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My First Captain
Posted: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 8:39 AM
Joined: 09/01/2009
Posts: 21

I’ll be hiring my first Captain soon—my very first one.

It was proposed that I ask the readers of what they think I should look for in a Captain.

 Since I’m new to yachting I’m in a very unusual position for me. In my business there is a strong culture already established that has thrived for years and which is a strong part of our reputation. When hiring anyone new, it doesn’t take long for them to quickly fit in with the ethics, culture and respect that we show each other and all of our clients. This business “culture” is now self-perpetuating and takes very little effort on my part to perpetuate.   

However, now I’m going to hire someone that will set the “culture” of the yacht without me. Unlike with my business experience, it would be very easy for a captain to show me one face, while conducting business and dealing with the crew in a very different face. I don’t want to micromanage my Captain, yet at the same time I very strongly want him/her to creature a culture aboard that reflects the standards that I am well known for.

So, here is my list of what I’m looking for:

Strong Management Skills: I want a Captain that will gain the respect of the crew, who is adept at resolving problems and that will treat everyone with respect and dignity no matter who they are.

Integrity: A Captain that will not find him/herself in ethical dilemmas stemming from a lack of integrity. A Captain that will go far beyond not just refusing kickbacks, and not smoking ganja, but will also fairly handle problems of sexual harassment, accuracy in their accounting reports and will keep their word with me as well as the crew.

Well Qualified: A Captain who already has experience of dealing with extreme weather and long ocean crossings and can safely navigate and lead a crew through every the most urgent and dangerous situations.

A Strong Communicator: A Captain that enjoys visiting with every possible type of guest, and can communicate clearly with port authorities and then respectfully resolve problems with crew and vendors…all without becoming angry or rude, or  with feeling worn down or pushed around.

So, what am I leaving out? What is important to you with your captain?

Posted: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 9:37 AM
Joined: 02/05/2008
Posts: 3

your list is OK
but she will be detailed as following

Strong Management Skills in HR,money,administrative
Integrity you can add also proved longevity
Well Qualified  with seafarer skill and a engineer knowledge
A Strong Communicator with the capacity to plan and to be reactive to all kinds of events.

the tickets to be capt is one thing BUT to be a good leader ( the perfect one for me doesn't exit,  please remember you are just human) must have practice and experience,experience,experience............

i wish you a good luck for your first hiring


Posted: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 9:50 AM
Also useful would be someone with a good understanding of all the current laws and regulations, this seems to be an area that can be lacking (every flag state has own rules, as does every country whose waters you cruise in) Many of the most experienced, by virtue of age, will now have families/dependents, so may not be free to cross oceans etc year around. So a good relief system, to allow some home/family time, will help you find and keep the best of the crop
Posted: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 11:03 AM
Joined: 14/01/2009
Posts: 1026

   You can put two captains side by side.  They both fit your outlined requirements.  One captain was able to fulfill all his previous owners expectations for one hundred grand, the other captain needed to spend one million to accomplish the same task.
  Naturally if you hire the million dollar man, he will fail on your project if you  anticipate a budget of one hundred grand..
   You must be honest with the captain and state  your anticipated yacht budget and  You MUST ask for an overview of your prospective captains  previous accounting log book. This is a very important detail.
    Look closely at your captains  previous mode of operation particularly  when  owner or guests were  not onboard.  How did he spend the money.  I can carelessly spend 2000 dollars a night of your money by  staying in a  prime marina close to my favorite golf course or I can look after your interests and move the yacht to a berth that costs 2000 dollars per month,  then use the extra budget dollars to perform worthwhile maintenance or equipment purchase.
   Remember you as owner never really know the maintenance schedule of the yacht until a few years down the line when you are faced with a 2 million dollar yard bill to repair neglect. What was your captains previous yard refit bill ?  Have him justify why he burned thru a generator after 1000 hrs, have him justify any large refit charge. How many times did he have the yacht painted ?  It matters, paint jobs are prime kickback territory. 
  Additionally you never simply hire a captain, you  hire a program. Many first class captains I know travel as a team, the captain and his trusted mate.  Think about this.  A captain that has a long history serving with the same mate is a very special, respected captain. A captain and his mate is not a couple.
  Verify the exact number of crew that he intends to operate the yacht with. Excess crew cause you the owner to loose personal space on the yacht.  The less crew the better. A fist class skipper knows this and will be able to operate at low staffing levels
Posted: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 7:52 AM
Joined: 09/01/2009
Posts: 21

“You must be honest with the captain and state your anticipated yacht budget and You MUST ask for an overview of your prospective captains  previous accounting log book. This is a very important detail.”

