There was a time when I shared the view often held by evolving yacht captains that yacht management reduces the ability of good yacht captains to deliver their service to yacht owners.
I held this belief dearly, though it was biased by a misguided sense that as captain, I was the only one with the perspective to meet the owner’s needs.
Now with more experience and personal maturity, it is easy to see that, with the best intentions, the view that management was not essential was wrong. Captains should not work in isolation.
The complexity of global operations and modern yachting requires a team; a diverse team with varying skills and experiences. This article will explore what management is, what it isn’t and what it could be. In parallel, some of the various models available to deliver this will be explored.
Ahead of this, even with the diversity in size and culture of their services, there is one consistency with shore support management firms. All successful yacht management companies, regardless of their size, client profile or high street presentation, have one consistent principle to their success - an unwavering focus towards the clients’ best interests. This most often began with the founder but, as the firms grew, their culture grew to reflect a passion for yachting and their clients. Any firm that loses this focus will not remain competitive in a client-aware marketplace.
What yacht management is...
A way to access a deeper and wider set of expertise than is possible to have in a crew. It is a way to add (literally) decades of experience into the yacht’s team to confront challenges, enhance efficiency and improve the guest experience. A good yacht management team will provide deeper knowledge and perspective to a crew than can be gained from a shared view within the yacht looking out.
I was once enamoured with my own judgments and blind to how biased they were in not being able to rise above an onboard perspective. This was some time in the past and now, when I am confronted with a challenging situation, I call the yacht manager asking them to advise me as, “my conscience ashore”. The person on the other end of the phone may have oversight of many similar yachts and draws all of this into their response.
What yacht management is not...
A way to second-guess, micro-manage and define performance only by cost-saving. Good yacht managers don’t operate this way and good captains do not view questions as a confrontation; experienced captains are aware their decisions are always subject to external scrutiny.
Yacht management, when executed correctly…
Will lift a good sea-going team to achieve greater heights. The shore team are as essential to a yacht’s performance as the training, coaching and support staff are to a professional sports team. They can see the bigger game and help the players / the crew lift above their daily bias.
The three models to be explored in support of good yacht management are:
Each model will be reviewed with an expectation of providing all that is needed for vessel operations.
A non-exhaustive list of services that this includes is:
Safety management - ISM compliance
Crew administration - extending to SEA, MLC compliance and payroll
Technical supervision - surveys
Budget development and monitoring
For the purposes of comparison, this is defined as the captain working direct to the owner and/or their team for all aspects of the yacht’s operation. It may be the original form of yacht operations but with tonnage and regulatory complexity increasing there is a point where this model reaches a limit.
This is not to say it is not possible, however, there is a strong caution with this model, and it should be reserved for small or very mature operations. If engaged, it should still undertake an external operations/management audit (above normal compliance) annually.
This is becoming very popular with yacht owners seeking a greater level of control and having their family office engaged with many aspects of the operation. The normal outsourcing will include: ISM services, crew employment and MLC compliance, with the family office retaining payment and budget and possibly recruitment. This model has many positives with a tripartite working relationship between the yacht, the owner’s team and the management firm.
Again, this is a responsible approach if a yacht owner does not have a support office with the capability to undertake aspects of the yacht’s operation. There are many responsible and reputable firms capable of delivering this and the bigger question for the owner is to find a culture that matches their own. The relationship is quite complex with many functional areas, and requires nurturing to stay in good health. The owner may be very comfortable representing himself in this capacity though, if not, should engage an independent representative to ‘check-in’ with management and confirm to the owner the operation’s management is in the best of health.
In addition to the options above, two complimentary and essential tools to support successful management (all models) are introduced below.
Across all models, it is important the captain has a pathway to a mentor, coach or sage counsel - all being the same pending your preferred nomenclature. This person may be internal to the management company or family office but, due to direct lines of reporting, may be better as independent of the direct reporting lines. Captains need a trusted path to vent, sound ideas, gain perspective and seek knowledge. This role is well entrenched in successful business but only now beginning to be seen in yachting.
Management Values and Processes
What I feel is often missing across all the models is a charter. A values statement that reflects what the owner(s) places as their highest priorities. This would define the culture of the operation and allow a framework for all decisions. It would shape every interaction between management and captain and provide a ‘safe place’ if perspectives differ.
Additionally, if there is one consistent barrier to operational efficiency on yachts, it is the lack of swift approvals. This could be addressed through simple pre-agreed limits and process paths extending across recruitment, purchasing, and all operational parameters.
The charter and process documents are ‘living’ and adapted to suit any changes to the operating environment or the owners’ wishes.
All management models can work, and do work, to keep our wonderful yachts operating and delivering their service to yacht owners and their guests. Key points of success are:
The owner: They identify what model suits their and their yacht’s needs. This may need independent guidance from an advisor or, at the minimum, a referral from a trusted yacht owning colleague.
The captain / the yacht: They feel trusted, supported by management and have access to the knowledge they need to fulfil their daily duties.
Captain Brendan O’Shannassy began seafaring at 17 with a maritime cadetship and undergraduate degree under scholarship with the Royal Australian Navy. He then served at sea with the Royal Australian Navy before undergoing commercial training and working in harbor tug, barge and offshore support. He began yachting in 2001 and has worked with some of the industry’s largest and most reputable yachts including captaincy of Princess Mariana, Octopus, Vava II, Amadea and Andromeda.
Alongside his maritime commitments, Brendan has contributed to the goals of Blue Marine Foundation, the Brain Tumor Charity, Superyacht Charities and is one of the founders of www.yachtcrewhelp.org, a mental health support platform for yacht crew developed by ISWAN. He is also a board member of the International Superyacht Society and Chair of the ISS Captains Committee.
Most recently he founded Katana Maritime which supports yacht owners, their teams and managers in a broader capacity than single yacht captaincy allowed.