As someone who gets paid to sail, I have the most beautiful office in the world. On my best days at work, I wake up a thousand miles from the nearest living person and spend my hours sailing a small vessel across the vast ocean. Instead of battling the morning traffic and sitting behind a desk all day, I fight the wind and the waves onboard all different types of boats.
Sometimes, I find myself flying to places like French Polynesia or the British Virgin Islands just for work. I don’t have to go to any boring conferences, and I answer to nobody but the sea. Instead of living in fear of getting yelled at by my boss for screwing up at work, I dodge storms and try to avoid getting eaten by the kraken.
How is such a lifestyle possible? Well, I’m able to travel on boats for a living because I am a yacht delivery captain, and I get paid to move people’s boats from point a to b.
Most people think it’s a dream job. After all, who wouldn’t want to get paid to sail all over the world?
If you are adventurous and love the ocean like I do, the thought of spending one’s life sailing from Gibraltar to Phuket and making money along the way can’t be beat.
But before you quit your day job, it’s important to understand that yacht delivery work isn’t all smooth sailing through sparkling seas with margaritas in hand. Like any modern day business, working as a yacht delivery captain takes a whole lot of work behind the scenes. The competition is brutal, the risks are potentially life threatening, and to put it mildly, getting a yacht delivery operation started is no cruise through paradise.
But for a handful of dedicated sailors who make a career out of boat deliveries, the challenges are well worth the reward.
If you ever dream of setting aside the comforts and security of a normal nine to five for the challenge and freedom of life at sea, then keep reading – life as a yacht delivery captain might be just the career for you!
Another Day in Paradise – Life as a Yacht Delivery Captain
Yacht deliveries have taken me to the ends of the earth and back – all while “clocked in” for work. I can’t think of any other job that could have given me so many interesting experiences in such a short period of time.
Writing about delivery work brings back a few scenes from the past twelve years of my career. Like the time I drifted off the Galapagos Islands without a breath of wind for three weeks in the middle of the worst El Nino event to occur in recorded history.
Or when I celebrated my 24th birthday while sailing over the international date line off of Attu Island (the westernmost point of land in the United States) – twice! That’s right, I turned 24 on the eastern side of the line, then crossed over to the western side the next day, which was July 4th, 2016, again.
I remember the sweet aroma of flowers, trees and dirt in the beautiful and remote Marquesas Islands after 62 days alone at sea on a 27 foot boat. After so long on the ocean, every new sight or smell feels like a totally new and exciting experience.
Then there was the time that I spent days holding on for life in a force twelve hurricane in the Southern Ocean as I was knocked down by rogue waves one after another. There have been more than a handful of terrifying experiences along the way too.
The memories go on and on. Life as a yacht delivery captain is never boring, at least not while on a delivery. At sea I get to begin my day with watching the sunrise over a remote stretch of ocean, and spend my nights looking up at the stars thousands of miles from the smog plagued cities where so many people live packed together like sardines. I absolutely love life on the ocean and wouldn’t trade it for a million dollar apartment in any city on earth.
If you want a job that will challenge you every day all the while taking you to the most beautiful and incredible places in the world, then consider a career as a professional yacht delivery captain.
How Much Does a Yacht Delivery Captain Make?
One of the most common questions that I get asked about yacht delivery work is how much it pays. The answer is that it varies – but it’s probably a lot less than you would think much of the time.
Delivery captains usually charge a minimum of $300 to $500 per day for their services, so you would think that they would be rolling in the dough. That is true for a fortunate few, but for the majority of delivery skippers, the reality is a little less glamorous.
I have had single deliveries where I made $10,000 or $15,000, a tidy sum to pocket for an activity many people would gladly do for free. On the other hand, for every year that yacht delivery captains complete numerous high paying deliveries, there was likely another year that they made only $5,000 in profit. It’s hard to survive on an income like that.
The problem is that there is no security in a yacht delivery career. Some seasons you may get one delivery after the last, saving up a lot of money in a short period of time. Other years you may go six months or more without completing a single delivery.
Either way, you have to work constantly if you want to secure any delivery jobs. The thing that people outside the industry don’t understand is that most of the work in yacht deliveries isn’t done at sea. The real hard work is in setting up a business, advertising, talking to clients, inspecting boats, securing contracts, and preparing the vessels for the open ocean. Only after many months of this kind of work can you step aboard someone else’s vessel and get paid to cross oceans.
Delivery captains get inundated with requests for yacht deliveries, but unfortunately many of the inquirers aren’t serious about securing the delivery. It’s only after filtering through dozens – or even hundreds – of potential jobs that a real committed customer may come through with a safe boat. If you have ever tried to sell a house or a boat yourself, you can probably relate.
Sometimes the delivery itself is just one or two days, which means all those months of work for only a few hundred dollars. You can’t charge an owner for three months of work for a 100 nautical mile trip.
