Superyacht Management

Ask anyone who has done it, and I have, what it is like to command a superyacht, and you will hear the same refrain. The job of a superyacht Captain on a busy vessel simply does not allow enough time to cope with all the minutia of a running a safe and successful operation as well as being the yacht’s Master. Captains are at the beck and call of the owner and his guests, twenty four hours a day and during that same time period, Captains act as father figure and mentor to the crew that follow her or him. Ask a Captain what he does in his, or her, spare time and the chances are they will just snort and give you that “duh” stare! A good yacht manager working ashore can greatly assist the Captain and take away some of the more mundane aspects of vessel operation so that he or she can concentrate on operating the vessel. It is up to the manager to gain the confidence of the Captain so that a sound and mutually beneficial working relationship can be formed. But how is that best done?

On Board Experience
Yacht Captains Nick Sevier and Charlie Bettell formed Expersea Yacht Management in response to the specific needs of a group of superyacht owners who felt their requirements were being overlooked.  It is a common view held by many superyacht Captains and owners the world over. Using their experience in both the commercial and yachting maritime sectors, the operational and technical departments at Expersea are managed and staffed by yacht captains and chief engineers. This enables them to provide a level of support to both owners and crews that few can offer. This depth of experience, coupled with a client-focused attitude has proven successful in building long-term relationships with superyacht owners.

Swiss born Daniel Küpfer is the managing director of Ocean Management the yacht management division of Ocean Independence. Having joined the board as a shareholder of the parent company, he is now in charge of all management operations, including the construction, refit and operational management of a fast-growing fleet of large commercial and private yachts. He worked his way up from deckhand to command a superyacht having first served in both naval and commercial vessels. It was while serving in the latter that he gained his Master Mariners Unlimited qualifications allowing him to command any commercial vessel of unlimited tonnage in worldwide trade, he also holds two yacht master licenses. Daniel believes, “Onboard experience is an important criterion for a yacht manager to be successful in his occupation. It is vital to understand the requirements of those onboard better.”

Mark Paterson the Director of Yacht Management at Y.CO has not been to sea in yachts and, as a consequence, has a different view. He says, “Whilst onboard experience is beneficial and, in some respects, essential especially in regard to maritime compliance, bridge and engineering, there is a wealth of other skills and experience from different sectors of the marine industry and other industries that yacht operations can benefit from. The management team here has specialists from the commercial shipping sector, Human Resource Managers, Chartered Accountants, Insurance and Legal Experts, Hospitality Professionals and many more. It is this diverse skill set that enhances the overall service deliverable and provides owners with the required confidence to work with and recommend us. Mark has been with Y.CO for 5 years and joined them with a 20 year background in the industry, including high-end luxury cruise ship and hospitality experience.

Damian Martin is the Director of Yacht Management at Edmiston a company he joined nearly 4 years ago after 15 years’ experience within the yachting sector. Before that he had spent 12 in military service. He believes there is a balance to be found. “It can be difficult for a yacht manager to gain the respect of crew if they are not seen to have ‘walked the walk’, but this doesn’t mean that all managers should have been involved in yachting. I think a good mix of backgrounds allows a rounded viewpoint to be found – we have a mixture of ex-yacht crew (Captains, engineers, pursers etc), ex-commercial mariners and engineers, ex-military, and members of our team that came with no yachting experience. To me, it is a people business. Of course, we need the knowledge, but we also need to work well with our crew and Owners – it’s that approach that underpins everything that we do here.

Maxime Bregeon, the Safety and Crew Manager at Fraser, grew up in the maritime city of Saint-Nazaire, France, where he found is first job in one of the largest shipyards in Europe. Then he moved to the largest shipyard in the world in South Korea as a new building technical advisor for LNG vessel and continued his experience in China as project leader with a leading Classification society. Maxime returned to France in 2015 to survey existing Yachts for Class and Flag inspection. He joined Fraser as Safety Superintendent in 2016 before being promoted to Safety & Crew Manager. He tells us, “We have a large team of well over 50 professionals with varied backgrounds in our yacht management division, that is made up of veteran mariners, naval architects, class surveyors and administrators who have years’ of experience, working on board large vessels as well as in management positions ashore. While seagoing experience is a plus for understanding how yachts operate, the cooperation between all of us is really the key to our success, where our past experience is being put to use for efficient handling of crew, regulatory compliance and technical management.”

