Captains must earn the right to be treated like a CEO

Mar 7, 2017 by Peter Herm

Owner’s View: by Peter Herm

Captains regularly bring up the issue of owners interfering in the management of the crew and the management of the boat in general. They point out that in an owner’s business, if the owner saw some issue with an employee, corporate process would cause the owner to contact the employee’s supervisor to deal with the issue rather than the employee directly. Don’t chew out the stew; tell the captain.

In many cases, captains say that the owners tend to take crew issues into their own hands rather than going through the chain of command as they would/should in their business. To some degree the proximity probably influences this I am sure, but there is another reason.

Captains are also not happy about the micromanaging from the owner. Why does this happen and how can captains fix it?

The short answer is that many captains are not perceived by their owners as managers of a business. They are perceived as seafarers. Hopefully, all captains are seafarers, but are they also managers and businessmen? For captains to be treated as managers, they need to act like and be continually trained as managers of people and businesses.

Captains must earn the right in the owner’s eyes to be treated like any of his/her other managers in their shoreside businesses. With my captain, I respect the chain of command. He makes all of the daily decisions, but he earned it.

Some of the tip-offs that show which captains are business-oriented and those who are not include the following, in no particular order:

  1. Are the accounts detailed, accurate and provided on the requested schedule?
  2. Are crew managed like an executive would manage his team? Fire early and often? Lead and train? Set a great example?
  3. Does the captain have business and management training, either formally or informally? Does he/she regularly read management books that would be applicable to managing employees in a business as well as a crew?
  4. When making an expenditure, does the captain shop it carefully, getting three bids from vendors? Does the captain spend the owner’s money as if it were his own?
  5. Is the captain an expert in yachting? My managers are experts in their business. They attend conferences and are up to date on what their competitors are doing today and will be doing tomorrow. They actively educate themselves, both formally and informally.
  6. What publications are on the bunk-side table? Sports Illustrated and Hustler, or Forbes, Boating Industry and Superyacht Report?
  7. Did you go to METS in Amsterdam in November? How about the Refit Conference in Ft. Lauderdale last month?

Micromanaging by owners is a subset of the above, but a little more complex. Some owners micromanage because they feel they have to. For others, like me, it is my nature to micromanage certain things because the boat is a topic I care about more than a lot of my business issues.

As in all things, this whole topic is most easily resolved with an open and honest conversation between the owner and captain. Communication on issues that cause friction is best done early and often. It may get resolved or it may not, but if it isn’t discussed, it can never be.

Captains who seek to be treated and respected as a manager of the boat and not just a seafarer must invest in themselves, become educated on management, and become an expert in this industry of boating.

To me, this sounds pretty obvious, but check out that stack of reading material by your bunk. Are they industry and business magazines, or something else? How serious are you about your profession?

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.