Go sailing, trust your captain to enjoy yachting

Apr 1, 2014 by Lucy Chabot Reed

We spend a lot of time in our monthly captains luncheons talking about things that impact a captain’s job and career. Most of those conversations over the past 10 years have looked at outside things that captains deal with, including crew issues, shipyards and contractors, and relationships with owners.


This month, as The Triton turns 10 years old, we wanted to turn around and look at how owners impact not captains but yachting in general, so we asked “What one thing do you wish owners would do to better enjoy their yachting experience?”


“Use them,” one captain said without missing a beat. “We’re here to entertain them. It gets boring just cleaning them.”


The other captains in the room agreed, and there was silence. Could it be that easy?


“And go to different spots, new locations,” another captain finally said.


As always, individual comments are not attributed to any one person in particular so as to encourage frank and open discussion. The attending captains are identified in the accompanying photograph.


Our relatively small group of captains this month nevertheless spanned the industry, from one who has been playing with yachts since he was a child, to another who spent a career in commercial before landing on large yachts. One works on smaller old vessels, another on bigger new ones.


Between them, they have run across a variety of owners, stuck with some, left others. And they agreed that owners would be happier in yachting if they simply used their yachts more.


“I just sat with the boss and planned a year’s itinerary,” one captain said. “I had to do it, for the insurance company. But it helps clarify where we’re going. It puts it in their head. Here’s the float plan, now let’s use it.”


A plan, even a rough idea, helps with budgets, too, they agreed.


“Tell me where you want to go a year out and I’ll save you $200,000 on dockage,” one captain said.


“And fuel,” said another. “Going across the Atlantic at 12 knots versus 8 knots is huge.”


OK, so let’s say all yacht owners used their yachts more. There must be more to it. Even when they do use their yachts, we still do something to mess it up for them. We charge too much, we spend too much, we fail in managing the crew, we tell them one thing when it’s really another (this applies to all of us in yachting, not just captains).


What dynamics come into play that owners have control over that would increase their enjoyment of their yachts?


“Trust us,” a captain said. “It’s what you pay us to do. Take some input from us.”


But they agreed that’s not as simple as it sounds either.


“Wealthy people learn that there will always be people who want their wealth,” another captain said. “Trust is always going to be an issue.”


Another thing that these captains said would help owners enjoy their yachts more is to stop sweating the small stuff.


“There’s a level of obsessive compulsiveness, wanting everything perfect,” a captain said. “If it’s not perfect, he’ll use that as an excuse not to go out.”


“If the owner would not focus so much on the cosmetic stuff and just relax, he’d really enjoy himself,” said another.


The conversation weaved around a bit and the captains discussed some owner behaviors that drive them nuts, but eventually, they settled on better communication as a key skill that would improve their yachting experience.


“He’s not always forthcoming with information,” one captain said. “When I ask ‘where are we going this summer’, he barks back ‘why do you want to know’? It has a negative impact on the crew. I’m constantly being asked what we’re doing and I can’t tell them.”


The problem is when an owner knows what he wants to do, but he doesn’t tell the captain.


“Give me more information sooner,” this captain said, “even if you are just thinking about it. Don’t wait until it’s finalized. I’m not saying come up with a rigid schedule for the whole year. What I’m saying is when he knows it, I need to know it. Then I can create a flexible plan, a plan for the shipyard, a plan for time off.


“As yacht crew, we make lots of sacrifice because that’s implicit in the position,” this captain continued. “That’s why you’re paid what you are. It’s not the credentials, but what you give up. But they [crew] need more than money.”


This brought the conversation back around to money. Better communication meant better planning meant money saved, which brought up another pet peeve of captains: being at anchor all the time to save money. And interestingly enough, that turned into another thing owners can do to better enjoy yachting.


While one captain hates being at anchor all the time, another loved it because his crew was active and being at anchor made it easier to go swimming, diving and fishing. That not only keeps the yacht’s equipment working, this captain said, but it makes the crew better prepared for the owner’s next visit.


“When the boss comes, he doesn’t want to look for fish, and the crew knows the best places to take him diving,” this captain said. “That’s how you make a great experience for the owner and have fun. And that makes the crew excited for the boss to come back to the boat, excited to show the boss a good time.”


“The boss needs to understand that,” another captain said.


“That takes boss training,” said a third.


One captain thought the boss would better enjoy owning a yacht if he were more open to chartering it.


“I could offset some serious costs,” this captain said. “To know there’s not always money going out but some coming in, that would give a certain peace of mind.”


But not all captains agreed. Some owners don’t want strangers sleeping in their bed, and the expenses increase as yachts get larger, so chartering doesn’t offset costs much.


“But he could enjoy it more if it wasn’t costing so much,” the first captain said. “He only comes on board for two months and it sits the rest of the time.”


“That’s when it makes sense,” another captain said, “when owner use is so low.”


And once again, we’ve returned to the subject of money. The captains discussed how a lot of times, owners are so fixated on expenses that they get bogged down with purchases that their captains claim will save them in the long run.


“When they’re talking to you, they have tunnel vision and wonder only ‘how can I control his expenses’,” one captain said. “But when they think about it, or if they ask why we want to do something, they see that usually it’s a better investment in their boat and, when they sell, they’ll get more return.”


One captain said he planned to propose that he operate on a budget, with quarterly reports. No more asking permission for each expense.


“Let me run on a budget,” this captain said. “If that works, he’ll enjoy this more. He won’t know if I’m buying a $30,000 brick for the generators. He gets bogged down with that.”


“For them to delegate and trust their captain, it’s got to take a weight off their shoulders,” another captain said. “They should treat the boat more like a novelty, not a business. But my guy’s been so hands-on in all his businesses all his life, it’s hard to let go.”


“It’s all about communication between the boss and the captain,” a captain said.


“Good communication makes it more enjoyable for them,” another said.


“And less stressful for us,” said a third.

Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com. If you make your living working as a yacht captain, e-mail us for an invitation to our monthly Bridge luncheon.


About Lucy Chabot Reed

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

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