Got Policy? Embracing a Code of Conduct

22 May 2008 By 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.