If you need help getting your boat from A to B after a purchase or for a cruise, a delivery crew might be the solution, says Ben Lowings
Perhaps your treasured yacht is in the wrong place at the wrong time? Does it need to be somewhere else, soon? Don’t have the time, crew, or experience to remedy this yourself? Well, it might be time to look into yacht deliveries.
While it sounds simple, handing over your pride and joy to another skipper you’ve never met before can be a daunting prospect, so I’ve collated some advice on what the process would look like. We’re talking about sailing your vessel from one port to another here, as opposed to loading it on a larger vessel, for which a range of choices are available.
This article concentrates on hiring a crew to sail your yacht to its destination. While it is possible to hire private individuals (more on that later) we’ve spoken in depth to three popular UK companies you’d be likely to come across in your search.
The largest is Wirral-based Professional Yacht Deliveries Ltd. PYD – set up in 1995 – which completes 180 deliveries a year. ‘We deliver most yachts around the UK, Northern Europe and the Mediterranean,’ PYD’s snazzy website declares. Another option – also with slick homepage, social media presence and international reach but with European focus: Halcyon Yacht Delivery Ltd, established in 2010, based in Falmouth. A smaller outfit is Merseyside-based Wright Marine Ltd. They’re doing good business in the wake of the pandemic.
Other operators are out there. Amsterdam-based Sevenstar Yacht Transport’s a popular choice for transporting your yacht by ship.
Choosing a yacht delivery company and skipper
In general, it’ll be the company that selects a skipper, so you need to pick the company you most feel happy with. They’ll forward you, the owner, the candidate skipper’s sailing CV. Naturally, you’ll be given the right of refusal. Peter Kloezeman, PYD’s operations director, says they have 40 skippers on the books who are ‘some of the most qualified in the industry. All are RYA Yachtmaster Offshore as a minimum. Our most experienced skippers have over 400,000 miles logged.’
With PYD, your delivery crew will be allocated based on whether they have experience of your proposed trip and experience sailing your make, model and size of yacht. ‘For a transatlantic [crossing] we’d allocate a skipper with extensive ocean experience,’ says Kloezeman. ‘The skipper will usually have completed the crossing several times.’
For her owners, a yacht is often a member of the family. Handing her over can be disconcerting. It’s something the industry is keenly cognisant of.
Peter Green, managing director of Halcyon Yacht Delivery acknowledges this. ‘Having your yacht delivered and entrusting it to another skipper is clearly a big decision. It’s crucial you find a delivery company or skipper that’ll care for her as you would.’ As an owner you’ll not be alone if, when departing the marina, you waggle your loved one’s anchor and whisper a few words of endearment. But it’s best to leave the delivery crew to do their work. ‘Owners must trust the company to look after the yacht as if it were their own,’ says Kloezeman.
It’s no different with Wright Marine. Simon Pendlebury, managing director, explains: ‘We look at the vessel’s particulars. Is it a classic? Pre-1900s?
Does it have any quirks?’ The job’s offered out to skippers felt best suited to the role.’
As an owner you could expect a call from Wright with the particulars of the skipper and their past work. You would then be contacted by the Wright Marine skipper, who will introduce themselves.
Solo skipper setups
But what about selecting a skipper and contacting them directly oneself? ‘It can be the cheapest option,’ says Halcyon’s Peter Green, but ‘it’s not without risk.’ A solo skipper-for-hire, he argues, won’t have backup. A shore support team is preferable, he says. ‘If the [freelancer] has to cancel the job you could be left in the lurch.’ Green recalls one yacht left in Spain.
A panicked owner had engaged a solo skipper to bring the boat from Greece to the UK. ‘For personal reasons we assume, he decided to end the journey early and tied the yacht up in a random marina in Spain. The owner was sent an email with the address of the marina and little else. We stepped in quickly and sent a team out to finish the delivery.’
You need to check crew references. ‘Always check testimonials,’ Green says. The firms’ dedicated staff have a CV bank. The list is curated. New applicants are reviewed. Resumes of sailing experience will have been updated before they are sent on to you for information. Qualifications will have to have been recorded accurately and kept valid, and RYA course certificates do expire.
