I must admit to a bit of plagiarism here as the title, in part, comes from the World Maritime University (WMU) Report1 into the hours of work and rest (HOWR) in the shipping industry – link at the bottom. When I saw the title, read, then reflected on its contents, it became clear there were parallels with the superyacht industry.
That being said, it is important to recognise that in the superyacht industry the issues surrounding misrepresentation of HOWR are generally limited to the peak periods; those times when guests are onboard when, due to a combination of high demands and insufficient crew. To successfully navigate the obligations and intent of the legislation it is important to fully understand the regulations. The alternative is creative application of HOWR – something I am sure that most yacht captains and crew will have experienced.
In my early days on yachts, working long hours to deliver the guest experience was the norm and just part of yachting. “Harden-up” was often the refrain when someone spoke out on fatigue. It was like the measure of a job well done and validation that yachting was for you. Hours of work and fatigue were given very little attention and remained undocumented; unless you were crew you had no idea of the extent of the problem. Over subsequent years, regulations such as ISM and MLC were introduced to improve vessel safety and pollution prevention and the health and welfare of crew – less about yachting and about preventing the abuse of crew that was prevalent in some sectors of the shipping industry.
Unfortunately, as the WHU report suggests, despite the regulations and a greater appreciation of fatigue and its consequences, there is still a culture where work hours are, either under reported or adjusted to facilitate compliance. There are many reasons given, many of which are analogous to the superyacht industry:
Legacy – it’s part of the ‘can do’ attitude that is prevalent within yachting; the desire to deliver the best experience for the owner or guests.
Manning – having an appropriate manning level to meet the diverse demands of the operation; not just ‘minimum safe manning’ which is often the metric.
Contemporary Yacht Operations – yachting has evolved and so have the demands on crew, not only from owners who expect greater levels of service and experience, but also from the administrative burden that is a consequence of both regulation and management company reporting systems. Manning has failed to keep pace with this and something OnlyCaptains alluded to in this piece – Manning A More Considered Approach Required
Cost – crew are one of the highest costs of yacht ownership and so it is understandable that advisors and yacht owners are driven to reduce manning.
Financial Incentive – charter tips or bonus.
Employment Security – whether it be the Captain responsible for the yacht compliance, or an individual crew member not ‘towing the line’ there are concerns about the effect accurate reporting may have on employment prospects.
Management Pressure – either directly or indirectly they send signals that encourage the misrepresentation of HOWR.
Stakeholder Distance – the physical and psychological distance between the various shore-based stakeholders and the operational crew, means there is often a limited understanding of the work that crew do and what it takes to deliver an exceptional yachting experience, day after day.
Lack of Effective Controls – as proven, it is relatively easy to under report or adjust HOWR, even on some electronic systems, to ensure compliance. The fact that these are not identified by internal audits, Flag or PSC suggests the current inspection and enforcement mechanisms are not fit for purpose.
Also, in yachting due to the cyclical nature of demands ‘guest on vs. guest off’ there is also an attitude of:
What’s the big deal, the crew get plenty of time to rest when we are not onboard.
The reality is often very different; there is still plenty of work to be done that is critical to maintain and protect the value of the asset, safety considerations, and to ensure the yacht and crew are ready for the next visit.
Rest and Fatigue
This leads onto ‘Compensatory Rest’ as allowed by MLC, to mitigate or justify non-compliance; often the rule rather than the exception. Unfortunately, this is not always practical due to a yachts program e.g. short turnaround for next guests (back-to-back guests/charters) repositioning in rough sea, etc. And, unless the compensatory rest is both, timely and adequate, it will not prevent fatigue and its consequences.
There are numerous studies on fatigue; searching ‘fatigue and its effect on performance and safety’ in Google (other browsers are available!) produced 1.5 million hits – I would hazard a guess that none of the results would praise its health and performance benefits!
It is recognised there are three types of fatigue:
Transient fatigue this is acute fatigue as a result of sleep restriction or extended hours awake within 1 or 2 days
Cumulative or chronic fatigue brought on by repeated mild sleep restriction or extended hours awake across a series of days.
Circadian fatigue refers to the reduced performance during night-time hours, particularly during an individual’s “window of circadian low” (WOCL) -typically between 2:00 a.m. and 05:59 a.m.
