Captains of luxury yachts command a base salary well into six figures. Dependent on the length of the vessel, tenure of experience, and level of licensing yacht captain salaries range from $48,000 to over $300,000.
As the length of yachts increases, the complexity of the position of captain escalates. Although the job of yacht captain is often portrayed as one of luxury and leisure, it is a career choice of vast responsibility. While the exact details of a job description vary from program to program, the captain is the CEO of a small corporation. He/she reports to the Chairman of the Board - the yacht owner.
The Luxury Yacht Group webpage presents salary guidelines. Variation within the ranges reflect license level, experience and longevity of the captain1.
|Captain Level||Size of Vessel||Salary Range|
|Senior Master||170 ft – 200 ft +||$144,000 - $300,000|
|Captain||100 ft – 170 ft||$84,000 - $180,000|
|Junior Captain||60 ft – 100 ft||$48,000 - $98,000|
Additional parts of the salary package include bonuses, health insurance, flight expenses, paid vacation, training and certification cost reimbursement, and uniforms. Because the position requires residency aboard the vessel 24/7 all food and sundries are routinely supplied to crew. If the yacht is available for charter, the captain will also earn tips from charter guests. The industry is unique and each vessel in it has individual programs.
An average mega yacht with 12 crew has operating expenses between four and ten million dollars. The budget is based on where the yacht is moored, whether it is available for charter, and its travel destinations. On some yachts, a management company or a part of the owner’s business network handles accounting and makes financial decisions. On other yachts, the captain manages all aspects of the budget, chooses what charters to take and where to station the boat between charters, when and where to have yard work, and all personnel decisions.
A basic list of captain job responsibilities includes:
- Ultimate safety for passengers, crew, environment & vessel
- Achieving owner’s objectives?
- Crew hiring and dismissal?
- Personnel management?
- Shipyard/project management?
- Legal and regulatory compliance?
The Captain holds the life of all aboard in his hands. He is also held accountable for the yacht itself and the environment. He must understand the mechanics of the boat, all electronic tools aboard, international regulatory requirements, and rules of the flag state.
Achieving owner’s objectives
Owner objectives are broad ranging. The captain is the mouthpiece for the interests of the owner. He holds the responsibility to reach outcomes which benefit the owner. The owner may simply require the captain to provide luxury service when he (she) is aboard. Some owners regularly use the vessel with family and guests, others may be aboard only occasionally. Charter periods for the vessel also factor into the objectives of the owner.
Crew hiring and dismissal
The requirements of the Marine Labor Convention (MLC) for contracting, dismissing, and managing are explicit and require strict adherence. Throughout any hiring or dismissal, the safety of the vessel and owner as well as issues of confidentiality must be assured by the captain. Identifying the best employees for the program involve a balance of certification, experience and personality.
Managing between 12 and 40 regular crew members aboard a mega/superyacht, day workers and seasonal hires is routine. From dive master, to stewardess, chef, and ETO, the captain must have a working knowledge of the positions and set expectations for performance. In a multi-cultural environment (both guests and crew), the example the captain sets for work ethic, responsibility, and communication optimizes yacht operations. The challenge is complicated by the close quarters of crew accommodations and the group working/living together 24/7.
The Captain oversees issues of time and costs for routine maintenance and vessel upgrades. Knowledge of register and flag requirements are tools the captain uses to define the project, obtain quotes, and supervise the work.
Legal and regulatory
The maritime industry is dynamic. In addition to the flag state and regulatory requirements mentioned above, the captain must remain current with all Maritime Guidance Notices (MGN), Maritime Information Notes (MIN), amendments to all international marine safety codes, and product notices. A knowledge of the global differences in regulations, enforcement agencies and regional mores is critical.
Each vessel has a different business model. At a minimum, the captain is responsible for budget oversight and financial record keeping. If the owner engages a management company, the captain is the interface between the yacht and that organization.
The classic definition of a captain’s job is that of a navigator. Safely plotting a course, following the course, docking and departing from berths are all fundamental vessel handling skills. A seasoned captain has personal familiarity of cruising geographies. Despite the importance and skills required, a small percentage of a captain’s time is dedicated to task.
How does that list of responsibilities distill into the profile of a captain? It takes decades of training, hours logged, certification, and experience to reach the level of performance required to captain a mega/super yacht. In addition to each of those quantifiable requirements, elements of character and temperament differentiate captains.
- Calm and charismatic personality?
- Superior leadership, communication, management and diplomacy skills?
- Excellent boat handling and navigational skills?
- Excellent ISM and ISPS knowledge and practices?
- Excellent maintenance, engineering and technical / troubleshooting experience?
- Ability to remain calm and give directions in an emergency situation?
- Organized and methodical?
- Financial management, business acumen, management skills?
- Languages and cultural sensitivity
- Extensive maritime licensing
Leadership of the crew involves training, coaching and refereeing. When a captain steps into the position of leadership on a large vessel, it is understood that he has ten years (minimum) of increasing responsibility. Training and education were used during that decade to resolve situations without damage to vessel, harm of the environment, or human injury.
As manager and protector of the owner’s investment, the captain negotiates for goods and services. When issues arise, it is the captain who develops options and makes recommendations. Using the comparison to a traditional business, the CEO (captain) and the President of the Board (owner) interface on strategic decisions.
The mega yacht captain is more than just an asset manager. The captain implements owner preferences in order to assure him the best yachting experience. Once an owner has determined the style of yacht he wants to own - how, when, where they want to use vessel - costs of operating and budget generalities are defined. The ultimate goal of captain and crew is the happiness of the owner(s) and their guests. Crew is the primary factor in the owner/guest experience and in a successful program. The captain fully understands and manages the limitations of vessel and crew.
As vessels increased in length, machinery and electronics increased in complexity. In parallel with those changes, regulatory agencies and flag states requirements escalated. The requirements of International Safety Management Code (ISM) and International Ship and Port Security Code (ISPS) reflect the challenges of operating a mega yacht. The captain holds responsibility for implementing all requirements aboard and remaining current with the changes made to respond to new issues within the industry.
During the last decade, the number of superyacht hulls nearly doubled. Based on the 2010 Global Order Book, the superyacht industry managed to grow even during the financial crisis of 2008. The Knight Frank Wealth Report (2016) for the decade concluded that the wealth required to maintain a yacht appears impervious to economic cycles. It does project a slight worldwide slowing of the number of ultra-high-networth individuals during the upcoming decade.
How does that economic data translate into job opportunity for yacht captains who have followed the established career path? How resilient is the opportunity during periods like the global downturn experienced in 2008?
Marcy Laturno, Director of Crew Placement & Charter Specialist at Luxury Yacht Group answered:
“During the downturn, captain salaries were not impacted. The industry experienced a slight decrease in the volume of placements and some boats moved to seasonal staffing. By 2010, the industry was recovered and placements are trending up”
A long-term mega yacht captain added:
“Wages were frozen and budgets tightened in 2008. By 2010 operations had returned to previous norms. With less openings during the downturn, marginally qualified people were unable to find positions - a positive for industry.”
Securing a position as captain aboard mega and super yachts is competitive. Although new builds are released every year, each year there are additional individuals who have established professional credentialing and adequate experience aboard. Professional captains seek positions where they can assemble a stable crew, build longevity and establish a relationship with the yacht owner.
The position of mega/super yacht captain commands a salary which reflects the level of responsibility and the years of personal and professional development. A relatively small number of positions creates a competitive job market where longevity and experience are rewarded.
- Luxury Yacht Group website