Time spent as a professional in higher education may not seem to have any bearing on yachting. However, Capt. Ian Bone, who held such a job in his native Australia before entering the marine industry, says otherwise. Bone realized a key part of his job as a sailing instructor and then a captain was inspiring others to achieve. Between his Yachting Leadership blog and freelance articles, Bone shares his insights into the importance of becoming a strong personnel manager—skills that, as he points out, are never prioritized for captains the way that technical skills are. It’s something he believes should change for the betterment of all. And,it’s among the reasons why he helped establish the Yacht Captains Association. In this Leadership Series, Bone delves into why it’s crucial for captains to have continuous professional development at their disposal.
MegayachtNews.com: How did you first become interested in boats and yachts, and what convinced you to pursue a career in yachting?
Capt. Ian Bone: Despite exposure early on, my entry into yachting didn’t come until my late 30s, early 40s. Previous to that, my career was in the management area of higher education. I was involved with a local university in Australia for 10 to 15 years, then left that when I recognized I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. I went sailing; I sailed around the world, got some certificates and qualifications, and managed to get into the yachting industry through that pathway. My intro to yachting has come with different perceptions and perspectives, not the traditional model of moving up through the various positions as a deckhand, a mate, a first officer, that sort of thing. I can look at it through different eyes that others don’t, and share those exposures and experiences from a different point of view, yet still understand what the industry is about.
MegayachtNews.com: What are some of the best things about being a captain?
Capt. Ian Bone: All the things that other people say: visiting beautiful places, working on a beautiful pieces of machinery, having a set of responsibilities to make sure the vessel is continuously maintained and safely operated. Yachting to me also is what I call the “marine tourism space.” To a large extent it is maritime tourism, or the maritime service space, rather than yachting. I think a lot of captains mention being surrounded by the technical space, not the service space. I enjoy seeing people enjoying themselves and enjoying their families and the places they visit. If I can help people enjoy that and reach their goals and aspirations, then that satisfies me. The second aspect that I always get satisfaction from, no matter what career I’ve been in, is training and developing younger people, and actually seeing people blossom and grow, and reach their goals and aspirations in their chosen career. It gives me particular satisfaction to see younger people with drive, energy, to achieve their dreams.
MegayachtNews.com: What would you say are some of the toughest things about being a captain?
Capt. Ian Bone: The challenges that captains face are the usual problems: getting a vessel on time to a place, getting it serviced. They’re difficult to achieve from time to time; they require a lot of time and energy and planning. Working with various sorts of people is also challenging. You’ve got to be astute to recognize people’s personalities so that you can understand people’s aims and wishes. Especially in charter, you don’t know people, so it’s a very quick learning process—to get to know what their needs are, their interests, that sort of thing. That’s why my definition of a good or capable or competent captain is not from the technical perspective. It’s all of those other attributes and capabilities. A great captain certainly has the technical skills to operate the vessel, but all those other things make that person really stand out and have a good reputation.
This is the issue today that the industry is facing. We, being the industry, are basing the measure of capability solely on the technical ability of the captain. There’s a feeling out there of “Once I get my 3,000-ton ticket, I’m set.” Well, in my world, that’s not the case—that’s only the start.
MegayachtNews.com: You write a lot about leadership and related issues like micro-managing. Is it your experience in the education world that makes you more cognizant of it, or has it always been natural to you?
Capt. Ian Bone: I don’t think it’s natural at all. I think it is an experience that comes from being in other careers and other dimensions of work that help you understand that continuous development of oneself is essential. There’s no recognition within the yachting industry of the importance of continuous development. It’s not even spoken about, other than with the technical space. I’m glad we’re having these debates in the various media. This really is a topical point at the moment, and I think it will continue to be so. We are seeing the symptoms and outcomes of the lack of capabilities of some of the individuals in the industry, and the dissatisfaction particularly within the entry-point positions. We’re seeing turnover, we’re seeing evidence of practices that I think could be better done by captains, particularly in the soft-skills and leadership-management area. I write about it because I’m passionate about it. It’s important for this to be uplifted within the industry.
