View from the bridge: Superyacht mentors are ‘a priceless asset’


A captain who can mentor crew “is a priceless asset”.

Mentoring is worthwhile in just about any industrial or other commercial environment, writes captain Iain Flockhart. It reaches beyond commerce and industry; being a valuable tool to help people with their chosen careers and in life generally.

I have become increasingly surprised over the years, as I discover more from crews that the figure of a mentor on board yachts is often conspicuous by his or her absence. This both surprises and worries me. 

The maritime industry and yachting, in particular, is a unique sector. The troubles and challenges that face people in more normal jobs can be discussed when they go home at night with family and friends. In most cases, that is impossible when working on board a yacht. Of course, individuals can to talk to other crew, but sadly that is not always the answer. Even if you can contact friends outside the confines of the vessel, simple problems, such as the lack of privacy, can make it difficult to talk openly about your problems.

I consider mentoring an essential part of any master’s responsibilities, not only in terms of a crew member’s career development but also in their personal development.  Many yacht crew these days are remarkably naive when they join their first vessel. Due to the unique environment in which they work and live, it can take years for them to get a more realistic hold of what life is all about, both on and off the vessel.

The role of the mentor, especially due to the unique nature of a career aboard a superyacht, can go far beyond just that of career mentor. If you have the right manner, a broad skill set, a lot of life experience and are willing and able to listen, then you can help to significantly develop your subject.

Crew taking their own lives

There have been a number of tragedies on board in the past year or so with crew taking their own lives. Extreme though this is, I cannot help thinking that some on board mentoring may have helped to avert such tragedies.

Of course, no captain is likely to be able to take on this role with all crew. However, in my experience, usually only a few crew at any given time are at stages in their careers or lives where they most need the help of a mentor.

I know from bitter experience that it does not always work out well. The person I spent more time mentoring than anyone else, stabbed me firmly in the back after about seven years of mentoring. This is after I had allowed the person an unusual degree of authority on board.

I mention this only to illustrate that despite this disappointing episode, it has not deterred me from the mentoring. I am, in fact, doing more mentoring than ever before. Although I have now formalised some of it into a ‘professional service’, the vast majority of the mentoring I do is still on an entirely pro bono basis. This is frequently for people that I have no connection with prior to helping them.

A mature watchful eye

Any owner will undoubtedly reap the rewards of employing a captain that is a dedicated and natural mentor to his or her crew. The benefits of the head of the operation willingly taking the time to ensure that his or her crew are getting some assistance when they need it, either career-orientated or otherwise, will manifest itself in the overall development of a stronger crew. They will benefit from a mature watchful eye over them.

Not only that, the crew will, more often than not, be much more willing to perform above and beyond for a captain, or other senior crew member, who they can look up to after mentoring. Senior crew who have invested some of their precious time in helping junior crew develop themselves, whether career-wise or on a more personal basis, will lead happier more productive teams.

It does not always need to be the master who performs this role. But frequently the master will be the person best placed to do a lot of the on board mentoring.  On larger yachts, it may well be another senior officer, or depending on the circumstances of the subject – perhaps the purser for example.

Regardless of who is the go-to person to deliver this invaluable support, it would be prudent of owners and managers to try to ensure that mentoring is an attribute that at least one senior crew member has in abundance.

They can be a priceless asset.

About the author

Iain Flockhart is a highly-experienced yacht captain with more than 250,000 nautical miles in the role of professional captain since 1996. He grew up on sailing vessels but chooses now to work on motor yachts. He has a wealth of experience of working in challenging roles and a wide and varied skills set with solid management and administrative skills. He enjoys simple pleasures such as using his seven-metre RIB to go exploring and wild camping in his native Scotland. Iain is currently looking for new opportunities to command a superyacht.

Superyacht captain Iain Flockhart: “The figure of a mentor on board yachts is often conspicuous by his or her absence. This both surprises and worries me.”

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