"In a litigious world, marine
regulatory bodies are tempted to protect themselves from liability
by wielding the broadaxe of 'safety', thus sparing themselves
the trouble of understanding the distinctive characteristics
of the maritime activities they are charged with regulating."
Daniel S Parrott, author of Tall Ships Down, Captain of the Pride
of Baltimore, Assistant Professor of Marine Transportation at
the Maine Maritime Academy.
Australia has a long history of regulation
of yachts coming and going from its waters. Joshua Slocum, the
first single handed circumnavigator, complained in 1896 about
the bureaucracy and fees 'down under' and many others have since
concurred. In recent times, especially since 9/11, we have seen
increases in both categories. Yachts, foreign and Australian,
are compelled to give 96 hours notice to customs before arrival,
the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) requires
proof of a clean hull and other strict entrance requirements.
Over the years, AQIS has also increased its mandatory charge
from $80, then $160, and most recently $240. Out-of-hours/overtime
increases this figure dramatically. Non-compliance, of course,
carries heavy fines and penalties as a few yachts have regrettably
In the last two years, traveling to and
from Australia, I have gathered information from many sources
to help understand what is happening and what impact current
regulations are having on Australia's reputation in the international
yachting community. How a country is viewed affects individual
yachts visiting (or not visiting) Australia, and has a broader
Before responding to this historical and
recent turn of events in Australia, as a boating community, it
might be wise to look at a few ideas from the social sciences
which might help explain what motivates yachties and how this
differs, and sometimes conflicts, with what motivates regulatory
organisations and systems such as Australian Customs and AQIS.
Unlike the popular Mel Gibson film What Women Want, it doesn't
take a mind reader to come up with "What Yachties Want."
The answers would be many and varied. Dr William Glasser, the
eminent psychiatrist, has condensed the myriad of answers into
what motivates human behaviour as action to satisfy one or more
of five basic needs. Below I've listed these five needs and illustrated
with some typical yachtie behaviour that may be aimed at satisfying
a particular need. Not all of what we do may fit neatly into
one category. I'm sure you will come up with other examples.
Glasser's five needs that motivate human
1. Survival: purchase/construction of a
strong hull, safety gear (e.g. life raft, flares, EPIRBs), bilge
pumps, food, etc.
2. Belonging/love: sundowners, cruising in company, matching
boat shirts, radio scheds, regattas etc.
3. Power : racing, big boats
4. Fun: sundowners, yachting stories, snorkeling, exploring,
reading, photography, etc
5. Freedom: leaving home, choosing and fitting out a boat, escape
from routine and regulation, changing plans on a whim, making
detailed plans as to where to go and when, etc.
Although we all find different ways of
fulfilling our five needs, we know intuitively and emotionally
when they are satisfied.
Now, if we ask what motivates the behaviour
of organisations and systems we can see clearly that the five
human needs don't fit. Although particular customs and AQIS officers
have a great sense of humour, I don't think fun is written up
as part of their mission statement! Indeed, other regulatory
bodies such as the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), seem particularly
adverse to not only fun but a few other human needs as well.
Nevertheless, these regulatory organisations have an important
job to do and we might well ask; 'What does the organisation
need to get the job done?' Human needs don't fit well but something
entirely different does: Success.
Organisational success, without access
to intuition and emotional satisfaction, is most often measured,
one way or another, by statistics and, ultimately, comparison
with other like organisations. The OECD is an obvious example
of how countries measure their economic success by comparison.
If organisations are developed and managed
well, human and organisational needs are both taken into account
and all is well. But all too often organisations are too willing
to sacrifice human needs for the appearance of organisational
success. Of course, individuals in the organisation are, somewhere
in the background, getting their personal needs for belonging,
power, etc. met by being part of the organisational success.
By the way, Glasser defines 'abuse' as when someone gets their
needs met by denying the needs of others.
At least in some measure, the spread of
organisational practices can be seen not as 'best practice' but
rather as keeping up the appearance of 'Success.' Australia,
has a large and influential role in the South Pacific area and
casts a long shadow. Since instating the 96 hour advanced notice
requirement in Australia, other nations have followed: New Zealand
48 hours, Fiji 48 hours, Tonga 24 hours, and most recently, Samoa.
Although the rationale in Australia most
often given for advance notice of arrival is security, I suspect
(and respect) that organisational planning and convenience are
unmentioned considerations as well. It is sometimes hard to see
how security concerns are such a priority in Fiji and Tonga where
one might see the internal threat as of greater concern. Perhaps
the appearance of success is the real issue.
Elsewhere in the world the situation is very different. Using
Noonsite.com as a source, I found that Spain, the United Kingdom
and the USA (all of which have experienced terrorist attacks)
do not require a yacht to give advanced notice of arrival. In
fact Noonsite reports for the USA:
" that non-US flagged yachts had to submit an Advance Notice
Of Arrival (ANOA) 96 hours before arrival. However, the National
Vessel Movement Center (NVMC) have confirmed that non-commercial
pleasure vessels, under 300 gross tons, are exempted from this
Recently Australian politics and security regulatory organisations
have aligned closely with American models of success. It might
be interesting to ask Australian authorities to explain how Australian
requirements are cost justified when the same requirement is
exempted (not worth the time and effort) in the USA!
Some years ago New Zealand implemented its infamous Section 21
requirement. After a long legal battle and some very negative
yachting press, the government yielded to a court decision holding
the New Zealand requirement on foreign vessels illegal. As the
opposite of Success'', this was a regulatory organisation's worst
nightmare. The court challenge may have had the side benefit
of uncovering a much better approach. Although New Zealand, following
Australia's lead, has a mandatory advanced notice of arrival
requirement and strict quarantine requirements, there are no
charges for entry, even on weekends. It has been estimated that
the average visiting yacht spends between $20, 000 to $30,000
in New Zealand and provides employment for many local workers.