The gig economy we’ve become used to is relevant here. Hiring a freelancer is akin to paying a courier or a driver for a ‘ride-sharing’ service. One unnamed ‘lone wolf’ worked UK deliveries around Caribbean seasons. He took a boat from Plymouth to the Solent, where he picked up another yacht and brought her back. ‘Two deliveries in 24 hours.’ An adventurous seadog’s boast. Fun to sail with maybe, but there’s a risk they’re a bounty hunter with less of a plan about safety.
How to prepare your boat
You’ll be sent an extensive pre-delivery checklist. Should you plump for Halcyon, you’re likely to get a verified checklist which will also be received by the skipper who then checks this upon arriving at the boat. As an owner, you’ll need to be clear about where you’ll be if you’re not planning to be on or next to your yacht at the agreed handover time.
You’ll be expected to have settled bills at the departure berth. The same goes for bookings and customs arrangements made at the destination – although Halcyon, as with the other companies, will be able to provide as much assistance towards this as appropriate. ‘The process at PYD is the same,’ Peter Kloezeman affirms. Should you be engaging PYD, your checklist will be the starting point for PYD to ‘build an overall picture of how prepared the yacht is, depending on the intended passage.’
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Prep for an ocean crossing differs from a Channel hop. ‘PYD can supply certain equipment if it is missing from the yacht such as EPIRBs, satellite phones and communications, and jackstays,’ explains Kloezeman. ‘Ideally you – as the owner – will arrange for the yacht to be fully equipped for the intended delivery passage.’
You’ll need to have checked – or organised someone to do so in lieu of the owner, particularly if you’re getting a new purchase delivered – the engine, generators, electrical and charging systems, and batteries. Kloezeman says they ought to have been well maintained and checked before the crew arrives. You will need to have cleaned the sails, hull and propellers. ‘If there’s an issue with the yacht when the crew arrive – such as the batteries are dead or the hull is covered with growth – this will incur delays whilst these issues are dealt with, which increases the overall costs to the client.’ If you’ve engaged Halcyon, their rules echo PYD’s. ‘Check systems work and are serviced,’ says Peter Green. ‘If it’s a new yacht to you then have a survey. It’s also best to have an engine serviced.’
Yacht deliveries insurance cover
In the UK you are legally bound to insure the vessel for the duration of the delivery for the waters to be traversed, in the appropriate coding. The skipper provides for themselves and the crew. Skipper Liability Insurance covers damage to third parties while the delivery captain is in charge. Check your skipper has it.
Prices for this product have shot up since Brexit. For UK work, it’s obtainable from Pantaenius (through its German arm). Delivery companies will check these documents and take the owner through the policy wording. Peter Kloezeman explains: ‘Liability insurance will cover the yacht for skipper/crew negligence only. The yacht needs to have its own hull policy.’
Hull insurance is standard practice. It’s rare indeed for a yacht to put to sea without some sort of insurance policy. Peter Green explains: ‘Owners should be able to lodge an appropriate claim with a reputable insurance company if something doesn’t go to plan. If something does go wrong, then you should be able to make a claim with your insurers. All reputable skippers will have liability insurance. Make sure that your insurance coverage is suitable for the trip. Inform them that a delivery company or skipper will be taking charge.’
Simon Pendlebury puts it most succinctly. ‘Unfortunately, there is no insurance product on the market which would effectively allow the same asset to be insured twice (once for owner, once for the delivery skipper).’ Mr Pendlebury confirms all Wright Marine skippers have their own Skipper Liability insurance. ‘We ask all owners to ensure the skipper is also noted on their policy.’
The skipper must know if the vessel’s seaworthy, how much fuel, water and battery there is, and any technical issues, or temporary fixes. There’ll be phone conversations, notes taken, and usually the company, the skipper and the owner create a WhatsApp group to exchange photos. These could be anything from the thousand bits-and-bobs on a yacht. But they often feature the log impeller, notes on the chart table, and the whereabouts of the keys.
