Guidance on starting a YWAM Marine ministry

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This manual is an attempt to lay out many years of experience in the pioneering and managing of ship ministries for the purpose of reaching the lost with the Gospel. Ever since Jesus stepped into a small boat on the Sea of Galilee and preached to the waiting crowd ashore, Christians have been using boats and ships to further the cause of the Kingdom of God.

200 yeas ago a small ship under the ownership of the London Missionary Society sailed for the seas of the South Pacific, ushering in a new era of missionary ships reaching the 'outer most parts of the world'. Since 1990, Marine Reach has operated three ships visiting fifteen nations involving over 120 ports, lagoons and bays across the Pacific. Medical teams have provided dental and optical care, including cataract surgeries to over 180,000 men, women and children. Since 2004, a larger Marine Reach Ministries has expanded into new areas (e.g. River boats on the Amazon, a Sail Training vessel around Europe)*.

Ships have a huge amount to offer in the modern missionary movement. Relatively inexpensive to operate if managed properly, they can reach isolated coastal communities cut off from the rest of the world. They can carry supplies and equipment beyond that of average truck or plane and can stay for long periods of time, and if necessary, ministering in a controlled environment with the ability to withdraw from it if the occasion requires it.

There are of course dangers. The sea can be a dangerous and unforgiving environment where whole ships, their cargoes and crews disappear without trace every year. The isolated areas of many developing nations can be unlawful, threatening, and the unwary can be at the mercy of a local chief or government official. Pirates are no longer related to the pages of history but now lurk in ever increasing areas of the world.

In every port local officials will want to check whether you comply with the ship's registered national Maritime Safety Authority's (MSA) requirements and international rules and laws. Think of it as buying a hotel. You make sure the building is compliant to all the local fire, health and employment regulations. Now think of taking that new hotel to a new country every month where each country had its own unique set of rules and laws with which you have to comply. If you don't comply with even the smallest of these regulations it is possible that your ship will be impounded until the regulations are met. However, once you have achieved that standard, which is not difficult, ships can be and are being used as powerful expressions of God's love and forgiveness as they sail into the harbours, bays, lagoons and inlets of the world demonstrating that God is alive and well - ready to do business with men and women who want to know Him.

We have made every effort to write this small manual in a way that individuals, who are unfamiliar with the marine world, will understand easily. We have therefore over-simplified some issues in order not to get 'bogged down' in too many details. However, advice is available from our Marine Reach Ministries Regional offices and Master Mariners (Captains) who serve with us.

* In 2001 Marine Reach New Zealand (NZ) purchased and converted a Japanese Fishing industry training vessel and converted it into a medical relief vessel registered in NZ and renamed m/v Pacific Link. In 2007 YWAM England in partnership with Marine Reach Europe purchased the Swedish Sail Training vessel s/y Elida IV, renamed her s/y Next Wave and registered her in the UK. Over the same period, Marine Reach Ministries developed its Mercy Truck division in five countries and Mercy Link land based clinics in Fiji and Philippines.

David Cowie

Founder and International Ambassador

Marine Reach Ministries (A ministry of Youth With A Mission International)

What's Your Vision?

First of all, do your really want a ship?

Can you achieve the same objectives by using a truck or plane? It's important to carefully analyse what you are trying to achieve. What are the exact needs and how best can you meet those needs?

If you feel you have the 'word of the Lord' concerning a ship ministry then check with other mature Christians and get a consensus of opinion to support your 'word'. Once you own a ship it's much harder to sell than a building or piece of property, hence the need to really know what God is saying. To actually dispose of a ship that no one wants to buy (and nobody wants old ships anymore) can cost tens of thousands of dollars mostly due to environmental factors, so you really 'need to know'. As the old Chinese proverb says, 'he who rides the tiger cannot get off!' due to the fact that the tiger might turn around and eat you. This may all sound negative but it's best to recognize the cost now rather than be surprised by the pressures of operating a ship after you own one.

