Proactively offer solutions for yacht captain and owner

Jun 29, 2015 by Peter Herm

As a family man, I value time with my kids. They will be grown and off on their own too soon. People say that, but it’s really true. Once they are off to college or in the full-time working world, our ability as parents to spend time with our kids drops precipitously. Harry Chapin described it well in his song: “Cat’s in the Cradle”.

The reality is that mariners are in a career that will impact their family life. Merchant Mariners are regularly far from home for months at a time. This is the career they have chosen.

Fortunately for yacht crew, there are options. The trick to being content in a yachting job is to find a good match. If the goal is to be home most nights, job options are obviously limited to those in which the boat spends most of its time at the dock. There are thousands of these boats out there.

On the other hand, if the goal is to cruise the world and gain sea time, family time sacrifices must be made. There is really no way around it.

It is important for all involved to clearly communicate their desires and goals as it pertains to potential off-the-boat family time. It is a balancing act that requires clear disclosure on everybody’s part.

As we neared closing on our current boat, the new captain sheepishly brought up the issue that he was scheduled to attend a wedding smack dab in the middle of the first week I wanted to use the new toy for the first time.

He wisely gave me lots of warning. My plane tickets had not yet been purchased and there was nothing pressing about the dates I’d chosen, so I told him to have a nice time.

Inconvenient for me? A little, but I have high hopes for this crew and want to start off on the right foot. Any relationship is about give and take right? I have been married more than 20 years and there has been a lot of “give” coming my way. I am OK giving some back.

Some owners, me included, have invited crew members’ families to join us on the boat. Not entire clans, but boyfriends, girlfriends, wives, husbands, etc. And not for extended time, but even short trips can help ease the longing.

And even in situations where the crew has committed to an extensive time away from home, there can be flexibility. Certain events should not be missed and, if the boat is docked for even a brief period, I encourage my crew to make the trek to special events, even if it requires us to adjust our cruising schedule (slightly, anyway).

The best way to juggle a life situation is to plan ahead as much as is practical. Tell the captain or owner that at some specific date three or six months out is a special event. It might be a sibling’s wedding or whatever. Most owners will understand. We want you to be happy, and if you are a valuable employee, we will work with you to make it happen.

For those times when planning is not possible, I am much more flexible when the crew member or the captain has made some sort of contingency plan. The engineer who has a family situation that needs his attention would get a lot less push back from me if he offers up a replacement so there would be little or no disruption to guests and crew.

That’s rarely easy to arrange on short notice — especially when emotions and stress are involved — so it would benefit any captain or senior crew member to have a “mini-me” available on short notice to take their place in the case of an emergency. The replacement would, of course, be at the discretion of the captain, but providing a solution instead of just a problem makes all of this easier for owners and guests.

Anytime you can proactively reduce the impact of a schedule disruption, it will work out better for all involved. Would I say no to this engineer or any crew member distraught by a family emergency? Nope, couldn’t do it; family first.

But would I prefer the problem to be solved with a temp offered up by the engineer in this case instead of three days of the captain’s time arranging for one? Absolutely.

Life issues are common; we’re all human. But ultimately how these things go always comes to the relationship the owner has with his captain and crew. A crew who bends over backward for an owner is going to receive that same bending when needed.

Over the years, I have become friends with my crew. Not too friendly (they are still employees), but more than a few beers have been shared. I still keep up with crew from boats of 25 years ago because I liked them then and still do today, even those who made some major mistakes.

By the way, if you are curious about my sign off — high tide only and bow west — it comes from one of the few crew I no longer keep in touch with. This captain was scheduled to come into a new dock and I pointed out prior to his arrival that it was shallow, so please come in only at high tide and bow to the west, just in case.

He ignored me on both suggestions. I got a $50,000 propeller bill and he received the opportunity to seek employment elsewhere. Mistakes happen, but intentional ignorance should not.

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 are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com.

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