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Owner’s View: The perfect bosun worth the cost

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Owner’s View: by Melvyn Miller

Although few yachts carry sufficient deck crew to justify a mate who supervises multiple bosuns who each supervise multiple deckhands, I still prefer the term bosun to identify a paygrade between deckhand and mate. I believe that paygrade is justified sufficiently by the absence of the need for supervision. That is, owners should pay more to the person who saves the cost of being supervised.

Lines and fenders are relatively easily taught and performed, so significant continued supervision of that function is rarely needed, but the exterior appearance duties of the deck crew are both more subjective and more complex, so effective self-supervision to the needed level of appearance is valuable. This leads to the interesting question as to who specifies the needed level, and for how long (such as after a passage) a lower appearance level can be tolerated.

Many owners of crewed yachts made the decision to purchase a brokerage boat, or accept a new build, after seeing the yacht in boat show condition where the paint, teak, stainless and bright work looked essentially brand new. Many skilled hours produced that appearance, and the cost of those hours was included in the purchase price. Many skilled hours are required to maintain that appearance to some acceptable level, and that ongoing cost, which is part of the operational budget, is determined by the definition of acceptable level. A soap washdown requires more hours than a rinse, sanding the decks requires more hours than a washdown, and there is a significant difference in the hours required for the wide variety of finishing products.

I do not expect a yacht to have an as-new appearance during a long offshore passage, but I do prefer that it have a soap washdown immediately upon arrival. I do notice paint reflectivity and distortion, but am opposed to abrasive polishing techniques, especially as the yacht approaches the time for a full paint job. Thus, after many decades of paying for the exterior appearance of my vessels, and observing the appearance and crew work habits on many other vessels, I have a reasonably good idea of what exterior appearance level is acceptable to me, the length of time (such as after a passage) that I will accept a lower level, and the approximate annualized cost, including the depreciation of the related longer term yard costs.

I can choose my preferred method of obtaining that appearance level within the preferred cost. I could engage a detailing contractor, who will provide a detailing crew, and change the provider if I was not satisfied with either the appearance level or cost. I could hire a captain or mate who will closely supervise relatively green deckhands and change the captain or mate if I was not satisfied. I could hire a self-supervising bosun.

A perfect bosun would understand my preferred balance between cost, minimum and maximum appearance levels, and response time, and would accomplish that balance during normal working hours. Some captains and mates object to any reduction in chains of command, and some bosuns insist that their opinions as to appearance level, response time, and required hours (cost) are more important than those of the owner, but these are only subjective matters.

The objective metrics are the appearance level of the exterior, the dimensions of the area to be maintained to that level, and the cost (required hours times pay rate) of that maintenance.

I am not the only yacht owner and purchaser who notices, on almost every crewed yacht we observe, the appearance level and the apparent number and competence of the exterior crew. Every once in a while, I see someone on a safety line bringing up a sail panel with the process and efficiency that I think proper, and I try to remember that date and that yacht so I can hire that perfect bosun if I see that engagement on a CV.

Conversely, I try to remember if that sail panel is coming up brighter or duller than the apparent standard on that vessel or if that less-than-perfect bosun seems to be stretching out the job.

The program can go on without a perfect bosun, but a perfect bosun, like a perfect passage, is a pleasure to behold.

Melvyn Miller is an American yacht owner from the U.S. East Coast. He has owned and operated yachts for six decades and employed crew for more than 30 years. Comments on this column are welcome below.

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