There is a lot of competition in yacht deliveries, and sometimes you have to quote low in order to get the job. I always charge my clients the lowest possible rate that I can while still making a living doing this kind of work. But the truth is that few people sustain long term careers and support a family through yacht deliveries alone. Yacht deliveries are an excellent way to travel and see the world, but it’s usually not a secure source of income to depend on to pay the bills.
Many delivery captains combine deliveries with other work in the nautical trade, like offering yacht charters, sailing lessons or vessel renovations. This often ends up working out really well, with a more secure income from the other type of work paired with the excitement and adventure of crossing the oceans on long distance deliveries.
The reason for becoming a professional delivery skipper is not for the money, which is sometimes good but often quite sporadic, but for your love of the sea. In the long term, the captain’s who stick with this kind of work are the ones who wouldn’t want to do anything else. It takes some big sacrifices to be able to enjoy the freedom and beauty of a life spent on the ocean. Working as a yacht delivery captain is more of a lifestyle than a moneymaker, and there is no better way to sail across the oceans on all different types of boats.
Testing the Waters – Getting Your Sea Miles
Once you have decided to pursue a career in yacht deliveries, the next step is to get as many sea miles as you can under your keel. For my delivery business, I only hire captains that have at least five years or 25,000 nautical miles of offshore experience. Most have even more.
The best way to gain that experience is by crewing on deliveries under a professional captain. That way you will get a real taste of what yacht deliveries are like and if it’s something that you will continue to enjoy in the long run.
If you want to crew offshore but you can’t find a position onboard an oceangoing vessel, you can always start by buying a small sailboat of your own and sailing closer to home. That way, you can start gaining important experience right away and you don’t have to wait for an open position on someone else’s yacht. You are much more likely to be offered the position if you spent the previous months sailing around your home waters than if your sailing experience comes from Youtube channels or a Facebook sailing group. .
If you end up buying your own boat to learn to sail, smaller is better at the start. Even an eight foot dinghy will teach you important boating skills that you can later use on the ocean. You need the same general knowledge to sail a laser as a 200 foot sailing yacht, but the laser has a lot fewer bells and whistles to distract you. Once you have mastered sailing a small craft in different weather conditions, then it’s time to move up to a larger vessel with more complex systems.
It takes a lot of perseverance to get started in offshore sailing, so don’t give up if you aren’t hired for the first crewing position that you apply for. It took me more than two years of constant searching to finally crew on my first offshore delivery – and I was lucky enough to have grown up sailing, so I already had plenty of coastal experience under my belt. If you keep looking for a crewing position and continue to gain experience yourself at the same time, eventually you will find your golden ticket.
As you crew on different passages, don’t forget to take along a copy of the sea time form for the merchant marine and have your captain sign off for your days at sea. You can use this time to count toward the 365 days required to obtain your captain’s license.
If you want to learn more about crewing on yacht deliveries but don’t know where to start, make sure to read our previous article in the series, “How to Crew on Yacht Deliveries – A Guide”.
Obtaining Your “Boater’s PHD” – Becoming a Licensed Captain
Once you have logged a year’s worth of sea time, you are now officially ready to take the greatest step in your yacht delivery career – obtaining your United States Coast Guard (USCG) captain’s license. A captain’s license is merchant mariner credential that allows you to operate a vessel commercially or to take along paying crew, like on a charter.
There are many boaters who call themselves delivery captains without actually ever taking the step to obtain their legal credentials. While many skippers have gotten away with it for years, this is akin to driving a delivery truck without a commercial driver’s license. It’s not worth the risk to you or your clients.
“Captain” is a legal term reserved for boaters who have completed their captain’s license course and obtained their credentials through the merchant marine. Fortunately for purely recreational boaters, you don’t need an official license to sail a small vessel for fun. It’s when you are operating commercially – such as on a yacht delivery – or taking along paying crew that a license becomes necessary.
Because I am based in the USA, and that’s where my experience lies with running a yacht delivery business, I wrote this guide with American delivery captains in mind. If you are based outside the United States, you can obtain your local equivalent of the USCG captain’s license, like the yachtmaster’s ticket in the United Kingdom. Just make sure that your credentials are accepted everywhere you plan to operate as a commercial captain. Fortunately, a USCG license is recognized all around the world.
There are other perks to becoming an official captain – like having the opportunity to perform wedding ceremonies. It’s true, captains really are allowed to officiate weddings just like a minister or a judge. This tradition dates back to the early days of tall ship voyages, when a journey often lasted many months and sometimes crew members or passengers would want to tie the knot before the end of the trip.
You can also officially sign your name with the prefix of Captain. When I completed my captain’s license course at age 17, I was excited to learn that I could legally sign my name on high school documents as Captain Ryan Langley.
