Revisiting Captains' Training

2 June 2008 By Peter Boulton

Okay Captain, by now you should have lots of sea-miles under your feet, lots of sea-time in your personal log. You have situation and crew handling experience and every other necessary attribute to support your being in command of this fine yacht.

After all, you laid out hours in blood and sweat and thousands of dollars (yes, the ones which will surely regain world value) in order to earn your stripes. You stood on your head to create a personable CV and did everything to impress the hell out of agents and brokers on the way to your current employer.

But you obtained your captain’s bars and that justifiably costly certificate – when was it – five, 10-, 15-years ago? The thing is captain, after all these years, how do you rate today?

Is it time to revisit training and renew your captain’s license?

While it is understood that the USCG and the RYA have set intervals for renewal of captains licenses, these are no affirmations of competence. In the world of flight, commercial pilots are regularly tested, usually in real-time working conditions and by their peers.

As a relevant aside, in a recent report devoted to the operation of helicopters aboard large yachts, one interviewed pilot of great experience said, “Sure I have to put in my annual hours requirement and submit to regular ability testing, but this is still ‘ground-to-ground.’ At this moment we (quoting around two dozen full-time ‘yacht chopper’ pilots worldwide), still do not have examiners rated for testing us on yacht-to-yacht capabilities.”

In the case of regular testing for large-yacht captains, it seems that there exists a similar problem, which would require the formation of a group of international master mariners qualified for on-board, real-time testing.

Going ‘back-to-school’ hardly seems like a satisfactory solution. Think about returning to driving school, when everything now done instinctively has to be re-examined? Are you really confident about a first time pass?

Under the promise of anonymity [their names have been changed in this article to protect sources], several captains offered their opinions on revisiting training.

Capt. Paul, now in his early 50s, has had this command for more than six years and more than 25-years experience in yachting. Said Paul, “Although I was fully qualified from the start, the owner has always been enthusiastic about certification upgrades and indeed has paid for everything.”

As for retesting or schooling he says, “It might possibly interest insurance companies, but why should it really? Maybe a medical, say every five years might be better. After all, the main foundation of good leadership is experience so, for myself, returning to school is out. Testing under actual working conditions might work, but its application could be difficult and what happens if you fail and who pays the tester?”

Capt. Michael, who is a fair bit younger, has run a 55-meter for about the same time and is inclined to agree.

“If the authorities dream up some new and mandatory upgrade, that’s fine and it usually means some time spent in the classroom,” he said. “But, in general, I’m against the idea of retesting for capability and the classroom is certainly not where it should happen anyway.”

Martin admits to being 45-years-old. “I think regular testing looks like a good idea and am especially in favor of medical exams. We all had to have these at the beginning, so it seems right to continue them.”

He continued: “Practical ‘in-flight’ testing every three- to five-years, accompanied by a general health check, would probably also be good for the captain’s peace of mind, as much as the owner’s.... It’s hardly likely that either test would be so negative as to cost the captain his job and with regard to payment, I feel that most owners would consider it an investment to bear the expense.”

Capt. Roger, who came into yachting from the Brit merchant marine, now commands a 62-meter.

“In the merchant set up all officers have the right and are encouraged to test for upgrading to the highest ranks,” he said. “However, having come this far and at such amazing money, I don’t think I would really mind one way or the other if tests were compulsory.

"Considering the number of captains out there," Roger continued, "it looks like a pretty big team of testers and no, classrooms are for instruction and information, not experience.”

What do you think? Leave your comments below.