How Much Do Yacht Delivery Captains Make

If you have ever considered working in the professional yacht delivery business, at some point you probably asked yourself the question “how much do yacht delivery captains make?” The answer is that it varies a lot – depending on where the captain is based, what type and size of vessels that they deliver, the length and duration of the deliveries, and of course, how well the captain manages cost along the way.

When things are going well, working as a yacht delivery captain can be one of the most rewarding jobs in the boating industry. But in order to be successful in this business, you have to work hard and have a lot of flexibility, especially when it comes to your income. At times, yacht deliveries can be quite profitable, but there is little security in this line of work. 

In this article, I will tell you all about the financial side of yacht deliveries, from how delivery captains charge for their time, to different ways to save costs while on a boat delivery. So, if you want to get a better idea of what’s in a yacht delivery captain’s wallet – and their bank account – keep reading! I’ll share with you the secrets that delivery captains don’t want you to know. 

How Much Does a Yacht Delivery Cost?

A delivery captain’s salary comes from what’s left over after all the delivery expenses have been accounted for at the end of the voyage. Some people are surprised by the seemingly high cost of yacht deliveries – but you have to remember that the bottom line must include all the expenses incurred along the way – from feeding the crew to paying off corrupt port authorities in places like the Panama Canal.

The total cost for a yacht delivery depends on several factors like the distance that will be covered, how many crew will be required to handle the boat, the size and type of vessel, and the difficulties and risks associated with the route. You also have to remember to factor in variable expenses like fuel, transportation to and from the vessel, as well as marina costs and entry and exit fees on longer international deliveries. 

TMost professional delivery captains charge for their services in one of two ways. The most common method, especially for shorter deliveries, is to charge a daily rate – usually between $350 and $500 per day for a professional captain and $100 to $200 per day for each experienced crew member. 

This daily cost will vary depending on the size of the vessel. For smaller boats in the 20-30 foot range, the price is on the lower end of the spectrum, but for larger vessels and megayachts, the daily rate goes up exponentially. 

The other way delivery captains determine the cost of delivery services is to charge a fixed price per nautical mile. This is my preferred method because in the event of delays due to dangerous weather or unexpected boat repairs, the delivery cost to the owner will remain the same. Sometimes I end up losing a significant amount of profit due to unpaid time stuck in port, but I feel that it’s worth the cost to keep my clients happy.

My rates start at $1 per nautical mile for small vessels and go up to $6 or more for larger yachts. In the rare event that my clients are given a lower offer by another professional delivery company, I always match their price. 

Even for short duration deliveries, I have a minimum price of $2,000 per delivery. This is due to the fact that most of the hard work is done prior to departure and there is no such thing as a one day yacht delivery. I give preference to longer jobs and always offer a 40% discount on any delivery over 5,000 nautical miles. 

In the end, I always make sure to offer my clients the lowest price I can afford while still making a living. At the end of the trip my clients usually end up paying less than half the cost of shipping the same route onboard a freighter and 25 to 50% less than most competing professional delivery companies.

Below I have listed a few examples of the total delivery fee before variable expenses for some recent boat deliveries completed by my yachting service business, Ocean Ventures:

Jeanneau 345 San Diego CA to Puerto Vallarta Mexico – 1,100 NM –  $4,600 USD

Bruce Roberts 39 Adelaide Australia to Bluff New Zealand – 1,900 NM – $6,200 USD

Jenneau 49 Tahiti to San Francisco via Hawaii – 5,000 NM – $12,000 USD

Matrix 27 Boca Chica Panama to Nuku Hiva French Polynesia – 4,000 NM – $7,400 USD

Contessa 26 Grand Bahama to Balboa Panama – 1,500 NM – $3,200 USD

Valiant 40 Seattle Washington to Portland Oregon – 400 NM – $2,400 USD

Beneteau 42 Greece to Australia via Panama Canal – 14,000 NM – $24,000 USD

As you can see, long deliveries especially can be quite lucrative. But it’s important to account for all the weeks and months planning the voyage and preparing the vessel prior to departure. 

How Much Does the Yacht Delivery Captain Keep?

Technically speaking, the delivery fee is supposed to only cover the captain’s wages, with other expenses like crew costs, food and fuel added to the bill at the end of the delivery. In reality, the captain often ends up covering a lot of the delivery expenses out of pocket, especially when things don’t go as planned. 

A recent example was when I had a crew member get sick while en-route from Panama to Mexico during hurricane season. This route had a very low risk of encountering a hurricane, but we still had to deal with daily thunderstorms and violent squalls throughout the voyage. The crew member came up with a bad throat infection shortly after leaving Panama – a condition that certainly wasn’t helped by the heat and humidity in Central America that time of year.

We ended up making a stop in Costa Rica to visit a doctor and make repairs to a few items onboard that had broken at sea. My crew member went to a nearby clinic and was told to recover somewhere with a/c and better ventilation than the poorly ventilated cabin of the boat. 

Of course, the cheapest room in town was $140 per night, and the medical bills for the first day exceeded $800. The crew member was unable to pay, so as captain I stepped in to make sure he was ok. 

