a modern superyacht. “I couldn’t run a boat successfully any other way.”