‘The collection of keys’ is top of Simon Pendlebury’s catalogue of items for your pre-delivery checklist. Alongside the delivery company documents is your vessel paperwork – registration papers, liferaft certificates, etc.
If your vessel’s been sold to you, for instance, through a brokerage, then the broker’s name and contact details must be supplied. A contract is drawn up, specifying when payments are required plus any extra advance payments such as for fuel. This, notes Pendlebury, is common when delivering diesel-thirsty motor vessels.
You’ll need to ensure passports and papers are in order. C1331 UK immigration forms and forms for departure clearing ports are vital for EU trips. Brexit has complicated things too. A skipper with good local language skills (and EU citizenship) is, if not worth their weight in gold, at least a great saving of your time.
If you have contacts made through reciprocal membership of foreign yacht clubs, for instance, they’re helpful to delivery skippers trying to source items or surmount red tape. Individual skippers’ resourcefulness comes into its own here, which Kloezeman recognises. ‘[PYD’s] skippers have a good understanding of the processes involved and are well versed in presenting and obtaining the correct paperwork when required, particularly where VAT is concerned. At PYD we also have links with several other yacht management companies who can advise further on VAT and vessel, import and export from the EU.’
Of course, the circumstances vary with vessel and voyage. For his part, Pendlebury promises Wright Marine will work with you to assist in ‘ensuring all Customs arrangements are completed on time and according to countries’ rules. A lot of owners find this as valuable as the delivery itself.’
Paperwork is irksome but necessary, for as Kloezeman notes, it sometimes isn’t practical for you to be physically present for the handover. ‘We’re happy for clients to speak to the skippers on the phone whilst they’re on board if they need to discuss anything.’ PYD’s office takes over liaison between you and the skipper once the delivery has started. ‘We will keep them updated on the delivery progress. We have a GPS tracker that we send on our deliveries.’ You can expect to receive a link that updates daily.
Safety kit and spares
Your safety gear must be compliant with SOLAS V, insists Halcyon’s Peter Green. This includes an in-date liferaft, in-date flares, fire extinguishers, a first aid kit, man overboard recovery equipment, radar reflector and jackstays. ‘We always do engine checks before we leave anywhere,’ affirms Halcyon regular Mark Treacher (a prominent social media skipper with excellent YouTube videos).
If you’ve bought a second-hand yacht, everything should have been taken off the vessel after the point of sale. This underlines the necessity for delivery crews to keep tools. You will probably have tools of your own, but it might not be practicable to get them to the boat. The crew might have, for example, their own spare impeller (complete with service kit), not to mention suitable pliers for prising out defunct blades.
You can expect help if required from PYD, Wright Marine and Halcyon. Peter Green says, ‘We encourage our clients to send a full inventory list.’ Green also advises you to ‘make sure there is sufficient domestic equipment’ such as cooking pans, plates and cups.
This applies to vessels with these items in the existing inventory. In the situation where a yacht has been acquired recently from a broker, these items may be missing, in which case the skipper would normally purchase them and invoice you. The skipper could equally bring their own reserve stock and take it off the boat afterwards. Most delivery crews will only need a bare minimum of galley equipment to minimise on washing up. It follows that the skipper would not be buying a walnut chopping board and pricey Damascus steel cooking knife and then invoicing you for them!
You needn’t worry about your pristine upholstery either. Crews for these three delivery firms supply their own sleeping bags. Halcyon advises using double sheets to protect soft furnishings. Peter Green’s crews are warned to be watchful for harness clips scratching saloon fittings.
Kloezeman specifies that PYD crews ‘spend at least 24 hours checking all the systems and preparing the boat for passage, even for short deliveries.’ A good chunk of this time might well be given over to a job shown on PYD’s website: enthusiastically bubble-wrapping everything in the saloon. ‘All vulnerable areas of woodwork and upholstery below decks are encased in protective cladding,’
PYD’s ops director explains, ‘to avoid any inadvertent damage while at sea in rough conditions. It’s a long and time-consuming process but very worthwhile to ensure that the joinery stays well protected during the delivery passage. Similarly, mast spreaders are normally wrapped and taped to avoid making alloy rub marks on the main sail that can frequently occur when sailing downwind for extended periods.’