Once you have established that it's to be a 'ship' then establish what kind of ship. For instance, of you want o carry immigrants to Israel then you need a ship with lots of berth (bed) space. You need to research if it would be cheaper to simply hire a plane if you are using a ship just for transport. If it's a medical ministry or educational ministry then you will need larger cabins for conferences, clinics, surgeries, and so on.

You will need to know how many people, patients, conferences you want to accommodate at any given time. If you are targeting large population areas you will most likely need a larger ship than would be required for ministry among smaller population centres on the more isolated islands in the South Pacific for example.

If you are planning to operate a ship on a river or just along a coastline you will not be hampered by the more stringent safety requirements of the ocean-going vessels and therefore be able to take greater liberties in how you renovate and operate your vessel.

So advance planning is needed with lots of prayer and strategy sessions.

Establish your visions, goals and objectives, but don't assume that if your geographical goals and objectives change your current ship will suffice! For instance, a vessel classified (registered) for river operation cannot necessarily sail from that environment without legal safety and operational considerations. Changing the operational purpose of a vessel can be expensive, legally frustrating and in some cases impossible! It can also be uncomfortable especially of you buy a flat-bottomed vessel (such as a car or rail ferry) usually used in fiords or protected coastal areas then sail it in open sea ... you will quickly develop a new definition for the term 'rock and roll'.

Remember - a ship is just a tool and will eventually wear out. What is important is the vision God has given you and the people you plan to reach. Keep your focus on the people you seek to serve and you will end up with the right tool.

The Ship: Big or Small?

The debate on whether big or small ships are better off for missions will go on for years. A lot depends on what your vision is, what you are capable of as a base or individual and where you intend to operate the vessel. The difference between a large ship (over 300 tons) and a small ship (under 300 tons) is a bit like the difference between the fox and the elephant.

The elephant is large and powerful and eats a lot but makes a big impression wherever it goes. When in full charge it crashes through all obstacles and is very effective in what it does but takes time to turn or stop. The fox however, is small and is not usually noticed. It does not eat much but moves quickly through the under bush. It covers a lot of ground and will turn, stop and quickly catch its prey in a dozen different locations in one night. Both are effective in their own way.

We have defined large and small ships based on the 300 Gross Registered Tons (GRT) limit for a number of reasons. These will be discussed in the Rules and Regulations section of this document.

Listed below are some advantages and disadvantages of large and small ships:

Large ships Advantages
Can carry hundreds of people
Lots of room for a variety of ministries
Impressive in port
Usually plenty of cargo space
Better living conditions for crew
Gets government attention
Can accommodate large communities and their needs
Can only use 'deep water' ports limiting its target areas
Requires strict Marine Certification for crew
Tends to be expensive to operate
Requires constant operation 364 days a year
Tends to become institutionalised with hundreds onboard
Can 'overwhelm' small communities
Requires a large administrative staff support base
Small ships Advantages
Comparatively inexpensive to operate
Greater availability of qualified crew
Greater operational flexibility
Less international and local legal requirements
Can close down during non-operational periods
Less people onboard (30-50) is easier to develop a family atmosphere
Non-threatening to small coastal communities
Much availability of wharf space
Easy accessibility to small lagoons and bays
Small administrative support required
Long fuel range (around 6,500 nautical miles)
Small ships Disadvantages
Lack of room to accommodate a variety of ministries
Poor long term accommodation
Difficult to attract support
Limited cargo facilities
Overwhelmed by large community needs
Carry limited crew (50)

Regardless of your preference, it is often best to start small for practical reasons and build up as you learn and grow. The cost in time and effort of launching a small ship is comparable to purchasing and operating a base of around 100 people.

What's it Going to Cost?

Obviously the purpose and the size of the ship will determine the budget needed. If the vessel spends a great deal of time at sea the fuel bills will be high. If it's a medical ship the cost of medical supplies will make up a great deal of the budget. A large vessel such as the MV Anastasis will have an annual budget involving millions of dollars. However, a small ship such as the MV Pacific Link has a budget of around $US 250,000.

