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How to stop hating your Captain admin

Q: Anonymous, Captain, 38:

“I’ve wanted to be a Captain since I sailed as a kid, and I managed to achieve my goal. But it’s nothing like what I dreamed of. I don’t remember the last time I actually spent a day on deck, and the paperwork is killing me. Between ISM, MLC, ISPS etc, I feel like I’m being tortured sitting at a desk staring at a screen all day. Even worse, I’m doing longer hours than ever to keep up – and ironically, I then have to fabricate my Hours of Rest declaration to remain compliant. If I didn’t feel like I would be looked on as a failure, I’d genuinely consider going back to a first mate’s job so that I can actually run the deck again rather than just push a pen! Have you heard of other Captains struggling badly with this or am I the only one? What can I do to get my admin hatred under control?”

A: The Crew Coach:

The first thing I must say is you’re definitely not alone in finding the paperwork of a Captain’s role difficult to handle. The last 10 years or so have seen a seismic change in the responsibilities of yacht Captains. What was once a job for adventurous souls who never wanted to sit in an office doing paperwork, is now a job that requires a lot of time sitting at a desk doing paperwork. It’s taking a lot of people time to adjust, and while some work can be outsourced to management companies or others that help with the burden of the yacht’s admin, the unfortunate truth is the modern yacht Captain is more like an office-bound CEO than an adventurer.

Here are some ideas to help shift your feelings about this situation:

When it comes to ISPS, ISM, MLC etc, sadly you just have to work with the regulations you’re facing. There’s no point resisting and getting worked up (or feeling tortured) every time you sit down to work on this stuff, as you’re just wasting energy and approaching it with a defeatist mind set.

Remember why the regulations are there. It can be helpful to think about all the good things regulations have brought into yachting – from improved safety to better crew working conditions and environmental protections. It can be so easy to work ourselves up into a tortured frenzy about those bits of our job we hate, but remembering these regulations are there to save lives and make things better can help to get some perspective.

Get all the support you can. Your officer(s) should be interested in skilling up if they are working towards a Captain’s role, so train them up and hand some of the paperwork over to them, as long as it doesn’t inhibit their job performance elsewhere. Consider whether the management company can do more, or look into independent companies that offer admin assistance to yachts, such as shore based pursers or a virtual assistant.

Come up with better strategies to manage your workload. This feeds into much of the advice I’ve given in past blogs about time management and procrastination for leadership. Most of us delay doing the things we dislike the most, but I’m a big believer in Brian Tracey’s ‘Eat That Frog’ time management system which is based on a quote which says, ‘Eat your frogs for breakfast and I guarantee you nothing worse will happen all day.’ Basically: get your big and nasty tasks out of the way first and you’ll find you charge through the day after that. So do your paperwork first thing, or figure out what time of day you’re at your most productive and attack your cognitive tasks then.

One last thing I’ll say is that if you’ve given it everything you’ve got, and you still hate the paperwork aspect so much that it’s ruining your enjoyment of being a Captain, then I think you’ll have to consider some other options. You could definitely consider moving to a private yacht with less onerous paperwork requirements – perhaps a smaller non-managed yacht that’s not commercially registered, however I think the way the industry is going, you won’t avoid paperwork forever.

As for moving ‘backwards’ to a First Mate role, I believe you should never feel like you’re stuck in a role just because you’re worried that leaving it might be seen as failure. What other people think of your career choices aren’t really relevant. All that matters is that you find some enjoyment in your job again. If you are certain that a modern Captain’s role doesn’t fit with your abilities and preferences, then what’s the shame in going back to a job that you know from experience, does?

Do be aware though of what you’ll be giving up. It can be hard to step down and relinquish control, as while you hate the paperwork, I’m sure there’s things that you’ll miss about being a Captain. Also, remember that many First Mates now have quite a heavy paperwork load themselves on the larger yachts, so that may guide your choices. Moving down in yacht size will reduce your paperwork but also your salary, so it’s a bit of a Catch 22.

As I said, you’re really not alone in this, far from it, in fact. Take heart from that and start to control the paperwork, rather than letting it control you! Best of luck, and if you decide you really need a bit more help in moving past this you might consider joining our Career & Leadership Mastermind Program where we can help you find a job and career path you really, really love – inside or outside yachting!

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