Yacht Management

THE LOVE HATE RELATIONSHIP

The day to day operational and safety activities of any superyacht cruising our oceans across the world demand professional assistance and support from experts in their fields. This shore side support allows the captains and crew to do what they do best and deliver an unforgettable experience to the owners and charter guests.

I love having a yacht manager take care of my more mundane duties running this yacht,” said the captain, gesturing across the wide expanse of bow on board his 84 metre superyacht. “But I really hate it when they interfere with my relationship with the owner!” He had, in just 30 words, completely captured and defined the love / hate relationship that most captains have with their yacht management teams.

Good yacht managers working ashore can greatly assist the captain by taking away some of the more humdrum aspects of vessel operation. By doing so, they allow the captain to concentrate on operating the vessel. When sailing with the boss on board or charter guests demanding attention, captains are at their beck and call 24 hours a day. During that same time, captains must act as father figure and mentor to the crew and, at the same time, ensure that the yacht is navigating safely. Little wonder that he needs all the professional help he can get.

Paul Cook, now the Chief Operating Officer within the Hill Robinson Group, was in his past a superyacht captain. He says, “A yacht manager and captain should be part of a close-knit team whose primary aim is to support the owner. With increased demands and a growing list of regulations and requirements, a yacht management client service team can really support the captain and crew with the day-to-day back office operations and overall management of a busy yacht. At Hill Robinson, we very much tailor our client service teams to meet the varying requirements of the client and believe a close working relationship is paramount to allow us to support the captain so he can better look after the owner. Relieve some of the burdensome administration and management drudgery to release the captain to focus more time on owner specific requirements.”

Many professional captains have realised that there is a gap in the market and have stepped ashore to become yacht managers. They have concluded that onboard experience is an important criterion for a yacht manager to be successful in his occupation realising that it is vital to understand the requirements of those onboard better. Having served in a senior position on board a hard working superyacht enables them to better provide a level of support to both owners and crews that few others can offer. They know it is vital that the manager gains the confidence of the captain so that a sound and mutually beneficial working relationship can be formed. This depth of experience, coupled with a client focused attitude has proven successful in building long-term relationships with superyacht owners. Bolt LaMotte from MCM Yacht Management says, “It definitely helps to understand the captains’ and crews’ perspective, to have a clear understanding of the expectations and realities of yacht operations.”

Not all managers share that view: One told us, “Whilst onboard experience is beneficial and, in some respects, essential especially regarding 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 in my firm are specialists from the commercial shipping sector. We have professional 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 we offer and allows us to provide owners with the service they need.”

Paul Cook says, “It is good to have the core of our team consisting of yacht, compliance and technical managers to be ex-seafarers as they bring valuable onboard experience. But it is equally important to have different backgrounds and skillsets in the team.”

Franc Jansen the Founder and Director of JMS in Monaco says, “I believe that a sound maritime background is essential. Ex- captains / chief officers make good operational yacht managers. Currently all our yacht managers are ex-captains. We also have people who came up from the commercial side, ex-master mariners, chief engineers, class surveyors, naval architects and ex-project managers from shipyards. Even the consultants in our crew recruitment team have served on board superyachts in various positions. Of course, the exception is the accounts team. They are professional and qualified accountants. Most had never seen a yacht before they joined JMS.”

Clearly there is a balance to be found. Understandably it can be difficult for a yacht manager to gain the respect of crew if they have not been seen to have ‘walked the walk’, but this should not mean all managers must have been involved in yachting.

