Capt. David Linebaugh knows Symphony II isn't the newest, isn't the grandest, and isn't the most glamorous motoryacht available for charter these days.
His command is a 112-foot Westport, a lovely production model that happens to have many identical-layout sisterships cruising the world's waters. She was built in 2001, practically a lifetime ago as entertainment systems and engine-room technologies go. And let's face it, 112 feet isn't what it used to be in the world of motoryacht charter. Some people would use Symphony II as a staff-support tender to a 250-foot charter yacht nowadays in the Med.
And yet, Linebaugh has managed to turn Symphony II into one of the most successful, value-for-your-vacation-dollar yachts in her size range. His philosophy is that onboard any yacht, small changes can add up to a lot of business. "You can do a good middle-of-the-road program with the basics," he explains, "but if you want to stand out and be one of the best, there are a lot of ways to [do it]."
This is the same attitude that Capt. Phil Lacca uses to fill his 121-foot, 1990 Broward Java with repeat clients and that Capt. Joaquin Freire uses to maximize guest experiences onboard the 124-foot, 1989 Broward Lady Susan. Like Linebaugh, Lacca and Freire command charter yachts that don't always seem to stand out when compared against newer or bigger models with fancier brochures, but that continually win business thanks to a consistent focus on the simple things that make big differences.
In other words, these three captains have a lot to offer any motoryacht owner who wants to become successful in charter, no matter the size or age of the yacht.
The first thing they have in common is that they take upgrades and maintenance seriously. They replace older items regularly, and they make sure to tell charter agencies about every improvement that goes into their boats. A new davit or a new soundshield are promoted as making it easier for the crew to launch guest tenders and to keep the yacht quieter when the genset is running. Regular maintenance becomes a marketing coup for charter brokers trying to persuade clients to choose an older yacht.
Regular maintenance and upgrades also mean that even though their yachts are older, their boats are unlikely to break down—another tidbit charter brokers can use when comparing one yacht against the next. And refits mean new systems, too, which also help older boats compete with newer launches.
Freire's first suggestion to Lady Susan's owner, for instance, was installing new props, shafts, and bearings, with interior renovations to follow only after the machinery was up to date. Onboard Java Lacca manages a refit of some kind every single year, be it new carpeting or updating galley appliances. Linebaugh just oversaw the installation of a Crestron entertainment system that gives each cabin onboard Symphony II its own TV and music signals, just like you'll find onboard brand-new yachts.
"She's a production boat, so you would think she wouldn't be any different from the others like her," Linebaugh says. "But she's a little nicer and neater than any other 112-foot Westport."
Each of these three captains also looks to less-obvious—and often inexpensive—methods for helping their yachts stand out in their crowded end of the charter market.
Onboard Java, Lacca has his crew create a daily newspaper called The Java Times for guests, integrating keepsake digital photographs with information about each day's cruising destination and activities. Freire pays attention to the slightest speed variations to help keep fuel expenses down—something that's possible thanks to Lady Susan's fuel-efficient hull design, which then becomes a selling point instead of a handicap when compared with newer, faster motoryachts. "I can run 14 knots, and I burn about 60 gallons per hour," he says. "If you're not in a hurry to get anywhere, say 10 knots, I can burn about 30 gallons per hour." That can translate into thousands of dollars in fuel savings for a client during a weeklong charter.
Linebaugh invested in 21 reproductions of masterworks selected by an art historian and placed them throughout Symphony II along with an accompanying written tour for guests to follow. It's a one-time, relatively minor investment that pays continual dividends because it gives this yacht an amenity that no other charter yacht offers, at any size or price.
Perhaps most important, each of these captains has earned the respect of charter brokers who decide which yachts to push for potential clients. Linebaugh, Freire, and Lacca are all well-known as "can-do" captains who often become the primary sales pitch, beyond even the boats themselves. Clients return to them even when their boats aren't quite perfect. Their personal reputations dwarf minor mechanical problems or older features, the kinds of things that sink charter prospects for motoryachts with less charter-focused captains in command.
These captains' attitudes and accolades are a direct result of their true love of chartering. That's something you can't teach a skipper but that you can certainly look for when interviewing prospective employees about their previous industry experience.
A smart owner will also seek out captains who talk about more than just the boat: "I did about two years on private boats, and decided they didn't have enough energy, enough activity," Linebaugh says. "I really like chartering. It's just a lot more of what I got into yachting for."
Lacca is the same way: "The question at the end of the day is, 'How much fun can you stand?'" he says. "We are an extremely welcoming crew. The ability to make people feel comfortable instantly instead of two days later, that's huge."
Last, as these three examples show, the best way to find and keep a great charter yacht captain is to be a great charter yacht owner. Lacca, Linebaugh, and Freire all say their owners encourage them to come up with creative ideas, to spend money in ways that will benefit the charter program as well as the owner's wishes, and to promote and retain good crew who make their lives easier all around.
"You can have a boat that's set up for charter and a crew that's set up for charter, but if the owner isn't set up for charter, you can forget it," Freire says. "I have never worked for anybody who treated me better."
And so his charter yacht guests get treated better than they ever have as well.
Java is part of the fleet at Camper & Nicholsons International. She takes ten guests at a weekly base rate of $49,000.
Lady Susan is part of the fleet at The Sacks Group Yachting Professionals. She takes 12 guests at a weekly base rate of $55,000.
Symphony II is part of the fleet at International Yacht Collection. She takes eight guests at a weekly base rate of $44,500.
Camper & Nicholsons International
International Yacht Collection
The Sacks Group Yachting Professionals
The Can-Do Charter Captain:
—Understands that he is as much a host as a skipper
—Hires and keeps a top-notch crew
—Maintains the yacht impeccably
—Requests equipment upgrades to improve the charter program
—Is detail-oriented, right down to ensuring there are fine linens on the dining table
—Has creative ideas for keeping guests happy, such as turning digital photos into keepsake videos
—Spends money as needed, but doesn't waste it on things like overpriced fuel and provisions
—Knows how to promote your yacht to brokers and the media, especially in the context of the overall market
—Always looks for ways to make the yacht better
—Never says "no." Always says, "Let me figure out how."
This article originally appeared in the February 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.