From Deckhand to Superyacht Captain: Interview with Captain Dave Zimath

interviews Dec 18, 2017

Greetings, FreshYacht Insiders! Today, we’re back with some advice from superyacht Captain Dave Zimath.

Just like many of you, Dave started off as a young twentysomething working as a deckhand. Today, he’s a captain and has been working in the superyacht industry for more than 25 years.

We talked to Dave today to learn what he looks for in a young crewmember, what surprised him about becoming Captain, and his favorite part of being in charge.

Dave, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with our FreshYacht Insiders today. We know many of them are just starting out, but might have their eye on being a Captain one day.

Tell us a bit about yourself - How did you get your start in the industry? How do you feel after working on yachts for so many years?

I’ve been in yachting since I was 23, when I started as a deckhand.

I got my start, like most people do, on a bigger boat. My first yacht was 172 footer, and these bigger yachts can afford to take on people without experience. In my case,

I was actually the 4th person on deck, after the Bosun, mate, and deckhand. A bigger boat could also take on extra interior staff, like a 3rd stew. Eventually, I moved up to be mate, then engineer, and finally became a Captain in 1997.

For me, I feel as lucky to be working in yachting today as I did when I got my first deckhand job. Of course, you have to take some breaks here and there, as it’s a busy, busy, lifestyle, but I still love it just as much, maybe more.


Did you have special training in engineering before coming onboard?

Some people will, but most of what you learn when it comes to boats in general, is by doing, watching and learning on the job.  

As I was working as a deckhand and then later as a mate, I was often asked to help out with work in the engine room. This is how I learned, gaining hands-on experience over the years. When systems broke or needed maintenance, I’d help get them tuned up. So after a number of years of this type of thing, you’ve seen all of the typical ways that things break, as well as some of the not so typical things!


What was your favorite job as you worked your way up the ranks?

Well, my favorite job is definitely Captain. Planning and doing the trips is the payoff for so many years of hard work!

But other than that, once I became a mate and gained some significant engineering experience,  after a few years of work, that’s when I was able to take on more responsibility. It was really rewarding.

When I first started as a deckhand, I didn’t have my eyes on Captain. It was a few years before I realized I could even more forward and eventually become a Captain. It takes a significant amount of sea time -- days actually underway at sea -- to get your first Captain’s license, so it’s a few years at least before you’re able to even have enough time to be eligible.

What would you tell someone interested in working up to Captain one day?

Moving up the ranks takes a certain attitude. In my book, the most important piece is that you have to feel lucky to be working in this industry.  After that, it’s just a matter of working hard, studying, and understanding the charts and the guidebooks to gain the baseline experience.

So I’d tell someone in the industry that starting as a secondary watchkeeper, you need to start paying attention. Then, as you move up the ranks and gain experience, you become primary watchkeeper.

Having watchkeeper experience is critical if you want to be Captain one day. You’ll need to have a total understanding of what’s going on onboard, from how the electronics work to understanding why you take a certain action or route.

What type of yacht do you currently work on? How did you decide what type of yacht to work on?

My most recent boat, where I worked for 6 years, was a 130 Westport. That’s just the type of yacht I’d been hoping for, and I ended up finding the right fit. Typically, I've found that what you have in mind usually presents itself.

A big part of yachting is knowing other crew members and developing a network. As you work more and more, you’ll start to identify favorite boats and know which ones you aspire to work on. From there, it’s a matter of talking to your network and keeping your ears open.

What do you look for in a new crew member? What advice would you give an aspiring yacht crew member?

If I’m going to hire someone I want to know that they feel lucky to be there, just like I do. Unless you’re a total beginner, I’ll expect a baseline of experience, so that’s a given. What’s more important to me is their attitude. I don’t expect them to feel this way every moment, but most of the time, they should have that perspective.

What is your favorite port or destination?

Maine in New England is a favorite. I also love the Exumas in the Bahamas and the whole eastern Caribbean.

I love Maine because the terrain is so unique. From the pine trees and rocky coastline to where the mountains meet the ocean, the scenery is amazing. Acadia National Park, Blue Hill Bay, and hundreds of coastal islands offer a ton of unique and beautiful anchorages.


What’s the coolest thing you’ve gotten to do as a result of working in this industry?

For me, the best part of working as Captain is getting to plan and then do the trips. I’ve done hundreds of trips by this time.

The funny thing about yachting is everyone thinks of the rare superstar who wants crazy things or activities. I’ve found that mostly, yachting is about people and families looking to spend some quality time together while they enjoy and see some of the world. The yacht gives the family a place to be together. That’s usually the primary motivation.

Any parting thoughts for our Insiders?

I’d just encourage them in their dreams and tell them that it can be done. If they have an interest, a desire to want to work hard, and a passion for the experience, they can make it happen.


Thanks for sharing your experience and stories with us, Dave! Perhaps your words here will help inspire some future Captains as they launch their superyacht career.

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