International Safety Management (ISM) Code

The introduction into yachting of the International Safety Management (ISM) Code brought about a fundamental change in the way superyachts operated commercially. It was this and the ISM requirement for yachts to appoint a Designated Person Ashore (DPA) that, if anything, became the stepping stone that many yacht management companies used to establish themselves as indispensable links in the superyacht industry chain.

Having sewn doubt in the minds of owners that Captains could not look after a commercially operated yacht effectively without professional yacht management intervention, managers carved their niche market to the point that now many owners of private yachts voluntarily opt into the ISM regime. Now even owners of yachts above the 24 metre load line length whose tonnage is less than 500gt are under pressure to conform to the ISM Code.

Asked if he thought ISM should be mandatory for private yachts as well as those that operate commercially Daniel Küpfer at Ocean Management said, “Most of our owners of private yachts have opted for ISM on a voluntary basis. It is in our opinion that managing a substantial asset such as a large yacht according to recognized compliance standards, whether commercially or private registered, is the best practice.” When asked if ISM should be applied to yachts under 500gt, he replied, “We believe that in a “light” format manageable for smaller crews, Mini-ISM standards should be applied for yachts above 24m LLL and below 500gt should be applied. Again, we suggest managing private yachts to same standards as commercial yachts, as far as feasible.”

Fraser recommends to owners of private yachts over 500gt should comply with the company’s ISM Safety Management System (SMS). Maxime Bregeon says, “All our clients engaged on our safety management are given access to that SMS, which is designed to guide the Captain and the Crew on board yachts on how to safely operate the vessel with the support of our team.” But the company stops short of insisting on full ISM.

At Edmiston, Damian Martin thinks it should be mandatory for all yachts regardless of how they operate. He says, “A 100m yacht operating privately doesn’t become any safer just because it is being chartered. Anything that increases safety should be pursued.” He believes the situation becomes more complicated when considering yachts under 500gt. He says, “Full ISM, done correctly, is very time consuming. Generally, yachts over 500gt have not only the crew numbers, but also the experience to manage this level of administration. Under 500gt, you might find that there simply isn’t enough crew to complete all the tasks, hence the birth of the ‘Mini-ISM’, which is a scaled-down version of the full ISM that still provides crew with some guidelines or parameters to work within. I believe that all yachts should run to some standard, but as I mentioned above, it needs to be appropriate. When building a system, all those involved need to understand what the task is, why they are doing it and what the risks are. In addition, those that are imposing the system need to understand the reality for those completing it.”

Mark Patterson at Y.CO says that ISM for yachts sub 500gt already exists in the form of the Mini-ISM code, which is an annex to the Red Ensign Yacht Code. However, he says, “It is how these mandatory or recommended safety regulations are adapted and maintained that makes the difference.” Mark does not believe that ISM should be mandatory for private yachts as well as those that operate commercially. He explains, “Whilst full ISM has many benefits enforcing safety regulations it is only part of the solution. Having a good management company with an experienced, forward thinking team, cutting-edge technology, a robust SMS and of course a strong, knowledgeable crew that benefit from safety related training are the key ingredients to creating and maintaining a strong culture of safety aboard a yacht, regardless of its size and certification. The safety regulation itself must also be scrutinized to ensure it is fit for purpose, applicable to pleasure yachts and practical for crew to implement.”

Refit & Repair Work
If the ISM Code was the first stepping stone yacht managers used to establish their importance in the industry then the compulsory five and ten year surveys became the second. Suddenly the choice of which yard to use was removed from the Captain and Chief Engineer and gathered very firmly into the yacht managers portfolio. One very good side effect of this change was the rapid disappearance of the brown envelope far too frequently proffered by less scrupulous shipyards in a bid to win business.

