Based in Fort Lauderdale, former Royal Navy Commander Peter Baker has found the climate there—for life and business both—ideal. As founder of Megayacht Technical Services International (MTSI), he has built a thriving business over the last two decades in the year-round yachting world of South Florida, supporting yacht owners and captains with their safety plans and advising on regulatory matters.

Offering a full suite of ISM and ISPS management, mini-ISM systems, certificate and document tracking, financial management, regulatory documentation and publications, MTSI has established itself as one of the premier independent yacht management firms in the industry.

Having handed over day-to-day operations to the company’s president Stuart Biesel, Baker remains focused on their clients and guides the philosophy of the company. What Baker and the team do that sets them apart is focus squarely on the captains, providing assistance and advice in helping them run the yacht safely and within the variety of international regulations. It’s a core competency and they’re sticking to it.

“On a lot of our vessels, the captain is working in the capacity of chief executive, and we work to support him,” Baker says. “At the larger, full-service management companies, a captain might be just one member of a staff under management, and is potentially replaceable.” That poses a peculiar challenge for full-service management companies, Baker believes, in that it undermines the trust the captain ought to have with his designated person ashore. He puts it diplomatically: “We realised a long time ago that once you start getting involved in handling manning and crew for a client, especially now with the requirements of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), it becomes … another level of management. That’s not what we do.”

MTSI don’t advertise: Baker says he hopes they never need to. Skippers they’ve worked with refer new clients. “We let captains choose their own crew and run their own vessel, so we’re really his administrative back up.” 

Baker says that that, ideally, owners use their own organisation to pay crew. He relays a story of an owner of a non-chartering yacht under 500 tonnes. “He came to me and said, ‘I’m paying six thousand dollars a month to this management company: three thousand to pay the crew and three thousand for their yacht management’,” Baker says. “I told him I thought that the costs sounded excessive. I asked if he had his own staff on payroll and he said he did. Then I asked if he could just put the yacht crew on that payroll and he realised he could. For a small, privately run yacht, he wasn’t getting his money’s worth paying $3,000 a month in management fees.”
With his base in Florida, Baker has particular experience with American captains and the Coast Guard certifications that American sailors earn as they accrue sea time. “The US system for Captains doesn’t give them the certifications they need to go abroad,” Baker says. “US Coast Guard qualifications are perfect for sailing coastal waters, but they’re simply not recognised internationally. The implementation of STCW has forced American yacht sailors to think more internationally about their certifications. But Americans are given a hard time. We’ve heard of an insurance company not providing crew cover if there’s an American amongst them…they think they’re too litigious.”
“Still, there are some very good US captains around,” Baker says. “In fact we’ve found that the US captains who’ve stayed on in the industry are really some of the best captains going. It’s somewhat stereotypical, and yet somewhat true in my experience to say that US mariners like to buck regulations and say, 'we’re an independent organization and we don’t need people inspecting us.' But once a skipper accepts that he does have to be regulated, these are guys with really good experience and good attitude to running the vessels, especially for charter work. A lot of American owners would like an American captain.”  

Baker says that one of the pressing issues for captains is increasing competition for the top jobs. “There are more and more crew becoming qualified as skippers, though the number of commands hasn’t increased at anywhere near the same rate,” he says. “There’s really too many unemployed superyacht captains out there.”

In assisting captains in the running of their vessels, Baker and his team stay in close contact with roughly two dozen captains, and currently, have been assisting with an increasing number of commercial-yard refits. “Commercial yards, which can be both cheaper and more efficient are offering pretty good refit and repair services to yachts,” Baker says. “The major concern there though if the works involve painting the yacht, is cleanliness and grit. But for five-year surveys where you’re pulling the shafts and examining the hull, commercial yards seem to offer a sensible solution. We had one of our yachts actually go to Colombia for a five-year survey by ABS, and that worked really well. We’ve got another of our vessels in for a second time at a yard in Sri Lanka at the moment for an owner that winters in the Maldives.”

With a staff of former flag administrators, Coast Guard officials, professional marine captains, maritime surveyors and engineers, not to mention a Royal Navy Commander with experience administering, surveying and running large yachts, commercial and military vessels, MTSI is able to negotiate with the heads of flag states and class societies on their clients behalf. Serving on maritime administration advisory groups, Baker and his team are able to keep up-to-date on the very latest regulatory requirements, and advise their clients accordingly.

For Baker, the formula for a successful safety and regs management relationship is simple. “Be honest, respect that captains have a hard job and support them.”

Cover image: Wheelhouse on Quattroelle, © Klaus Jordan.