A GOOD MIX
A variations of backgrounds allows a rounded viewpoint to be found and the better yacht management companies have a mixture of ex-yacht crew that include captains, engineers, and pursers. “In years gone by the role of the yacht manager was to keep the owner feeling warm and cosy between the money making opportunities of first acquiring and then the subsequent disposal of the yacht,” says Paul Cook. He adds, “Now the role has become so very much more complicated. Cook thinks the role remains very much the same, but it requires many more subject matter experts and a diverse range of services to support the modern yacht owner and the wide variety of superyacht types and operating patterns.” He continues, “Many yacht owners are looking for a company which can advise on the life cycle of financing, acquiring, owning, operating, and ultimately disposing of their pride and joy. Whether it is a new build or brokerage purchase, private or commercial, white yacht or grey support vessel, operating from a single homeport or on a global mission, the need for a safe pair of hands to manage these highly diverse processes 24/7 is the same. The yacht manager is pivotal as the primary point of contact, but they must be adequately backed up with all the various supporting arms to be successful: compliance, security, accounts and payroll, technical and project management, marketing, legal, human resources crew management, recruitment, logistical, financial, corporate services, surveys, training – the list goes on!”

“When yacht managers first emerged in the industry, things were very different,” says Phillip Holden, Management Director at Bluewater. He continues, “Then it could have been seen as more of an owner’s representative role, keeping an eye on the vessel on behalf of the owner. Captains tended to be mistrustful of managers and didn’t see the necessity.”

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.

Bolt LaMotte at MCM in Newport Rhode Island says, “In an ideal world, full ISM should be mandatory for private yachts as well as those that operate commercially.” He adds, “In some cases it already is, if the yacht is certified in compliance with one of the commercial yacht codes (which can be done even if registered as a private yacht). Having clear and formal procedures and guidance for safety onboard is always a good thing and promotes an overall strong safety culture onboard. This elevates a yacht’s standard of maintenance and operation, which can save an owner money in the long run and reduce risk. We usually recommend that even if a yacht is not operating commercially, that they maintain a ‘voluntary’ Statement of Compliance (for whichever Yacht Code is relevant to them, and if their Flag administration allows it), as it provides a standard to adhere to and to be surveyed on annually. Whether or not they elect to have ISM as an item not complying is usually an owner or captain decision, though our recommendation is to implement the ISM.”

Jansen of JMS concurs, “All our private yachts are running with voluntary compliance to commercial standards and that includes an ISM system.” He adds, “The reasons are that the operation of private and commercial yachts is the same. Therefore, we think the safety should be the same. This comes with several benefits for all concerned as well. Having a certificate of compliance means that the yacht meets the safety standards of Class and Flag, and the standards are independently verified. The costs of doing so on a superyacht are in fact, somewhat, minor. If the yacht is keeping voluntary compliance, it means it can be easily switched to commercial operations. This increases the yacht’s re-sale value and may make her easier to sell. Even if the owner wants to start chartering, it becomes much easier and quicker. It protects the asset in every direction.”

It cannot be argued that a 100 metre yacht operating privately does not become any safer just because it is being chartered. But the situation becomes more complicated when considering yachts under 500gt because full ISM, when done correctly, is time consuming.

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 to create one designed to serve differing needs. Phillip Holden at Bluewater believes, “It will always be good practice to apply the quality and safety standards of the ISM Code to all vessels, including yachts under 500GT, which will enhance operational safety and minimise risks. Applying the Code to smaller vessels would also help yacht owners and management companies to establish a safety culture onboard. “He adds, “Operating with an onboard Safety Management System can assist in reducing accidents, incidents, and operational failures, which can ultimately save costs and protect the yacht’s reputation.” Finally, he says, “Although it is not mandatory, it is recommended to apply the principles and standards of the Code to yachts under 500GT which will assist in improving crew/guest safety and enhance efficient operation.”

Bolt LaMotte at MCM explains, “Mini-ISM is already applied to yachts under 500gt which operate commercially or that maintain a Certificate of Compliance (Yacht Code) and provides a standard that we all agree is necessary in our industry. Again, this is recommended to provide the captain and crew with a framework by which to maintain safety protocols and a strong safety culture onboard. However, with both questions, as much as it would be simpler from a regulatory standpoint to apply the same rules across the board, there are always going to be owners and captains who prefer not to be “constrained” in their operation, or to not have added costs of annual surveys, etc. when there is no requirement to do so.”

