Captains called to support code of ethics

Nov 25, 2013 by Lucy Chabot Reed

Once upon a time, there was a captain who was offered 2.5 percent of the cost of a new build if he convinced his boss to use a certain shipyard.

After talking it over with his wife, the captain told his boss about the offer. The owner sat on it to see if the yard would offer a discount. But when the owner asked, the yard said it couldn’t give a discount because the owner’s rep wanted a 2.5 percent kickback.

The owner took his business elsewhere.

Ken Hickling heard many stories like that over the past two years as he talked ethics to anyone in the industry who would listen. At a meeting of yacht captains just before the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show in late October, Hickling talked about the resulting Superyacht Business Principles that the International Superyacht Society launched this spring.

The principles include the broad topics of professionalism, honesty, integrity and trust. That, he said, was the easy part.

“It’s all very well to say kittens are nice and you should be nice to kittens,” said Hickling, who is president of ISS. “But what does it take to be good to a kitten?”

That’s what he and his committee spent the better part of the past two years figuring out. The result is the ISS document that includes 29 specific practices to help guide businesses and organizations in yachting behave in a more ethical way. Those best practices include such actions as “I will accurately represent the product or service that I offer/provide,” “All information I provide in the course of business dealings will be truthful” and “Any payments made or offered by a third party will be declared to or approved by my employer.” (To read the full list of practices, visit

So where do captains fit in? Hickling pointed out that yacht captains are “in the best place and the absolute worst place” when it comes to these practices, and he acknowledged that captains may have some of the toughest decisions to make when these issues come up.

The group of 12 captains talked about tips versus bribes (especially as it related to dockage in the Med) and about their interactions with sales brokers (especially during boat shows).

Trying to avoid the word transparency, Hickling noted that as long as the employer knows when money changes hands, the individual is operating with integrity. For example, the owner knows the captain is paying extra to get on the dock, and the marina owner knows the dockmaster is collecting that money.

“If the owner of the marina doesn’t know about it, we should make a fuss,” he said, and encouraged captains to question those dockmasters they suspect of dubious behavior.

The goal of the ISS document, a code of ethics if you will, is not to wipe out unprofessional behavior, but to lessen it, little by little.

“It’s like improving safety,” he said to the captains. “You don’t suddenly become safe tomorrow. You begin with drills and you eventually become safer. We have to do the exact same thing with ethics.”

The principles and practices are meant to assure yacht owners and potential owners that there are those in the yachting industry who abide by ethical conduct, and that they can get value for their assets.

“Villains are always going to be villains; I’m not interested in them,” Hickling said. “And there are no enforcers. We have to start working by them, challenging the people we work with to abide by them.

“It’s easy to make you all say yes,” he said. “Who thinks we should have more professionalism? More honesty? More integrity? More trust? The hard part it trying to influence somebody else. You can make a little progress toward this.”

By the way, that captain who told the owner about the 2.5 percent offer from the yard went on to do several new builds with that owner.

Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at


About Lucy Chabot Reed

Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher and founding editor of The Triton.

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