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Got Policy? Embracing a Code of Conduct

May 22nd 08
By Capt. Charlie Kiss

What distinguishes a boat from a yacht?


Many of us – captains and crew alike – tend to define a yacht as a pleasure boat that is professionally operated and managed. After all, it makes us feel important as the operators and managers, and who doesn’t swell with pride when on a beautiful, expensive yacht?

Yet “professionally operated and managed” is such a loose definition. For some, “professionally managed” means that they are able to throw the lines, aim for the next port of call and make sure there are cold ones ready when they get there.

Other yachts function like military vessels where every aspect of the mission has been rehearsed to the point of becoming routine procedure.

I’m painting with a broad brush here, but the point is that there is currently no standard of conduct aboard luxury yachts. It seems like anything goes, so where are we actually going in this industry?

Sure, most crew have an STCW certification or equal qualification as a minimum requirement to serve aboard. But with all of the other regulations imposed upon yacht crew over the years, no one has thought to address a code of conduct that is collectively applicable to yacht crew professionals.

Should all crew be expected to act in a uniform fashion? What do you think? Post your comments below.

Yacht crew conduct remains a mixed bag today. Some crew meticulously abide by proper protocol: flag up at sunrise, down at sunset, Union Jack burgees on Sundays and holidays and epaulettes on before dinner: Professional, tidy and disciplined to a fault.

Then there are the more rag-tag crewmembers: Drunk with guests by lunch, blasting the yacht’s stereo system and imposing their musical whimsy on everyone else in the marina: A fraternity seemingly afloat in affluence and anarchy.

The industry as I know it has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 10 years, and if you go back 20 or 30 years, the change is measured only by the few who have been around long enough to remember it.

Yachting has gone from being the scene of family-oriented near-coastal outings in a 50-foot cruiser to voyages across the seven seas in 100-foot-plus superyachts. With crew changeover occurring at dizzying levels in the industry today, it may be beneficial for everyone – from the newbie crew member to a seasoned and experienced captain – to tack toward an industry standard for conduct.

Standard policies would help tighten the reins on yachting, while still leaving the adventure and fun intact. In lieu of having crew who are constantly leaping from yacht to yacht looking for a paid vacation, individuals who seek a career in yachting would be held to a more consistent code of conduct before setting foot on their first boat.

Captains who have been in yachting prior to a standard policy would benefit by an effort to help create, modify and upgrade their own crew policies. There’s always room to customize the policies for each yacht, but at least a standard would be in place.

With competition for good crew at record levels, too many captains are trying to lure crew aboard with lax party-boat policies, which in my opinion have dramatically changed the crew standard for the worse. In fact, boats with crew policies in place are the minority. Since there is no line, crew don’t recognize when they’ve crossed it.

There is a course called Bridge Resource Management, which is offered to individuals seeking license upgrades. Why not require all crew to learn a yacht conduct standard?

Conduct policy standards would elevate the industry and instill pride and professionalism in all captains and crew. There’s always time for pleasure, but excellence and professionalism should be our goal.


What do you think? I'd love to read your comments on this article as you ponder the questions below...


- Is there a conduct policy on board your yacht?


- If you are a captain, what kind of policies would you put in place to ensure greater professionalism?


- If you are crew, should these policy standards be encouraged?


Post your comments and keep the policy discussion and debate flowing.





Capt. Charlie Kiss is a 30-year veteran of the yachting industry. His on board experiences span from the frigid seas near the glittering glaciers of the Pacific Northwest to the warm, turquoise-blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, with many adventures in between. When on land, he blogs from his home in Stuart, Florida.

Rating  Average 4.5 out of 5

  • I've had the pleasure of working on board a motor yacht where captain charlie kiss was the one who set the standards. Stick, but his policy stands out from the rest and all yachts should have his code of conduct in place.
    Posted by Chef Michael Pesce 30/07/2009 18:35:58

  • I've had the pleasure of working on board a motor yacht where captain charlie kiss was the one who set the standards. Stick, but his policy stands out from the rest and all yachts should have his code of conduct in place.
    Posted by Chef Michael Pesce 30/07/2009 18:35:33

  • I could not agree with you more Mike.
    I too am a strong believer in the fact that it’s the captain who sets the standard onboard.
    Recently I was forced to give up two positions due to impossible working condition caused by lack of any standard or structure and the 'anything goes attitude' onboard a fair size yacht.
    The authority of a departments head goes only as far and if there is no code of conduct or standing orders to fall back on, trying to run a professional yacht is a loosing battle.
    If the captain's 'lead by example' means not showing up for work, not wearing a uniform, using the boat as if it was his own, then the only choice left it either accept it and play along or leave.
    Posted by Breeze 14/12/2008 06:39:29

  • I for one believe in "The Code". Having served my country, I have seen and been part of some great teams, that all adhered to a code of conduct. I do agree with Mike that it begins at the top. But everyone on down the chain of command must believe in the same thing and want to be part of a great team or "A smartly run ship". I know most owners take great pride in their boats, but it is (in my view) the crew that conducts themselves to that higher standard, turns that boat into a Yacht.
    Posted by Kevin 14/08/2008 06:56:44

  • I simply must take issue with the notion that crew members should be trained to abide by a code of conduct. It is simply madness. The captain and the captain alone sets the standard of behaviour for the crew of the yacht. There are plenty of tools that the captain can call on to instigate a regime which is safe and enjoyable; standing orders, crew agreements, incentives and perhaps most of all leadership.

    The conduct of a yacht and her crew are the captain's job not a training school's. This is really basic stuff!

    There should certainly be training available for the captains of the industry to help them become better employers and develope the skills needed to improve the productivity of their crew. The industry is still saddled with the requirement to train captains in irrelevant subjects like calculating stability and the use of instruments like sextants that have long been close to obsolete, except in the minds of the policy maker, most of whom seem to have been born before steam engines were retired. There is no requirement to learn basic accounting or crew management which are vital and relevant skills to any professional yacht captain. This is an area which would only benefit the career of a captain and would arguably contribute to the reduction in crew turn over we all would like to see.
    Posted by Mike French 07/06/2008 21:35:02

  • Someone must have read this article by now. I am trying to find out where the industry stands in regards to policy on board and in service of the yacht. Surely there must be various views out there and let's hear them. What do you like of dislike about your crew policy. Is is implemented by the management company, owner, or captain? Perhaps you don't have one at all. If so, how is life on board? Great or not so great. Forward your thoughts and I'll be more than happy to share mine with you and how your policy on board compares to mine.
    Posted by captseakiss 01/06/2008 18:35:06

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