Owner cannot stand in the way between a yacht captain and crew

Jan 31, 2016 by Peter Herm

In the December From the Bridge captains lunch article, captains discussed the chain of command and the state of the crew pool in South Florida. I was struck by the portion of the conversation that held owners accountable for being too nice, and somehow thwarting the chain of command.

If an owner intends to hold a captain responsible for the management of the boat and the actions of the crew, there is no question how owner/crew relations should be handled. Very simply, the captain is the boss. Crew who circumvent the captain and deal directly with the owner on any issue should be immediately pointed back to the captain.

I am sure there are exceptions to this rule, including possible moral turpitude or suspected financial infidelities on the part of the captain, but for anything else, the captain should have the only and final say when it comes to crew management.

Yacht owners who do not give their captains 100 percent freedom to hire, fire and manage their crew cannot expect their captains to do their job effectively.

I make it clear early on that the captain is the boss and so I have not really had any issues with this in more than 25 years of boat ownership. It’s really no different than the accepted management principles of any business. The various executives or managers in a company are hired to do a job. Their employees are their responsibility to manage, hire and fire.

It is the manager’s job to ensure that the employees do what is expected of them to achieve the manager’s — and thus the company’s — overall goals as communicated by the CEO.

In the case of a boat, I guess the owner is the CEO and the captain is the president. The CEO reports to a board of directors, which in the boat analogy is often the spouse of the CEO, better known as the chairman of the board.

To keep my “job” (husband and boat CEO), I have to meet the chairman’s demands, and I count on the captain to deliver on the boating part of our business (relationship). Fortunately, my chairman is tolerant and benevolent.

I admit to being one of the owners who likes to treat a captain and crew as a part of the family. One of my old captains (now retired) regularly joins my family for holidays and other special events after more than 25 years of loyal service and, yes, friendship. I would like my current captain and his team to be around for just as long, assuming I am.

But there is still a line. I set out clear expectations up front. Half of the problems with crew circumventing the chain of command are really a failure to communicate early on in a relationship what is expected and what is forbidden.

This line is defined between me and the crew on our boat. It is crystal clear that although I may provide the funds, the crew are solely responsible to the captain; only he can hire and fire them. His job, directly and through the actions of his crew, is to enhance my enjoyment of the boat and cause the least brain damage and stress possible.

This whole business of yachting should be fun for an owner, not another painful part of a business to manage. It ain’t cheap, so it better be fun.

As for the crew pool in South Florida, a yacht owner friend has just gone through crew turnover. His stories of this process were chilling. I would agree that the crew pool could use some new, disciplined, non-entitled genes, but I don’t think this challenge is unique to boating.

The amazing thing in the candidate submissions I see is the total inability to write and the lack of regard for details on a resume. Anyone who submits a resume for any position in any industry that has poor writing, typos or grammar errors is a fool. If I get a resume that is not perfect, it is deleted or trashed.

Any crew applying for work on a yacht should have five intelligent people edit and review their resume prior to submitting it. A resume should be the cleanest, sharpest, most edited document a person ever creates. It should be flawless. No exceptions.

Bow west and high tide only.

Peter Herm is the pen name for a veteran yacht owner who is an entrepreneur based on the East Coast of the U.S. Contact him through www.the-triton.com/author/peter-herm.