For the purpose of this experience, we have chosen a small vessel to present a possible annual budget. This budget does not include the purchase price of the vessel or the repayment of debt. It is also based on a vessel of 300 GRT with a capacity of around 50 people. Discipleship Training Schools (DTS) are part of YWAM life and it is assumed that a DTS would be run onboard. If not, this aspect of the budget would need to be met some other way such as fare paying passengers, conference fees, charges for medical services, sponsorship etc. Costs will vary greatly depending on what part of the world you live in. Your fuel (diesel/oil) costs will depend on whether you have 'shore power' when alongside the wharf or whether you have to use your generators. Budget is in US dollars and based on our experiences.

Pacific Link Expenses:
US $
Fuel (30 Days at sea)
Maintenance (deck)
Maintenance (Engineering)
Dry Dock (Every 2 years)
Capital Expense (New Equipment)
Port Fees / Agents
Administrative / Advertising
Legal Fees (Registration, etc.)
Advance Teams / Transportation
DTS Speakers / travel
DTS Fees (2x25)
Crew Fees (20x $US200.00 / month)
Fundraising / Gifts / Medical Team fees
Next Wave Expenses:
US $
Insurance Premium
Ship's Office Expenses
Travel off ship
Port fees
Sail maintenance
Engine maintenance
Engine oils
General maintenance
Navigation Publications
Marine training
Advertising / PR / Communications
Fresh water
Shore power
Medical supplies
Cleaning supplies
Computer consumables
Annual docking fees
Boatyard costs
Survey fees
Shore-side labour costs
Inspection of safety equipment

Some of the above expenses may not apply to ships working on an inland waterway such as a river or lake however, other expenses may exist. The budget also does not allow for accidents such as a damaged propeller or collision damage etc. although funds budgeted for dry docking could be transferred to this need.

How do I Start?

Pioneering a ministry is one of the most exciting and exhilarating experiences you can have. To enter into a partnership with God in order to achieve something that's on His heart is a privileged experience. There are a number of principles involved in the pioneering of a ministry and a number of books and articles available to help you with the process (i.e. Against the Tide.)

However, we will discuss a specific process of pioneering a ship ministry. It's really quite a simple process so don't let anyone make it complicated!

Develop a Prayer Base

You will need the 'wisdom of Solomon' to work your way through the shipping world. It's a harsh and generally godless environment, and you will need physical and spiritual protection. Gather around you men and women of God who have a heart for missions and seek their counsel and support.

Look for a Ship

They are all over the world! Ask around, call your local port and see if there are any vessels for sale or have been impounded. There are several international marine newspapers and magazines that advertise ships. Stay away from vessels that are over 20 years old. The cost of repairing and upgrading them to international marine standards (see chapter on Rules and Regulations) will most likely be financially prohibitive.

Get Professional Marine Advice

It's just like buying a bus - if you don't know what you're doing you're in trouble, so get someone who does. Marine Reach has a team of men and women who are available to advise you. There are many traps for the unwary. For instance, the vessel may look great but if it has not been used for a year or two you can guarantee that there will be rusting pipes and damaged seals on pumps and motors, etc.

Arrange Your Financing

Faith will always be faith so you will probably not have all the money you need to complete the task but wisdom says you need enough to fund one trip. Support can disappear very quickly for ships that sit alongside wharves! Purchasing a ship that is actually operating during the time of purchase will help avoid this problem. If you are interested in a bank financing you, you may have a problem as most banks don't like their equity sailing off some place where they can't get it back easily! However, this is not impossible if you have other assets to cover the loan, such as property. If you are doing humanitarian work then fundraising can be easier.

Get Sound Legal Advice

There are always liability concerns in everything we do and ships are no exception. Make sure you have clear ownership and both the owner and operator are covered by insurance for at least pollution and collision. Make sure you have Directors insurance for the Board of Directors that own the vessel.

Accidents can happen very quickly and easily. In an environmentally aware world pollution of a harbour by a seaman turning the wrong valve in the engine room can incur large fines and cleaning costs amounting to tens of thousands of dollars ... not to mention the embarrassment as you make the front page of the local newspaper!