“Look closely at your captains previous mode of operation particularly when owner or guests were  not onboard.  How did he spend the money?”

“What was your captains previous yard refit bill?  Have him justify why he burned thru a generator after 1000 hrs, have him justify any large refit charge. How many times did he have the yacht painted?  It matters [since] paint jobs are prime kickback territory.”

Right now, my bookkeeper does an excellent job at getting everything paid for me. She’s very good at seeking out discrepancies, finding loopholes and keeping the honest, well, honest. My problem is she knows absolutely nothing about yachting. I’m sure that after two years of experience she’ll setup procedures to minimize the loses, but I have no doubt that those could be two very expensive years. I’m going to pass your advice on to her as it will give her an idea of what to look for.

What other red flags should she/we be looking out for? Any other ideas?

Posted: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 11:18 AM

Red Flags ?   When your captain insists on  negotiating major work or purchases on your behalf ,  this captain  is seeking a commission.. On the yacht I captain ,  I never purchase or negotiate for any major work. Ive only been in the business 30 years, I'm not that well connected, so I rely on  pro project management for details like 250,000 euro   paint jobs or to source equipment.   Remember, A first class management company   negotiates the purchases of  millions of euros worth of gear per year  so they always get it at a better price than a captain would and are expert at delivery time, logistics. 

   I make no commission on the owners money. The money I do spend on the yacht is for day to day maintenance and obvious operational details.  These are very modest sums. The money I  steal is usually  the result of the morning newspaper that I paid for with the owners money...Oh Well, nobody is perfect.   

   The best advice for you is to become an educated owner. You can rely on a good accountant to look for obvious fiddling, but I will  guarantee  you that I can beat your accountant every time !!!!! 
    Try this out for size.   My owner has a prime berth in the West Med that he does not use during the summer season ,so he rents it out.  This is a very expensive berth to rent.  Normally we  rely on a  management company in Germany to take care of this detail. This year , with the economy slow , the management company did not have much demand from its customer base and would not take on the responsibility. The Owner asked me be to look around for a private yacht who would like to rent the slip for the high season.. I approached several captains to ask their plans and presto,  one was interested.  We discussed the details and arrived at the number ninety thousand euros for the period he needed the berth.  Perfect, problem solved,  I give him the contract to forward to his owner for approval.  The next day he comes back with the contract, signed and ready.... except,  instead of 90, 000,   he had written in one hundred thousand euros. Hm mm !  I ask him whats up ?  and he says that the extra ten thousand is his commission for finding this berth and asked if I would pay him in cash once the one hundred thousand payment was received. These transactions are avoided be using a pro managent company.
  You,  as the owner must become educated on how the marine industry works and be very wary when a captain  offers to negotiate big ticket items on your behalf.
  As far as choosing your first captain,  as a new owner  you might be wise to hire TWO captains !!  First, find a Temp.,very senior, confident, semi retired captain and hire him to commission your yacht by putting it thru an intense, one month mini cruise with a minimum crew and you onboard all the time. Im  talking  about an intense, superfun, lets find all the defects, break the boat, workout cruise with you, as owner ,  literally performing all the jobs, including driving and docking the yacht.   Remember....On the best yachts the owner IS THE CAPTAIN  and he  hires professionalls to   lessen  the burden of operation and assist  him in getting the most out of  his  investment. .   By taking on a senior temp. captain you will gain a new perspective on what type of  permanant crew your yacht will need in future and you will pick up endless operational tips.   When you have wrapped up this educational, mini cruise, shake the Senior captains hand, thank him for the education and then search for your permanent captain. You may very well have just gained a great  industry contact for any  of your  future yachting questions .  
    In the end, Do you hire an  Experienced captain or a  young captian  ?  You will have to decide  Young captains may have a limited track record but  can be very effective , they have a burning desire to do a great job.. Thirty years ago when I was a young stud captain, I could outwork anyone in the business, now I'm lazy and my back hurts.  A young captain with the backup of a pro manager is a very common  combination that achieves  the best of both worlds .

