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Day Captains - Food for thought

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Old 07-31-2009, 10:25 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Day Captains - Food for thought

My wife and I have a thriving (small) yacht management business in Sag Harbor, NY (the closest port, 5 statute miles, from "The Hamptons"). We've been in business for nearly 10 years providing a wide range of services to a group of regular clients and free lancing as much as possible on the side.

Our clients range from the small to the large. We're on a first name basis with all our owners and have great relationships with them all. We charge a lot and are busy all the time - this season being our busiest yet. Even clients initially put off by our rates eventually come to realize we're not "in their pockets" and give us a blank check to do whatever we think best and call in whomever we think we need to.

I've been boating full time since 1991 having captained a 105' live-aboard dive boat for 4+ years, a 57' custom built Hinckley sail boat for 2 years, a 29' Sea Ray for 3+ years (!), co-captained an 87' Oceanfast up/down the east coast on deliveries for over 13,000 nm, etc. I've got many other deliveries on both sail and power to/from the Caribbean and Florida.

Two weeks ago an owner of a 62' Azimut contacted me for 2 days of captaining from Huntington to Newport for the Azimut rendezvous. On the phone prior to agreeing to take on the trip, the owner mentioned he wanted to "make a few things clear as he'd had a few day captains and had had differing opinions on what that entailed."

When we got to Newport, would I "help with the lines, power cords, steps, and RINSE down the boat?" I certainly agreed as that's pretty basic to day captaining.

He mentioned that his family liked their privacy and he'd put me up in accommodations in Newport for Sat. night. With that, I asked if my wife could come along for the ride as an extra hand so we'd have the evening together in Newport and he enthusiastically agreed.

As we live 90 minutes from his marina, our Saturday started at 0500 so we could meet his desired departure time of 0700-0730. When we got there, they weren't even awake yet...

The trip to Newport was fairly uneventful as it was flat calm with occasional patches of thick fog. As we got to Pt.Judith, he asked if I would get "the water out of the bilge under the rudder assembly as he thought "it was causing the master cabin to be overly damp and could possible be a source of ensuing mold". It had to be done under way as it was only when the boat was up on a plane that you could get to the water...

So, trying to remain flexible and agreeable, I spent 40 minutes disassembling the cabinetry in the aft crew cabin so I could get the upper part of my body far enough in to wield a chamois mop to sop up the water one mop at a time.


Upon reaching the dock in Newport, as they hurriedly walked off to go eat, I was instructed to "fuel and water the boat, launch the dinghy, un-wrap and set up the 2 folding bikes, pump up the tube, and WASH the boat."

Well we got all that done except washing the boat as it didn't even take spray on the way. My free ride wife and gave it a thorough rinse and chamoised to leave the boat exceptionally presentable.

Sunday's ride home was a PITA as it was choppy and lots of thick fog. After arriving back in Huntington and getting the boat tied up, it was 1700 hours. Knowing what was coming, I told my wife she wasn't going to want to be around for the final conversation with the owner.

After a thorough RINSE of the boat (which was very salty after taking much spray), we were getting ready to leave when the owner expressed his dismay that we weren't going to wash the boat!

We had had breakfast at 0900 and hadn't eaten since (nothing offered, nothing provided). I told him it was now 1700, we were going to go to town and eat, and then get on the road for our 90 minute ride home.

I told him what we had agreed to on the phone (rinsing), that my wife had provided over 7 hours of free work as a courtesy in exchange for the ride (for which we get $45/hour), that cleaning the bilge out under way was also a courtesy, and that a proper wash of his 62' boat would be approximately 6 man hours (at $45/hour approximately $280) and would mean I had captained for 7 hours for $70!!


So, to any of you out there offering day captain service, I ask -

-what do you charge? (I charge$300-$400/day, depending on length of day, overnighting, etc.)

-what do consider the duties of the day captain re: boat handling, driving, washing, rinsing, etc.

-what kind of cancellation penalty do you use? (we don't)