Generally, yachts over 500gt have not only the crew numbers, but also the experience to manage this level of administration. Under 500gt, there are seldom enough crew to complete all the ISM tasks. A mini or a scaled-down version of the full ISM already exists in the form of the Mini-ISM code, which is an annex to the Red Ensign Yacht Code.

“Private yachts, regardless of their size and use, have a duty of care to ensure the safety of their crew, passengers, and the environment,” says Philip Holden. “While it may not be necessary for private yachts to fully comply with the ISM code, implementing its principles and standards can significantly improve the safety and operational efficiency of the yacht. Currently, it is only recommended that private yachts consider adopting the ISM code and adapting it to their specific needs. Some private yacht owners voluntarily comply with the ISM Code as it provides a framework for good management practices.”

CAPTAIN’S 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? Phillip Holden adds, “Over the years, the admin requirements on a yacht captain have increased dramatically and the industry was not run as professionally as it is now. The crew were often paid in cash – with no contracts, compliance requirements were much lighter, and accounts were often a shoe box full of receipts! “He adds, “The evolution of this has been extremely positive. Vessels, crew, and owners all find themselves in a much clearer, safer situation in all aspects on board. This type of environment demands a level of paperwork on the captain that wouldn’t leave much time for navigation.”

Simon Dudding Yacht Manager at Bluewater says, “Yacht management companies are the solution to outsourcing most of the vessel admin; with specialists in finance, compliance, insurance, employment, technical issues… The list goes on. It would be a massive undertaking for one person to understand and be on top of all the vessel’s legal, fiscal and compliance obligations, so these days, captains are more than happy to work with an experienced management company.”

James Allen, Director of Yacht Management at Arrow Monaco 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 Alma Yachting, Director Alessandro Macri 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 yacht 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.”

Bolt La Motte is quite specific when he states, “Yacht managers allow the captain to remain 100% focused on the owner’s needs and requests by ensuring that all technical and operational details of the vessel are always taken care of. With the support of a yacht manager, the captain can feel confident running the vessel knowing that no aspects have been overlooked.”

UNIFORM APPROACH
It is not the yacht manager’s job to hire crew or choose crew uniforms. Most crew believe those decisions should be left to the captain but says Paul Cook, “Yacht managers should provide the services they are skilled for, and that a yacht requires. Like many yacht management companies, Hill Robinson has a recruitment arm. But unlike many, we have an in-house network of recruiters based in the principal yachting hubs of Fort Lauderdale, Palma, Antibes, and Southampton. We also have recruiters in key crew homelands such as Australia and South Africa. We place some 500 captains and crew per year, so we are well-versed in screening hundreds of applications to provide the captain with a considered list of candidates that fit the specific requirements for that role, client and the yacht. We can then carry out all the vital vetting and reference checking, confirm certification, organise flights, vaccinations, etc. We also have a procurement department which can supply anything from a filter or branded polo shirts to a helicopter. Having a large fleet of yachts and a wide network of suppliers, the buying power of a yacht management company makes it possible to reap cost savings and jump queues to provide the best possible service to a yacht.”

Alessandro Macri at Alma says, “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 they can be left to the onboard team, with guidance from the management company if required.”

Jansen comments, “I think that it is important that the captain is choosing his own team. Usually the captain chooses the candidates, then the vessel manager reviews the CVs, and providing the experience and salary is within budget etc. the owner / owner’s office is informed. On occasion owners want to interview senior crew themselves to make sure they fit in to the existing team.

“As a whole, we agree annual budgets with the captain and the owner. Uniforms are part of the budget and the captain is free to operate within the budget. Having said that, usually the Chief Stewardess selects uniforms with the owners. If the owners select something special, we adjust the budget. But, it needs to remain clear and transparent and the owners are free to buy uniforms or use secondary services from whom ever they want.”

The key to a harmonious and successful yacht operation from a manager’s perspective must be keeping the owner happy. It must rely on trust, expertise and transparent communication between the owner, captain, and management team. Once this is in place, then the rest is simple!