   As far as temperament of your captain,  many times its best to find a captain that is the exact opposite of you.  If your a nice guy,  find a, not so nice,  hard ass captain.  Normally the combination of opposites achieves the magic , one plus one equals two.    If your both really, really nice guys,  your yacht might  go really, really mushy, like jello.  

Mike French
Posted: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 4:44 PM
Joined: 06/05/2008
Posts: 57

I think there is a danger off over intellectualising this issue.  Basically you need to remember that the captain is appointed because he is your choice not because through your skills  you found the best captain.  I make the  point because one sure way of ruining your yachting  is to assume  that you can manage the  boat.  You have  to delegate this and my suspicion is that you are already too invested in what you want in a crew. 

I am probably no where near the best captain, but  in the  absence of an owner's interference I have been able to deliver a great yachting experience to a few owners that don't tolerate anything substandard.  That said, I have had the misfortune  to work for an owner or two who dealt directly with the crew and destroyed my credibility.  Crew will always support the most powerful force and owners are top of their list.

So, find a suitably qualified person, gay, straight or American and decide if you can  trust them.  If so, be clear and fair with your requirements and anticipated itinerary and RELAX.

Think of yachting like a  good wine; enjoy the flavour but don't get your  feet covered in crushed  grapes. 

Posted: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 6:27 PM

I would be very interested in applying for the postion of Captain.  However, I must tell you that I am gay.  Actually bi-sexual.  I am also married to a woman.  I do fit your criteria.  I don't know where to go from here.  This is not a joke.  I really don't know where to proceed from here.  Because I am married and well known in Ft Lauderdale, I have to be extremely discreet.  Please reply and maybe we can discuss this further.  I really can't tell from your comments if you are or are NOT looking for a gay captain.


Posted: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 7:23 PM
Stevepete, dont dismiss juniors advice so quickly, your bookeeper is not on the front line, in the ship yard managers office nor should she have any say in yacht matters. Thats why you asked the question, to find out how to hire a great captain. I think you missed what junior was really saying.
Posted: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 9:54 PM
Stevepete, I disagree with what Mike says.   Personally the best yachts Ive run were owned by hands on, intrusive ?,   knowledgeable owners.
   Your job as an owner is to become  knowledgeable and  hands on .  My job as Captain is to assist you in this quest and  encourage you to own and operate  yachts for the rest of your life. 
  All these titles like Engineer, chef, captain, are just a bunch of titles.   We, all of us involved in yachting , are employed in the marine industry.  Yacht crew, designers, builders.... can only stay employed if we , as a group , do everything possible to educate ,stimulate  and protect the  yacht owners interest. .  We must convince owners  to adopt yachting  as a permanent part of their lifestyle.
    Become a knowledgeable owner Stevepete.... find a crew that facilitates this knowledge, our industry relies on this combination.
  Oh and encourage your Secretary, accountant  to become a knowledgeable administrator  by inviting her on a cruise each year. I know my owners Secretary and her family well, she knows who I am because she is part of the program.
Posted: Thursday, May 14, 2009 4:54 AM
Joined: 28/10/2008
Posts: 26

Dear Yacht Owner Stevenpete, It is refreshing to find a new yacht owner on our blogs asking these questions and wanting to learn more about it all. From your initial requirements stated you are certainly on the right tract in your criteria for a professional captain. Please also read my comments on your "cultural melting pot" post that may help and a few other posts that I have which you can read from my profile.

