Are Your Lips Sealed?

6 November 2015 By Hillary Hoffower


While it can be tempting to spill the beans on the owner’soutlandish antics or that Oprah was on board, we all know that there is asliver of truth to the old adage that  loose lips sink ships.

Many yacht owners and guests are among the world’s mostwealthy and notable, and with the paparazzi and tabloids always on the prowlfor the latest scoop, it’s no surprise that they want their crew to keep mumabout their comings and goings, especially in the days of social media. As manycaptains and crew are well aware, it’s quite common for owners to require crewto sign a confidentiality agreement to protect their privacy.

According to a Dockwalk.compoll on confidentiality, 78 percent of respondents have had to sign aconfidentiality agreement, and 70 percent have signed one for their currentjob. However, 20 percent have broken their confidentiality agreement and notbeen caught (yet).

So maybe it’s best for crew to have a better understandingof just what exactly is expected of them when they sign a non-disclosureagreement (NDA) — and the repercussions when they don’t abide.

“When a crewmember signs an NDA…they agree that thefollowing (but not limited to) will not be disclosed; personal information,financial information, onboard activity (past and present), guest lists,intellectual property, Internet correspondence, photos and postings regardingthe yacht, etc.,” says Angela Wilson, crew agent and marketing director atElite Crew International.

Wilson clarifies that an NDA is not implied in a Seafarer’sEmployment Agreement, and notes that the contract, which is between thecrewmember and the owner, owning company or stakeholder, can be much moredescriptive, especially when it comes to Internet and social media use.

Erica Lay, director of EL CREW CO, also emphasizes noposting of photos of the yacht anywhere. “Not just social media, even sendingit your friends. No disclosing of location. Some owners have their logos andyacht logos on high alert on the Internet, so if anyone posts a picture ofyacht or crew wearing that logo, they may be notified,” she says, adding, “Mostimportantly for crew is that they should be told (repeatedly) that Facebook isoff limits.”

Lay adds that a charter client, especially when that clientis a celebrity, may also require NDAs, and that the NDA can be incrediblydetailed and different for each crewmember or department.

“In some cases, the captain may be informed the owner iscoming, but [is] not permitted to inform the other crew,” she says. “Hence someyachts being on constant standby and crew receiving a few hours’ notice.”

The consensus among all captains polled is that they expecttheir crew to honor and uphold the agreement, with “complete and utterconfidentiality,” as one captain puts it.

A captain of a 57-meter motor yacht finds it pretty simple.“One, read the agreement; two, ask questions if [you’re] unsure of what itmeans; three, adhere to the agreement,” he writes.

Another captain on a 34-meter motor yacht says, “Whensomething happens, I have a talk with [the crew] before they leave for thenight, just to make sure we are all on the same page.”

And if you dish the dirt?

“[I haven’t] had to deal with the situation yet; however,dismissal would be at the top of the list, followed by a negative referenceshould one be requested,” says Capt. Bob Terrell. “A ‘motor mouth’ gossipcrewmember is short-lived in this profession.”

While many other captains agree that loose lips come with aninstant dismissal, others are slightly more lenient and prefer to gauge thesituation or give a warning first. One captain puts his crew on three months ofprobation if they violate the contract, and another has only had to have hiscrew take down certain photos on social media so far.

“If a crewmember breaks the agreement, then the issue isaddressed and discussed with the crewmember,” says one captain on a 50-meteryacht, who adds that a lot of crew don’t fully understand the security issuesinvolved. “If the issue is severe enough or reoccurring, dismissal isappropriate.”

But, both Wilson and Lay agree that termination of employmentis usually the verdict. As Lay puts it, “Second chances in these circumstancesare rarely given.”

And if the prospect of losing your job isn’t enough to keepyour lips sealed, consider the security risks involved and any ensuing legaland financial repercussions.

“Confidentiality is not just to protect the vessel’s name orowners, it is to protect the safety and security of all on board and the vesselas well,” writes one captain of a 44-meter yacht. “Discussions of vesselmovements or locations past and present only need to be overheard by one of thewrong people… In Antigua, the old saying is ‘the bush has eyes’ (i.e. you neverknow who is listening or watching). It takes just one wrong person.”

One sailing yacht captain points out that confidentialbusiness information is often discussed within earshot of crew. “You may learnfinancial information that could lead to insider trading accusations,” adds thecaptain on a 57-meter yacht. “Security of some vessels may be compromised bycrew breaking details of clients and locations.”

“Security is everything, not only for the owner/guests, butalso the crew,” writes a captain on a 200-foot yacht. “Most crew haveabsolutely no idea as to how much at risk they are, especially if they blab.”

And if your loose lips cause a security breach? You mightneed to hire a lawyer.

According to John Leonida of Clyde & Co., if you break ageneral NDA, the owner can take legal action. If the guest is a charter guestwho didn’t ask for a specific NDA, he says, they will look to sue the owner whocan then sue the crewmember. If the guest did request a specific NDA, they cango after both the owner and crewmember.

The seriousness of potential repercussions depends on thebreach, if anyone has earned money from the breach and if the breach is ofcommercial or personal consequence, adds Leonida.

“We could see injunctions stopping further breaches; breachingan injunction could land you in jail,” he says. “Any money earned as a resultof the breach could [be] asked for by the wronged person. If the breach causesloss to the wronged person, if those losses can be proven, those damages can bethe basis of a claim against the loose-tongued one and possibly the owner (who…isclearly of some means).

“What could be more serious is if a guests’ trade secret isacquired by a crewmember and exploited,” he adds. “If U.S. jurisdiction is apossibility, and a crewmember has been paid to secure trade secrets of a guest,U.S. federal law such as Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO)Act could kick in.”

Leonida notes that it’s unlikely the captain would be heldresponsible for the crew’s actions unless he or she was specifically taskedwith ensuring the crew kept their mouths’ shut.

The only instance in which a crewmember can legally break anNDA, as one captain and Wilson both point out, is when required by law. Andwhile it depends on the contract, an NDA binds a crewmember when they’ve lefttheir yacht, even if they’ve been dismissed for violating it, says Lay.

So, remember: what happens on the yacht stays on the yacht.