There are new rules and regulations coming into the industry and this will continue for some time. These will undoubtedly affect some yachts but with a strong management team, these new regulations can be overcome. Jansen at JMS adds, “The yachting industry will have to adapt, there will be new regulations over the coming years, but these will not be problematic for us. The industry will adapt and so will JMS.”

COMPLICATED ROLE

The fundamental services typically provided by yacht managers have not changed in the past five to ten years. But yachts have become bigger and more complex, legislation and compliance has increased. Crew numbers have grown and there is a new generation of yacht owner, one that wants to travel extensively and use their yachts as platforms for adventure.

These are all 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 workload, whilst still delivering a consistent high-quality service.

USP
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 2000 to manage the complexities of large yachts, bringing owners the technical solutions they were asking for. When they were created some 20 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 operate 12 offices employing over 250 worldwide, the waters have become slightly muddied by its very close cooperation with the brokerage house Moravia Yachting, a brand they rescued from obscurity. Paul Cook summarises by saying, “With 22 years’ experience under our belts, experience in all facets of yachting, aviation and residential, and a truly follow the sun network of offices across four continents, Hill Robinson’s key differentiator is that we always remain approachable and flexible, putting our own hands-on yachting experience at the heart of the services that we provide to our clients.”

“Independence and transparency is key for JMS,” says Franc Jansen at JMS Yacht Management. “We do not involve ourselves with sales or chartering, there is no conflict
of interest. Our job is to simply manage the yachts. It helps if you have a good team, and we do. Our diverse team bring experience from the commercial and yachting sectors. We find this a vital component when dealing with refits, conversions and new builds. Then we have the ex-captains and engineers who understand the operational side of the business.” Jansen continues, “We also make sure we have a low number of yachts per manager, so each yacht and each yacht owner gets the attention they each deserve.”

Bluewater offers a complete one-stop service. The Yacht Management division covers all aspects of vessel operation, which can be applied as a package or in a modular manner. Bluewater supplies all services in-house, from DPA, safety and security systems, crew management, finances, and technical support to their dedicated superyacht training school. This means that yachts, owners, and crew are taken care of from start to finish.

Alma offers a different approach to yacht management in that it operates a ‘Cloud Platform’ where superyacht owners, captains, crews, and companies can easily work together even if they are in different geographical regions. Using intranet and extranet based software the company’s virtual office grants remote access to the yacht management team, documents, reports, and 24/7 support. “This,” Macri says, “allows full control over yacht data and allows use of tools that include a helpdesk and e-learning, as well as integration and customisation options.”

Jansen from JMS adds, “Our USPs? Independence, transparency and experience. I’ve been in this industry for many years and I believe we probably have the strongest, most capable and highly qualified team in the yachting industry. We have a good spread of offices too, in Monaco, Palma, the UK and we opened our Fort Lauderdale office in September 2022 and the team is already growing there. We also have team members placed in the Netherlands, Italy and mainland Spain so we are always close to the yachts and shipyards.”

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 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 customer, 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.

Paul Cook comments, “The issues we handle are so varied that it is crucial to have a depth of staff who can provide or research information in different fields such as custom and tax regulations, KYC, banking issues, travel and visa, insurance claim handling, to name but a few. The main qualities for a yacht manager include being exceptionally organised and efficient as well as being able to multitask, along with excellent communication skills.”

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.

With yachts becoming 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. Our own cyber management procedures, developed with various experts in this field, are implemented and we provide awareness training, and most importantly we invest in our shore-based staff to stay abreast of changing technologies.”

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. Management companies now have specialists working in support of yacht managers to ensure they have everything covered. Managers cannot be expected know everything all the time. The secret is to know where to find the answers and ensure that the manager captain relationship becomes one of love rather than hate.

CREW AND INDUSTRY WELLBEING
The past few years have seen many challenges for the industry and communities as a whole. These 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. It is important 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.

The perennial problem is ensuring that we have enough qualified, professional crew and that they are trained and looked after. This was of course, made more complicated with the lasting impact of Covid-19 and Brexit. However, as an industry we must come together to attract the best talent and help find collective solutions to ensure the yacht crew community at every level continues to grow and receive the tools and support.