If you live in an area where boating is popular, chances are that there is a school nearby that offers a captain’s license course. I took classes with the United States Maritime Academy, and I wasn’t disappointed. My father also obtained his captain’s license credentials through the same school.
The goal of the classes is to prepare you to pass the infamous merchant mariner captain’s license exam. Some classes attempt to cover the information in just a few weeks, but I cannot imagine how anyone could pass the test on such a schedule. I took a three month course, which was intensive, but covered all the material thoroughly. For first time students, I would recommend taking the three month course.
The test itself is split into different sections like navigation, rules of the road, and sailing endorsements. The passing grade is 95%, so you really have to know the material well. The most challenging part for me was memorizing all the rules of the road – all the different regulations and procedures you must take in different situations at sea. I was certain that I would fail – so I was shocked when I passed with 100%. The fact that I had completely abandoned all my high school material to focus entirely on passing my captain’s license exam probably helped.
Once you have passed the exams then you have to submit your sea time in the form of logs signed by the captain of each vessel that you were working under. You need a minimum of 365 days at sea to obtain your captain’s license, and you must renew your license and submit another 365 days every five years. If you fail to accumulate enough time at sea before renewing your license, you will have to retake the exams in order to keep your license.
To get your credentials, you must also pass a drug test and physical exam from your doctor, as well as a background criminal check. The merchant marine has extremely high standards, so if you take opioid pain pills or have even the smallest thing on your record, chances are you will be denied your license. They expect all working captain’s to be squeaky clean, and knowing that lives are at stake, I’m glad that they do.
In the Trenches – Finding Work as a Yacht Delivery Captain
The unseen work behind yacht deliveries is finding the yacht deliveries themselves. Everyone wants to sail boats for a living, but yacht deliveries don’t just fall out of the sky.
What people like this fail to realize is that before each day on the water there were months of preparation – hundreds of yacht delivery inquiries that went nowhere, untold hours going over each boat to make sure that it was seaworthy enough to take on the ocean, not to mention the times that you had to fly across the world only to discover that the boat was a piece of junk. On trips like that I return home not a penny richer, and with weeks of work poured down the drain.
The fact is, a perfect job doesn’t exist. Working as a professional yacht delivery captain is an incredibly fulfilling job, but behind those rare times that you are sailing along and everything is working out are all the times that they didn’t.
It’s a real challenge to line up yacht deliveries. That’s why everyone wants the job but so few people actually end up making a career out of it. For most captains, there are two options when it comes to securing work.
Option A – Working for an Existing Yacht Delivery Company
One way to line up yacht deliveries is by working for an established yacht delivery business. If you are fortunate enough to secure a position with one of the larger companies in the industry, then you have a good chance of getting more stable work than 95% of captains in the trade. The downside is that the company will take a percentage of your pay, and of course you won’t have the freedom of choosing which boats you want to sail or who will go with you as crew.
Working for a big delivery company, you won’t have as much personal freedom, but the more consistent work opportunities makes it well worth the sacrifice for many captains. The other huge advantage is that the company will handle marketing and the business side of things – leaving you to focus purely on moving boats from point a to b.
Unfortunately, the competition is insane for positions like this and your chances of being hired by a large delivery business is slim unless you have connections inside the company. Businesses like this get dozens of resumes sent in the mail every week, and chances are they have a long list of qualified candidates ready to step up every time a position opens. But if you are lucky enough to land a job with one of these companies, it’s a great way to go.
Option B – Running Your Own Yacht Delivery Business
The alternative is running your own yacht delivery company. This means a lot more work on the business side of things, but the advantage is that you get to run things how you want. You can choose who you work with, when you want to work, and of course, you get to keep a larger cut of the profit at the end of the day.
Assuming that you already have the offshore experience and legal credentials to operate as a yacht delivery captain, the next step is to build your business and find customers. Today, that means developing a professional website, advertising online or through social media, and making connections in your local boating community. Like any business, it’s usually slow getting started, but for those who stick with it, well worth it in the long run.
Many successful yacht delivery operations run as a husband – wife team. If you have the right partner, this can work really well, with one person focusing on the marketing and promotions and the other talking to prospective clients and preparing boats. When it comes time to head to sea, you already have your first mate, and you don’t have to hire an extra crew, saving more of the profit for the business. I am one of the lucky ones who gets to work with my wife on deliveries, and it’s been ten times as much fun since she started crewing with me.
The Downside to Deliveries – Is Yacht Delivery Work Worth It?
Yacht deliveries are hard. On a tough trip, I sometimes end up going three or four days in a row without sleep and the stress and exhaustion take a serious toll. Working as captain while at sea is a 24 hour a day, seven days a week responsibility that doesn’t end until the boat is safely tied to the dock at the destination. If something happens to the boat or the crew while on the ocean, it’s totally my responsibility, which can be a real challenge at times.
