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Safety Onboard, a Yacht Manager's View

Franc Jansen 140

Part 10: Perspectives on Safety in Yachting
To see the full schedule click here.

The topic of safety covers a lot of ground, so it’s difficult to decide where to start. Without trying to be comprehensive I have picked a few key issues that I think are crucial to the safety of yachts: compliance to the rules and regulations, safety and security, and crew recruitment, training, education, and culture. 

As a manager, captain, crew member or surveyor it is important to remember that the purpose of a yacht is to provide a luxury holiday for its guests. And while we are engaging in this activity we need to make sure that this happens in a safe way. So to put things in perspective - safety is paramount, in everything we do, but it is not the purpose of what we do. 

Regulatory Safety

The commercial class and flag regulations are providing a good minimum standard for yachts. I don't mind the annual surveys because the surveyors are independently verifying the minimum standards and are confirming that the yacht is in good condition to run safely. Having said this, we should always remember that the responsibility to maintain the technical and operational standards set by the flag and class regulations is with the yacht owner, and therefore by proxy with the manager and the captain. 

However, just because a yacht passed a survey today it does not mean that it complies tomorrow. In addition, the surveyors do not check everything - they only take a sample. So if the survey did not happen to catch a deficiency, this does not absolve the owner, manager and crew from correcting it. 

Philipon 4872 600

The class and flag rules are setting a standard in general, but there are still areas where we have to make improvements. Flags and class have technical committees which look at rule development, so the rules are improving constantly - which is a good thing. However, there are still major areas which are being overlooked. These are the so-called elephants in the room. 

Private v Commercial Yachts 

One is the difference in safety standards between private and commercial yachts. It simply does not make sense. Private and commercial yachts are being used the same way; the difference is solely financial and not operational. Why is the life of crew on a private yacht less important than on a commercial yacht? 

As a manager we always recommend keeping commercial standards and applying voluntary commercial compliance. But the problem is just that: It is only voluntary. The minimum safety standard should really come from flag. The YET (Yachts Engaged in Trade) initiative from Marshall Islands is a good example. This allows yachts to engage in minimum charter without registering as a full commercial yacht. It allows flexibility, in a sense allowing the benefits of both private and charter. In my experience, the system works well. 

Bridge looking out 6

The other issue is that officially yachts are still classed as cargo ships. The Yacht Code is a substantial equivalent of cargo ship regulations. The code is a great initiative, and the major yachting flags are doing a great job providing a workable solution. But…it still fits like a square peg in a round hole. The only way we will get good regulation which improves the safety of yachts and at the same time takes into consideration the special way yachts operate is by making specific regulations for yachts. However, we have to be realistic. It would mean that the whole world and the IMO would have to get involved. It would be a political can of worms! 

ISM - International Safety Management

My view is that if a yacht is run with good seamanship and good practice, then compliance will follow (almost) automatically. The focus of our ISM system is simply to make the work we do on board safe. We focus on making the SMS as short and as accessible as possible. The chapters are divided into departments so crew only need to read the section relevant to their job. 

The SMS must also be made yacht specific. It should describe the work we do and how we actually do it. It must also be recognized that our system is a flexible one when it needs to be, allowing competent crew to make decisions and exceptions when the circumstances demand it. 

Our captains, chief mates, and management teams are constantly reviewing the system, so it is evolving over time. Changes can be made easily. If a checklist or procedure needs to be changed, then change it! Nobody likes admin work, but ISM auditors are there to verify records, so there is no escape. We can however try to minimise it. Our vision is: one person does one thing, one time. So there is one place to record something, not three. Reports are often just shuffling the same information in different order. So we reduce the amount of reporting, and let software do the rest. 

SOS Stew iPad3

We talk with the crew about the easiest way to record their activities. This can be on an iPad or with an old fashioned checklist if they prefer. Whatever is easiest and whatever works! If you make it easy for the crew, chances are they will actually do it. 

But even when you simplify the SMS and make it yacht specific to each department, and use the checklist to describe the actual job and reduce reporting, it is still hard work to keep everything up to date. 

During the season there are not enough hours in the day, and the least liked job, namely admin, is often the first to go. Crew need to resist that. For example, taking the time to request a permit or discuss how to safely do a job, no matter how boring, can save injury or even lives. On the other side, DPAs need to be aware that crew are busy during the season, so a complete overhaul and review of the ISM system is better done when things calm down. 

Yacht Security

While we make sure that our yachts comply with the ISPS code, it is my opinion that the code is not really suitable for the yachting industry. As I said before, yachts are not cargo ships. Therefore the ISPS code puts an unnecessary burden on the yachts, while not really addressing their security needs. For real security, a security package must be made specifically for each yacht, taking into consideration who the owner and guests are, the area of operation, the contents of the yacht and, last but not least, the crew.  

We work with one security group which provides this type of security assessments for yachts. This varies from security equipment and hardware, to background checks, drugs testing and training of the crew, to close protection, port and maritime intelligence and analysis reports. 

SOS clarification 5

Cyber Security 

A hot topic at the moment is cyber security. The consequences of a cyber-attack on a yacht could be disastrous. A collision, for example, could result not only in injuries and pollution, but also loss or damage of the yacht or other vessels. There are a myriad of outcomes with this currently less observed aspect of yacht safety. We work closely with a UK security risk management group which has used consultants to hack into the engine room management systems of a large passenger vessel in port which only further proves the gravity of this issue. 

