How To Hire a Delivery Captain

ARTICLE: Published in “Spinsheet”, October 2011, By Paul Foer

A boat owner can be faced with a dilemma when the boat is at Point A but he wants it at Point B and is either unable, unqualified or unwilling to move it.

Perhaps it could be trucked, put on a ship or a friend could move it. Each has pluses and minuses and this article is concerned with how to hire a professional delivery captain and crew. My first advice is to expect to pay a professional fee and do not shop on price alone. Those willing to do this kind of work for the lowest price should be avoided. An owner who tries to save fifty dollars or so per day over a five day trip is practicing poor economics. It could mean the difference between on-time satisfaction and an unsatisfied and costlier longer trip-or maybe something worse.

Delivering boats can be a tough way to earn a living and if there is to be a decent labor market, owners must be willing to pay for a professional. Therefore, it’s probably not a good idea to contact the prospective skipper by first asking “What do you charge?” Of course the fee is important, but most people would not likely approach a doctor, lawyer or accountant or even a house painter in the same fashion. Most boat owners want to know who you are and whether you’ve made this trip before, are licensed by the Coast Guard, are enrolled in a drug-testing program etc.

Unfortunately, some prospective clients do first ask for rates but how they can afford a boat if price alone is so important? Many inquiries never lead anywhere and when the money is the first question, it throws up a red flag and so I do not discuss rates until I know about the boat, voyage, etc.. The best client-professional relationships develop from those clients who approached me more professionally.  Furthermore, when a boat owner is trying to cut a few dollars here and there, you can bet they’re counting pennies on everything else, another source of potential difficulty.

The professional skipper is not going on a joy-ride or pleasure cruise but will move your boat as fast as is possible without compromising safety. He or she may run all day and often through the night. But on every delivery, the crew is away from home and on the boat, so it’s really always a 24 hour day. Sometimes a boat has to be delivered by a specific date and the crew has to average a certain distance each day.  That’s work–and it takes time to clear one’s calendar, pack up gear, leave home and get to the boat.

Of course bad weather or breakdown can cause delay. Delivery pros will often do some repairs while underway due to necessity or to save time, but should not be expected to replace professional mechanics. At Point B, they should clean up your boat to a ready-to-sail condition and usually will leave promptly.

Then there is insurance, a contract, payment options, handling expenses underway and dealing with delays due to weather or mechanical problems. It is best to get the skipper a recent survey or have him go through the boat beforehand. In any event, he or she will need at least a day to check the boat and get provisions, fuel, water etc. before it even leaves the dock. Some of this can be handled long-distance as lists are prepared and checked. And there is the travel time to the boat and the crew should be paid for all that time and effort.

My experience is that weather has rarely if ever caused a major or serious delay. Exceptions are mainly late summer and fall as one heads to the tropics when a hurricane may approach. While belts and batteries are often a factor, an incident such as a bent shaft or something similarly serious is rare. Contaminated diesel has been my number one mechanical challenge on many occasions. A new owner may have just taken possession of a boat that was little used or unused. Everything checks out at the dock, but once we’re underway—boom! Clogged filters and worse. On three trips I’ve needed complete tank polishing or even tank removal and it was always when a new owner picked up a rarely used boat. Those trips were much longer and more expensive than anticipated. In such situations I always recommend to the owners that their tanks be polished before leaving but my requests are usually not heeded.

While I always ask to review a survey, I’ve learned that the expertise and thoroughness of surveyors varies widely. As a delivery skipper, I’ve often found items in need of repair or replacement that surveyors missed. While they almost always know more than I do about technical, engineering and construction issues, I have found that because I am actually operating the boat that I look for and find things they overlook. This goes back to the need to make check-off lists with the captain before the delivery and to consider that he or she may add to that list when he arrives at your boat.

So what does it cost? Some skippers charge by the day, others simply give a flat fee and some use the old method of charging by the mile. After having done many dozens of these trips, I prefer the flat fee quote. I provide a fee after I consider the route, time of year, condition and capabilities of the boat. I build in my time for preparing, traveling to the boat, provisions, a qualified mate who can stand a watch, the delivery and travel time home. If a third crewperson is needed, they simply get travel expenses. The owner always pays fuel, dockage and other boat-related expenses in addition to reimbursing the cost of travel. Most skippers will charge between $350 and $500 per day including a crewperson, but again, it varies, and don’t choose on price alone. By the time you add it all up, delivering a 35’ sailboat from Annapolis to Maine will likely cost a few thousand dollars.

In summation, do some research to find a real professional. You can find independent pros and delivery services online, by asking brokers and other marine professionals or boat owners. Try to meet with the captain in advance and establish whether he is a sober, experienced professional and performs in a business-like fashion. The process of actually contracting and preparing for a delivery can be a bit more complicated but hopefully the above will get you started in the right direction of hiring a real professional.

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