A couple veteran yacht captains have started a new company to provide relief captains for yachts. But unlike relief arrangements in the past, Fleet Relief makes its captains promise they aren’t out looking for a full-time job.
“I wanted to create a hub of the most experienced captains in the world who don’t want to work full time and aren’t a threat to anybody,” Capt. Jon Hunt said of the company he started in the fall with Capt. Guy O’Connor. “Everybody we bring in, they’re done with yachting. They’ve come ashore. Their lives have changed.
“What do these guys do with all these qualifications when they don’t want to go sailing full-time anymore?” Hunt said. “An engineer can go elsewhere, but for captains, who have studied the art of navigation, it’s hard to take that anyplace else. They love what they do, but they don’t want to do it full time.”
Fleet Relief gathers experienced crew in senior positions and offers them to owners for relief work on yachts around the world. Fleet Relief crew must meet two vital criteria: have five years experience in their position, and sign an agreement that says they are not seeking full-time employment.
“No one in the yachting industry has really addressed the issue of crew time off, unless an owner is paying thru the nose for it,” Hunt said. “Most management companies leave this to the captain, and he or she is being constantly told to save money.”
Making time for holidays has always been challenging in yachting. Usually, senior crew — captains, engineers, first officers, pursers and chief stews — had to quit to take time off. Asking someone to fill in for a few weeks was risky. What if the boss likes that person better? What if that person will work for less? The result is that senior crew often worked years without any real time off.
Hunt makes a point of noting that Fleet Relief is not a crew agent, but instead a contractor that he considers as working for the owner. As such, the company doesn’t charge commissions but instead 10 percent on the contract, which Hunt said covers his costs of making phone calls, organizing flights and maintaining the contacts.
“Jon’s the only guy I know who looks at it from the owner’s point of view,” O’Connor said. “Just pay for the guy when he’s working. No rotations and all that, and no commissions or kickbacks. It’s just a straight, flat deal. For somebody like me, I’m happy to give 10 percent and have 300 percent more delivery work.”
Even though someone like O’Connor who knows a lot of captains and theorhetically be as busy doing relief as he wants, it still takes work that he’s happy to pay someone else to do, leaving him time to drive boats.
“There’s two reasons,” he said. “First, he’s setting up the schedule and collecting the money, which isn’t always easy to get. And second, it’s the guarantee. No matter how many people you know, everyone’s afraid you’re going to take their job. Sometimes, it’s their wife telling them, ‘don’t let him sub for you, the boss will like him better.’ With the guarantee, there’s no threat and that just opens the doors.”
The new MLC rules will force some busy charter vessels — and other classed vessels who voluntarily adopt the guidelines — to better record work time and hours of rest as well as vacation time.
And Fleet Relief is ready to help with that, ready a cadre of captains, engineers, chief officers and a few chief stews who will work as individuals or teams, all with with a minimum of five years experience. Hunt said he’s careful to choose only people he can rely on to represent his company.
Hunt has been involved with yachting as a business nearly 20 years, working onboard in every deck position from deckhand to captain, in management, and as a private contractor in the marine environment.
“I spent many years being at sea, and I worked for wonderful, successful people, as you do,” he said. “I’ve studied the whole thing before I stuck my neck out.”
And he’s confident it’ll continue to grow. This summer, he expects to open three physical locations, one each in Palma, Ft. Lauderdale, Viareggio.
“Because it’s not political,” he said, noting that it’s independent and not affiliated with any management company or brokerage house. “We can go anywhere. We represent a global industry.”
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.