Making the Grade

Jan 24, 2022 by Dorie Cox
Brian Muston, Doug Norden and Nick Gray take a hands-on approach at Savvy Maritime Academy in Fort Lauderdale.
Credit: Photo Credit: Dorie Cox

A new yacht training facility in Fort Lauderdale aims to better prepare novice crew.

As a yacht captain, Brian Muston used to ask his departing crew, “How was it? Was this job what you expected it would be?” During his entire 30-year career, not one crew member said yachting was what they expected. And that is the impetus for Savvy Maritime Academy, the newest yacht crew training facility in Fort Lauderdale.

In an effort to better prepare novice crew, Muston teamed up with instructors Nick Gray and Doug Norden, both yacht crew veterans with more than 23 years between them, and interior instructor Irma Malabanan, a chief stew with more than 20 years’ experience.

The first training sessions are scheduled to begin in January, and they include the eight-week Deck Academy, a 10-day interior course, and a 10-day tender-driving course.

Chief Stew Irma Malabanan teaches a 10-day interior course.
CREDIT: Photos Dorie Cox

When new and young crew are hired, they are expected to perform like seasoned veterans, Muston said. “When they mess up, they get yelled at, they get fired, and they have a miserable time. Most owners and captains are not interested in training new crew.”

To prevent that, students at the academy will be immersed in boat handling, polishing, painting, fire plans and other practicals, with ongoing assessment quizzes and a completion certification, Gray said during a tour of the 10,000-square-foot warehouse facility in December. 

Afterward, new crew will have the ability to succeed on any vessel they go to. “If it’s a good yacht program, they won’t be lost. If it’s not so good of a program, then they’ll know enough to know better,” Gray said.

Muston said he designed the school’s model from the commercial world, where, for example, an AB (able-bodied seaman) is required to have at least six months of maritime training. “Yachting is one of the only industries where there is no experience required for such a high level of responsibility, and crew don’t even know what they don’t know. It’s not their fault.”

“I think this type of training is the future,” he added. “This is ambitious, but yachting will be a safer place and that’s the goal.”

Savvy Maritime Academy is located at 1885 W. State Road 84 in Fort Lauderdale. For more information, visit


About Dorie Cox

Dorie Cox is a writer with Triton News.

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