Handling Wild Charter Guests on Board

31 May 2022 By Kate Lardy
iStock/Goran Jakus Photography

Kate got her start in the yachting industry working as crew. She spent five years cruising the Bahamas, Caribbean, New England, and Central America, then segued that experience into a career in marine journalism, including stints as editor of Dockwalk and ShowBoats International.

“You are not getting in the water,” says the captain sternly from the main deck aft to an inebriated guest in the middle of the night, as she teeters on the edge of the swim platform looking up at him.

He repeats his command, but a moment later she defies him and dives in in her dinner dress, catching the chief stew next to her off guard. “Oh my god,” the stewardess exclaims, helplessly trying to grab at the guest, as a very angry captain mutters, “Son of a bitch, there she goes.” This was the scene during an episode of Below Deck season eight when the 185-foot M/Y My Seanna hosted charters in Antigua for the popular reality TV series.

As the crew and fellow yacht charter guests attempted to cajole the swimmer out of the water, a furious Capt. Lee Rosbach unleashed a string of expletives. “I have paid a lot of money…” the guest starts to say, as he interrupts her, “I don’t give a shit what you paid, your charter just ended.” The next morning, a chase boat came to bring the guest back to land.

During the interview portion of the TV show, Rosbach explained his anger: “She’s drunk; it’s dark. I don’t need someone jeopardizing their own life on my watch. I don’t want to be responsible for someone who is that reckless with their own life. She stepped over the line.”

Some guests do tend to get very drunk on charter, which can lead to poor decision-making. So where is the line exactly when their actions become a charter-ending event?

“I had to end a charter last season with a very big musician on board,” says Capt. Paul Clarke of the 180-foot charter yacht Loon. “It’s the only time I’ve ever had to do it and it was quite scary as we didn’t know how they would react.”

It turned out it wasn’t the primary’s first time being kicked off a yacht. He and his guests had racked up a litany of offenses, including drug use, being unsafe and disrespectful to the boat and crew, and there was sexual harassment of the crew.

Clarke does have charter guests who want to jump off the yacht at night and he lets them, under strict supervision from the crew who are trained for it, and he shuts it down after one or two jumps. “Usually they’re pretty respectful. I think after a couple of warnings and they continue doing it, yeah, I’d probably get a little peed-off as well,” he says.

In My Seanna’s case, it was a safety issue as the guest was swimming away from the boat into the black night. “In the Caribbean when it gets dark and you get outside of the illumination cast from the boat itself, if anything goes wrong, we’re never going to find you,” Capt. Rosbach later said an interview for Below Deck After Show, explaining that in that kind of darkness you can lose all sense of direction when it comes to following sounds. “It’s one of the most unsafe things I can think of,” he said.

The MYBA charter agreement addresses charterer behavior in Clause 13, specifying that drugs, weapons, and crew harassment is not tolerated, the crew must be respected, the country’s laws and regulations must be obeyed, and the charterers’ behavior shall not cause a nuisance or bring the vessel into disrepute. It further states that the captain must promptly draw the charterer’s attention to any infringement of these terms, and if the behavior continues after this warning, the owner may terminate the charter agreement.

Capt. Clarke, who has had to remove individual guests from charters in the past, says that in general, guests do tend to settle down after a warning.

There’s also a liability issue, says Michael Moore, founding partner of maritime law firm Moore & Company in Coral Gables, Florida. “Stated simply, the owner or operator of the vessel owes a duty of ‘reasonable’ care to all passengers on board to protect them from harm, and the captain represents the owner or operator on board,” he says.

“Some cases even speak of a ‘special duty of care.’ This idea comes out of the idea that those on board are in an alien environment and may not fully appreciate the inherent danger of being on a boat at sea. A good example is the knucklehead passenger who jumps overboard at night. So, the captain always has his hands full in protecting those on board.”

Moore recalls a lawsuit filed after a woman systematically threw the contents of a chest of drawers overboard, drawer by drawer. “She took her time and a small group of passengers gathered to watch her as she did this. After she had emptied the five drawers, she threw herself overboard. The lawsuit was filed in the name of her nine-year-old child who sadly was left behind. The claim asserted that the crewmembers who were among the gawkers should have reported her bizarre behavior to the captain, who would have confined her to her quarters.”

As for the captain’s liability in such a lawsuit, since the captain is an agent of the owner, his or her exposure would be passed through to the owner, says Moore, and the damages would be covered under the vessel’s insurance policy.

“So, yes,” Moore says. “The captain (on Below Deck) was correct in removing the irresponsible passenger from the vessel.”

This article originally ran in the February 2022 issue of Dockwalk.


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