Like anyone who works at sea, the risks are very real. Yacht delivery captains, like commercial fishermen, are exposed to all the fury of the ocean and the danger that comes with it. Any day you could be run down by a freighter, or get caught in a bad storm, or hit a shipping container and sink. You could become capsized by a rogue wave, or a crew member could fall overboard while hauling a bucket of water over the side. All of this responsibility rests on the shoulders of the captain, and if you can’t handle the stress, then this isn’t the job for you.
On the other side of the business, running a yacht delivery company comes with it’s own deck of cards – from the challenge of finding customers to dealing with the sporadic income. Just like other small businesses, most yacht delivery companies don’t last longer than a few years.
Even if you love working with people – and if you don’t, then being a delivery captain is going to be extremely difficult – sometimes working with the boat owners is a downright pain in the neck.
The reason is usually something like this: boat owners want to be in charge of their own boats. This is understandable – after all, they worked hard to earn the money to buy the thing, and chances are they put in countless months or years getting it just right for them.
But the problem is, they hired you to be captain, not crew. The owner of the vessel may sometimes second guess your decisions – why you took that route instead of the other one, why you chose to wait things out in port instead of heading out to sea when the weather doesn’t seem so bad.
But the fact remains that they hired you to move the boat because of your expertise and experience, and when the boat pulls away from the dock, the captain – not the owner – is responsible for the lives of everyone onboard.
Remember – when a hurricane hits, you will be the one trying to figure out how to keep the crew alive, while the owner is sitting by a pool somewhere sipping margaritas and watching the storm on CNN.
The owner may push you to go, go, go, but sometimes you have to remind them that you were hired to get the boat there in one piece, not in record time. After all, if they break the mast down by pushing the boat too hard – that’s a bummer. But if you break the mast on a delivery, you just destroyed someone else’s property.
That’s why I am always conservative while on deliveries. On my own boat, I love to push the boundaries sometimes and feel the rush of surfing down a wave. But on delivery, I baby the boat every time. That’s why I have gotten the boat to port in one piece every time.
Even worse than having to deal with an owner who wants to play surrogate captain from the pool is having an owner who tries to screw you over. As a yacht delivery captain you have to take steps to protect yourself – another lesson that I learned the hard way. I have lost upwards of ten thousand dollars to boat owners looking to save a buck by skimping their captains.
Once, I spent two weeks living and working with an owner, teaching him all about life at sea and sharing some incredible moments offshore only to be handed a bad check at the end of the trip. Or there was the time that I risked my life getting a small sailboat across the Pacific – dedicating four months of my life to the job only to be paid less than half what I was owed in the end. The worst part is that in both these circumstances, I quoted the owners ridiculously low prices in the first place.
You have to protect yourself in this line of work. That means a solid contract, payment before departure, and sometimes, the help of a lawyer when things go south. I follow my gut much more now, and turn down deliveries that don’t quite seem right. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who will take advantage of you if given the chance. Usually boat owners like this will be two faced, appearing to be the nicest person you have ever met before departure, then, when it’s time to pay, they hide in the shadows.
I am a trusting person, and I like to see the best in everybody. If I had things my way I wouldn’t even need a contract for deliveries. I believe in a world with less lawsuits and more people standing by their word. I strive to make that dream a reality, but in the meantime delivery captains, like everyone else, have to watch their backs.
Is Life as a Yacht Delivery Captain Right for Me? – Making the Final Decision
So with all the difficulty and risk, who in their right mind would even consider taking on this kind of work? Who would take on the challenge of crossing the ocean on boats that are often totally ill equipped, for low annual pay, no career security, no healthcare, no dental, and no retirement? Who would be crazy enough to leave their family behind for a life on the ocean not knowing when or if they will ever return back home?
Well, people like me.
The bottom line is that yes, for me starting a career as a yacht delivery captain was totally worth it in the end. But not for the money or the benefits. I have faced many challenges over my years in the yacht delivery business, but I don’t regret taking on this line of work one bit. Delivering yachts is worth it because I absolutely need to spend much of my life on the ocean, and this type of work gets me out to sea.
For me it’s not even about the exotic ports of call I have visited or the people I met along the way. I deliver yachts because of the freedom I feel when I pull away from the dock and head out into the open ocean, knowing that for the next few weeks it’s just me, the boat and the sea.
That, and it sure beats stocking shelves at Walmart.
For people wanting to learn about things like how to launch a career as a yacht delivery captain, there is no better place to get your boating information than right here at SailAndProp.com. The easiest way to stay up to date on all things boating is to subscribe to our newsletter and get all the best boating news and content sent directly to your inbox!
If you are thinking about crewing on a yacht delivery, make sure to read the next article in the series, “How to Crew on Yacht Deliveries – A Guide”.