Today yacht managers have a different and far more commercially orientated way of identifying and selecting a yard for refit and rebuild projects. Daniel Küpfer at Ocean Management tells us, “The prime criteria are, time, cost, quality, and availability. The specific strengths of each shipyard and our experience with them during previous projects are of great importance when suggesting a specific shipyard to an owner.”

Often yacht builders will have affiliated partner refit yards which would be favoured, or there may be specialist work that requires specific skillsets and machinery that are not available at all refit yards. It is the job of the yacht manager to advise the owner and captain of these facts, as well as to undertake extensive due diligence on the shipyard to ensure adequate and experienced people are allocated to the project.

Y.CO has project-managed the build and refit of many large yachts and have undertaken projects with most of the larger shipyards. Mark Patterson says, “This gives us a good understanding of each one’s unique strengths, and any project we undertake will have a strategy set out specifically, not only for the project itself, but for the shipyard who will build it. Factors that are considered in the selection process include (but are not limited to) geographic location, scope of work, accessibility, local legislation, budget, and schedule.”

When it comes to identifying and selecting a yard for refit and rebuild projects Damian Martin looks at several different factors. He explains, “The location of the yacht, tasks to be completed, the reputation and experience of the yard, and then we undertake a full quotation process. There are some great refit yards that can handle big projects, and there are some great yards that are better suited to smaller, more routine stops so it is all about matching the client and yacht with a yard that suits their needs.”

Due Diligence
Specifically yacht managers need to undertake due diligence when assessing the suitability of a shipyard for refits and surveys
Daniel Küpfer at Ocean Management tells us, “We evaluate shipyards on the basis of the quality and motivation of their workforce, track record, financial stability, commitment towards the client, social responsibility and environmental awareness.”

Y.CO undertakes includes extensive research on everything from the shipyard ownership structure and financial stability, its experience and track record – including reference checks from previous refit projects of a similar size and scope of work; and of course, its resources – the skill set on offer, its availability, capacity, and suitability for the project. The company’s Director of Yacht Management says, “We also look at the type of contract that is  proposed (with the standard ICOMIA template favoured), their liability insurance policy, third-party contractor policy and commercial terms and their warranty and aftersales support. We also carry out a full on-site assessment of their facilities: ensuring the yard is secure, the machinery is well-maintained, there is adequate storage and parking and of course that the crew facilities, the canteen, and recreational areas, are up to standard.”

Damian Martin says, “We rely on the experience within the Edmiston Management Team, which has over 200 years of combined experience in yachting. If one of our Technical Managers has a good reason for going to a particular yard, or otherwise, we listen, absorb, and analyse and then make our recommendations.”

Captains Little Helper
With Captains constantly citing the shortage of time as being the criteria that defines their job and sets it aside from others who sail as crew in superyachts the question is how does a yacht manager help the Captain do his job better?

Daniel Küpfer at Ocean Management tells us We believe that yacht Captains and yacht managers have a different role in the client relationship. The yacht manager should support the Captain in his role onboard, so that the Captain can focus on creating the ultimate yachting experience of the owner and the guests onboard.

At Edmiston, Damian Martin believes, “The Captain has more access to the Owner, the manager more access to the Captain and the broker more access to the manager, so it should be a symbiotic relationship. The Captain is the one ‘on the front line’, while us managers are working behind the scenes and therefore can be best placed to assist. Captains and managers should work together to achieve the same aim – to provide the best possible experience for the Owner.”

It is not the yacht managers job to hire crew or choose crew uniforms. Most crew believe those decisions should that be left to the Captain but Damian Martin believes, “This depends on the yacht, its schedule and size. An inexperienced Captain might rely more on the manager for help and support, even if it’s as simple as being directed to the right place. The Captain needs to build a team and will therefore play a key role in the hiring process, but managers might know the candidates and be able to offer guidance.”

Daniel Küpfer at Ocean Management suggests, “I wouldn’t consider myself sufficiently competent as far as the selection of crew uniforms is concerned. In regard to the recruitment of the staff onboard, it is always the Captain who is held responsible by the owner for the performance of the team onboard. It wouldn’t be fair to expect the Captain to fulfil this role successfully, if he would not have the final say when it comes to the selection of his crew.”