A good professional captain does not manage a yacht off the cuff yet this is a very common problem  in our industry and one that is very often discussed. Finding a captain who can wear all of those "caps" as a good organizer, manager and leader and yet have a hospitable persona as well can be a challenge. Good yacht organization, management and leadership is not taught in the maritime schools (yet). So many of the younger less experienced captains even though they have a big license do no have the organizational, management and leadership skills necessary. It takes time and experience as a captain to obtain this, lots of time so keep that in mind. If your yacht is new or does not yet have any onboard organizational system for scheduled maintenance of systems and general maintenance, safety equipment maintenance and drills logs and station bills, crew manual, ISM or mini ISM  implimentation manuals and schedules, flag state and class requirement documents and scheduled survey schedule, to name just a few of the organizational or reglatory requirements necessary for a properly run yacht, your captain, if doing his/her job properly will be very busy setting all of this up initially as well as training crew to much of the above mentioned and at the same time attending to your requests and possibly organizing a voyage or visit of guests as well. An operations company (management company) can also help with some of this if needed and if the yacht is over 500 tons you must have a shoreside operations company (DPA) but you would probably know all of this already if your yacht is over 500 tons.

Depending upon the size of your yacht or if you will be chartering or not, if it is over 100 ft (5+ crew) I would suggest also using an operations/management company (to some extent) as indicated above by another blogger. Especially to help out your bookeeper, there is quite a learning curve involved and it can encompass much more that just accounting and payroll. There are some good and bad ones out there and services may vary so researching this is necessary as well. With yachts being more complicated these days with all of the regulations, scheduling, maintenance and multitude of nuances involved, even the best captain can get bogged down with all of the details and an operations company can be good for keeping the captain in check as well as being a helping hand to your bookeeper and captain. Each yacht has its own individual criteria as to what the needs may be in this respect. 

I hope this helps. Regards, Denise

Posted: Thursday, May 14, 2009 9:33 AM
Joined: 09/01/2009
Posts: 21

RE: Anonymous: “Red Flags?”


I don’t believe it is ethical for any captain, or anyone else for that matter, to receive a kickback on purchase made as a course of doing their job. I’ve heard, on this website actually, that several management companies offer kickbacks as well. I tolerate many things far better than theft, so I doubt I would give someone a second chance.  


“The best advice for you is to become an educated owner. You can rely on a good accountant to look for obvious fiddling, but I will  guarantee  you that I can beat your accountant every time! Try this out for size…”

That’s easy. I doubt she would fall for that one since she would be the one sending the invoice, and would never allow the Captain to receive a check of that size, nor deposit it into the “Yacht—General Operations” account. Unless the Captain had 10 grand of his own, the other captain would be out of luck. However, if it was MY captain who asked for the kickback, and the proper paperwork was sent, then I doubt she would have found it.



“As far as temperament of your captain, many times its best to find a captain that is the exact opposite of you. If you’re a nice guy, find a, not so nice, hard ass captain. Normally the combination of opposites achieves the magic, one plus one equals two. If your both really, really nice guys, your yacht might go really, really mushy, like jello.”


I think I’m a very nice guy, but I also know I’m very assertive, too. I often get judged as being a pushover but it never flies and it often gives me the advantage, especially in negotiations. As far as my businesses go, I run a very tight ship. My expectations are far above the industry standard and I am fortunate to have hired and trained employees who are truly top notch. I don’t allow “hard ass” managers and push overs seldom rise to the top of the heap, but an assertive manager will always push hard, be in total control and still have the loyalty of his team.

Posted: Thursday, May 14, 2009 10:24 AM
Joined: 09/01/2009
Posts: 21

Mike French: “Basically you need to remember that the captain is appointed because he is your choice not because through your skills you found the best captain. I make the point because one sure way of ruining your yachting is to assume that you can manage the boat.”


When I began to get more interested in yachting and was playing with the idea of purchasing a large yacht, I quickly realized that I had absolutely no experience or knowledge about it. I also knew that my ignorance and the usual “growth curve” for learning could be extremely expensive. Through a lot of feedback from others, and several owners, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a lot to be learned to be a good owner. I absolutely do not want to be the Captain of my own yacht, but there is still a certain amount of knowledge that is expected of me as an owner. My objectives with hiring a Captain are very similar to those of hiring a manager, and with each I will make my expectations very clear and leave them to find their own solutions. (A big part of my learning as a new owner has been learning what my expectations are.)


I’m not the micromanage type and I’m certainly not the type to remain ignorant either.


“I am probably nowhere near the best captain, but…”


I hate the words, “the best.” I think it is a major folly of the wealthy to live in a superficial quest for “the best” and is a complete and total waste of one’s life.