Research has also shown that the accumulation of sleep deficit e.g. having an hour less of sleep for several consecutive days, needs a series of days with more-than-usual sleep for a person to fully recover from cumulative fatigue.
This suggests that, very quickly into a busy guest period, crew may already be affected by fatigue; their cognitive ability impaired, decision making and judgement clouded, and performance impacted. Many studies compare fatigue to the effects of alcohol consumption, the last thing anyone would want would be crew behaving as drunks due only to sleep deprivation.
Adding to the problem is that many crew cabins are cramped, poorly designed, and suffer from light and noise pollution, these factors, along with the yachts motion, even at anchor, can all affect the quality of sleep – another area worth consideration?
The shipping industry is aware of fatigue and has contributed to the canon of research on the subject, these include The SEAFARER FATIGUE: THE CARDIFF RESEARCH PROGRAMME, MCA MGN 505(M) and IMO GUIDELINES ON FATIGUE (MSC.1Circ.1598) and are all well worth reading.
Interestingly, in 2006 when the Cardiff Research Study was published, one conclusion was:
This study shows the current method for recording and auditing working hours is not effective and should therefore be reviewed.
Seems not much has changed.
As I discovered, honest reporting of HOWR comes with a cost, unless you have a supportive management company and yacht owner, so I fully appreciate why some captains might be reluctant. However, unless we report HOWR accurately we will remain part of the problem and there will be no incentive to change.
If you always operate at max, like an engine constantly run in the red zone, something will break sooner rather than later!
Ultimately the reason why there may be a need to under report or adjust of HOWR is that, in many cases, there is insufficient crew for guest periods. And, this is after all when a yacht owner, their family and friends or charter guests get to experience the enjoyment of yachting.
A Contempoarary Problem
Far from this being restricted to older yachts, this remains a contemporary issue, with some recent prominent examples shown not to have enough crew to deliver consistently the full range and standard of services demanded by yacht owners and charterer guests – this does beg the question; who is advising the owners and how did they assess the manning levels?
In response, I like to reflect on a comment from a respected designer Carlo Nuvolari, of Nuvolari Lenard, when he stated in an interview in Boat International – Nuvolari Lenard discuss the problem with yacht design 18 November 2015 by Stewart Campbell:
A Lot – Not All, But A Lot – Of Our Colleagues Don’t Go On Boats. I Can’t Understand It.
Perhaps ‘a bittongue in cheek here’ a solution would be for every designer or advisor, to spend at least one season working on a busy yacht in all departments, before they are allowed anywhere near a prospective yacht owner and/or its operation…just a thought!
And, whilst we can address the problem with more careful consideration of manning on new-builds, clearly, we cannot re-build each yacht and the demands will not decrease…so what can be done?
Searching for A pathway
Apart from accurate reporting, Captains will need to look at every aspect of their operation and work schedules to find efficiencies and/or time saving solutions e.g. use of a standing shore team that speeds up turnarounds. Yacht management working with their captains to improve SMS and operational reporting, using technology to make the systems more user friendly and efficient. And, where practicable, directing much of the administration back to shore management, freeing Captains and crew to be the operators, focused on ensuring the yacht owners, their guests and charterers are the priority.
Final thought. Would you fly on a long-haul flight if the captain (eyes darkened by fatigue) was trying to finish the plane’s budget, next maintenance schedule, organise his parking at the next airport and was on the phone interviewing a cabin attendant as you boarded? I think the answer is obvious, so why do we run our yachts this way?
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.
• Likes quiet time with wife and one or two guests
• Meal times, silver service and large and varied selection
• Rises late goes to bed early
• Has boat full of family and friends
• Likes to be in port as often as possible
• Likes to party and stay out late
• Eats very light diet and at strict times
• Loves to be at anchor
• Guests have to follow his rules
• Some guests rise early late, others rise late and bed late – no rules set for guests
• Wants very light touch and informal service
• Love water sports, all the toys setup and available
• Happy to help themselves
• Tender rides for sightseeing, shopping trips, etc.
• Doesn’t want fuss
• Wants a masseuse available
• Just love being on the yacht
• Expects crew to look after children
• Wants formal service at all times – loves the attention and show
• Will not help themselves and expects stewardess on call 24/7
• Often invites friends over for drinks/meals at short notice
On both (A) and (B) the normal crew complement was 19. The manning on (A) worked well, but on (B) we were unable to deliver and maintain the standards of service expected and without being non-compliant. Fortunately, the owner was understanding and pragmatic and, after detailing the issues and possible solutions, it was agreed that we would use two guest cabins for 4additional crew that allowed us to provide the level of service that was important to him. Later, the the yacht was modified and 2 additional crew cabins (4 berths) were added at considerable expense.
