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The Agent’s Corner: Yacht agents play vital role in U.S. ports

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The Agent’s Corner: by Capt. Deb Radtke

Who needs a yacht agent in Florida?

I get asked this question a lot. The assumption is that there is no need for an agent because there are not the same language barriers as may be present in, for example, the Mediterranean.  And you are not required to use an agent in the U.S.  A private yacht cruising in U.S. waters can handle their clearances and application for a cruising license on their own. However, an agent can make things easier. A captain has to consider what his or her time is worth, because applying for that cruising license could mean sitting at the local CBP office for several hours.

Also, the yachting scene in South Florida has changed. Miami has taken off as a destination for owners and guests to visit.  So even captains who are familiar with Fort Lauderdale as a refit and repair area are now reaching out for assistance with Miami dockage, tours, activities and reservations. Many are not familiar with cruising options in Florida and the Keys.  An agent with local knowledge can assist with itineraries or connect the captain with others who are familiar with those cruising areas.

Management company or agent?

Since many management companies are based in Fort Lauderdale, I also get asked what’s the difference between a management company and an agent? A management company handles the global picture for a yacht — employment contracts, payments, flag state compliance and financial issues, among many other things. The local agent handles things needed on the ground in whatever port you are visiting — dockage, concierge services, liaising with local vendors, etc. So frequently, even if a yacht’s management company is in the port it is visiting, a local agent can still be needed for assistance.

 What is a managing agent?  

There are also yacht agents who do not work in one locale. Managing agents are typically hired to assist with a long-range cruising plan. Their speciality maybe a certain region, or perhaps they are hired specifically to prevent issues with a language barrier. For instance, if a cruising itinerary includes the western Caribbean, Panama and South America, a managing agent who is fluent in Spanish and English can assist in dealing with local agents who may not speak English. The managing agent can also handle billing and payments in a variety of currencies, so the vessel only needs to pay one invoice.

What are things to look for in an agent?

Whether cruising in Florida or around the globe, there are certain traits to look for in an agent.

  • Local knowledge and strong contacts.  This is an industry that is built on relationships.  If an agent is not well-respected in their community, they may have trouble getting things done. Always ask other captains for referrals.
  • A can-do attitude. Just like with a good crew member, attitude matters. A solid knowledge of the yachting industry also helps since it will mean a better understanding of a captain’s needs.
  • Integrity.  Again, referrals will help, but also check whether the agent is a member of any professional associations, such as the Association of Yacht Support Services (AYSS), U.S. Superyacht Association (USSA), and their local marine association (in Florida, that is Marine Industry Association of South Florida).
  • Collaboration. Does the agent work with agents in other ports to make a client’s overall cruising plan go smoothly? Is the agent willing to pass a client off to an agent in the Caribbean, the Northeast, or on the West Coast?
  • Personality. Is the agent likeable, easy to interact with, someone who appears confident and capable of getting the job done? There is nothing worse than dealing with vendors you just don’t like.

Even though U.S. ports, unlike some European ports, do not require the use of a local agent, there are many advantages to using one. Whether there is a language barrier or not, when the yacht is in a new locale and there are guests on board, the crew might be hard pressed for time to run even the quickest of errands. Having a local agent can be like having extra crew. Whether it’s escorting crew members to immigration, obtaining security zone clearance, setting up doctor appointments or running to the nearest Publix at 10 p.m., a good local agent will get the job done.

The U.S. has some great cruising destinations. Our goal as yacht agents in Florida is to encourage more boats to visit the U.S. and actually cruise, not just stop in for yard periods.

Capt. Deb Radtke owns American Yacht Agents in Fort Lauderdale (www.americanyachtagents.net). After 16 years working on yachts, she found her niche shoreside assisting vessels visiting the U.S. East Coast and Great Lakes. Comments are welcome below.

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