“I have had the misfortune to work for an owner or two who dealt directly with the crew and destroyed my credibility. Crew will always support the most powerful force and owners are top of their list.”


I intend to make my yacht my primary residence for several years, and don’t want to spend that time managing the yacht, since I have my own life and another business to run. This is always a problem in business, but I’m sure that on a yacht, where everyone lives, works and plays together that the potential for it being a problem is greatly compounded. Also, I've heard too many stories from other owners that got too caught up in "owning" a yacht. As you said, they had red feet and never really did appreciate the wine.


Thanks for the excellent advice.

Posted: Thursday, May 14, 2009 10:42 AM
Joined: 09/01/2009
Posts: 21

“…, I must tell you that I am gay. … I really can't tell from your comments if you are or are NOT looking for a gay captain.”


I don’t think that being gay or straight has anything to do with being a good captain. Although I’m gay, I’m certainly not looking for a gay captain, and neither would I overlook an applicant who was.


From my experience, a lot of people who haven’t spent a lot of time around gay people, tend to have a lot of stereotypes to dispel or really don’t know what to expect. But, more often than not, that quickly dissipates. It’s funny that several people that are my closest friends were once homophobic. Just like for most people, they were sold a lie based on ignorance, fear and hate, but once they saw the reality through the myth, they were quick to let it go.

Posted: Thursday, May 14, 2009 11:15 AM
Joined: 09/01/2009
Posts: 21

“Your job as an owner is to become knowledgeable and hands on. My job as Captain is to assist you in this quest and encourage you to own and operate yachts for the rest of your life. … We must convince owners to adopt yachting as a permanent part of their lifestyle. Become a knowledgeable owner Stevepete, find a crew that facilitates this knowledge, our industry relies on this combination.”


I agree with you on being knowledgeable, but not on being hands on. I’m a guest in the bridge and the engine and control rooms. The only time I’ll helm the yacht is with permission and oversight from the Captain or his crew. When the Captain has to make a decision on whether or not the weather is severe enough to stay in port or to head out to sea that is the Captains, decision and not mine. If there is ever an emergency onboard, I’ll do exactly as the Captain instructs. I’m a firm believer in the Responsibility/Authority connection so if I’m going to hold him responsible for the welfare of my yacht and guests, then he must have the authority to make it happen. Sure, I’m absolutely interested in yachting, meteorology, and how things work. I love gadgets and gizmos, and quite frankly, a yacht is the ultimate gadget; and as an owner, I can afford that point of view. I’m sure for a professionally trained Captain—it’s a lot more than that.


“Oh and encourage your Secretary, accountant to become a knowledgeable administrator by inviting her on a cruise each year. I know my owners Secretary and her family well, she knows who I am because she is part of the program.”


My accountant is actually kind of scared of boats and the water. She keeps giving me these silly looks about why I would ever spend so much money on a boat. It’s really kind of cute. Her husband and kids are a completely different story. My Personal Assistant, I’m sure, will be spending a lot of time aboard since he tends to travel with me a lot (No he’s not my lover. He’s straight.), but he won't have anything to do with the boats operation. You’re right—I really should invite my business secretary and her family aboard since I'll be working onboard and she'll be in the office.

Posted: Thursday, May 14, 2009 2:19 PM
Of course you must trust your captain and crew  to get on with the job.  This is natural. This is good management technique. Your challenge  as an owner is not to be intrusive but to understand all the details, costs, maneuvers and operational complications that your captain will face.
    My owner is lurking around  the wheelhouse 8 hours a day, cracking jokes, talking boats, pouring over chart details, reading pilot books and keeping a sharp lookout.  Each year he becomes smarter and smarter.
    For me the most valuable " knowledge"  input an owner can offer is cruise scheduling and logistics.  The more knowledge the owner has  the more aggressive you can be with  itineraries.  On this yacht  the owner is a Yachtmaster .  He stays away from " driving the boat " because he knows that this interferes with the crew dynamic and instead  devotes tremendous energy into cruise planning.  I am presently on a 130 day , back to back, same day turnarounds, dam the torpedoes full speed ahead cruise.  He has planned every detail, date, time, flight schedules, all the fun name it. I have in front of me the reservation details his Secretary just emailed me  for  Venice dockage on July 6 till July 9.   Details.   The only way I, as captain , can perform this  intricate dance   is because of the owners  knowledge of yachts.  I would never be able to do all this work.  Our success as a professional yacht is because of this owners interest, knowledge  and input.
Posted: Friday, May 15, 2009 10:15 AM
Joined: 08/12/2008
Posts: 7

Fittness!!! Ha Get an Ergo!
Posted: Saturday, May 16, 2009 9:23 PM

Prior to the interview I’d request a draft version of the Captains standing orders and determine what kind of rules and quality standards are maintained.


