Yacht Management 2024


A higher level of professionalism and whether we like it or not, more legislation is entering the superyacht world. Safety, compliance and a rigid frame work is filtering down from the world of commercial shipping. Some welcome this, some not so much. But with the help of a knowledgable yacht management team, you can sit back and relax
Words: Claire Griffiths

Begrudged by the Bridge and berated from all sides when things went wrong, there was a time when yacht managers were stuck between rocks and pretty hard places. Possibly, in some instances, for good reason if a lack of experience or knowledge meant they were bringing not so much to a boat’s ‘bon voyage’. But as explains Bolt LaMotte, Director of Business, at MCM Yacht and Construction Management, in recent years, the yachting industry has experienced a notable uptick in professionalism.He says there has been a noticeable shift in the mindset of emerging yacht owners towards the management of their vessels, with a growing recognition of the value provided by professional management services.

This month, ONBOARD moves into the yacht managers’ buildings to get a take on land-based management of seagoing vessels. The triangle of relations between, manager, captain and owner has been historically as flammable as petrol gasoline, but years of curved learning have improved this particular ménage.

For the relationship to succeed, says Franc Jansen Founder of JMS Yacht Management and Crew Services in Monaco there should be open communication channels between all parties. He adds, “Actually I would add the charter manager as well. The owner should communicate with all three directly. If they are all saying the same thing, which will be most of the time, then the owner can be confident he receives the correct advice. Should there be a difference of opinion between the parties, then more questions should be asked. All parties should be confident to give their own professional opinion. This is why at JMS we do only operational management and new build management, and specifically no charter or sales.” Communication and trust are paramount says LaMotte: “We need to communicate in an effective manner while being honest and candid, even when delivering bad news. It’s crucial to determine who needs to know what, and when to discuss it. Reliability is equally important. Both the captain and owner need to feel confident they have the fullest support of the yacht manager.”

Ishika Wali at Ocean Drive recommends establishing clear roles and responsibilities that serve as a cornerstone for preventing misunderstandings and conflicts: “When there is alignment in the goals and vision for the yacht, it unifies everyone towards a shared objective,” she says.

“I’d add that it’s important to share good news but also to prepare solutions for bad news, not just give bad news,” says Chris Andreason, Director of Yacht Management at Edmiston Ltd. He adds, “I’ve always believed that captains are there to manage vessels and ensure owners have a good time. As managers we have a role to assist in protecting captains from bad news but making sure owners are fully informed about what is required for their vessel. The captains live under the same roof as the owner onboard and they should be in charge of the fun stuff. And those of us who are slightly more separated should be able to present bad news. I know from my background the levels of pressure that all crew are under. And if we can shield them from some of the more difficult information that has to be given to owners, then great, we are helping them.

“If you are not living up to expectations, then your days are numbered,” says Jansen. Even when things are in order, a quick check-in with the captain or a simple ‘hello’ to the owner goes a long way suggests LaMotte. Lack of mutual respect or trust and disparities in objectives and or expectations, unresolved conflicts or disagreements, mismanagement of responsibilities or sometimes just a clash of personalities are all potential stumbling blocks says Walia. “I’d add a lack of trust or dishonesty will lead to relationship breakdowns.

Dean & WatersAll of the things that quite frankly won’t happen to us,” says Andreason. “We will always be honest even if that means giving bad news, anything from maintenance to new rules and regulations, crew issues etc.” Nicholas Dean of Dean & Waters agrees that usually relationships fail due to communication gaps, conflicting priorities and agendas, or unrealistic expectations.

A yacht manager’s background is important and for yacht management companies this often means some kind of extensive experience at sea. Renaud Canivet, CEO of Ocean Drive, was previously a successful captain. Says Walia, “This brings invaluable firsthand experience and industry understanding to the table. Ex-captains possess a deeper insight into operational challenges and are adept at communicating effectively with both captains and crews, given their intimate knowledge and understanding of ground-level operations and situations.”

Seatime definitely brings valuable firsthand experience and real understanding of onboard operations and procedures agrees Dean: “All our managers have many years experience on the bridge, having been responsible for many aspects of running a successful vessel.”