To remedy cyber-attacks the IMO has made cyber risk management a mandatory requirement as of the 1st of January 2021, but it would be a good idea for yachts to be ahead of the game. 

The security awareness of crew has to be a big issue too. All too often we find that crew are posting confidential information on social media. Or, a classic, we see yachts with a super advanced (and expensive) security system switched off…. 

Yacht Crew

Safety all starts and ends with a good crew which brings us to the topics of education, recruitment, culture, and common sense! 

The education and training of yacht crew is now reasonably well established. Even on private yachts we require crew to have the required minimum qualifications. But I am also a big fan of additional education. For example, it is important to highlight the importance of leadership training, as well as the Heesen Academy bridge/engine room resource courses which deal with emergency management. And though it is not specifically related to safety, the GUEST program for interior crew is also an excellent option for additional training. 

Crew and liferaft 2

On the subject of recruitment, education is only half of the equation. Experience is the other half, and crew will need both if they want to land that dream job! Verification of references and the experience and qualifications of a candidate are basic requirements of the recruitment company.  Some yachts also require criminal background checks and we have had good results with psychometric testing to see if a candidate fits into a team.  

Verification takes a lot of time and often is not done by the less professional or smaller recruitment companies. The qualifications are actually the easy part. It is easy to learn what ticket is necessary for each position on a particular boat. It is another thing to dig deeper and find out if a candidate actually has what it says on their CV. 

In my opinion yacht recruitment is more about finding the right person for the team on board. But to find the right person you need to know the boat, the team on board, and the requirements of the owner. We promote a very personal approach. We talk to the captain or chief stew to find out what they are looking for in the candidate. Then we talk to the candidates. And then we talk - talk, not send a questionnaire - with the referees as we find referees are more likely to be honest and candid when talking on the phone. This way you get a better understanding of what a candidate is really like to work with, something you do not find on a CV. Where possible we also contact other (ex) captains, managers, or charter managers who might not be listed as referees.  

The Safety Culture Onboard Yachts 

Creating a culture on board is the hard part. This is the job of the captain and every captain has their own views on how they want to run a yacht. As with management styles there is not one right answer. But good captains know how to build a team and how to motivate crew. Longevity of crew is a benefit to the safety of the yacht and its crew. 


The captain takes the lead and if they are committed to safety and ISM, then the chief officer is motivated to make the system work, and this will transpose to the whole crew. The opposite is also true. If the captain thinks ISM is a load of b%^&*; then there is not going to be a good safety culture onboard and the whole thing will become an uphill struggle for everyone involved. 

As a management company we track and analyze all incidents, accidents, and near misses and in our fleet the number of reports is actually going up. This is not because yachts are becoming more unsafe but because crew are taking safety more seriously and are reporting more incidents which previously would have been ignored. This is encouraging because it shows engagement from the crew. The safety meetings onboard are an ideal time to discuss with the crew which areas carry a risk and how things could be made safer.

Incidents Off Duty 

Our analysis has found that most incidents actually happen when crew are off duty and not onboard. People fall off a scooter coming from the beach, come off their long board, or trip over their own feet after a night out. Some time ago an experienced captain went for a night out with the crew in a tender and left all safety and communication onboard so it would not get stolen, a situation he would never have allowed if he was in operational mode. Always keep in mind that safety is not only applicable to when you are working. It also applies when you are off duty! 

bikes in port2

The most dangerous time is when complacency creeps in. It is very easy to quickly do this and quickly do that and 99% of the time you will get away with it. Until you don’t. In the end it always comes down to common sense. Most crew are professional and have all the training they need. It is important to use the systems and the checklists, but none of that can replace common sense.      

I would like to reiterate what I said in the beginning. The purpose of a yacht is to provide a luxury holiday. So 95% of the time we should spend creating those fantastic memories for our guests. But we should set aside at least 5% of our time to safety, in everything we do.

About the Author 

Franc is an outspoken Dutchman and a professional seafarer who builds motorbikes and likes to ride them on the edge. He first qualified as a navigational officer and marine engineer in commercial shipping and has eight years experience as a surveyor and technical manager with London-based shipping companies.

Ten years ago Franc saw an opportunity to apply his commercial expertise in the maturing superyacht industry. As a director of two major yacht management companies he has managed some of the largest superyachts in the world and, as a Class Surveyor, he was directly involved with the development of the MCA Large Yacht Code. More recently, representing MYBA Yacht Managers, Franc was involved with the implementation of the ratified ILO MLC2006 regulations into the MCA Large Yacht Code. 

In 2015 Franc founded Jansen Maritime Services Ltd (JMS) to specialise solely in yacht management providing financial, technical, operational, recruitment and compliance yacht management services as well as technical pre-purchase surveys, refit and new build supervision. ​JMS​ ​is​ based in ​Monaco​ and ​Brighton (​UK​) with a partner company in Ft Lauderdale and a 24/7 emergency assistance service. 

*Image credits: SuperyachtOS; Bluewater; Nautical Structures; SOS Yachting; Lauren Williams

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