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Ask Erica: How to Find the Right Captain

Erica Lay has been helping crew find the right jobs since dinosaurs roamed the earth and is often referred to as The Honest Crew Agent. She’s owned and managed her own international yacht crew agency, EL CREW CO, in Palma, Spain, for over 10 years, and in her regular column she'll be answering your questions and sharing her insider knowledge.  

Now, don’t be scared dear reader, you can ask her anything… But be prepared, she's seen it all and she tells it straight, so buckle up for some honest advice! 

Today’s question comes from a boat owner:

Dear Erica,

This is the story...My husband and I purchased a magnificent pre-owned yacht in 2022 and did a total re-fit that we finished about 6 months ago. We were lucky enough to have the time and opportunity to oversee the job and really worked hard to complete it. It is 105' of heaven. We are docked in Miami Beach. 

However, since finishing the work, we have gone through three captains. This is really taking the joy out of owning this vessel!  We require a 200 Ton license. The captains come in with a great attitude and lots of promises, but then fizzle out. We are really clear when we interview them about our lifestyle (which is very casual) and the amount of time we plan to use the yacht.  We ask them if they can supply mates, crew and stews, they say yes, but when push comes to shove they can't. 

But the worst part is, each one of these captains has been a nightmare!  One ploughed into a dock, scratching the entire side of our newly painted boat.  Another ran us aground and the props had to be repaired.  The third did not do any damage, but refused to work Christmas through New Year when we had specifically told him upon hiring that we planned to go to St. Barth’s for the holidays. Then he quit without any notice! Not one of them has acted professionally. 

What is the formula for finding a good captain so that we can enjoy our yacht?

Thanks for your time, 
An Owner

Hi An,

I do feel your pain here. There´s nothing worse than entrusting your precious, beautiful yacht to the hands of someone who turns out to be a total wally. Sounds like you´ve had a visit from the bad luck fairy. But you didn´t tell me where you found these guys - how are you selecting them? One dodgy hire is unlucky, two is really unlucky, but three?! That’s making me ask questions! Did you check their references? Talk to previous owners they’ve worked for?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it doesn´t sound like you have, as judging by the incidents you mention, a few phone calls would probably have brought up a few nagging doubts. In future I’d strongly recommend you call up other owners and grill them. Lightly on both sides.  Best question to ask: “Would you rehire him?”  If you use an agency they´ll do all that for you, AND they should offer a guarantee for anything of 3-6mths so if that captain leaves or you fire him, they have to replace them – no charge. 

Look out for any warning signs on the CV and challenge the captain. No longevity, missing references, big gaps of unemployment. You get the idea… did these guys have any previous experience? Local knowledge for where you´re cruising? If they´re crashing and running aground it sounds like they have no real experience on a boat so make sure you don´t pick the same sort of guy again!

What are you paying? Are you in line with market rates and industry standards? If not, that might be contributing to the problem.

With regard to the “positive starts going steadily downhill”, what’s causing that? Can you identify where it’s going wrong? And ask why? You mention a “casual lifestyle”, but what does that actually mean? Obviously it´s your yacht and you can do what you like with it, when you like (as long as it´s safe), so be honest with the captain from the start to make sure you´re on the same page. One person’s casual could well be another’s formal. If you guys like to be heavily involved with the vessel operation and decisions of the captain then tell them what you´re like, that way they can decide if you´re the right owners for them too.  

So the formula for finding the best captain?  At this stage I´d say call an agent. They´ll do all the grisly work, offer advice and support and then give you a few CVs of good guys with good previous performance; then all you have to do is sit on your slice of heaven, drink a margarita and pick the one you like best.  Let´s face it – the money you´ll spend on an agency fee you´ll save on your insurance premiums from picking another crasher…!

You can contact Erica directly on, or via her website
Or get in touch via her social media platforms on Facebook, Instagram and Tiktok. Search for @elcrewco.


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