By Conor Salmon
I am a former yachtie who still has saltwater running through his veins. As many of you know, it’s been a few years since I worked on boats, but I’d like to share with you some of my most impactful experiences.
One of these is the time we were docked in the South of France and I found myself at Jimmy’z in Monaco on the night before the Grand Prix. Mixed drinks there at the time were normally €35, but the night before the Grand Prix, the biggest party night of the year in Monaco, they were adjusted upwards in their version of “surge pricing” to €86. I had one – and then I had another, just to make sure that I really knew what an €86 drink tasted like. It turns out that it tastes the same as a $2 drink at the Soggy Dollar Bar in St. Maarten.
When I initially joined the yachting industry in 2007, I joined for essentially two reasons: I wanted to travel and I wanted to save money. I did really well at one of them, and I could have done a lot better at the other. I’ll let you guess which one is which.
The opportunity for making, and saving, money that is presented to crew in the yachting industry is absolutely amazing. What is also amazing is that this opportunity is denoted as “amazing” so often that it loses its meaning. It becomes so diluted that after a few years, you end up saying to yourself: “Tell me again, what was so amazing about this opportunity?”
In yachting, generally speaking, if you are employed full time on a boat and living on board, then you do not have to spend a lot of money on things that the majority of the general population has to spend money on, such as food, water, electricity, cable TV and rent. In other words, you have the ability to save every penny you make and still have a roof over your head and basically unlimited food, water, electricity – you are free from the economic burdens “normal” people face. That being said, you can also spend every single penny that you make and still have a roof over your head, unlimited food, water, electricity, etc. So, no matter what you do with your money, the essentials required for existing on this planet are taken care of for you.
That, my friends, is the clearest definition of what “disposable income” is that I can think of. You are able to literally throw that money overboard and still be able to live a healthy life, and as long as you’re still employed and your boss still has money, you will have more money coming to you in your next paycheck, should you run out.
This is not unique to yachting. There are other sectors of the marine industry that offer a similar opportunity, such as oil rigs, cruise ships, crab fishing boats, etc., but no one does it quite like yachties. The stories of financial irresponsibility reach far and wide, and everyone has their own favorite examples of largess that they’ve heard along the way. The excuses are endless: “You only live once,” “I do what I want,” “There’s more where that came from,” “Live for today, as there may not be a tomorrow,” “What else am I supposed to do with it?” “I had a good time though.”
Having been around the industry for more than a decade now, the most common thing I hear when it comes to personal finances is, “I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and I’ve got nothing to show for it.” That’s not the rule by any means, but I hear it frequently. If your younger self could hear you now, what behavior change would you suggest? How would you impress on the younger generation to not make the same mistakes that you did?
I suggest that as long as you are trading your time for money, pay yourself first. Before you pay the bartender, before you pay Rolex, before you pay Louis Vuitton, before you pay the airlines and hotels, before you pay Maui Jim, before you pay anyone else, pay yourself first. If you pay everyone else but yourself first you are far more likely to run out of money than if you take that money and pay yourself first. People who want to build wealth pay themselves first, not last.
We all start off with dreams of financial independence when we finally step off of boats onto dry land again. The opportunity presented to make that happen through employment in the yachting industry is amazing; it just takes a bit of self-discipline to ensure that you will have what you need when that last trip is over. One of my favorite sayings is that foresight is the ability to learn from other people’s hindsight. Learn from my hindsight and feel free to contact me if you’d like to learn more.
Conor Salmon worked as first mate and deckhand on yachts up to 257 feet for almost a decade. He moved to a shore-based life and now works as a financial adviser to the yachting industry, based in Florida. Comments are welcome below.