Owner’s required level of service sets crew requirements

May 5, 2015 by Peter Herm

My last column on crew utilization generated some interesting comments, for which I am thankful. The crazy chef issue continues, but for $80,000 a year, it still seems like there should be a candidate out there. I could be wrong.

One of the primary drivers of crew-level-and-rest decisions should be based upon the level of service required by an owner and the boat itself. Over the past 25 years of yacht ownership and charter, I have experienced widely varying levels of service; some by design and some not.

On my first foray into big boats more than 25 years ago, we had a 33m boat that was about as big as a 40m boat. We ran it from Maine to Alaska and back again over 18 months with six or seven crew. This was a varnish-free monster but it was older, thus engineering was a full-time job.  (Ask me about overhauling a generator, pistons out, between San Francisco and Seattle.)

During that adventure, we got to know the owners and crew of another 33m boat that ran with just a captain and his wife. The owners did their own laundry, made their own drinks (God forbid!) and helped with the wash down.

However, they rarely cruised with more than two couples and theirs was a brand new boat. It was designed for few crew and low maintenance. The crew and owners were good friends and the boat operated in what I will call the West Coast Family mode. Everybody chipped in and did whatever was necessary.

Twenty five years later, I ran into this captain at the Palm Beach boat show last month on the same boat. (Remember how important I have said going to boat shows is? Here is a great example of why. You never know who you will bump into.)

Now retired, he was filling in temporarily while the owner searched for a new captain. The boat had gone through a massive, multimillion-dollar refit and now runs with five or six crew in what I call East Coast Luxury Resort mode.

Today, many boats of the same size run in East Coast Luxury Resort mode with five or six crew. Some of the crew are expected to serve guests from the time the first guest is up (to make and serve coffee I guess) until the last guest retires for the evening, presumably to mix the cocktails and hand out the towels in the hot tub disembarkation process.

These boats run with full guest staterooms. Both tenders and Jetskis are in constant motion most of the day.

Another 33m boat we had for several years ran with an engineering-oriented captain, the hardest working mate on the planet and a temporary mate or two for long passages. This required the owners (my wife and kids) to perform some “crew” functions such as cooking, picking up after ourselves and even fetching our own drinks. I even got to do some of the driving when I was not mastering the drinking.

We had a great time on that yacht with that crew. Not necessarily better than in East Coast Luxury Resort mode, but maybe.

Our current boat is now run East Coast Luxury Resort style. My partners are enjoying the full crew experience, from that first cup of coffee until that last cocktail and hot tub towel. The five or six crew definitely earn their keep when my partners are aboard.

The trouble is that my family is still kind of stuck in the West Coast Family mode, which makes for some interesting challenges. My wife does not like to feel like a stranger in the galley, and we are always chided when we try to haul in our own dishes.

So, in my search for a new boat, we may try a hybrid; slightly smaller boat with three or four crew where everybody chips in but maybe letting the crew handle the laundry and dishes. This boat will have no varnish and less finicky and fancy systems.

And I know of a captain I can maybe, just maybe, haul out of retirement for one last hurrah. Wish me luck; the Med beckons. Bow west and high tide only…

Peter Herm is the pen name for a real yacht owner who is an entrepreneur based on the East Coast of the U.S. It comes from Pieter Harmensz, original owner of the oldest known stock certificate in 1606, issued for a Dutch company with the largest shipping fleet in the world. Comments on this column are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com.