MegayachtNews.com: So is that one of the big goals of the Yacht Captains Association?
Capt. Ian Bone: The Yacht Captains Association is an organization formed by a group of us who have a common belief that there’s a need for captains to avail themselves of continuous professional development. And certainly a key part of our intentions is to attempt to change the thinking within the industry, that an important part of a person’s development is professional development and continuous learning, continuous growing, and to provide a platform and pathway for captains to consider moving down. We’d like to think that we can influence that as a voluntary organization of captains. In fact, we’re now getting younger captains coming to us and saying, “Look, I realize my 3,000-ton ticket is not necessarily going to get me to the better jobs. What do I need to do? How do I need to develop my skills and abilities to be a better manager, be a better leader?” What we’re saying is, “We’ll provide a pathway for you.” Unless the change is driven within oneself to want to learn, it just doesn’t happen.
MegayachtNews.com: How did the memorandum of understanding with Nova Southeastern University come about? It’s a particularly interesting development.
Capt. Ian Bone: Right from the outset, we believed that it was important to create a relationship with an institution that was a credible provider of management and leadership course programs. We don’t think this is a yachting-industry issue; we think it’s a business-management-related issue. Wherever you might be in the Western world, there are universities that teach and train people in these skill areas. Nova Southeastern University has a great reputation and a fine executive educational school. It’s still early days, but hopefully we’ll create some course programs that we can offer out to captains.
It also gives captains ultimately a choice of taking their higher education further, perhaps get a bachelors or masters and use those credits to work towards the degree. It gives the captains more choice particularly when they might want to exit the industry. They’ve got some recognizable qualification outside of yachting that complements their vast experiences from within yachting. It really is thinking broadly about the captain’s professional development. I’ve met a lot of captains in recent months in that stage of their life where they’re exiting the industry and they’re frustrated. They’ve got the experience, the skills, but in many ways they’re handcuffed to the helm because the positions they go for aren’t commensurate with the remunerations within the industry. Some come into the industry at 20 to 25 years old and are now in their early 50s—some want to get out of the industry now, others want to do other things. Let’s face it, most guys have another 30 years of life ahead of them to do something. Another career is not an unusual thing to think about. There’s nothing to help captains do this. You’re on your own. That’s where we as an association are coming in, in the longer-term educational aspect, to at least flag down the captains and say, “Hey, you’d better think about this. And here we are to help you through this process.” We’re anticipating developing a business-incubator model with Nova and other people as well. So, when captains get to that stage of considering leaving the yacht and have a business idea, we’re going to facilitate: help them write the business plan, talk to other people outside the industry to get ideas about marketing, finance, what the business is. We think an association like the Yacht Captains Association is primely positioned to help that occur.
MegayachtNews.com: What’s the takeaway about the Yacht Captains Association for an owner or someone in the owner’s circle of influence—for them to sit down with their captain and say, “Have you heard about this? What are your thoughts?”
Capt. Ian Bone: There are probably a range of benefits to an owner to have a captain that is trained, that is capable with a set of skills in the leadership and management space. There are benefits to having a skilled person in charge of their vessel who’s a great operator. Most owners either own businesses or are shareholders in corporations. We see no difference in the captain’s role compared to the CEO’s role. Would an owner accept a CEO with poor or questionable skills in leadership and management in their corporations? Why is it so different for a captain than a CEO, who probably has a higher-education degree, probably undertakes some degree of training and development, may even have a coach to help them better their own capabilities? The time is right now. Owners need to understand the importance of having a qualified, capable captain in their employ to manage the vessel, manage the crew, get the most out of the crew. The turn-over rates on some vessels is atrocious. I don’t think owners really recognize the cost of not having capable, qualified, good managers and leaders who can build the crew team, make the vessel hum, make the workplace a fantastic place to come to and stay. It’s very difficult to quantify, but over time it’s been proven in many industries that leadership and management capabilities have a direct impact on recruitment and retention. This is an investment in your crew. We would like to see a line item in the vessel budget for professional training and development. Why not? Every other corporation does. If you’ve got better people, the owners are going to enjoy cruising and not be stressed. It filters right through everybody onboard.