At JMS too all yacht managers are ex captains. Says Jansen, “The job of yacht manager is about providing advice to the captain and owner, to prevent problems and assist when there are problems. Not just pushing paper around – although making sure the admin is done is also an important facet of the job.” Besides that, the manager also needs to talk with confidence to the owner about all aspects of a yacht. That only comes with operational experience. On the other hand, the technical managers at JMS have degrees in marine engineering, or naval architecture, or naval engineering. “Mostly our technical managers have experience as surveyors for classification societies and/or flag states, or as project managers in shipyards.”

BSM Yachting in Germany have over 140 years experience as ship owners and managers. Managing Director Christophe Ceard explains, “In my opinion, Yacht Manager shall have Deck or Engine Officer qualifications, with significant years of experience. What is essential is not only to be an ex-seafarer, but to come with the right seafarer qualification, the right experience, knowledge, and the right mind-set.”

Ceard continues, “I would insist on the mindset aspect: being an experienced and successful Captain or Chief engineer is not an assurance that he or she can be a high performance Yacht Manager. The transition ashore can sometimes be a challenge, and the dynamics from shore base are very different, especially on multitasking between various yacht programs.”

MCM Nigel Ingram & Peter Wilson MCMThe team at MCM is made up of dedicated specialists from all areas of the industry including captains, first officers, deck/ interior crew plus other fields such as engineering, commercial passenger vessel management, cruise lines, accounting, crew management, and ship building.

Chris Andreason has been at sea since the age of sixteen. He started off as a naval officer and has captained and or delivered 38 yachts during his career. “I think it’s very important to have a good mix of seafarers, be they deck, engineers or interior, it doesn’t matter and other skill sets in a management company. It is highly essential to have some sea farers but not essential to have all seafarers. Each person can bring different thinking to the operation.”

“I think most people agree that communication is the key skill for a successful yacht manager,” says Jansen. “But communication means nothing if you don’t know what you are talking about.”

LaMotte cites honesty, integrity, experience, good listening skills, agility and quick thinking under pressure as imperative abilities for a first class yacht manager. Walia adds that yacht management is a meticulous job that demands unwavering attention and precision. A comprehensive grasp of maritime regulations and industry standards is also obviously indispensable to ensure adherence and safety protocols. You also need robust problem-solving and decision-making skills to navigate diverse operational challenges as. She says, “Given the multifaceted nature of yacht management, meticulous attention to detail is paramount, complemented by adept multitasking abilities to handle numerous concurrent tasks efficiently.”

“Moreover, proficiency in financial management and budgeting is essential for optimal resource allocation and cost management within the yacht management sphere.” “The skill is understanding what crew are going through and what owners want,’ says Andreason. “The ability to interact with a yacht owner, either as an individual or the family office and the ability to interact with crew and shipyards. Basically you must have the ability to interact with anybody, no matter who they are. If you have that, you have pretty much a solid base to do the job.”

How safe do you want to be on the water seems like a no-brainer kind of a question, but nevertheless private yacht owners do weigh up the toss between whether to have or have not either full blown or a mini version of ISM (International Safety Management) for yachts under 500 gt.

At JMS Yachting all the fleet is run to commercial safety standards regardless of if they are commercial or private. “Why should a guest on a private yacht be less safe than a guest on a chartered yacht? Besides that meeting commercial safety standards preserves the value of a yacht. We just consider this good seamanship,” says Jansen.

“Surely ISM is an absolute must to become compulsory,” says Dean. “I cannot think that any owner, with their family and guests on board, would not want to have their vessel run to the highest safety standards if clearly presented and properly explained to them.”

Ceard confirms “My view is very simple: full ISM applies for all vessels over 500 GT. The sea and the risks of operation don’t make a difference between being registered as commercial or private.

The same applies for yachts below 500 GT. Of course, for smaller yachts, you need to adapt with a more compact system and processes, because of less crew. However, the general principle in terms of safety management applies. I would say that safety culture is even more important on smaller vessels, where we can see that sometimes it is simply lacking in some vessels.”

Arrow MonacoOpting for voluntary compliance with either full ISM or mini-ISM standards for private or commercial yachts not only boosts safety and operational efficiency but also demonstrates the yacht’s steadfast dedication to the safety of its crew and guests. This proactive stance not only guarantees compliance with regulations but also nurtures a culture of accountability and excellence within the maritime sector. “At Ocean Drive, as yacht managers, we meticulously ensure the implementation of the ISM system tailored to the size of each yacht, both for private and commercial vessels. Additionally, we prioritise comprehensive training for our crew to ensure they remain vigilant and well-prepared for any potential onboard emergencies or failures,” explains Walia.