-any other thoughts along these lines?
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Old 07-31-2009, 10:42 AM   #2 (permalink)
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day capts duties

good day capt,i am spending the summer in long island doing basically the same thing you are,granted much less busy.i have a resume and history similar to yours.i have had either very good or very bad experiences this summer,the first i have done this free lance gig.generally speaking ,the smaller the boat ie,less expensive,the better experience i have had.the only problem similar to your came with the same size boat owner as you mentioned,new to the way of boat ownership who thought that owning a boat is just like owning a car.i am willing to bet that this type of how do i say,parsimonuosness?,person is like this in other aspects of his life.
i have delivered a 25ft sailboat from peconic bay up the hudson river with the new owner aboard giving him sailing and general boating lessons on the way only to have him give me 2.5 times the money we agreed on.
i think the best thing to do is to spell out exactly what is covered as far as day captains duties and sad to say but,be strict about what else is done.
maybe say that day capt job,is just that,anything above and beyond the normal operating of the boat will be billed at an hourly rate.
sure washing the boat down after a trip is a given ,but so is being fed if the trip is more then afew hours.if you let people take advantage,they invariably will.
have a good day,i am sure you will get better at screening clients and if you are busy you can afford to tell people what they should hear,not what they want to hear.
i emailed you yesterday and would really like to have a sit down and chat.
chris w
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Old 07-31-2009, 10:54 AM   #3 (permalink)
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I'm usually pretty clear on what's entailed in the day captaining, especially in this case as we'd already agreed on the "rinse".

But you're right, I will most likely stipulate that any thing other than providing safe passage of the boat is on an hourly basis. Aside from the getting the boat hooked up at the dock with lines, boarding ladder, power cords, etc.
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Old 07-31-2009, 11:07 AM   #4 (permalink)
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There sure are all kinds of owners out there. You may want to consider a printed promo type piece that you can hand to a prospective customer. In addition to your resume, it might also include the list of services provided. It may help as a guideline for the unsophisticated owner.
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Old 07-31-2009, 11:27 AM   #5 (permalink)
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This guy's actually just a jerk. Youngish, 4 kids, well off. Works in commercial real estate in the city for Cushman Wakefield where negotiating commercial tenant leases is the high art of screwing your customer and leaving them with a smile on their faces! (I know as I worked for a large NYC real estate developer for 5 years out of college and spent one year working as an assistant to his lease negotiator.)

I'm not sure he's unsophisticated but certainly not ready to have a solid, healthy relationship with his crew/captain. His last full time captain is an acquaintance of mine and their relationship ended badly.

My first interaction with this owner was a blind phone call I received in the Caribbean a few winters ago when he was just about to take delivery of his boat. He wanted to hire me sight unseen from a recommendation of a friend of his who had a 90' boat I'd been helping deliver north/south for years.

I told him then that the relationship b/t owner and captain was a pretty intimate one, based on more than just being qualified to run the boat. He didn't want to hear any of it then and now finds himself with a revolving door of boat cleaners and day captains. And though he can manage docking/undocking with no problem, not having a regular, qualified, dependable captain is going to leave him at the mercy of not having anyone at all just when he'd like to take a trip...
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Old 07-31-2009, 09:34 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Been there, done that as well.

It seems that owners get cheap and nasty if they are "little guys" in a big world:

Don't think Bill Allen or the King of Saudi would stiff you an the tips or hourly wages if your wife did not wipe down the boat...

Note to the future:

Make the day-captain thing a written agreement:
Drive his boat, dock it safely and shake his hand, but don't agree to change the oil and filters, stock his fridge and clean the bilges.
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Old 07-31-2009, 09:43 PM   #7 (permalink)
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I have a smaller Yacht Management business in South Florida. I've been managing yachts since 2005, and also prior to that. Up to 2005 I was a full time Captain for a few years until I decided I was interested spending 6 months here and 3 months there. And, a mate far longer then that. I manage about 8 yachts right now, also do a lot of long deliveries, daily Captaining for brokers/manufacturers, and owners. All of my clients come from referals and I never advertise, so the vast majority of my clients are good ones.

All in all I am usually swamped with business and this year has been very busy with a few slower weeks mixed in here and there.

I charge $300 a day on up, typically $400 a day if I am doing a delivery that entails 24 hour periods underway for example Key West,FL to Cancun, Mexico (with a crew of 3 minimum) and doing watches. Azimut owners are a very mixed breed and are in two extreems. I have had very good ones, and I have also had ones that are overly demanding and have no respect for crew (I refuse to deal with the latter). Whereas a Hatteras owner almost always always always is very very nice and respectful of crew.

It really depends on washing the boat when we are done with a trip with owners. If it is a delivery and a longer delivery and I'm flying home.....I usually will do a full washdown the next day or day of getting in and then flying home that afternoon. If it's a trip with owners and the last day we get back and it was a 4hr run, I will wash the boat included in the day. If we get back at 6pm and it's been a ten hour day, it's only getting rinsed and chamoised and I will charge the owner and pay someone to wash it the next day. As for doing trips with owners, it's pretty standard that they get off the boat when you hit the marina and you're stuck, fueling, rinsing, chamoising, possibly launching the dinghy and whatever else pops up, including mechanical things such as changing a bilge pump, fuel filters etc, I also do that......just like a full time captain would. I do not charge $45hr for washdowns.....generally they run about $2.50ft.......

