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Where have all the Chief Officers gone?

Tim Clarke
January 2, 2020

The title of this blog is slightly tongue in cheek and I wrote it whilst humming a tune from my youth with a very similar title...

The title of this blog is slightly tongue in cheek and I wrote it whilst humming a tune from my youth with a very similar title. For anyone wondering the song is here….

To be more specific and add some clarity this is specifically aimed at Chief Officers on yachts over 3000gt. The role of a Chief is to manage the running of the deck eg maintenance plans, tender operations, guest entertainment & operations, water sports, cleaning etc.

Currently there is a relatively small pool of qualified Chief Officers who actually have strong yachting and Chief experience plus a good CV. 95% of them are actually on decent boats with good pay and rotation so aren’t available. Realistically none of them are leaving their current positions unless it is to take a step up to Master.

So how are we going to fill the Chief roles when they come up as there seems to be a lack of talent out there? We have a flood of commercial Officers wishing to enter the industry with Master and Chief tickets but no yachting experience. That’s not a realistic option on a decent yacht. The bridge work is a relatively small part of the job and they just don’t have the experience to do the job to a high standard.

The other option is to hire an experienced, strong 2nd Officer who has good yacht experience. Sounds great on paper but sadly is lacking as well. The vast majority of 2nd Officers on yachts over 3000gt are either Safety or Navigational Officers which means they get precious little exposure to how a deck operates so they have a large step to take if they are given the opportunity of being Chief. To be honest I can’t remember the last time a yacht over 3000gt said they would consider a 2nd for a Chief role. It just doesn’t happen because the perception amongst Captains is that they aren’t competent enough. Occasionally people are internally promoted but outsiders don’t get the opportunity.

So what to do about this scenario? I have a few ideas.

  • Yachts need to get their 2nd Officers out on deck more as part of the job. This also benefits the yacht if there is an issue with the Chief. The 2nd can step up more easily in an emergency.
  • If the yacht isn’t making being on deck part of your job description then the Officer needs to show some initiative and ambition and get out there in their own time. If that means sacrificing hours of rest then so be it. Learn as much as they can.
  • Another option for an ambitious 2nd is to take temp work on other yachts during your time off. Good for sea time and also good for skill and experience development.
  • Commercial Officers joining the industry should do 1 or 2 years as a lowly deckhand first. This would give them a great foundation of knowledge regarding how a deck operates. It would also make the transition much easier to Chief.

I thought it would be worthwhile giving a general breakdown of 2nd Officer responsibilities on yachts too. Hopefully this educates people a little bit more too should they have any questions on how the general responsibilities breakdown.

Under 60m: Often this is a bosun role with watchkeeping on top. Worth checking whether a yacht employs a bosun to check this is a genuine Officer role. Or is it just running the deck and holding an occasional watch?

Under 70m: Predominantly deck work with occasional bridge work on top. Taking a role on something under 70m does bring some negative points to it though. Lack of exposure to paperwork in bridge and the perception (often ill founded) things ‘aren’t done properly’ compared to a 100m plus.

70m to 90m: Good mix of deck and bridge responsibilities. This can be the sweet spot with plenty of exposure to both sides of the job.

90m plus: Heavily focused on just Safety or Navigational Officer responsibilities. Often there is limited or no exposure to the deck.

As always there are anomalies regarding this in all directions. I can think of yachts 100m plus where 2nds are on deck a lot and equally I can think of 80m where the 2nds never leave the bridge.

I would love to hear other peoples thoughts on this, I think it’s an intriguing subject to which there aren’t any obvious solutions. Thanks for reading.

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