Understanding use and gathering information similar to the above example will help to determine the appropriate manning levels, especially during those important peak times in guest operation, and allow you to develop work schedules for all crew and each department. It may need several iterations and some finessing to get right but this is a crucial exercise as it provides the information necessary to have a meaningful discussion about manning with an owner.
Operational vs. Standby
Unlike a commercial ships where workload and manning is more easily determined and manage accordingly, yachts are a much more difficult and, not just because of different owners demands and expectations but also the seasonality and operational profile.
Many yachts, apart from shipyard periods, operate all year round, on standby for visits at the drop of a hat. These tend to be larger yachts and so full manning required can more easily be justified.
Smaller, or one season yachts, are a more complex situation. Whilst it might be essential to have 19 crew during the season, it may be difficult to justify that number sitting in port for the winter with no guest movements where a more appropriate number might be 12 i.e. sufficient to safely man and maintain the yacht in good order. And, if that choice was made, at least you have the berths necessary to increase crew for the season; though it should be noted it is easy to downsize a crew but, much more difficult to upscale again and expect the same quality of crew, personalisation, level of service, operation and safety standards.
Importantly, manning levels should be determined by the peak periods of operation; after all, that is when an owner or charter guest gets to experience the depth and quality of service.
In my time I have seen the whole industry evolve and so many positive changes have taken place.
Today, yachts are better built, more reliable, safer, officers and crew better qualified and trained, employment conditions improved, and there is now much better support available from yacht management and other shore-based service providers. At the same time, there has also been an incremental increase in owners expectations – some examples below: –
Yachts and guests now rely heavily on electrical/electronic and AV/IT systems
Beach clubs’ add another deck to be servced
SPA therapists, hairdressers, gym instructors, nurses, nannies, are now routinely carried – are they single or dual role? Whatever the case, it generally means service and housekeeping are stretched as they lose a member to other activities
Every night is ‘theme night’ with new table decorations and service expectations
Photograph/video guest experience and provide a personal record for guests to go home with
Flight crew, security and owners staff can add to numbers carried and place their own demands on crew
Tenders are bigger, requiring more crew to launch and operate
More toys carried like inflatable slides -heavy and labour intensive to setup/breakdown, especially when wet! – an ever-expanding list of toys, diving equipment, motorcycles, etc. – all require crew and maintenance
Diving, Pilates, jetski, sailing, windsurf, kite surf…an almost endless list of activities
Accommodation for river or ice pilots for yachts traveling further afield
These are further compounded by an increase in paperwork that is a fact of modern yachting e.g. budgets, purchase and approvals, crew HR functions, maintenance and refit planning, safety management systems, and management reporting – this generally falls on the shoulders of the captain and senior crew. One study on a 100m+ showed that the captain was spending 33% his time on their management companies demands which, along with their normal duties and responsibilities, was clearly unsustainable.
Whilst there has been some positive changes in the industry that should be celebrated, the evidence suggests that manning levels maybe one element that has not profited from the evolutionary process.
Perhaps yacht crew are partly to blame for this due to yachting culture, as already posited, where they will work all hours necessary to deliver the very best experience for owners and guests, and often do so without complaint or communicating the problem outside of the yachts team. And, apart from this cultural norm, there are also undeniable concerns about job security where captains and crew may be reluctant to speak-up and/or report their hours of work and rest accurately for fear of losing their job. However, it is important as proper reporting helps to educate owners and the wider industry. Furthermore, if there was an incident and an inquiry, if falsification of hours of work were discovered and fatigue the root cause or contributing factor, it could have serious consequences for the crew, especially the captain.
The quality of captain, officers and crew and, the onboard experience is, without doubt, key to the success of a superyacht and this can only be achieved with the right manning levels which, unfortunately, have not kept pace with the advances made in the rest of the industry.
As the ISS piece stated ‘for the love of yachting’ we need to have an honest conversation about manning that includes owners and all industry stakeholders, especially those with operational experience. Getting this right improves the health and well-being of the crew, their performance, retention, yacht safety and, ultimately, leads to a better ownership experience.