Superyacht management strategies

The subject of management is a never-ending story… 

On shore or in situ?

SYOG asked some senior and highly experienced captains to give us their opinions on superyacht management strategy. Captain Paul Bickley of the Benetti-built motor yacht Latitude says, “The question of who is best is one of vast complexity. Firstly, the size of the yacht often determines the need and scale of management. A small vessel of 20-40m may be easily managed within the owner’s company infrastructure along with a competent Captain.”

The yacht’s operational boundaries must also be assessed to determine whether or not external management will be beneficial. Private yachts used locally need different levels of assistance than those with worldwide cruising schedules. Captain Bickley says, “In my case I operate a very busy commercial charter yacht over 500GRT – a constant challenge due to the implementation of the ever changing flag and class requirements.”

The selection of quality crew can also lessen the necessity for external assistance on various items in a management package. Many captains find that the demands on their management company are relatively seasonal, and call upon their expertise more during yard periods and when class and flag inspections are due. During the cruising months, communications with shore-based managers on well run yachts are less frequent.

Captain Carol Benbrook commands the superyacht Mariu. She has International Safety Management code (ISM) and International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) management support from Edmiston Yacht Management. Captain Benbrook says, “Edmiston have been a wonderful support to myself and my crew.” She adds, “On a commercial vessel over 500GRT,

The captain and management company should, ideally, work together for the best result for all involved.

For ISM and ISPS, it is imperative to have support ashore. An effective level of communication and trust between the owner, Captain and management company should save money in the budget, ensure better safety standards on board and allow for a happier crew with a good working environment. This should show positive results by allowing yacht owners and charter guests to enjoy yachts to their full extent, safely and securely, which can be a truly amazing experience.”

An effective level of communication and trust between the owner, Captain and management company should save money in the budget

Seasonal demands

When a boat is busy in the height of the charter season, captains typically ask their management companies to:

• hire specialist staff for guests like beauticians, masseurs or nannies

• secure a sought-after berth in a crowded marina or location

• help with regulatory paperwork, freeing up the Captain’s time for the guests

Out of season requests (when the boat is in dock or over winter) are slightly different but are just as cyclical. Yacht managers are often contacted by superyacht captains to: 

• help source the most suitable refit yard for the yacht and its budget

• organise on-board training to help the crew work in the way the manager knows the owner wants them to

• arrange for a relief Captain while he takes some well-earned shore leave

Captain and management company should ensure better safety standards on board and allow for a happier crew with a good working environment

Sense and sensibility

Recalling the ensuing arguments between Captain and manager when Titanic hit an iceberg, one Captain told us, “The ship would never have sunk if the manager had not been aboard and interfered.” Another Captain we spoke to reported, “Once I had a manager who wooed an unfortunate owner into buying a boat that was far too big for him. He promised that, with an appropriate refit, the owner would be able to charter it out and that it would not cost him anything. He managed a refit of the yacht at vast expense using his own workforce (which seemed to me a little suspicious), then put her to sea without any sea trials, persuading an unsuspecting delivery Captain to take it across to the Caribbean where she arrived with myriad problems including rigging failure and the steering quadrant falling off.”

The new Captain continued, “She was handed over to me by the delivery Captain who left in absolute disgust. The work list was extensive, and the manager applied significant pressure on me to get the yacht ready for a charter just a few weeks away. This became increasingly unrealistic, the closer the date came. The
money also began to dwindle and I was being pressed to consider using the charter revenue to fund the yacht's safety and charter equipment. The inevitable happened; I asked the owner directly to cancel the charter, as we could not be expected to fulfil our obligations under the terms of the contract, nor to fulfil the expectations of the guests.

“Quite apart from rigging problems, machinery malfunction and insufficient guest equipment, there was not enough time for the new crew to familiarise themselves with the sailing of the yacht before the guests were expected to board. The manager was incensed that his charter was about to be cancelled and flew over to convince me to do it, after persuading the owner that he could. I told the manager that if he deemed the yacht ready to charter I would step off, and he could do it on his Captain's licence instead. He paled as the seriousness of my proposal dawned on him, and then withdrew."

I am very upset with managers who get captains to do things they would not do themselves.

The management mire

Another Captain believes the subject of management is a never-ending story. He said, “Firstly, it depends on the owner and how much control he wants over crew and continuity. The second consideration is the Captain and what sort of guy he is. Thirdly, the management company itself should be investigated. Often it’s a one-man band or perhaps a company with a few more staff; there are also big organisations which only have a few people dedicated to that department. Finally, it depends on the size of the boat, how many crew and whether it charters or not. All of these points are so variable that I would be forced to say that it is not possible for anyone to say ”yes, all boats should have a management company’ or indeed vice versa.”

A Captain is expected to have an encyclopedic knowledge of all things nautical

Rob Tobin heads up Döhle Yacht Management, a spin-off of the commercial shipping company based on the Isle of Man. Rob said, “A Captain is expected to have an encyclopedic knowledge of all things nautical – and many do – but in order to manage and administer a yacht, one needs impeccable knowledge of the Company, Trust or Limited Liability Partnership that owns it; of top tier funding, finance, banking and accounting; of the legal and regulatory constraints of modern business; and of the employment, payroll, tax and VAT position of the seafarer. This requires a vast skill set that you simply don’t find in one person. Somewhere in that cornucopia of required knowledge, is yacht management.”

Open channels ahead

Tobin continued,

“All leaders should know how to play people to their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses while delegating effectively.

This is true whether a Captain needs to delegate tasks ashore or not. If he can properly accommodate those tasks and responsibilities with his finite and precious resource on-board, he clearly should do so.” Rob Tobin concluded, “In my personal view, most so-called yacht managers are glorified port agents and, while they serve a purpose, to pretend they manage a yacht from ashore is nonsense. The Captain manages the yacht and (hopefully) delegates to the appropriately resourced and experienced experts ashore.”

Plenty of captains succeed in managing a professionally run yacht from on board, but very few do so in isolation; management and outside experts often provide the framework for the Captain to work within. This will allow new ideas, new methods and updated technologies to be nurtured and implemented where appropriate. You would need a super human to keep up with all the new developments in the marine industry, and although most captains are very nearly at that level, by sharing the knowledge you ensure that the vessel runs at optimum level. The message to superyacht owners is to empower on-board management while giving the owner, Captain and crew comfort in the strength and depth of the shore-based team supporting them.

Office or open seas?

Captain as manager

PROS

+ There’s a direct chain of command between owner and captain.

+ There are no additional management fees.

+ This is the more traditional way of yacht management, well suited to family use, with the captain becoming butler to
the household.

CONS

− One person can only shoulder so much weight and responsibility.

− Generally, only experienced senior captains can do this effectively.

- The emphasis on deskwork and paperwork can impact upon a captain’s job satisfaction (one told SYOG he barely looked up from the bridge any more).

Professional yacht management

PROS

+ Managers can act as a vessel’s Designated Person Ashore (DPA).

+ Office professionals are suited to paperwork and ISM/ISPS regulations.

+ It’s easier for the owner to replace the captain if necessary.

+ Managers can easily call on extra office staff in times of need.

+ Shore-based teams can carry out crisis management in an emergency.

+ Teams can call on experts in every conceivable discipline.

CONS

− To the manager, running a yacht is a job. To a great captain, it’s a calling.

− Management companies can make it difficult for the owner to appoint another professional to handle the sale or charter of the yacht; they often want it all.

– Employing these additional professional services can get expensive.

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