View From The Bridge: Developing 2020 vision for the year ahead


Responsible yachting is likely to be one of the key themes of 2020.

This article explores some of the key trends that are likely to shape the superyachting world of 2020, writes captain Iain Flockhart.

My editor pipped me to the post at the end of last year with an article about the possible emergence of a potentially massive  Chinese market for superyachts beginning this year.  While  between jobs in the autumn of 2013, I went on a fact-finding mission  to the Far East. During that visit,I met pretty much everyone who was worth meeting in the region from Thailand, to Malaysia, Honk Kong and The Philippines. But I did not go to mainland China as, at that time, I felt it would not be very fruitful.

As I set off on my mission the potential for the creation of  vast wealth in the world’s most populous country was obvious even then. There are clearly still hurdles to overcome  regarding local attitudes towards ostentatious wealth. But I think attitudes  will begin to  change soon, as much of the wealth starts to filter down into those of the younger, less-conservative offspring of the empire builders.

Responsible yachting is likely to be another key theme of 2020. With work on the world’s biggest superyacht – the 183-metre research and expedition vessel REV Ocean progressing, we will we see more of this type of focus on yachts contributing to research and other benefits to society. But when it comes to more-responsible yachting, how many owners  care enough to want to do something about changing the current situation? How many will invest their own money in assisting in tackling the big topics, such as climate change research?  There may be a few, but not that many. I will, however, be delighted to be proven wrong on this prediction.

World ‘s biggest superyacht

The availability of skilled crew is another key trend. As the industry in general continues to be pretty buoyant and the vessels get larger and more in number, will the increasing demands for more competent and experienced crew be adequately met?  The captain’s marketplace is clearly massively oversubscribed. Will the jobs continue to go to the younger, less-experienced who have only recently acquired a Master’s Certificate of Competence (CoC)?

What is likely to improve in training and recruitment  to meet this demand? There has clearly been a shortfall in terms of crew churn. Also there were a number of tragic fatalities last year and some crew suffered serious mental health problems.  Many vessels are still unable to source the quality of crew they want and need onboard.

Do we need much more intensive crew training way beyond that which comes under the remit of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA)?  Do we need a more cadet-styled stream into the industry, more professional mentoring or more focus  on preparing crew to meet the big  challenges ahead of them? Personally, I find the way things currently are to be very substandard and much needs to be done to improve the situation.

Does the problem simply lie with the quality of the available crew or is it the recruitment process, from agencies, to management and captains, or even owners who are letting many slip through the net into employment on vessels for which they are unsuited? Either way, something needs to be done to better supply yachts with the quality of crew that they really need.

Is it time for more, and tighter regulation within the industry? I believe it is. Most at risk in terms of poor or no regulation is the under 500 gross tonnes market which is by far the largest in terms of number of vessels. Why not make protection systems – such as fire detection and suppression  — mandatory on private vessels as they are on identical commercial vessels?

Is it not time  we insisted that every vessel over a given length overall and/or (LOA), gross tonnage was manned and operated to the same high standards? Those standards  should include acceptable accommodation spaces for all crew, and enough crew onboard to meet the demands of the vessel’s owners and schedule.

Luxury of rotation

Should rotation no longer be the almost exclusive right of engineers working on the below  60-metre category  of vessels?  Many vessels have rotational engineers who are in charge of a single department, where the same yacht’s captain may not be afforded the luxury of rotation when he is responsible for the entire ship.  Is it time to get more proactive in redressing the balance for the overall good of the vessel and crew?

Also, is it time for crew particularly captains, to be afforded more job protection when they are doing them properly? I have been there two or three times and it is  frustrating to be fired for doing your job properly. In most other industries it would never happen, but so many yacht owners, managers and middlemen operate with complete impunity with respect to dismissing staff.

It is harder than ever to retain good crew as they have so many choices these days. Resolving some of these issues will help to attract and retain better crew.  I’ll be watching with great interest to see what this year brings for our industry and sharing my thoughts with Superyacht Investor readers.

Meanwhile, crew management is one of the topics in the spotlight at Superyacht Investor’s London 2020 conference. The two-day event starts at The Landmark on February 5th. Read the full agenda here and booking details here.

About the author

Iain Flockhart, MD, Saor Alba Holdings Ltd, is a highly experienced yacht captain with over 265,000 nautical miles in the role of master since 1996. He bought and completely refitted his first yacht at the age of 20 and went on to buy a larger ocean going yacht a few years later and set sail across the oceans, often with novice crews.

As well as being a master, Iain provides professional mentoring services to yacht crew and advises on issues relating to hiring, managing and retaining the right crew.

He’s an ambassador for the exceptional Rafnar brand of RIBs. through his brand brand SA Marine. He enjoys simple pleasures such as using his 7m RIB to go exploring and wild camping in natural beauty of his native Scotland.

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