Establish Your Key Crew Members

It's important that you start off right so you will need two key people: a Captain (or a competent deck officer) and a Chief Engineer (or a competent Marine Engineer). Once you have these two key positions covered the rest of the crew will follow relatively easily, especially if you're working with a small ship. You will also need an onboard Director whose role is to bridge the marine world to the YWAM world ... and that can be a challenge! Marrying the rigidity and routine of the marine world with the flexibility and spontaneity of the YWAM world will take wisdom and patience.

Obtain Your Ship

Whether it has been given or purchased, this is the big day! However, you will need lots of prayer and lots of humility to survive. But don't worry, if it's a 'God thing' He will watch over you and protect you. Remember, God is not really interested in your ship, He is interested in YOU. Make sure that Jesus is in the centre of your celebrations and remains there. Include everyone n the ministry when you choose a name for your vessel. This will give people a sense of ownership and commitment not to mention the fact that the name should be spiritually significant.

A word of advice:

Like in many professions you will meet a certain amount of 'professional pride' in the shipping world. You may be told that you "not professional" or need a professional' to make decisions, etc. Just because an individual holds a marine certificate of some sort does not necessarily mean that that individual is 'professional' or competent. It just means they have a certificate claiming they are.

In Marine Reach we define 'Professionalism' as used in paragraph 3 as: "Someone who does his or her best with the knowledge he or she has available with integrity rather than expectation of reward."

Safety must also be a major concern in our lives. Ships can burn down just like building does. The only difference with the ship is that you can't 'run out into the lawn' and get the garden hose to put out the fire! On a ship you are trapped and therefore safety must always be a primary part of your training and planning. You must never leave your vessel when alongside without at least two competent individuals onboard to maintain security and a fire watch. Manuals are available from Marine Reach to help you with your crew training and management.

Rules and Regulations

The shipping industry is primarily controlled by three major identities.

  1. International maritime organisation (IMO)
  2. Several Classification Societies (Lloyds, Bureau Veritas, AMA)
  3. Maritime Safety Authority (MSA)
    • (US Coast guard: USA)
    • (Marine and Coast Guard Agency: UK)
  4. Flag State Regulations (The national flag the ship carries.)

It is the job of the IMO to provide an international standard for the operation of ships and the companies that run them. The job of the Classification Societies is to determine what regulations apply to the category the ship fits into (i.e. Passenger, cargo, yacht, etc) and at the same time ensuring that it meets certain operating standards. The MSA is a national authority found in most nations with a coastline and is responsible for the safe operation of ships within their waters (within 12 miles from their coastline.)

In some circumstances the flag state may impose rules and regulations that apply to vessels, especially small ones that are different from the rules and regulations of the MSA in the country you are operating. This will require you to research regulations for each country you enter.

Now, it is not difficult to conclude that these three legal identities are often in conflict with one another on how best to regulate ships and as a result, the hapless ship owner/operator is often caught in the middle. The industry at present is confused and is desperately trying to come to terms with the conflict that are often political in nature. As a result, rules and regulations are often modified and occasionally abandoned altogether leaving the ship owner in a lurch.

At the risk of oversimplifying the problem, how entwined you become in these agencies depends on three criteria:

  1. Where your ship is registered. (What flag you sail under)
  2. How your ship is classified and with who. (Passenger, cargo, yacht, etc)
  3. The Classification Society.

Enter the debate on large or small ships!

There is a break-off point for vessels 300GRT (Gross Registered Tons) or less (or have electrical propulsion systems of 750KVA or less). These vessels do not come under many of the rules and regulations for larger vessels and in some cases do not have to come under a classification society making life considerably easier for their owners.

If you are operating a large ship (over 300GRT) you will be expected to come under some Classification Society. (Technically this is not strictly a legal requirement. However, to operate a large ship without being part of a classification society is a bit like driving an unregistered vehicle. You may have some technically legal reason for doing so but try explaining that to a cop! By the time you have sorted it out with the authorities at every port you enter it's not worth the hassle.) As a large ship you will also be required to meet certain safety standard imposed by the IMO. This includes a rigorous audit of your management competency both on and off your vessel. If you fail - and many do - you will not be able to move your vessel. It will also require that most of your crew be formally trained with your Deck and Engineering officers carrying the new STCW95 certificates. These certificates are now only issued after the individual undergoes additional training at a registered IMO training facility. Career seaman are now leaving the industry in droves rather than go through the additional time consuming and expensive training, leaving the industry short of approximately 100,000 training seafarers.

