Creating a League of Luxury Yachts for Disaster Response

Yes, you read the title right, and yes, I’m serious. I recently met with the head of the Fiji Red Cross, and while the primary focus of our discussion was the use of aerial robotics (UAVs) for disaster risk reduction and response, the Red Cross head was full of other ideas. He recounted, for example, that many yacht owners had offered their services after Cyclone Winston swept through the South Pacific. They offered the use of their yachts to reach the heavily affected outer islands and to transport doctors, humanitarian assessment teams and relief supplies. When he saw me smiling I told him that a good colleague and I had actually worked on developing this concept in early 2016.

It was particularly insightful when the Red Cross head mentioned how he had really, really wanted to leverage this untapped resource but was simply too over-stretched to coordinate a Luxury Yachts League for Disaster Response. I smiled again because the concept I had worked on last year was specifically geared towards developing those coordination mechanisms and building the necessary skills amongst yacht pilots before the next major disaster.

Fact is, there is no established interface for national or international aid groups to coordinate effectively and efficiently with yacht owners or their crews. The efforts that do exist appear to be more ad hoc or independent. But yacht owners and crews are rarely disaster response experts, which means that are not familiar with humanitarian coordination mechanisms. As a result, they often don’t know how to best plug into or augment ongoing relief efforts. This disconnect prevents organizations like the Fiji Red Cross from taking advantage of logistics solutions offered by yachts. And so yachts remain an untapped resource for humanitarian logistics, specifically in the context of Small Island States and countries with extensive coastlines like India and Chile.

The following is taken from the concept note I co-authored:

“Multimillion dollar yachts and their word-class international crews are not commonly considered as having the potential to play an invaluable humanitarian role in the aftermath of major disasters. This oversight is a massive mistake. Their ability to expertly and rapidly transport doctors, field humanitarians and life-saving goods to disaster-affected communities near coastlines and major rivers should not be underestimated. And yet, this highly skilled expertise and proven technology is consistently overlooked following major disasters.

The main reason for this is simple: an international network of world-class yacht crews has not been catalyzed, coordinated and trained to serve in humanitarian efforts. Such a response could leverage comparative advantages by providing a necessary complement to larger disaster response efforts by governments, international NGOs and the United Nations. A prepared Yachts League could respond more more quickly, avoiding some of the geopolitical hurdles. They would be fully self-financed and self-sufficient.”

What’s more, these yachts could serve as takeoff and landing points for UAVs in order to carry out areal assessments along coastlines in further inland after major disasters. They could also be used to deploy marine robotics to inspect harbors, bridges and other maritime infrastructure. So what are we waiting for? Yacht owners were directly offering their fully equipped yachts and expert crews to the Red Cross in the wake of Cyclone Pam. So lets start with Fiji and build practical coordination mechanisms and provide the necessary training to enable the use of yachts in future disasters in the South Pacific. We can then expand from there with lessons learned and best practices. The key is to work directly with established humanitarian organizations from the start.

Anyone interested in taking the lead on this?

10 responses to “Creating a League of Luxury Yachts for Disaster Response

  1. The maritime world has a long standing history with an obligation to help those in distress, so leveraging the luxury yacht world for humanitarian purposes would certainly fit that direction.

    It would perhaps be worth looking into to the usage times of these yachts (something tells me they are in their berths most of the time). And a more persuasive trigger for their owners to be part of the ‘good team’ by donating sailing time of their vessels.

    As a sailor I definitely approve of further investigation!

  2. Hey Patrick, this exists already: http://yachtaidglobal.org/ . Let me know if you want an intro.

    • Thanks Brandon, already reviewed that group along with others. Said group hasn’t been updated since May 2016. None of these groups have any formal partnerships with UN / Red Cross and other field based organizations (as far as I can tell).

  3. Melissa Elliott

    I was just going to say the same thing re: Yacht Aid Global…but their FB is still active (ie: they were looking for boats to assist for cyclone COOK near New Caledonia https://www.facebook.com/YachtAidGlobal/ .
    During the Haiti EQ, this ship was pretty active (and still does runs I think, even though their website doesn’t mention it): http://www.libertyschooner.com/

    Curious if there are conversations with cruise ships for the same purpose? We saw them used as floating hotels during Haiti….was that a one-off or are their actual partnerships in place?

    • Thanks for sharing, Melissa, very good to know they’re still active. I wonder why they haven’t connected with Red Cross National Societies in the region (pre-disaster) to fast-track collaborations during disasters.

      • Hi Patrick, I agree that I think they are still active. However, I think the reason these guys haven’t connected with the Red Cross societies (or others) is because they are largely Yacht guys that want to help in disasters. They need someone who understands disasters and the different supporting relationships that are needed.

      • Thanks Brandon, I’d be happy to get on a call with them if you’re still game for making an introduction.

  4. Patrick, YAG is still very active, but unfortunately, they don’t update their website as often as they should.

    Here is a link to a video detailing their response to the earthquake in Ecuador last year with M/V Umbra: https://vimeo.com/170098214 The Ecuador response was coordinated with the Ecuadorian Gov’t, UNHRD, ShelterBox and many other actors.

    YAG also helped coordinate M/Y DragonFly’s deployment to Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam decimated that island nation in 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=os5gfk3l5Qo

    Also worth noting is that YAG works with a very capable dedicated DART that they put on the yachts when they activate to bridge the gap between yacht crew and the response community. Either Brandon or I can introduce you to Mark Drewelow at YAG, I’m sure that he’d be happy to chat with you.

    • Many thanks, Michael! Brandon kindly connected me with Brandon, who said he would call me soon, so am hoping we can connect. I’d be keen to have Red Cross National Societies more engaged with YAG before disasters. So hopefully Mark will reach out.

    • Many thanks, Michael, I had a long call with Mark yesterday. Seems the challenges include preparedness and capacity. We’re exploring ways to address both. Thanks again!

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