Become a delivery crew
On the flip side of the coin, it’s relatively easy to become a member of a yacht delivery crew, and this is a great way to build sea miles, gain experience, and sail with some highly qualified skippers.
Most yacht delivery companies will insist on delivery skippers being commercially endorsed RYA Yachtmaster Ocean or above. Unsurprisingly, many will also be RYA Yachtmaster Instructors. If you want to be a skipper, you’ll need to be highly qualified. If you want to crew, however, it’s a great way to learn, as well as sail on passages and to destinations you may otherwise never get to visit.
First mates will be qualified skippers, though requirements for qualifications vary. Crew need to be able to competently stand a solo watch at night. This means you’ll generally have an RYA Day Skipper certificate.
Yacht delivery agencies will ask for a fee to join their list and will want to see a sailing CV. You will then be notified of opportunities as and when they come up. You may also receive discounts on further training as well as equipment.
Will my boat be safe?
You’ll find that communication before, during and after the trip is paramount. WhatsApp, a text, a request to the destination marina over VHF radio to relay all is well to you via phone, even a check call relayed by the Coastguard – all of these may be used.
PYD claims its quotations are ‘calculated conservatively’ to give an estimated passage time. The Wirral-based market leader says allowance for weather delays and boat prep is built in. ‘Skippers will sail as much as possible but will not push the yacht unnecessarily. A delivery passage is not a race.’
PYD’s rivals in Falmouth and St. Helens would absolutely agree. ‘On arrival at the destination,’ Kloezeman says, ‘the crew will usually spend around 24 hours completing the final wash and clean down before departing.’
Problems and damage
As an owner, you’d be advised not to worry unduly. Things do go wrong, but severe damage is extremely rare, and loss almost unheard of. Peter Green admits the element of risk can ‘never be fully eliminated’. A delivery company worth its salt will be striving to keep that quantity as close to zero as possible. ‘With any sailing journey,’ says Green, ‘there is of course some risk.’
Halcyon, PYD and Wright Marine skippers must report to you at the delivery’s conclusion on the condition of general maintenance items, any general wear and tear, any recommendations or improvements or any damage caused during the passage by the crew.
You can expect to be told straight away of incidents resulting in damage. Green points to Halcyon’s engineer support service, whereby crew can phone for help diagnosing and making repairs. ‘One of the most common problems we see is dirty fuel,’ he says. ‘If you’ve bought a yacht that hasn’t been used for a while, the risk of diesel bug increases. It’s often something that won’t come to light until the fuel tank’s been shaken around a bit at sea.’
A lot of Wright’s deliveries involve vessels which have recently changed hands. ‘As such,’ Pendlebury says, delicately, ‘defects may not be known.’ On one trip from Southampton to Newcastle upon Tyne, diesel bug clogged the injectors and the engine gave in just past Chichester. The boat was brought alongside under sail to Haslar marina. ‘The vessel required a complete polishing of its fuel and an overhaul of injector assembly but was able to resume the delivery a week later.’
Making your expectations clear and having your consents in writing beforehand is key when resolving issues arising from company procedures and insurance. ‘Any pre-existing damage is photographed,’ assures Pendlebury. ‘This is then chatted through with the owner, or photos are sent to them prior to departure. This helps to prevent any misunderstandings later down the line.’
Similarly – and Kloezeman and Green would undoubtedly agree – ‘If skippers feel conditions don’t permit safe passage, they’ll seek shelter. The easiest way to avoid misunderstandings is to carefully read the contract and ask questions.’ Delivery firms emphasise that the crew’s only task is moving a vessel from A to B in seamanlike fashion. ‘Owners are welcome to join a delivery,’ says Kloezeman, ‘although the delivery crew will routinely sail 24 hours a day with only brief stops as necessary for fuel, provisions or to avoid severe weather.’
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