The SafeLearn team participated in Booking Manager Summit in Croatia, the first ever Yacht Charter Conference, which took place during the 18-19 of November, in Zagreb. Our experts had the opportunity to meet yacht owners, yacht managers and charter professionals from all around the world, including Greece, Italy, Turkey and others, during these two very productive days in Zagreb. The Conference included a range of interesting topics promoting, amongst others, yacht charter and yacht management. However, the prevailing concern was the vital importance of on-board safety.
Beyond the obvious connotations, safety plays a predominant role in the market’s appeal as yacht charters are starting to become a mainstream choice for holiday goers. As such, safety is a top priority for every Yacht Owner. The vast majority of yacht charters are bareboat, which translates to non-professional skippers on board. Thus, ensuring these skippers’ knowledge while retaining a straight – forward charter process, is vital.
In this interview, SafeLearn Product Manager, Mr Valentinos Steliou, emphasises on the fact that safety on board, starts with SafeLearn.
First off, why do we see an increase in safety awareness by yacht owners/managers?
To answer this question, we must first understand the nature of the market and how it changed over the last few years. The concept of sailing holidays has developed from being a niche market, driven mostly by a customer base of sailing enthusiasts, to a mainstream way of enjoying a relaxing holiday of island hoping. The key elements for this change, are the low charter cost, the unique freedom of movement, and the simple chartering process which resembles that of a car hire. The dramatic increase in popularity, changed the market’s fundamentals. On the demand (Customer) side, designated skippers are becoming more inexperienced, while the sailing grounds are unknown to them. On the supply (Yacht Owners) side, competition has led to newer, more expensive yachts finding their way into the market. This leads to an increase in the deposits needed to be paid by the customers, and higher insurance premiums bared by the yacht owners.
You have mentioned that the designated skippers on board are becoming more inexperienced. What are the current prerequisites for being accepted by a Yacht Owner as a designated skipper?
The current requirements necessitate that designated skippers hold an RYA Day Skipper certificate (or equivalent), and a VHF short range certificate. Practically, this entails that the designated skipper has sailed for 100 miles, with 4 hours of sailing spent during the night. It must also be said that this certificate might have been obtained months before the time of the charter, while it is not uncommon to see cases where the holder has not sailed since acquiring their certificate.
Wouldn’t requiring a higher-level certificate resolve these safety considerations?
The short answer is no. Requiring higher qualifications will have a negative effect on the market and is also impractical. We must bear in mind that traditionally, yachts were chartered primarily for “mile-building” trips, necessitated for acquiring a higher qualification. This is what started this unique market to begin with. Avid amateurs need to have the opportunity to enjoy sailing safely, without the need to obtain professional level qualifications. Yacht Chartering is a simple way to enjoy the freedom of cruise sailing and changing this, will bring adverse effects to the sailing community as a whole.
So, what is your suggestion to combat safety considerations?
We have developed the SafeLearn range of e-learning courses. These aim to refresh the designated Skipper on the principles of navigation, while there is also the added benefit of these courses being chart plotter specific. Thus, the designated skipper (and his “crew”) will be familiarised with the chart plotter fitted on board the yacht prior to their arrival. The course is also available after its completion, and thus can be used as a reference manual for the chart plotter, during the charter period.
We also know that chartering a yacht comes with a degree of excitement. The whole team is usually involved with organising the itinerary and crew members which haven’t sailed before will surely take comfort in being able to familiarise themselves with this vital piece of equipment. This also creates a much needed “sailing attitude” prior to embarkation, which in turn makes for a more pleasant experience during the charter.
A refresher course is certainly useful, but is there really a need for a chart-plotter specific course?
That’s actually a pretty good question. The fact is that as we all get more accustomed with technology, we perceive chart-plotters to be a relatively simple piece of equipment. This creates a sense of “false security”, which is a primary safety breach. You have to ask yourself:
When was the last time I’ve set a minimum depth alarm? An anchor alarm? When did I last set my cross-track error? What happens if I need to do a simple start-up troubleshoot if one of my crew accidentally switches off the navigation instruments from the circuit breaker instead of the water pump? What happens if the GPS signal is lost, can I recalibrate?
Incidents are always traced back to a series of small issues that either go unnoticed or put us outside our comfort zone. At the end of the day, beyond being safe, a sailing holiday should be enjoyable. Being ready to tackle these usual issues swiftly, gives you the chance to get back to doing what you wanted to do in the first place – sail.
You mentioned earlier that insurance premiums have increased in the last few years. Do you see SafeLearn as a counter measure for this?
It must be said that insurance premiums have increased for a number of reasons. Newer and more expensive yachts will always demand a higher premium, while the large number of claims caused by extreme weather occurrences in the Caribbean has put a strain on premiums. Undertaking the SafeLearn course prior to charter certainly decreases the Skippers’ risk profile, but we do not expect that this alone will have an impact on the insurance premiums bared by the yacht owners.
Where we believe SafeLearn will eventually make an impact, is in the charter deposit and insurance deductible levels. These are also elements which affect this side of the industry the most. Small incidents are a source of nuisance for both customers and yacht owners.
For example, a grounding on a sand bar resulting in a repair cost under the deductible and is borne by the customer, leaves a sour taste right at the very end of the charter and jeopardises the retention of the customer for next year. On the other hand, the yacht owner must schedule yacht repairs during a very busy period, while is also forced to issue additional costs to the customer, right at the end of the charter. I think it’s safe to say that both ends would like to avoid these situations, and SafeLearn is the first step in their prevention.