By the time we left a week later, our pit stop in Costa Rica added an extra $2,400 to the delivery expenses, and the boat owner wasn’t interested in helping out a sick crew with medical bills. I had been abandoned by a captain years before when my appendix burst on the day of our planned departure, and I swore to myself always to take care of every member of my crew under my care, regardless of the cost.

Along with expenses from earlier in the trip and an extended delay while waiting for our turn to transit the Panama Canal, at the end of the delivery I ended up pocketing only $1,200 for a two month voyage that was supposed to be $6,000.

Things like this happen all the time on yacht deliveries. That’s another reason that sometimes I actually prefer to sail solo. Matters are much simpler onboard when you are only responsible for yourself.

A lot of people assume that delivery captains make more money than they know what to do with, but that is only true for a small percentage of captains. For every year I got numerous $10,000+ deliveries was another year that I brought home less than $5,000 profit.

The greatest single issue for most delivery captains is that there is no security with this kind of work. Sometimes you can get lucky and line up numerous good paying deliveries, and other seasons you may make nothing. Regardless, you have to always work hard and pursue deliveries year round. The hardest work in yacht deliveries isn’t done at sea but rather in setting up the business, advertising, working out details with your clients and preparing the vessels for sea. A single delivery sometimes takes months of unpaid preparation before you even leave the dock.

Just like working in real estate or sales, yacht delivery captains have to talk to many different prospective clients before finding a serious customer with a boat that is safe to take to sea. Some captains talk to dozens or even hundreds of boaters for every delivery they actually complete. 

How to Save Money as a Yacht Delivery Captain

The good news is that once at sea, yacht deliveries are an excellent opportunity to save money. After all, there are no shopping centers or restaurants on the ocean to break the bank. While working, the captain and crew live on the boat, so you don’t have to worry about paying for lodging expenses, and usually the food costs are covered as part of the delivery budget. 

I have often said that if all I did was deliveries, going straight from one boat to the next with no landlocked time in between, I would be a very wealthy man. In reality, it rarely works out that way, so delivery captains have to do everything that they can to save costs along the way. After all, if the boat owner is pleased with the final budget at the end of the trip, they are more likely to hire you again or refer you to future customers. 

With that in mind, keeping costs low while still staying as safe as possible is on my mind the entire duration of every delivery. It’s important to remember to log all expenses while preparing for the delivery or in port, and to keep the receipts to show the boat owner when you arrive at the destination. That way, there should be no question about the expenses incurred along the way.

When I’m delivering a sailboat, one of the simplest ways to save money is to sail as much as possible. As soon as the wind speed dies down or the direction is unfavorable, many captains switch on the engine right away. Personally, I prefer to put a little more effort into keeping the boat moving under sail.

Sailing rather than motoring may end up costing you a few extra hours of passage time, but the peace and tranquility, as well as lower fuel costs, are well worth it. Besides, giving the engine a break will mean less opportunity for it to break, and it will be more likely to be in pristine condition when you pull into port. 

Another great way to keep delivery costs low is to anchor out rather than stay at marinas while in port. I’m often surprised by how many delivery captains choose to stay at marinas all the time because they aren’t confident in their anchoring abilities. 

Sadly, they don’t know what they are missing. There is nothing more peaceful than a night spent out at anchor in a secure cove, and it won’t cost you a penny. It’s a good idea to make sure the boat is equipped with the best anchor and rode that money can buy (all chain rode if your boat and windlass can handle it) and practice anchoring out in all different conditions. Your peace of mind – and your wallet – will thank you for it later. 

Another great way for delivery captains to save costs is to stock up on provisions and do your own cooking as much as possible rather than eating out. Cooking and eating good fresh food onboard has become even easier now that most cruising boats have refrigeration onboard.

I also like to take a solid supply of freeze dried foods and non perishable snacks for the voyage – remember, all that fresh food will be worth nothing if the electronics die 1,500 nautical miles from port! A balance of fresh foods in the fridge and long life provisions in the cupboards gives you the best of both worlds. 

Finally, the most important way to save costs on any delivery is to take care of the boat and make sure nothing breaks! Every boat owner knows how expensive even simple repairs can end up costing – and the expense can be much worse when you have to fly in spare parts to a remote port on the far side of the world. Sail conservatively, don’t take any unnecessary risks, and take good care of your crew – you will be surprised how much you will save at the end of the voyage. 

Is Yacht Delivery Work Worth It?

I find my job as a professional yacht delivery captain rewarding, not for the money that I bring home but for the opportunity to spend my days sailing all types of vessels across the ocean. Almost everybody loves to go boating, but very few people have the opportunity to make a career out of it, so I consider myself extremely lucky to be in this line of work. 

Delivery captains have to work in an extremely challenging and sometimes dangerous environment and the work we do requires great sacrifices in job security and time at home with our families. But despite these challenges, I still find myself just as excited at the start of a big delivery as I was when I set off on my very first delivery.

The thing that sets aside delivery captains who stick with it in the long run from those who quit after a few years is their great love for the ocean. In yacht delivery work, it’s possible to bring home a big check at the end of a trip, but the real payment that is guaranteed is the ability to experience the beauty of the oceans first hand day after day. 

And that, my friends, is priceless. 

If you are thinking about becoming a yacht delivery captain, make sure to read the previous article in the series, “How to Become a Yacht Delivery Captain.”

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