‘I have never really understood the reluctance or non requirement for pleasure yachts to comply with the same set of rules as commercial. It utterly baffles me that the rules are different,” says Chris Andreason. “I do understand that flag states and others have a finite amount of resources to enforce ISM so that is perhaps a reason why the differential is there. But in truth I don’t really take that as a good enough excuse. Whether you are on a pleasure yacht or a commercially operated yacht, the standard should be the same.”

He adds that management companies can be very helpful especially with the 50m yachts of 650 GT on their manning and still expected to comply with everything: “A management company can be very helpful in easing the load on those crew. The sub 500 mark is even more difficult because they try to comply but they don’t have to. Because of that there’s a lot of grey area. They are almost more difficult to manage because of that. The mini ISM has be there to try and get these yachts to work and operate at best practice. But the realities of life are that they simply do not have the manpower to enforce everything but there are elements of it that they absolutely must do. At the end of the day they are small ships and have to be kept safe. If owners understood how exposed they were in some areas they might be a little more attentive. The more training we can give to crew the better which is why I work a lot with The Superyacht
Training Group. We need to heighten awareness of the need for increased training on both private and commercial yachts.”

The increase in rules and regulations over the years has driven owners to more professional management and management in turn has upped its game. Says LaMotte, “The administrative tasks that surround the operations of today’s superyachts are such that without the support of yacht management, the captain and chief officer would spend the lion’s share of their time behind a computer screen and not attending to the day-to-day needs of actually running a yacht and navigating! Furthermore, when all the alarms start ringing, the management team on shore provide crucial support. Both new and serial yacht owners understand and appreciate these factors and realise that a shore-based team is one of the ways to protect their investment and that it enhances their experience when on board.”

The influx of new owners is primarily composed of a younger demographic, many of whom share an appreciation for the collaborative efforts of management companies in their own business ventures suggests Walia. “While yachting serves as a toy of leisure pursuit for them, they understand the importance of meticulous maintenance and adherence to safety protocols to ensure the vessel’s functionality and security. Consequently, there is a rising emphasis on efficiency, safety, and regulatory compliance, driving an increased demand for yacht management services.”

Dean believes owners are becoming more receptive to management, seeking expertise to navigate the complexities of yacht ownership. “We do encounter the issue that ‘it doesn’t matter which management company you have as they are all the same’ – this could not be further from the truth!” he says.

An industry that is receptive to the idea of yacht management is of course good news for yacht management companies. But how does a yacht owner choose which one to opt for if, as Dean says, they are not all the same?

JMS has one of the most competent teams in the industry. It is independent and not linked to sales or brokerage and has locations in the UK, Palma, Monaco and Florida.

LaMotte cites the company’s experience, knowledge (the company has built 110 yachts) and, like JMS, independence – unaligned an unassociated with any other firm that might create a conflict of interest. “Also,” he says, “We understand that the best results are achieved when we work as a team – owner, captain, MCM – not driving a wedge between the parties.”

Ocean Drive on the other hand prefers to cover all the aspects of the yachting business including sales, brokerage, management & charters. Says Walia, “We take great pride in delivering customised and personalised services to our clients. As a boutique family office situated at Port Camille Rayon, we value the personal touch. We invest ample time in comprehensively understanding needs, expectations, and circumstances, ensuring that we safeguard owner interests at every turn.”

“New people to yachting should be made aware that captains and crew ought to be able to look after their vessels and operate them and manage them on board themselves but there is absolutely no substitute for having someone to call when something is broken, there’s been a problem, or you are planning a large maintenance period and you are still trying to maintain a summer standard’s crew,” says Andreason. “Having someone at the end of the phone, having a support team to prepare for the shipyard or the big refit. People with financial oversight to work with the family office, it’s the essential part of what we do in management.”

Yacht refits are an important element of the yacht manager’s remit and each of them has their own criteria on matching the right shipyard for the job. Jansen considers location, availability, price, time and quality. Experience and reputation are also important.