If however, you operate you operate a small vessel (under 300GRT) you virtually eliminate both the IMO and the classification societies as they are not required. You are however accountable to your country of registry and the MSA in the country you are in at any given time. You will need to maintain certain operational safety certificates with your country of registry. This requires annual inspections by MSA or a delegated authority as is the case in New Zealand.

If your vessel is registered as a privateyacht these certificates are not required and the rules and regulations are even less robust. You may now conclude that the best thing to do is to register your ship as a yacht. This definitely makes life easier but there is one pitfall.

Human nature being what it is tends to take the easy road when it comes to maintenance and safety. When you are registered as a passenger vessel you have to abide by certain safety standards determined by the MSA, the country of registry and the country of operation. This means dry docking your ship every two years for inspections, among other requirements that can be expensive.

The tendency as a privateyacht is to ignore those inspections, as they are not legally required and you 'never seem to have the time or the money' anyway. As a result, you endanger your vessel and the lives onboard by not properly maintaining your equipment. Imagine your fire pump not working in an emergency or your bilge pump not working when the hull is penetrated and you have a major flood.

For example, S/y Next Wave is registered as a commercial yacht and under the same regulations as a cargo vessel or commercial Sail Training vessel.

Remember: safety always comes first! So think it through carefully before you go the yacht route.

Where your ship is registered is also an important issue. There are countries that register ships as a way of raising revenue. When you are flying these nation's flags, they are known as 'flags of convenience'. Nations like Panama, Malta, Belize, Vanuatu, etc fall into this category. However, the IMO is now requiring a much greater level of accountability from these nations and the days of easy registration (flags of convenience) are fast disappearing. On the other hand some nations are less stringent than others and are easier to work with so there are benefits.

If possible register your vessel in your home nation or nations where the vessel is operating from. At the end of the day it might be more difficult but a good relationship with your local MSA can go a long way towards a hassle-free operation in the future.

Your Legal Protection

Ship owners enter an industry strongly prone to litigation. The liability risk can be high especially when it comes to environmental concerns. A small oil spill or collision can create huge legal problems not to mention a public relations nightmare. However, your level of liability will depend on where you operate your vessel. Those operating ships on rivers or lakes will not be prone to litigation to the same degree as ocean going vessels as those environments tend to be safer. Nevertheless, it's best to protect yourself in any way you can.

Here are four suggestions you may wish to consider:

1. Create a Company or Charitable Trust, if you do not already have one (whatever works best for you in your legal system) that exists for the specific purpose of owning a ship and that ship is the sole asset of that Company or Trust. Make sure you keep any other assets in you ministry such as buildings, vehicles, and office equipment in a totally different legal identity. This means that if 'things' go wrong and an attempt is made to arrest your ship, your remaining assets are protected.
2. Where possible carry 'Directors' Insurance. This means that the 'Directors' or 'Trustees' of the legal identity that owns your ship are insured against lawsuits against them. Even if you live in a country that is not into litigation the shipping industry is a very international industry and a complainant will not hesitate to launch legal action half way around the world to achieve redress.
3. Where possible place your own private assets in a 'Family Trust' or similar legal identity where you personally don't actually own assets. Remember, it's just not the owners who are liable but those deemed to be operating the vessel can also be liable.
4. Always carry 'third party' and pollution insurance on your vessel. This will not protect you from total loss of your vessel or break down of equipment but it will provide coverage from claims of injury to individuals and other vessels. This kind of insurance is relatively inexpensive and should cost between $US7, 000 - $US10, 000 a year for small vessels around 300GRT.

If you are operating your vessel in remote areas or engaged in a voyage of more than one day (24 hours) you should carry a registered nurse onboard along with a well equipped medical chest. (Marine Reach can provide a list of suggested medical supplies.) Medical insurance is also advised for those who can afford it.

