Worst Case Scenario
Ejecting the Guests
Dockwalk magazine's new column, Worst Case Scenario by Kelly Sanford, highlights a hypothetical situation that captains can run into and offers advice from experts on how to handle it. The March 2011 column is about ejecting charter guests. We're republishing it here so you can comment on it.
Ejecting the Guests
Although the majority of charters go off without a hitch, there are those anomalous instances where guests repeatedly violate terms of the charter contract or engage in activities so egregiously inappropriate that the charter has to be terminated. “A captain must make safety his top priority and look out for the owner’s interests and assets. It is rare, but terminating a charter certainly happens from time to time,” says Patricia Codere, a charter yacht manager at Fraser Yachts Worldwide.
Typically, the reasons for ejecting guests are extreme: violent behavior, drug use or sexual harassment. But not always. “I have had personal experience having to terminate a charter because guests insisted on smoking inside the boat – even after being told that it was a violation of the contract,” Codere says. “Some people might say, well, they were just smoking, but that’s not just a violation of the contract and the owner’s wishes, but a safety issue as well. If you have to kick charter guests off, it’s never going to be a good thing, and there is a right way and a wrong way to do it.”
Codere says the captain ultimately will have to use his discretion. If a guest does something extreme like assaulting a crewmember or threatening bodily harm, the captain certainly doesn’t have to wait for the issue to escalate. But, if you’re dealing with the usual suspects for charter termination, a three-phase approach is suggested.
“We like to see three strikes,” says Codere. “At the first sign of a violation, pull the charter primary aside and politely address the issue. The captain needs to cite the terms of the contract and be clear about his/her expectations. At this point, the captain should contact the charter broker and charter manager to keep them informed of the incident. Most charter brokers will want an opportunity to discuss the incident with their client.”
If there is a second occurrence, it is appropriate for the captain to be sterner when addressing the issue; another officer should witness the discussion and the primary should be warned that a third infraction will result in the charter’s termination. At this point, there should be a plan with the charter manager and the broker to address a possible strike three. If there is a third strike, make your next port and arrange for additional security if necessary to have your guests escorted off.
Codere acknowledges that sometimes strikes one, two and three can happen quite quickly and there may not be time to reach the charter manager or booking broker. “Let’s say your charter manager and booking broker are in the U.S. and you’re chartering in the Med. Although it’s always best to have charter management informed prior to terminating a trip, if the situation is serious in nature, then the captain has to use his instincts and do what is best…safety always comes first.”
It’s important to note that there is an expectation of absolute certainty and proof when accusing a guest of a serious contract violation or of breaking the law. “Hunches and suspicion are not enough,” says Codere. LJ Houghting, Churchill Yacht Partners’ charter fleet manager, suggests documenting all discussions with the guest to protect yourself.
Houghting recalls a termination incident where guests were using illegal drugs quite openly while aboard. When the captain told the guests there was a zero tolerance policy, the guests changed their behavior. The crew soon discovered that there were still drugs on board, only they were now being used secretly. The captain had another discussion with the primary, this time informing them that all illegal drugs needed to go overboard immediately or the charter would be terminated.
When a second set of guests arrived – 10 days into a two-week charter – they brought a fresh supply of contraband. At that point, Houghting made arrangements for a private security firm to meet the vessel at their next port of call. When the boat arrived, the captain politely told the guests that the gentleman on the dock with the dog was there to search the vessel for drugs. He then said that if there were any drugs on board, the guests would need to pack them up in their suitcases and terminate their trip voluntarily, because if the dog found any drugs during the search, the matter would then be turned over to local law enforcement. The guests wisely packed up and left on their own. The dog went through to make sure all drugs were gone and the fee for the search came out of the APA.
Both Codere and Houghting agree that the last thing a captain wants to do is attempt to terminate a contract for fallacious reasons. That being said, if the charter guests are putting the vessel at risk, steps can and should be taken to remove those guests. Candor and forethought are essential elements to terminating a problematic charter. Both managers suggest discussing a charter termination situation in hypothetical terms with the boat’s charter manager so each captain knows what steps the charter manager will expect when and if action ever becomes necessary. “Ultimately, the captain is in command,” Codere says. “The captain should know the terms of the contract and what the owner will tolerate. The captain also knows the law and what a violation of the law under his watch could mean for his livelihood. The captain should always act rationally, but with authority when dealing with problem guests.”
I had a scenario 2 seasons ago where I did eventually evict one of the charter the guests personal assistants. I gave 3 warnings about smoking in his cabin. It was clearly stated in the charter contract and also was part of my safety briefing when the charter started that there is no smoking inside the yacht and especially not in cabins. I even use a real cigarette in my briefing so that no one had any misconceptions as to the use of cigarettes inside the yacht.
So there were enough mentions about no smoking and warnings also appear in the safety folder AND the safety DVD that shows in guest cabins when they arrive.
I involved the charter broker each time, I also documented the warnings to the charter guest and their manager/assistant and the charter broker. So there was no shortage of a paper trail on both sides. It was simple, either the person leaves the yacht or the charter would be terminated.
I ended up removing the person in the next port and they were not even allowed back onboard at all as I couldn´t trust that person not to do the same thing again even in the guest day heads.
Make a stand, be strict, be firm, be diplomatic but professional. They can´t argue with anything then.