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From Chief to Captain


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How to make the transition from Chief Officer to Captain

This is generally the most challenging step to make in yachting as there is a huge surplus of ‘Captains’ with their Master 3000gt vs Captain jobs. There is probably only 500 yachts worldwide which tick the boxes of decent salary, leave, owner, management, budget etc. While there are many more yachts out there which have significant issues attached to them and aren’t a great work environment for whatever reason. Obviously, people want to avoid these roles, unless they are desperate, which creates an overflow of thousands of Captains competing for the good jobs.

So what can you do as a Chief Officer to make the transition easier?
  • Relief Captain
    • You need to have Relief Captain on your CV somewhere. Preferably as the job title in your most recent role. I see too many Chief Officers wanting to make the step up and through bad planning or bad luck haven’t had any Relief experience. This makes you significantly more of an unknown quantity and puts a little question mark against your name. A further point, if you are a time for time rotational Chief Officer then consider taking a full time role which will give you relief experience. If you are on rotation then chances are there will be two Captains as well. So you will never get the opportunity to do a yard period or crossing as Relief. Something to bear in mind. Alternatively if you are in a rotational role you need to move heaven and earth to try and pick up crossings or relief work during your time off.
  • Insurance
    • Get on the ships insurance. You can be a Relief Captain for months at a time during yard periods but if you aren’t on the insurance then it counts for a lot less. So it is very beneficial to be named on the insurance. If you are being interviewed for a prospective Relief role or even Chief role and they mention you will be in charge then ask about the insurance situation.
  • Experience
    • You need to have a good few years as Chief first. Preferably two or more stints of several years or more on different yachts. I have spoken to a couple of Chiefs recently who feel they are ready to be Captains despite having precious little Chief experience. Don’t be that candidate. Regardless of how good you may be if you haven’t got the depth of experience on paper its very unlikely you will get the job.
  • Driving experience
    • Make a note of every occasion you have driven the yacht, berthed it etc. Go through the log book and work out when you have got behind the sticks. Make notes of what the conditions were like and if there was anything challenging to deal with. This is information that you can then use in interview to demonstrate your skills.
  • Widen your Captain skill set
    • Speak to your current Captain and ask for more responsibility. Get exposure to things you don’t know about from the Chief role. Eg port clearance, immigration and customs procedures. Pick the Pursers brain and go through those sort of paperwork requirements with them until you have a clear understanding of it and can do it yourself. Basically if you haven’t done it yet, then seek out that experience.
  • Full time Chief
    • If you are in a rotational role you won’t like to hear this but it is an option. Take a full time Chief role which will definitely offer you relief experience. This will bolster your CV and make you more appealing. Obviously it’s not really an option if you have family commitments. If you don’t have family commitments it is worth considering though.
  • Take your time
    • I always think it is far better to have had your Masters for a few years before looking to take the step up. I think there is the danger of looking like a candidate rushing their career if as soon as you get your Masters you are clamouring for a Captains role. If you didn’t hold your Master ticket previously then you definitely don’t have much legitimate Captain experience. Also plan ahead. Don’t get your Masters when you have been Chief for 6 years already. Equally don’t get your Masters before you become Chief. So take your time and don’t be in a huge rush.
  • Build a strong network
    • Becoming a Captain often isn’t about your skill set or your experience and it definitely isn’t about your ship handling skills. Often it is about who you know at management companies and brokerages etc. These companies can have a huge influence on who gets put forward so it is essential to have strong relationships with these guys. Attend events and press the flesh. If you have amazing longevity and haven’t moved around much then it is essential you do this as you will have had less access to brokers and the like previously and will also have less friends who may be able to assist.
  • Stay in touch
    • Yachting is a transient industry and it is easy to lose touch with people. However the Stew you worked with 10 years ago is now a yacht manager and your old Captain is a broker. Unfortunately, you last contacted them 8 years ago despite getting on brilliantly and there is no way you can build that bridge without it being obvious you want something from them. Whatsapp etc make it a doddle to stay in contact so make the effort to do so with all the people you got on with. Occasionally it will pay dividends.
  • Get more qualified
    • You have your Master 3000gt what else could you need? I would always be looking to better educate myself. One area definitely lacking in yachting is leadership so that would be the first course I investigate. Become a good manager of the crew and your job gets significantly easier. Yachting specific I would look at companies like https://maritimetrainingacademy.com/all-courses/ who do courses in yacht management, refit management, new builds, operations etc. All things which will make you more employable. This is also one course I always hear very good feedback about https://www.westnautical.com/training-course/captains-command-and-control-course-faq/. I would also look to get some basic qualifications in areas like Excel and basic accounts. Alternatively jump on youtube as there are fantastic how to videos on there for things like that.
  • Interview preparation.
    • Interview preparation is so key and I have written about it on various occasions, for example this blog . Make sure you have done your homework and are as prepped as you can possibly be. The one tip I will give here is to have plenty of examples for all the things you have done in your career. Examples relating to being in the yard, crew management, bad weather, challenging situations, safety drills, managing a tight budget. You name it, you need an example for it. You also need examples relating to your personality. To be specific an example which demonstrates you are calm, organised, motivated, discrete. The list is endless.
  • Be realistic
    • If you have spent your entire career on 40m yachts you aren’t going to get a Captain gig on a 60m. It is also unlikely you will get rotation quickly either. So be realistic and flexible about the packages on offer when they come up.

Hopefully all of that will help assist you in the future when you look to make that step up.

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