I have done trips with owners....... one of them I was working from 7am-10pm everyday in a row for 7 days. The owner was on the boat and fished from 8am-7pm everyday. That was probably the worst one, we dropped him and family off, were tied up at 8pm, rinsed or washed and chamoised the entire boat, cleaned a bunch of fish, and rigged for the next day. I charged him $400 a day for every single day.
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Old 08-01-2009, 07:10 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Rate $400 per day. No negotiating! I don't wash boats or clean interiors (straighten up fine), but will be happy to arrange for people I know or through the marina if we're transient. Hose-down? absolutely. Chamois? No problem. Clean the bilge? Hire me to manage the boat and I'll give you a good rate for the job. A day captain's job is to get the boat from here to there safely, launch the toys and make emergency repairs underway. If we're hanging someplace and the owner would like help as he does some work I'm happy to hose off as he scrubs, give advice or hand a wrench. It is not to do the job of a full-time captain, management service, cleaning crew or repair yard. Be very careful about doing any kind of mechanical or cleaning work as it puts you in a legal situation that you may not be prepared for. There are reason yards don't allow people without insurance to do these things. It could also put you in a bad position with the marina who sees you as stealing their business. That could lose you business you're not even aware of. Of course, if I get an owner who treats me well financially and personally he'll get way more than he pays for. I have certain boats that pay me at least $500 and often up to $1,000 for the day at their choosing. Needless to say the others often find themselves on a sunny Saturday without a captain.

Last week I started with a guy who began by trying to cut my rate (didn't happen). We then made a lunch stop where I was not invited to join and after about an hour the son was sent down to see if I wanted a tuna sandwich. For this week he tried to hang me up without a commitment. His confirmation finally came 5 minutes before I was set to take another job. He's new so there is hope, but I really don't see him as anything long term. Penny pinching and boat ownership don't make for a happy combination. Those people are usually out of boating pretty fast.

BTW, don't you just love the ones who say I just need you for a 2 hour run? Yesterday I did a 1 1/2 run. Left my house at 0800. Got to the boat at 0845. Got off the dock at 1030 (scheduled departure was 0930). Got back to my car at 1530 and home at 1615. For those that want to bargain I'm happy to charge $100 per hour from the time I start my car until it's back in my garage, but all of a sudden my day rate doesn't seem so bad for some reason.
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Old 08-01-2009, 08:46 AM   #9 (permalink)
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NYCAP- What kind of legal situation are you looking at ending up in by cleaning the boat you have just arrived on?
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Old 08-01-2009, 10:13 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by K1W1
NYCAP- What kind of legal situation are you looking at ending up in by cleaning the boat you have just arrived on?
Money laundering?

Financial cleansing?
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Old 08-01-2009, 06:12 PM   #11 (permalink)
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I delivered Jimmy Buffet's small (32') custom sport fish from NY to West Palm a few years ago and I washed the boat down every day. It really needed it as it was small, got salty quickly, and made life a lot nicer every day starting out on a clean boat.

The past 6 years I've been doing a regular run on an 87' Oceanfast and we would really only wash down the back end of the boat every time we docked for the night.

In my mind, I really don't mind washing the boat, but I'm not about to give away my services to someone who's maneuvered me in getting more than what he's paying for.

As far as setting up boat with lines/power, fueling, watering, steps, etc., I think that's part of deal for the day. I'll throw in a rinse but not really sure what good that's going to do if the salt has been allowed dry.

Washing as part of the fee for captaining is just plain out of the question. We're not talking 30' boats here that might only take a half an hour. My wife and I typically spend 4 man hours washing boats in the 50' range to make sure a good, decent job is done. And the job's really only decent b/c we wash the same boats every week and are able to hit what we might have missed. Practically speaking, it's easy to spend ALL day washing a boat of ANY size depending on the condition and what you're willing to put into it. Last month we spent 4 man hours on a 30' Regulator that had been allowed to sit too long and needed every locker emptied onto the dock, washed, rinsed, chamoised, put back together, yada yada yada.

We DO NOT charge by the foot as that is surely a way to find yourself working for $10/hour. This always works in the owner's favor as there are occasions where the boat needs only a quick wash (lots of our guys don't take the boat off the dock). On the flip side, more often we find ourselves doing a little of everything - washing, polishing, waxing this or that, this week we clean out all the lockers, next week we do the lazarette, etc. and the hourly rate allows us to get at what needs doing without worry about losing money.

