Make it a policy to have clear policies on board
By Ian Biles
from an original article for The Triton
An important area to consider when managing a megayacht is that of policy. What approach does the owner want to the various aspects of the operation of the yacht?
Depending upon the size, flag and use of the yacht, there may be no requirement for any particular regulatory compliance. However, the lack of regulation does not mean that a yacht should not aspire to act in a responsible manner.
The Health and Safety Policy covers the well being of those on board (crew and guests) and those who come in contact with the yacht (contractors, officials etc.). Consider the following sample policy statement.
"Yacht XYZ works on the principle that all injuries at work can be prevented, and promotes actively, amongst all those associated with its activities, high standards of safety consciousness, discipline and individual accountability that this principle demands."
If the statement is changed, putting "the highest" rather than "high" in front of "standards," the level of effort and accountability changes dramatically. The simple difference is that the term "highest" implies that there is nothing that can be done, whatsoever, to improve the standard. Whereas "high" implies there may be additional things that could be done. This is what is known as wiggle room.
To some, such subtleties might seem pedantic. However, following an accident involving the death of a crew member, both government authorities and civil lawyers will scrutinize the stated policy looking for areas where it has not been applied with the intent of holding the yacht (owner and/or captain) culpable for any failure.
In the same way, the environmental protection policy operates in respect to the environment. The main areas for consideration are oil, garbage, black water, gray water and exhaust emissions. Selection of the correct standard and judgment criteria is vital; once the policy is published it can be used to hold the yacht to account.
Another area to consider is that of drug and alcohol use. For a yacht, the question is whether it will be tolerated. The initial reaction of most captains is "of course not." However, the issue is not that clear. Generally, a standard policy for crew can be used easily. It is incorporated in an employment contract and a breach of the policy results in immediate dismissal.
What is to be done, however, for owners and charter guests? It is the captain's job to raise such difficult issues (diplomatically) with the owner so he understands and complies with the owner's wishes. If the owner wishes to use prohibited substances onboard and/or to allow guests to do so, the captain needs to be aware of his own position in relation to the law of the country where the yacht is berthed as well as the insurance position.
In some countries (most notably the United States) the discovery of drugs on a yacht makes the yacht subject to seizure. As regards the captain, if it could be shown that he/she had prior knowledge of the presence of drugs on board, it is entirely conceivable that he/she could be arrested and detained. Establishing a clear drug and alcohol abuse policy removes nearly all of these potential problems and concerns.
In addition to policies, a yacht's standing orders set ground rules for conduct on board. Crew standing orders must provide all the information a crew member needs to co-exist with other crew.
The problem with such standing orders, however, is that if you are not careful they can grow to become relatively useless tomes. They should be a mixture of philosophical aspiration and essential detail. As a guide, if they are more than 15 pages, they are probably too long.
The idea of standing orders for an owner and his guests comes as a surprise to many people. It shouldn't. All good captains have an "understanding" with the owner. That is, in effect, standing orders. The owner and guests need to know how the yacht operates and what they can expect from the captain and crew.
An easy way to provide this is in a well presented file in each cabin (including the owner's) that gives all the necessary information. Many yachts already use this idea to provide information on the telephone system and entertainment system. Insert a few additions to this file and you have owner/guest standing orders.
Ian Biles is the founder of Maritime Services International, a marine surveying and consultancy business. He holds a Class I (Unlimited) Master's certificate and developed a risk management program for large yachts for a London-based underwriter. Contact him at info(at)maritime.uk.com or +44 (0)2392 524490.