By Dale Wills
Hiring a boat captain is easy. Hiring the right boat captain is another story. Whether you’re succeeding in business or putting together a heavy caliber fishing team, one common thread is this: you’re only as successful as the people you surround yourself with. The process of hiring the right boat captain and crew is no different.
One question that’s frequently posed to me is, how can we as an industry better educate the new boat owner so the enjoyment of their purchase leads to a longer-term passion for boat ownership and sportfishing. We’ve all heard the worst case scenario of an owner selling the boat after two years due to the unforeseen (and often arduous) task of managing a revolving or dishonest crew?
Whether you are a mate or captain, understanding what it means to be a true professional is an integral part of our sport not only for your own career but the bigger picture of a thriving industry.
Hiring the Right Captain
After interviewing several brokers about their procedure for recommending a crew, most said they would rather not get directly involved with the owner’s decisions due to the repercussions if someone doesn’t work out. Dave Berard, a captain turned broker for HMY Yacht Sales, explains that it gets complicated when you are merging two personalities together that may ultimately have different philosophies on how things should be done.
Keeping in mind that the new owner is excited to get out on the water and live the dream of owning a sportfishing boat, finding a captain and crew to steer the ship doesn’t seem like a big deal in the beginning. A perception exists that there are many experienced crews in the industry and finding one is not a challenge. Many new owners hire the first person who interviews well and voila’, they’re off on their grand adventure. Herein lies the delicate balance where the boat owner and crew dynamic begin to take shape and the enjoyment factor meets the fork in the road. One road leads to a positive experience and the other is a negative one.
To help more owners find the positive road, Da Bait owner Jeff Cohen offers this advice after several years of captain-hiring. Do your due diligence, which includes a thorough background check on any prospective captain. This means having real conversations with at least their last three employers and also drug testing, he says. Don’t just hire someone if the initial interview goes well. Be certain they are honest and have positive references. Hiring a true professional captain with honesty and integrity will lead to unbelievable enjoyment of the boat and a long-term relationship.
You have to find someone and then treat them like the expert they are. Your trust in them will be developed over time. Don’t be penny-wise and dollar foolish when you make them an offer, either. A thousand dollars a foot isn’t the norm anymore. Paying a fair salary for the right captain will pay off in the end, he reports.
Times Have Changed
Captain Jim Loebsack from Stuart, Florida has been running boats since 1974 and has witnessed plenty of captain/owner relationships throughout his career. The reality is finding the right captain is very similar to marriage. About half don’t work out, for a lot of reasons. Many boat owners are intelligent, shrewd business owners who have managed their businesses very successfully. That’s what enables them to buy the boat in the first place. But managing a sportfishing boat operation is a completely different animal, he says. Once a boat owner steps aboard, the laws of relativity change.”
Refrigerators stop working, electronics lock up and just about anything on the boat can break. The owner who employs a good captain to deal with these situations and educate them are ahead of the game. Owners who question and micromanage every detail will find boat ownership daunting.
The amount of fun that can be had with owning a sportfishing boat is like no other. However, a new owner will need time to understand “the system.”
“I like to tell the story about the captain and the widget when it comes to new owners,” Loebsack says. “It starts off the captain asking the boss for the expensive new such-and-such widget that they desperately need. The boss decides no, we don’t need it. On the next fishing trip, the boss brings some of his friends and one of them asks, ‘Why don’t you have the new widget?’ A couple weeks later, the owner tells the captain that he can now go purchase the widget. So why did the owner finally give in? He had to have a second opinion. It’s all about building trust. Once you establish it, the enjoyment can really take off from there. A good captain always has the owner’s back.”
The professional crew occupation has evolved over the years to six-figure incomes and globe-trotting itineraries. But at the same time, some would say that being a captain has lost some of its prestige. “Today’s sportfishing captain is similar to a commercial airline pilot, with a vital role to the safety of the passengers and crew. But in many ways where we were once held in high respect, today the occupation is more like that of a bus driver,” Loebsack says. The end result is that you have to hire the right person. Our industry depends on quality captains and crew. As a new boat owner, it’s extremely important to do your due diligence and research when hiring a captain.
Some of you will hire and fire several different captains until you end up hiring the right boat captain. Fortunately there are plenty of good ones out there. Respect the fact that they are experts in the field and you’ll be able to travel down the road with a positive sportfishing experience.
It’s a wonderful way to live the dream!
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