Let’s face it; the job of a superyacht deckhand can be pretty tedious. Wax on, wax off. Polishing a yacht’s exterior to a mirror finish day in, day out can be a bit boring. The high spot in a deckhand’s routine is usually being the tender driver. That may mean putting an inexperienced twenty-something at the helm of a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) with a large outboard engine. So what if he handled it like a valet parking attendant, doing high speed donuts and occasionally bumping into the yacht’s topsides? Well, it is simple enough for a yacht’s captain to get a deckhand trained properly by enrolling him in the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) Powerboat Level 2 course.
This course is commonly taught on a RIB and focuses on ‘low speed close quarters handling, man overboard recovery, an introduction to driving at planing speed, and collision regulations’. It also gives plenty of experience in docking techniques, which can be applied when coming ashore or when returning to the mothership. In addition, the Powerboat Level 2 Certificate of Competency is a necessity in the Mediterranean. Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, Turkey and Malta all require such a certificate as evidence of the training needed to operate small motorized craft in their coastal waters.
Just as superyachts have increased in overall length in recent years, so have the tenders they use. Today it is quite common to see center console, twin outboard engine boats in the mid-30ft range being towed along by superyachts. These high-speed boats allow the yacht’s crew to take their guests on extended fishing and snorkeling excursions or to barbecues on a secluded beach. They offer both greater range and capacity for the equipment needed for a fun day on the water.
In addition, a niche market has developed for limousine tenders. These mid-30ft launches are used to shuttle guests ashore in style and also make a statement about the wealth of the owner of a superyacht. A custom limousine tender can cost $1.5 million, and come with leather seats, fine mahogany detailing and sport beautiful exterior lines. While the yacht is underway, these bespoke limo tenders are stowed in a garage built into the side of the superyacht’s hull.
Superyacht captains are now clamoring for additional training for their crew who have to operate these larger motorboats, which require a different skill set than operating a RIB. In response training centers are developing new courses to meet that demand. The RYA has taken an active role in this and now offers three additional courses to round out the training for professional yacht crew: Intermediate Powerboat, Advanced Powerboat and Tender Operator. As part of a complete powerboat training program, yacht crew can acquire the experience they need to operate a wide range of tenders before they even get their first berth aboard a yacht.
Intermediate Powerboat covers the practical use of pilotage and passage planning by day on coastal waters using both traditional and electronic navigational techniques. And additional experience is gained at planing speeds along with more advanced boat handling techniques.
After completing the next level, Advanced Powerboat, a crew member will feel confident in their ability to ‘plan and execute coastal trips and return to a familiar port by night’. Navigation at planing speed is stressed in this training regimen, as well as pilotage, night cruising and handling emergency situations.
But driving fast tenders at speed doesn’t always fit the needs of a superyacht, particularly when guests are going for a pleasurable evening ashore in elegant attire. The Tender Operator course fills in the gaps by providing experience in operating a powerboat smoothly. The course includes plenty of time to practice working with a crew member and operating short-handed. In navigation terms, the emphasis is on short ship-to-shore transfers by day and at night.
Since a deckhand may be the first crew member that a charter guest meets while being shuttled out to the anchorage to begin their luxury vacation, it makes sense to have that tender driver well trained. More than one yachting vacation has been spoiled by a poor first impression.
Capt. Jeff Werner is a Senior Instructor with International Crew Training in Ft. Lauderdale, and is a 23 year veteran of the yachting industry.