Mark Patterson at Y.CO agrees saying, “It is the Manager and Captain’s responsibility to ensure the yacht and crew are safe and able to consistently provide the owner with an outstanding and memorable experience every time he/ she steps on board. All other sub-tasks of this main objective, including crew recruitment and uniform selection, must be completed as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible, so can be left to the onboard team, with guidance from the management company if required.”

Crew placement is about truly understanding every aspect of the vacant position so we can find you specific individuals with the right set of qualifications, personality, and experience. 
Maxime Bregeon, Safety and Crew Manager, says “The professional team of recruitment consultants at our sister company, The Crew Network, is well versed in finding skilled crew to operate any yacht to the highest standards.  Our Crew Department work closely with a Captain or Owners Team if they put forward CVs or candidates directly for interviews and vetting. Depending on the setup required by the Owner, we usually think it is beneficial that Fraser, the Captain and Owner work together in order to find qualified and harmonious team.

The key to a successful yacht operation from a manager’s perspective has to be keeping the owner happy. It must rely on trust, expertise and transparent communication between the owner, Captain and manager. The Captain and manager have to happily work hand in hand to satisfy the owner’s requirements and maintain a safe and efficient onboard operation.

Owning and managing a luxury yacht is an increasingly elaborate business. The role of a yacht managers is to offer support and advice to yacht owners and their captains to ensure that the yacht is being maintained, crewed, administered, and operated to the highest standards, and is compliant with flag and class requirements. Frasers work with the Captain and the owners team to make sure that the yacht is operated safely and efficiently, giving the owner the opportunity to enjoy the yacht. Maxime Bregeon, the company’s Safety and Crew Manager says, “The complexity and the size of today’s yachts require daily support from an onshore management team. This is proven especially in case of emergency where our team can mobilise a tug, medical support, or anything else around the clock and coordinate all parties such as insurances, Coast Guard, next of kin, etc in order to give the Captain full capacity to focus on any onboard emergency.”

Complicated Role
The role has become so very much more complicated now but how has it affected the workload of the manager. Daniel Küpfer at Ocean Management tells us, “We have seen the industry becoming much more regulatory over the last two decades and the complexity on yacht management has significantly increased.”

“The fundamental services typically provided by a Yacht Manager have not changed in the last 5-10 years,” says Mark Patterson at Y.CO. “However,” he continues, “The yachts have become bigger and more complex, legislation and compliance has increased, crew numbers have grown and we’re working with a new generation of yacht owner, one that wants to travel extensively and use their yachts as platforms for adventure. These are factors that have reshaped the way the typical yacht management services are provided and have diversified the type of tasks that a yacht manager is required to do. That said, technology continues to advance and provide all of us with solutions to increase efficiency and maintain a sustainable work load, whilst still delivering a consistent high-quality service.”

Damian Martin believes, the basic role of a manager is the same as it has always been: to assist the Owner, Captain and crew with the safe and efficient running of the vessel. He says, “Owners have grown to understand the need for managers more, as yachts have grown larger, more expensive and the industry has become more professional. While the role has grown, so has the size of the team. We now have specialists working in support of yacht managers to ensure they have everything covered. The manager can’t know everything all the time – I think the secret is to know where to find the answers.”

Yacht managers live in a commercial environment crowded with healthy competition. They strive to set themselves apart from others who carry out the same service each highlighting their ‘elevator pitch’ or unique selling points. While many yacht management companies started life as spin off departments of brokerage houses one stands out as having reversed that trend. Hill Robinson came into existence when Nick Hill and Niall Robinson specifically created a company in 2001 to manage the complexities of large yachts, bringing owners the technical solutions they were asking for. When they were created some twenty years ago the company’s elevator pitch was their complete and utter independence from the pressures of sales brokerage dealings. They sought solely to handle safety, security, operational, accounts, crew, maintenance, and environmental concerns. While the brand has stayed true to that ethos as it has grown to operates 12 offices employing over 200 worldwide, the waters have become slightly muddied by its very close cooperation with the brokerage house Moravia Yachting, a brand they rescued from obscurity.

