When I was asked to write a piece on Minimum Safe Manning (MSM) and how it affects yacht operations for the Superyacht Report, I knew that, although an important factor, it was only one of a number of considerations used to determine the crew complement. However, what was also clear, is that many yachts do not have sufficient crew to meet the expectations and demands of their owners and guests. A point that was recently expressed in article from the International Superyacht Society (ISS) Captains Committee, where they raised concerns about fatigue and its dangers, and asked:
Why is it that manning levels that were appropriate years ago are still accepted as the norm today?
From my own experience I can empathise with this.
Some time ago I took command of a yacht owned by a lovely family with a large family residence serviced by what seemed like an inexhaustible number of staff. For them, they were used to having the most attentive service 24 hours a day and had the same expectation for the yacht. They built a beautiful yacht that could carry up to 22 passengers which, she often did, but unfortunately was manned with the same number of crew as an equivalent 12 passenger yacht. As might be expected, it created significant challenges!
Following that experience, I also had the opportunity to review three new build PYC yachts and their manning. My observation on all of them, was that there was insufficient crew, partly because PYC compared to LY3 required additional MSM numbers, which impacted on the hotel side, but also due to the number of guests carried and services expected. After delivery, two ended up building more crew cabins – imagine the expense – and one downgraded to LY3 because they could not meet the MSM requirements without negatively impacting on the interior service. Clearly, if it was so obvious to an experienced mariner, why was it not obvious to the broker, designers and the shipyard?
The suitable manning of yachts is not restricted to large yachts either; there has been numerous discussions and articles written about crew on various sizes of yacht having to be ‘creative’ with their hours of work and rest in order meet owner/guest demands and remain compliant.
I suspect that many readers who have worked on busy yachts will have all had the same experience, where the team spirit, professionalism and commitment of the officers and crew to deliver the very best experience, overrides concerns about fatigue and the effect on performance, welfare, mental health, safety and crew retention.
So how are manning levels determined and, how can they be better understood?
Along with the MSM (more of which below) there are other factors that normally determines the size and makeup of crew:
- Finance is an important consideration as crew expenses are amongst the highest operational costs so obviously it makes sense to optimise manning
- Manning levels on similar sized yachts are used as a comparable standard, especially applicable to production yachts
- Given the high value of the yachts ‘real-estate’ owners, understandably, will want to maximise owner/guest accommodation – the luxury spaces
- Technical, service, access and operational spaces also require a large volume
Additionally, some in the industry may be keen to gloss over crew numbers to help with a sale, they may fail to manage the owners expectations or, just do not possess the operational experience to understand the numbers needed for a particular owner and yachts operation.
Once the above factors are considered and the various spaces assigned, the crew accommodation is designed following the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) guidelines and the number of cabins/berths can be defined. Interestingly, MLC may actually be having some unintended consequences; as one respondent – maybe controversially? – in the ISS article suggested:
What we need is more berths not more space!
Minimum Safe Manning
A commercial yacht will require a Flag state approved MSM – many private yachts, as with other regulations, may also choose to comply on a voluntary basis.
An owner/operator will make an MSM application based on Flag guidance and the IMO Principles of Safe Manning Resolution A.1047(27). Once approved, an Administration will issue an MSM certificate, however, this is only the minimum number of crew (those requiring STCW or equivalent qualifications). This is the captain, deck/engineering officers and ratings and, cook, depending on crew numbers and Flag requirements, necessary to safely operate a yacht when it proceeds to sea:
The ship named in this document is considered to be safely manned if, when it proceeds to sea, it carries no less than the numbers grades/capacities of personnel specified in the table
This does not include the hotel team; service, housekeeping, laundry and galley, or the additional deckhands necessary to launch tenders, run the water sports, etc., or other specialists required these days – these are all additional to the MSM.
Of note is that the A.1047(27) changed from previous resolutions as follows:
A.890(21) and amendment A.955(23)
1.1.1 maintain safe navigational, engineering and radio watches in accordance with regulation VIII/2 of the 1978 STCW Convention, as amended, and also maintain general surveillance of the ship;
1.1 maintain safe navigational, port, engineering and radio watches in accordance with regulation VIII/2 of the 1978 STCW Convention, as amended, and also maintain general surveillance of the ship;
As you can see, safe manning in port was added but, so far, I have not seen any yacht specific guidelines on ‘port’ safe manning – commercial ships are normally involved in cargo operations so they tend to be more fully manned in port. In-port-manning can be a difficult issue for captains; it is often left to them to determine and they have to strike a fine balance between safely manning the yacht and providing crew valuable shore leave but, given number of incidents and fires in port, perhaps it should be better regulated? Running drills with reduced crew will help identify what is a safe number.
Often the Manning Scales provided by an Administration will be used as the standard. However, they allow some latitude on numbers based on the strength of the application and, operators can also take advantage of manning reductions allowed due to ‘distance from safe haven’ – which, for yachts, seems contrary to their operational demands?
Once the MSM has been agreed the rest of the crew can be determined – if the total number of berths is 15 and the MSM is 8, that leaves 7 berths for the rest of the team.
Three Hundred and Sixty Degree Approach
As can be expected expect this approach produces mixed results – a bit like the ‘off-the-shelf’ budget that so often disappoints.
What is necessary a three hundred and sixty degree approach; an in-depth assessment of all the factors and how each unique owner wants to use their yacht. Only once armed with that information can you estimate the right manning levels and/or manage expectations by modelling the expected demands, peaks and crew work schedules.
The point of managing an owners expectations is key, especially in the case of production and semi-production yachts where crew accommodation/berths tend to be fixed. In these circumstances it is still important to make the assessment. This helps avoids frustration and disappointment by communicating any limitations that may surface, along with possible solutions, such as use of external laundry services, shore-based crew, or shadow boat, at the earliest stage to an owner.
Yes, the yacht can operate with these crew numbers but, the service onboard will be limited in these areas…is that what you want?
Making a proper assessment requires effort and collaboration; asking questions, getting to know an owner, how they expect to use the yacht and the style and depth of services that are important to them.