Breaking news to an owner that they have some bills to pay or some work to do on their – often underused – multi-million-euro asset is not one of the easiest jobs in a captain’s remit, however, it should be treated as a discipline of best practice.
As we know, many superyacht users are high-flying financial wizards in major-league businesses, committing to serious commercial decisions on a daily basis. It’s a demanding lifestyle, and their yachts are usually a positive escape from the labours of their everyday lives.
So, it’s more than likely that the owner will not want to hear about an air-conditioning malfunction, the icemaker breaking down or an unhappy crewmember who is desperate for a salary raise, while they are having an Al Fresco sunset dinner with their family.
So, when should a captain discuss the nitty-gritty financials with the principle? “I always tell every captain and every crewmember, ‘Do not, under any circumstances, discuss anything about maintenance problems, crew problems, salary problems, or anything on the business side of yachting, while the owner is on board’,” explains veteran yacht broker, Jim Eden.
His suggestion is that every time a captain is hired, they should immediately find out when the owner would like to discuss the financials, boat maintenance, and anything else relating to the care of the yacht and crew. Eden’s advice is to set aside a time once a week to go through things. That way, the captain will not, in Eden’s words, “step on a land mine”.
"Do not, under any circumstances, discuss anything about maintenance problems, crew problems, salary problems, or anything on the business side of yachting, while the owner is on board."
Richard Hutchinson, the captain of an 80m-plus yacht, says that the only time he ever has these conversations while the owner is on board is if they invite the correspondence. “But, it has to be on his invitation when he’s on board, otherwise it’s his head office or another place of business, because it is business at the end of the day, private yacht or not. You need to treat money in a professional way. They do, so why shouldn’t you?” Hutchinson asks.
Hutchinson explains that a lot of captains fall into traps. The owner might give what they think is an invitation to open up and discuss things on board, but they were actually just making small-talk.
“When I’m interviewing a captain for an owner, I always keep one thing in mind – this guy is paying about $8,000 per night to stay on this boat,” Eden continues. “I’ve seen some good owners get out of the boating business because of crew problems. And their biggest complaint when you talk to them to find out why, and I’ve done this, is that every time they were on board with their family, they had to set some time aside to deal with money problems, crew problems, and stuff like that.”
These conversations require professionalism and sensitivity. Hutchinson says he’s been a captain for over 20 years and is still learning how to approach owners and read their body language. While this evidently comes with experience, and from making mistakes, a lot of it comes down to common sense and being a good judge of character.
A more in-depth social commentary on how to discuss maintenance costs and works with the owner will be revealed in issue 85 of The Crew Report. To subscribe, click here.
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