MCM also takes into account previous experience and reviews of trusted colleagues. “Yards differ in their core areas of expertise, so choosing one most appropriate for the intended scope of work is key,” explains LaMotte. “When working with a yard for the first time, we look for strong communication skills from the point of contact that we will be dealing with. That way, expectations are set from the outset. Contractual structures and pricing naturally need to be clearly considered and compared.”

“As well as the above we also evaluate the facilities and capabilities to ensure they align with the specific requirements of a refit,” says Walia.

“Availability is an obvious one and not that easy,” says Andreason; “You need a yard with whom you can engage ahead of time and look at a very clear pricing structure in order to present something that is at least within some percentage points of what will actually happen. We understand overrun in areas but need to control this carefully. I think that is very important. Very clear visibility of what is being charged, what are extras, avoiding unquoted big jobs. That’s how we add value.”

Jansen Maritime Services

Yacht management and yard periods aside,there’s also the crew wellbeing to consider and these bases are also covered by the companies. JMS has male and female mental health officers and helplines from independent organisations who the crew can confidentially contact. Larger yachts have mental health officers appointed onboard. JMS also encourages crew to take courses.

Dean & Waters promote a proactive and healthy working environment to maximise guest enjoyment, encourage crew longevity and retained knowledge in all departments. Through its network of suppliers, its crew management programme, CREWPAL, has been developed to promote crew wellbeing, to help maintain long standing and valued crew members and attract a high calibre of future candidates.

“We leave no stone unturned in ensuring crew welfare,” says Walia at Ocean Drive, “Offering comprehensive health insurance, and invaluable access to essential mental health support services. Through meticulously planned training and drills programmes, we empower our crew with the necessary skills and knowledge fostering their continuous development and growth.” Ocean Drive also ensures that crew have adequate rest periods, crew sorties, inviting all members to engage in various activities together, strengthening bonds, team spirits and fostering a sense of community.

So what now lies ahead for the superyacht industry and the men and women that manage it? Will it and they survive the bloom of an eco-warrior generation that could turn its back on the turbo fuelled super yachts? Jansen admits the industry is changing all the time and yacht managers need to stay ahead of the curve. LaMotte predicts tighter environmental regulations which will require mechanical modifications to yacht systems or special exemptions from the Flag and Class societies. This will fall on the yacht manager to organize and help prevent an owner incurring fiscal penalties.

There will certainly be an increased focus on sustainability initiatives, practices, and environmental regulations says Walia. She also predicts greater digitalisation of the industry leading to more efficient operations and amenities. Evolving luxury demands, impacting owners and managers through high operational costs, compliance demands, and the need for ongoing innovation are also in the mix.

What about the new generation of owners? Ceard comments, “The world is ever more complex (regulation, liabilities, crew management, systems on board,…).”

“I believe that the time when the Captain is fully in charge by himself is disappearing and not sustainable anyway. Operating a yacht is like running a company, a life style company; of course the economics are different, but you need professional expertise at all levels: legal, financial, procurement, safety, crew, HR, technical, logistics, environmental, etc…”

“The question as well is what is Yacht Management? Quite often, we see companies delivering “yacht administration”, and naming it yacht management, which is misleading for the crew and for the clients. Full real management is something else, and it requires serious resources, solid organization.”

Finally, Ceard says “We believe that time the Managers being truly committed and liable, like in other fields, is finally coming. Of course, Owners expect tailored made services as it is expected in every luxury business, with highly personal relationship. This is a given. But this is not in contradiction with having substantial resources and systems to deliver the services. Being a small team to deliver “boutique” services sounds always attractive, but it is impossible to seriously deliver high level of expertise with just few people ashore and some freelances, even with highly competent team. Like I said, the world is changing, and Owners require highly personal service yet with solid in-house team.”

Andreason says, “I think the advent of newer, younger, technically savvy sustainability-conscious yacht owners has to be addressed very urgently. As Henk de Vries said at METS a couple of years ago, we need to adapt or die. I think that is 100% true of everything we do. If we are not conscious of minimising the impact of yachts so that more environmentally savvy owners can still enjoy yachts, we have to be aware of the sustainability element, the impact that anything that uses a large amount of natural resources will have on the planet generally. If we can repurpose things, can we modernise the propulsion systems, can we think ahead to what yachts need for a longer life cycle?”

There are a lot of big questions overhanging the industry out there, dangling like Damocles’ sword. Fingers crossed the rope doesn’t snap and the answers for the future are found before the sword drops.