Daniel Küpfer at Ocean Management says, “Our USP is that we see ourselves as Co-Managers of the yacht. It is often forgotten that the Manager onboard is the Captain. This understanding is of paramount importance for those ashore supposed to support Yacht Captains successfully.

Bluewater came to superyacht management in a roundabout fashion and that makes them somewhat different. Founded in 1991, specifically to train crew, Bluewater can now offer more than 25 years of experience. It is one of the few yachting companies with dedicated teams in each of the five main industry sectors: Brokerage, Charter, Management, Crew Training and Placement. The company boasts its USP as being the only company able to sell, charter and manage yachts on which the crew were recruited and trained in-house. Bluewater offers yacht owners and captains yacht management services in customised packages. This modular ‘pick n mix’ approach allows clients to choose any number of yacht management services in order to create one designed to serve differing needs.

Size of fleet and years of experience combined with in-house experience make yacht managers capable of predicting and solving challenges on behalf of owners. Having an industry-leading safety management system that’s endorsed by major flag states, as well as a community of in-house experts, all accessible to clients through a singular point of contact also helps. “What really sets Y.CO apart,” says Mark Patterson at Y.CO, “Is our holistic approach to yacht management. Far from a one-size-fits-all approach, we work with owners to truly understand their priorities, then work with our captains and crew to create a unique culture on board that upholds these. A lot of operational issues arise when the owner and captain’s priorities fail to align, and our skill lies not only in defining what these priorities are but making sure that they are ingrained in everything that happens on board.”

Sanctions, Seizures and a Secure Future
If ever yacht managers have earned their money, it is in recent times following the invasion of Ukraine by Russian military. Banks, insurers and even governments are asking yacht managers to trace and an account for ownership of superyachts as the rest of the commercial world seeks to impose sanctions on those close to and who are seen to be aiding and abetting the Russian despot. It is not an easy task and given the devious ways some superyacht owners go about disguising the true identity of superyacht ownership it is a task that is not going to get any easier in the next few years. The process of verifying the identity of a customers, either before or during the time that they start doing business with you is increasingly being referred to as know your customer checks or KYC and it is beginning to become one of the more problematic areas that will involve yacht managers over the next few years.  New standards for KYC are being introduced by authorities to protect financial institutions against fraud, corruption, money laundering and terrorist financing.

Ocean Independence has seen an increase of KYC and compliance requirements ashore which will result in additional workloads of its managers. But it is not just sanctions that present the challenges for the future. Daniel Küpfer, says, “Companies also have to accept social responsibility and we all need to drive our efforts for environmental protection forward!”

With yachts becoming more and more technologically advanced, the provision of Cyber Security is going to occupy those in yacht management. At Fraser Maxime Bregeon, says, Fraser are increasingly aware that our constant connectivity can become a tool that can be used against them. “Our response,” he says “Is to challenge this particular risk and it lies in our own Cyber Management Procedures, developed with the interaction of various field experts. Furthermore we implement cyber security awareness training, and most importantly we invest in our shore-based staff to stay abreast of changing requirements and technologies.”

The last two or three years have provided several challenges to managers. In particular; crew and logistics related matters during the peak of the COVID pandemic. These challenges have in some ways altered the shape of the industry, especially relating to crew employment and welfare, and almost certainly these will continue to provide unpredictable scenarios as well as great opportunities when it comes to supporting professional development and crew wellbeing. At Y.CO, Mark Patterson says, “We are noticing that our crew support services have shifted from being mainly compliance-based to incorporate commitment and HR management best-practices. This is where we see our focus sharpening; to ensure the yacht crew community continues to grow and receive the tools and support it needs to meet the demands of our ever-growing sector of the marine industry.”
Speaking for Edmiston, Damian Martin says, “Generally speaking, we can work with our partners in the industry to find a solution to any potential problems that arise. If it is legislative, we work with the bodies concerned to understand the nature of the legislation, what the requirements are and how best to meet them. The perennial problem is ensuring that we have enough qualified, professional crew, which has been made more complicated with the lasting impact of Covid-19 and Brexit. However, as an industry we will come together to attract the best talent and help find collective solutions.”