There is no one-size-fits-all approach to owning and operating a superyacht, and the same is certainly true of the superyacht captain’s job description. But in recent times there has been an unavoidable shift for captains from ‘simply’ being the master of the vessel to effectively acting as CEO of a small to medium size enterprise.
Long gone are the days where a captain’s duties were constrained to operational matters with the luxury of disembarking for off-duty periods without a care in the world. For many yacht captains, especially at the larger end of the fleet, they’re lucky if they even make it out of their office most days, and being truly off-duty seems like a distant memory.
So why is the workload for yacht captains increasing?
Yachts are getting bigger: As the average size of a superyacht has grown in recent decades, as has the size of the operation – starting with crew. Among the fleet we work with, it is not unusual to come across yachts with well over 36 seafarers on duty at any one time. Factor in rotation and as a captain you’re the main point of authority for over 70 crew members. As with any workforce, as it grows so do the associated administration, organisational burden, and personnel issues from workplace injuries to relationship breakdowns. This alone is probably enough to confine even the most eager-to-sail captain to their desk.
Greater knowledge and experience: The superyacht industry is maturing. Many see the industry as a broody adolescent on the cusp of emerging into the prime of its adult life (anyone else remember the joy of their 20s?). We are now blessed with captains with very significant experience gained over several decades. The downside of all that experience? The burden of knowledge.
Captains across the fleet are such a rich source of knowledge that they are as much yachting consultants as they are seafarers. This can be hugely beneficial for an owner and their team, but less so for said captain’s vitamin D levels. Factor in that many captains have long working relationships with their owners, they have earnt trusted advisor status along the way. Consequently, they’re the perfect person for the owner and their wider team to consult on all matters from where to cruise this season, to where to go for our next refit to who to insure or even bank with.
Advances in technology: Technological and systems advances, particularly in yachting services, have given rise to fantastic new products which help owners save time and money on the basics of yacht management, especially in the financial space. However, these advances have facilitated a trend away from the full outsourcing of yacht management to a more cherry-picked approach. But as yachts take on more and more of their own management functions, this has placed an additional burden on the captain to oversee certain management tasks and, ultimately, authorise actions and decisions which might otherwise be undertaken by a third-party yacht manager.
And just one more thing: I have no doubt that the workload of the typical superyacht captain today is a result of years of adding 'just one more thing' to their workload – we’re all guilty of it in our own workplaces. Before you know it, your role has doubled in size.
Given their established position on board, the captain is the natural person to turn to for authority in any yachting operation, the only problem being that so many captains now carry such an office burden that they are less seafarer, more floating yacht manager. Over the coming years it will be interesting to see whether this becomes a permanent shift in the job description of the superyacht captain, or perhaps we’ll see some restoration of balance to the more traditional lines between yacht management and seafaring.
Dom is a Director in Bargate Murray`s superyacht group based in London and advises owners and their representatives on all aspects of superyacht ownership and management.