We've got a great client base of regulars that completely trust us as we're normally very quick and efficient. Each Thursday and Friday usually finds us washing 4-5 boats/day so we don't have the time to waste "milking" anyone. Usually it's just the opposite where we have to get early starts/late finishes just to keep caught up.

I disagree on making mechanical repairs as a day captain other than what an emergency might require as that really is part of the boat owner's ongoing maintenance program. Unless the faulty bilge pump is going to sink the boat, it can wait.

I delivered a 70' Azimut SeaJet from NY to FL a few seasons ago that had been captain run for years prior and the boat was just a wreck. I had to stop in Ocean City and wait for T-bolt clamps as the coupling on the exhaust riser was held on with regular hose clamps that were all coming apart allowing hot, corrosive salt water to spew everywhere. Fine, no problem.

Last summer I was hired to take a brand new boat owner sailing occasionally and keep his boat clean. The boat was being managed from Palma and was hit by lightning at the beginning of August. As I was getting paid by the day/hour, I was able to oversee/effect a pretty sizable re-fit, put the boat up for the winter locally (it had been intended to ship it back to the med last fall on Dockwise), re-launch the boat, and make it ready for a delivery crew to sail it home this spring (the boat left Sag in May and as of last week the delivery crew was still looking to get paid).

Had that all been required of me as a day captain, I would have lost my shirt!
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Old 08-01-2009, 08:30 PM   #12 (permalink)
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In my mind, I really don't mind washing the boat, but I'm not about to give away my services to someone who's maneuvered me in getting more than what he's paying for.
That is the main thing right there. Certainly though, for a good owner you always want to give them extra (JB definitely falls into that catagory), and there is also your personal pride in what you're cruising. The legal jackpots are if you do mechanical work that turns bad or if you can be construed as a boat washer or mechanic without carying worker's comp or liability insurance.
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Old 08-02-2009, 08:43 AM   #13 (permalink)
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I'm new to day Captain freelancing, NYCAP123 bring ups an interesting point, if a boat washer needs workers comp and liability insurance, does a day Captain need the same protection?
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Old 08-02-2009, 09:11 AM   #14 (permalink)
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"Penny pinching and boat ownership don't go hand in hand" - how right you are!

We're pretty careful with our own finances and that's pretty much as far as I'm willing to go with some one else's...

Last year the captain (a friend) of a sturdy 75' expedition boat called to ask if I was interested in taking over for him as he had a new addition to his family and was getting off to be land based.

I've learned a lot in the last 15 years and pretty quickly moved the conversation to the dollar side. I was interested in both the salary and how the owner spent money for the boat.

The then skipper told me the pay wasn't awful, but nothing like what we were charging in our business nor what the normal yacht rates were. He also mentioned that it was normal for him to spend hours researching to get the best price for a part...

That was the end of our conversation as far as I was concerned. When it comes to my own pricing decisions, I'll quickly look to see what the highs/lows are and how readily available the item is. I'm not always looking for the "lowest price possible".

I like to get the job done, finished, over with. As long as the price I'm paying isn't some ridiculous premium over the norm, I'm not all that bothered. If I have to have an item Fed-Exed in, I'll make that decision immediately and be done with it and not worry about it.

I got into a relationship ending squabble a few years ago over a holding tank macerator pump on a 2003 57' Bertram. With no regular captain, I was asked by the owner to trouble shoot his non-working macerator pump. OK...

After taking it all apart and (while laying in the bilge to do so), the pump had burned out trying to digest a "white mouse" (tampon) that had become wrapped up inside. I ordered a new one through the local chandler (stuff comes next day from either Kellog Marine or Lewis) and the job was done by the next afternoon...

I can't remember exactly, but the pump I got was something like $480 and we got into a tiff b/c the owner could have gotten it for, like, $250.

Big F*cking deal. What, I'm supposed to call him, get him involved, and save him $200 odd dollars? Along with his father, he's the owner of a large NYC construction firm and I'm supposed to think he's got time to source a holding tank pump? Buh bye!

Job was over and done with in less than 24 hours...period. Thanks for pulling my girlfriend's tampon out of the pump, I appreciate it...yeah, right.
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Old 08-02-2009, 09:14 AM   #15 (permalink)
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No to both workers comp and liability. Workers comp is only needed if you employ others under you; not needed as sole proprietor.

Liability is a different story. As a day captain, you are covered under the owner's insurance for whatever mishap may ensue. However, that's not to say both owner who hired you and anyone else won't stop at trying to sue you for whatever mishap occurs. That's the world we live in...
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