Make it abundantly clear to prospective Captains there will be random drug testing, audits and regular yacht inspections.


I'd probably have two Captains that rotate, and avoid leaving everything to one person. That way if one does not work out or leaves your able to keep your program going.


Don't assume trust, confirm it.


Posted: Friday, May 22, 2009 5:01 PM
Joined: 09/01/2009
Posts: 21

“Stevepete, don’t dismiss juniors advice so quickly, your bookkeeper is not on the front line, in the ship yard managers office nor should she have any say in yacht matters. That’s why you asked the question, to find out how to hire a great captain. I think you missed what junior was really saying.”


I’ve thought about this several times over the past week, and I’ve re-read what Junior wrote several times like a believer feasting upon the words of his swami while trying to eke out every drop of wisdom bestowed upon me.


I hope I’m on track by saying that I should be aware of my Captain’s spending habits and what it costs me to have him as my Captain, that I should be upfront and honest about my budget and expectations of him, just as he should be upfront and honest with his spending as it relates to properly maintaining the vessel and all other expenses, and that I should question and hold the captain responsible for excessive costs, even in easily hidden costs like equipment failure due to negligence. I hope I’m on track.


Possibly what he is saying is that it isn’t as important to get lost in the trees, but to be aware of what is happening in the entire forest.

Posted: Sunday, November 29, 2009 10:55 PM
Joined: 13/07/2008
Posts: 32

Nice discussion ! I passed through most of the posts and I think, stevenpete:

  • - whatever you choose papers-wise to make sure in advance you will make the very right choice from the first pick, you will   have to start with knowing the individual, his personal qualities and weaknesses, his temper and aura,

  • - whatever techniques you use to pre-scan your candidate on the interview, you will have to take your chance with somebody, assuming that your feeling and judgement may not be perfect and everyone would play his best role to get the job.

All  I want to point here is that it would be fairly enough to short-list candidates considering them being:

- duly certified according to the flag and size of the Yacht,

- well experienced on the similar yacht size

- BUT first of all your Captain must meet your expectations as an individual.

We work with people who are anything but perfect, yet some of them claiming to be damn close, and we all learn lessons lifelong. So hunting for the "perfect" candidate is a chimera. There are as many "perfect" candidates as many Owners exist. Demands vary from person to person - how would you know if you have your demands perfect enough, as you don't and can't really have the knowledge marine-wise to judge your potential Captain's capacities ?  Being a Captain takes years both on the bench and sea.

Again you have to make clear for yourself which side of the balance you need on your Yacht:

1) very experienced, yet stubborn aged Salty Dog or

2) young and vibrant self starter

Neither of them would know by heart all the flags rules, local weather conditions, currents, surveys, inspections or M-notes under Red Ensign flag, but well organised professional only needs to know where and how to make a reference for.

Some of the qualities I would look for, especially if you tend to employ a young and enthusiastic Captain are:

- tidy, polite, well presented,

- balanced and diplomatic,

- ready to listen and learn,

- friendly and respectful person.

Once you fit to each other and seem to have flawless communications and understanding, and you feel that this is the right man for you, go ahead and sign him on.

I may be fresh in the Yacht Industry although I am highest certified MCA Master Class I unlimited Navigator, yet I have been working with 50+ nationalities through busiest sea-traffic areas Worldwide on board various Sea Crafts and I know very much why I assign the highest value to the personal qualities of my colleagues, having the chance to witness the people's professionalism avoiding multiple collision situations with 3000 pax/crew on board just by a course change due to the few-miles-stopping-distance of the vessel even on emergency reverse engines mode.

Excuse my English as it is not my mother tongue

 Average 4 out of 5