Many yachts cruising the Pacific make a point of slipping and
fitting out in Whangarei, Opua , or Nelson before moving on.
As an incentive the New Zealand government allows visiting yachts
GST exemption (a saving of 12 ½ %) for all yacht gear,
including slipping and mooring fees. Upon arrival in Opua, the
customs officers welcome all arriving yachts with a 'gift basket'
full of local information, including contacts for local businesses.
In Fiji the Interim Prime Minister recently said, "Owners
of yachts and their fellow sailors spend the most in real terms
on our shores. They buy food directly from local shops and markets,
eat out, go to the movies, and pay for other goods and services
such as health checkups, spare parts, boat repairs and maintenance
and fuel supply thus contributing directly to the local economy.
the interim government is very much aware that the yachting
industry is a particular niche market in the tourism industry
that requires special attention in terms of service delivery,
." (Fiji Times Online September 16,
2008) In contrast to Australia, other countries in the Pacific
are increasingly recognizing, encouraging, and benefiting from
Many foreign yachts are avoiding Australia because of what is
seen as unfriendly, intrusive and hostile, regulatory requirements.
In Glasser speak, some yachties see Australia as a place where
it would be difficult to have their 'needs,' especially freedom,
met. Not only is this a false and uncomplimentary image of Australia,
the local economy also misses out - 20 to 30 thousand dollars
per yacht. Perhaps the question needs to be asked of Australian
authorities; how do Australian Customs and AQIS practices, compared
to say New Zealand, enhance our reputation and encourage cruising
yachts to visit our shores?
There is a balance to be struck in meeting human and organisational
needs and our recent political history leads me to believe that
in Australia we have moved too far into the cocoon rationale
of 'safety' and neglected the individual needs for which the
systems in place exist. The adversarial, uncompromising demands
of some regulatory authorities needs to change to be more in
line with the needs of the boating public. In a time of increasing
globalisation when nations, including Australia, are removing
trade barriers, travel restrictions, and encouraging tourism,
yacht entrance into Australia has become more difficult and expensive
than any other country in the region, perhaps the developed world.
This is not something we should be proud of.
Changing the situation
The Quarantine Program Clients, 2006 Satisfaction Survey, available
at the AQIS website, illustrates how AQIS confirms its need for
success and also how yachts arriving from overseas might influence
AQIS decisions. AQIS uses this survey to assess its performance
and 'success.' Incoming yachts are only a very small part of
AQIS activity. Nevertheless their particular interest should
be represented in any authoritative research. I found that the
survey was conducted some time after clients cleared quarantine
and solely on the basis of a phone number given to AQIS at the
time of the quarantine inspection. Since it is very unlikely
a yacht would arrive from overseas with an Australian phone number,
most yachts would be eliminated from any follow up survey. Indeed,
of the 2738 phone numbers given to the researchers, only 1189
were usable for contact. Of the 1020 clients who agreed to participate
in the survey, 82% reported that they regularly visited the AQIS
website (p33), 39% regularly received the AQIS bulletin (p33),
and 32% (325 clients) belonged to the peak industry organisations
(p37). These statistics seem to suggest that many of the respondents
to the satisfaction survey were regular and ongoing clients of
AQIS. Despite very little or no input from the yachting community
(A peak cruising body seems like an oxymoron), the report states
that "AQIS is 'on track' and understands client needs, knows
what is important, and generally provides it to them."(p
Even though AQIS received an overall satisfaction rating of 7.3
(10= extremely satisfied, 1= extremely dissatisfied), 58% of
those surveyed thought charge rates too high (p21). The recommendations
at the conclusion of the report did not only neglect to mention
reducing charges but also sidestepped the 'value for money' issue
by changing the topic to 'consulting with industry
Obliviously AQIS has a problem accessing clients for its satisfaction
surveys. I suggest yachts clearing into Australia insist on giving
AQIS officers client satisfaction survey data that might be used
in future reports. If only fifty yachts expressed dissatisfaction
that would be a significant (5%) voice in survey participants.
If AQIS refuses to acknowledge the feed back, questions need
to be asked about the integrity and fairness of the process.
I would also suggest that since exemption from quarantine fees
is an accepted option (see AQIS fees policy on website), that
we push for an exemption on the basis that current practice is
a disincentive and disadvantages the maritime and tourism industries
Late last year I sailed from PNG to Townsville to discover that
the 'designated international arrival facility' was the fuel
jetty at the Breakwater marina, inaccessible at low tide.(see
Coastal Passage letters
) The system in place seemed fine
to the marina management and Customs, Immigration and AQIS. No
one seemed interested in how the system met the needs of the
yachties who tried to comply. Others have had similar experiences
that typify organisational blindness. It is time customs and
AQIS heard about human needs and how other systems are more successful.
When I return to Australia later this year I plan to clear in
and after I've completed formalities, hand the AQIS and Customs
officers letters to be forwarded on to their superiors, requesting
acknowledgement and reply. Attached are copies of those letters.
Feel free to copy, change, or add to as you wish. I encourage
you to have a voice, if not for your own benefit, for Australia
and for those who follow in your wake.
Isaac Williamson s/v Bon Accord
To download a printable PDF of the letter
for Customs click here.
To download a printable PDF of the letter
for AQIS (Quarantine) click
To read the content of the letters in html,
see below. It may be difficult to print from the text below but
you can copy/paste onto your own text doc if you like.