The America’s Cup competition is starting to heat up, right here in Auckland. We’re blessed to be able to watch the teams train out on the water in the Waitemata Harbour, each day. The boats are simply incredible, reaching new speeds never attained by sailboats before. Each of them is based on the same design but with tweaks made by the teams to make them go faster and give them a head start.

The success of any boat will be down to the athletes sailing her, and more importantly, the Captain leading them and working with the design team to get the best out of the boat.

Imagine for a moment if all businesses were the same and that their success rested solely in the hands of their CEOs and staff. Here’s some things that business leaders could learn from these captains. 


Considered risk is something a yacht captain takes account of every day, in going out of port despite the weather report, in sending someone up the mast. It’s the same in business, consider the risks of your actions but don’t let that stop taking action. A ship still needs to sail and the crew need to trust their captain’s choices. Business owners need to assess and minimise risk, but then still go with their heart. They must trust in their choices.


A yacht captain takes full responsibility for his vessel, and this is in the eyes of the law, the insurers and the crew. Even if a task is performed by a crew member, the captain must still take full legal responsibility. The same should be true of a business owner. Take responsibility but trust in those around you to act in good faith even though it’s not ‘their neck on the line’. Yacht captains do that all the time and it means the bonds formed between a crew and their captain are that much stronger.


Yacht captains must look at their environment all the time. They must consult with the weather and make decisions based on other factors. They need to take the big picture and get expert advice before finally making their decision. Once made though, everyone must follow that decision and trust that it was the right one. As a business owner, do you exert the same influence over your team? Do you take the time to look at your environment and consider it in your decision-making?

“Sailing from the Caribbean to NZ, my wife and I used a Weather Consultant for the final leg to Opua. In fact, we used two and compared their reports before deciding on our course from Tonga to NZ. We’d navigated ourselves the whole way across the Pacific but knew that this final leg could often be the worst. We invested in outside help and advice to ensure we finished our journey safely.”


A Yacht captain must ensure his vessel is ship-shape at all times. It must always be ready for sea and must always look clean and tidy. Does your business look the same? Are you always ready to weather the next storm? Do you think about what your business and staff portray to your customers along every part of their experience with your company/brand? Think of the yacht crew uniform, the constant polishing of the topsides, the daily maintenance checks and the general pride that the whole crew take in their vessel – do your staff feel the same way? Take a look at the staff lunchroom, just after lunch, to really understand how much pride your staff have, and to see how much they care about their workplace!

“In French Polynesia, we dragged our anchor one night in a storm. We were in serious danger of wrecking our boat or someone else’s boat, so we simply started our engines and put to sea – giving ourselves space and time to consider our options. Even in a storm sometimes it’s safer to be out at sea where despite the waves and wind you still have space in which to make effective decisions.”


When the wind is howling and the waves are looking menacing, we all know that good communication can save lives. But the sailors amongst us will all have seen the summer anchoring antics of a husband and wife team. They’re screaming at each other and yet their not listening to each other. The real communication is lost in the shouting. 

As a charter boat crew, my wife and I learned to anchor our 70ft Catamaran silently. With guests excited about entering a new anchorage, we could not rely on voice commands, so we agreed on a number of signs. The boat hook was pointed at the buoy to provide directional info, the other hand was held up to show distance info 5m out from the target. Once in the right place then a closed fist showed stop right there. 

As a business owner, think about how you communicate with your staff. Are you consistent in your messaging? Are you a shout and scream person, or cool, calm and collected.

I remember getting some new charter guests onboard one time, and within half an hour of setting off, running the boat up onto a reef. I knew it was there and I simply lost concentration whilst talking to a guest. Of course, I was incredibly embarrassed and there were many other boats around us shouting ‘helpful’ suggestions. We dealt with the situation and afterwards, when I apologised to the new guests, they told me that rather than be concerned about the quality of their captain, they were impressed at how I had dealt with the situation. 

Remember, incidents happen in life all the time, but it’s how we deal with them that sets us apart. It’s how we deal with them that makes us winners.

As a husband and wife team running a charter boat, we had our moments like any married couple! We learned to hold our arguments silently leaving messages in our cabin on post-it notes. It’s never healthy to air your laundry in public and our guests certainly did not wish to have the holiday of their dreams spoiled by crew arguments. The same is true in business. If things aren’t going well keep it out of the work environment. As a leader, you must keep a smile at all times, and inspire the confidence of your crew through thick and thin.


A yacht captain and his/her crew share immense highs and lows, life-threatening moments and moments of unequalled beauty. These connections are the key to winning races. Races should not be won by boats solely but instead by people. And this is why the new format of the Volvo Ocean race is so great. 

In business, the connections you form with your team are what will drive your success. Work hard at these connections each and every day. Focus on individuals and moments to create these connections – the time spent will pay dividends in the future – far beyond any other investment you make.


After 7 roller coaster years in marketing in the UK, Jason and his wife had a mid-life career change, running charter yachts in the Caribbean for 4 years before sailing their own yacht down to a new life in New Zealand. Jason held senior positions in various marketing agencies here in Auckland before creating J&M Marketing, a business specialising in delivering outsourced marketing for clients in Australia and New Zealand.

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