Hi, my name is Olly, and I am a flotilla skipper for Neilson, based in Navplion, Greece. I completed my Yachtmaster offshore, STCW and PBL2 with UKSA, starting summer 2013 and I finished in November. I already had a fair idea of what I wanted to do after, and whilst completing my course and talking to as many people as possible at UKSA and in the industry, options like deliveries and superyacht’s were crossed off my list as they are not for me, and I began to get a much better idea of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go.
As I say I work for Neilson and they work slightly differently to other companies, I would suggest that you do what I did and apply to as many companies as possible and get as much information as you can, then make a decision based on the jobs you get offered. I was offered skipper roles at all the places I applied to so the hard part was deciding which was the best for me. Turns out the UKSA name on your CV goes far! In the end, I went for slightly less money but I did get a 6 weeks training/ fit out period, where I learnt huge amounts, and it was great to get involved with preparing the boats. I also work 2 weeks on and 1 week off, switching between 1 and 2-week flotillas, which a lot of flotilla companies do not offer.
So what exactly does a flotilla skipper do?
Basically, my job is to sail round taking guests to different places and making sure everybody is safe, the boats are safe, everyone is having fun, and instruct/ help guests park or any other issues they may have. In the med stern to parking is the norm, so that has been fun to learn and is usually along with power handling where guests need most help. I can choose my route which keeps things interesting and means I can alter for wind forecasts and guests sailing level. I usually have 12 guest boats, with anything up to about 40 guests on board them, as well as my lead vessel with my two crew consisting of a mate and engineer, all of which I am responsible for.
Tell us about a usual week as a flotilla skipper
Sunday – turn around day! Prepare and clean all the boats (we have cleaners which makes this a bit easier!). Once the guests arrive I have a chat with them about what they want from their holiday and find out their sailing experience, then I do an on-deck safety brief (mate does down below, and engo does engine, heads, holding tanks, etc). I check the weather for the week and plan my route.
Monday – morning briefing where I explain what all our job roles are, how to contact the lead crew and what to do if guests get into trouble, go through a few do’ s and don’t’s, explain the route for the week, then my normal morning briefing and seeing the guests off safely. I am always around with a handheld radio to help guests leave until I am happy in their abilities later in the week.
For the rest of the week, until Saturday when we return to home port, I do a morning briefing at 0930 where I talk about where we will be going that day, what the weather will be doing, anchorages on route, any hazards along the way, how to get in that evening, any hazards in the harbour, and where to find the lead crew/ mooring. When guests arrive I give them instructions on where to park, how to park, where to drop their anchor, etc. My engo will go round asking if there are any issues with the boat, and the mate will explain where everything is eg ATM, mini market, etc.
In the mornings I don’t leave until all the guests have left, and we have to be the first boat in. So I ask my guests to leave by 12 and not to come in till 3pm and no later than 6 pm, so we have enough time to get to the destination first. On shorter stops, providing I don’t need to catch and help out a guest boat, this does allow us some time to stop and chill but not always, usually it’s just nice to get there early and chill in a cafe or have a quick swim before the guests arrive. The area I’m in is beautiful and has longer legs than a lot of flotilla areas so we get the sails up a lot more than crews in other resorts which is nice…as long as the wind is in our favour!
During the week I help out my engineer with any jobs he has, which has been great learning for me. I also help my mate with her social activities and games, which is completely optional and personal to each crew. The mate is also responsible for booking restaurants which we have found some absolute gems. We have got to know a lot of the owners and staff very well and it’s lovely going back to visit them each week, really makes you feel at home, and as we are bringing in so many guest we eat and drink for free, meaning the only time I really spend any money is during my downtime.
So long and short if you want to earn lots of money, then I would recommend getting yourself on a superyacht. If you want to learn more about all aspects of yachts from maintaining and fixing, improving your power handling skills, learning how to park boats (I have put 12 boats in places you would not think is possible but it works, they have been safe and not moved an inch in the wind, it’s a great challenge and feeling when you can do it), dealing with people and how to run a crew, and be in charge of where you go, then flotilla is the one for you. One part of the job I didn’t expect was teaching guests, I have taken some out teaching them power handling and how to park a boat, and it is a genuinely great feeling seeing them improve throughout the week, and they really appreciate it.
As I say it’s not the best pay in the world, and sometimes you will be up all night looking after a load of boats moving about because it’s blowing 8/9’s from 6 different directions in a 2 and a half hour period and you don’t have a tender engine to relay your anchors (Such a fun evening! But I did get to spend it with a ex-SAS chap with lots of interesting stories if not a bit savage at points, was quite surreal). You do get treated like a hero and generally get great tips after things like that happen, and at the end of the day that’s sailing it happens sometimes and I believe makes you much better for dealing with it and coming out the other end. I have found being a flotilla skipper to be great fun, every week I meet wonderful and funny people from a variety of backgrounds, my tan is awesome, and I know the experience and the learning I am getting are well worth it. It’s not a job for life, mainly because of the money, but it is great fun and a fantastic stepping stone to bigger and better things.
I hope this has given you a better insight into what is actually involved in skippering a flotilla. If you would like to know anything else I am happy to help as I wouldn’t be here without the wonderful instructors and people at UKSA, so feel free to grab my email off Emily or Michelle, and hopefully, they won’t charge too much!
Have fun. Olly Yates