Just as in all relationships, trust between owners and crew takes time and effort to develop. But once a mutually trusting relationship has been created, its value in boating is priceless.
The bedrock of all trusting relationships is communication, honesty and the setting of proper expectations. This is fairly easy to define in crew/owner relations though sometimes difficult to execute given the distances, communication challenges and unforeseen surprises inherent in the big boating lifestyle.
Our current boat is in the Med and we are in the U.S. most of the time. We are blessed with a great crew that came with the boat. As in any new toy, an owner’s instinct is to tinker with it; add new toys, change décor, and make changes to customize the boat to their usage goals and taste (or lack thereof). Even if the previous owner perceived the boat as near perfect, a new owner by definition usually has their own ideas of perfection which differ from the last. When executing these typical “improvements” from afar (in our case about 4000 nm) it is critical to have a captain and crew you can trust.
After using the new toy in the Med last summer and fall (the best time of year there) we came up with a list of improvements we wanted to make to the boat. While my tendency to micromanage would have put me in the yard with the boat weekly, it was not possible given the distance. I had to suck it up and trust the crew to implement our “vision” of enhancements to the boat. Whereas on previous boats I would have been all over it with a tape measure trying to mount artwork and fitting new galley appliances, this was not an option this time. I had to trust the captain and crew to source the products and contractors in funny languages and complete projects based upon their instincts and not mine. Our job was to send money. Gulp.
Part of the reason for the success of our winter refit is probably because the crew had earned my trust and respect in part by saying ‘no’ to a lot of requests. As you will read in a previous column, there is a proper way for a crew to say ‘no’ to an owner. But it turns out a ‘no’ can be a real trust builder. Just a few of many examples: I wanted a night generator. “No, we don’t need it and the payback will take forever.” I wanted a new, fancy radar. “No, we don’t need it, the ones we have work fine.” I wanted a bigger tender. “No, you really are not gaining anything the way you use the boat.”
In each case, the captain was saving me money and brain damage by saying ‘no’ and thus gaining my trust. What captain doesn’t want the latest toys if the owner is buying?
Another way of creating trust is by delivering on promises. This is most easily accomplished by setting the proper expectations up front. I wanted to redo the main salon headliner over the winter. Because part of my goal was to gain some headroom by redoing the overhead ceiling structure, this would be a fairly time consuming project. The captain suggested that we would not have the time to do it correctly this winter if all of the other projects on the list were to be completed properly. And certainly a new bar/grill takes precedence over silly headliners.
He basically gave me a choice and allowed me to set my own expectations; spend a fortune on an expensive outside contractor for the headliner, or wait until the winter to do it more cost effectively with his supervision. This is smart captain management of an owner’s expectations.
I am not on the boat yet, but I think our winter refit project came out great. This is based solely upon the bills and pictures. But if it is in person as it looks in the pictures, we owe it all to the trust we place in our crew. Watch this space for the actual results next month. 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 by emailing email@example.com.