Never leave port without all communication and safety equipment fully operational.

Your Structure

The operation of ships generally require a greater level of discipline and structure than the traditional YWAM base or ministry. Like the University of the Nation as it enters the world of education, there is a much greater level of accountability to various authorities both national and international. The Bible tells us that 'whatever your hand finds to do, do it well', so there is a level of professionalism that needs to be maintained in order to be an appropriate witness to others.

For instance, on our ships in Marine Reach every crew member wears a uniform when dealing with the general public. This sends a clear message that we take this ministry very seriously and run it in a professional manner.

The right management structure is crucial for ship ministries - especially when you are married to very different worlds: YWAM and the maritime industry. In fact, management structure is so crucial and difficult to work out that many shipping companies that run large passenger ships keep their 'onboard' structures a closely guarded secret.

One principle we have learnt over the years is to always have a 'Ship's Director' onboard our vessels. The reason for this is that on a YWAM ship there is a usually a various expressions of YWAM ministries in some form or another. In order to manage both the ministerial and the technical side of a ministry ship you need someone to lead the vessel who understands both the ethos of the marine world and the YWAM world. On your average cargo vessel the Captain is the total and final authority. However, on a passenger ship the vessel is run by a management team and the Captain is only responsible for the safety and navigation of the vessel. (Some large passenger ships have two Captains: one to run the bridge and the other to entertain the important guests!)

Most commercial Captains (non-YWAM Captains) do not always understand the importance of allowing an intercession team to pray on his bridge before sailing, or see the need to have the ship looking her very best on a Public Relations tour, or the importance of treating every guest as an important guest, or the need to colour match the sheets, pillows and towels onboard.

So, we suggest that you have a permanent 'Ship's Director' who will in effect represent the owner, allowing Captains and other crew members to come and go while maintaining a consistency of leadership and a policy of leadership onboard your vessel. (In Marine Reach we have several Captains who are YWAM leaders in their own right and can therefore fulfil the dual role of Ship's Director and Captain, but finding men and women with these two qualifications is extremely difficult.)

When working on your management structure you need to 'think out of the box'. Every ministry is different and changing. The structure that works for you now may not work in six months time or in a specific geographical location, so be flexible.

Onboard a ship you generally have a basic structure of one Captain with two or three Deck Officers depending on the size of the vessel. You will also need one Chief Engineer along with two or three Engineering Officers depending on the size of the vessel. You will also need deck and engineering 'hands' to help cover watches at sea (usually four hours on and two hours off) and for the ongoing maintenance of the vessel. The number of deck and engineering hands can vary, again depending on the size of the vessel. On a small ship, three 'hands' in each department is sufficient but on a larger ship the number could climb to 20 or 30 people.

You will need a 'Purser' who is responsible for the business and legal side of the ship's operations .i.e. Passports, crew lists, cargo lists, port department and entry forms, petty cash onboard and berth (bed) assignments. You may also want a Chief Steward who is responsible for the dining room, galley (kitchen) and the ordering of the ship food stores.

This individual usually would have one or two cooks working for them. The Chief Steward is also responsible for hospitality onboard ensuring guests are well taken care of. We ask ministry teams onboard to help with dishes and cleaning of toilets, bathrooms, etc. The above positions are key positions you need to cover when operating a ship.

Remember, a ship is a huge hunk of steel floating in salt water. To own a ship is to enter into a battle against rust that will last as long as the ship does! You can fight this war with volunteers such as church youth groups to chip rust and paint on weekends, etc.

You will also need a team of shore-based staff to support your ship. Apart from a Ship's Director you will need someone to cover your advance planning and preparation. Sometimes YWAM bases can help with advance work; however, it is our experience that YWAM bases are usually so busy with their own ministries and programmes it is difficult for them to give due time and effort to do advance work.

We suggest that the 'Advance Coordinator' send a team ahead to support the local YWAM effort. You will need someone to handle purchasing, such as engineering parts, navigation and communication equipment, fuel and oil purchases, special medical equipment if you're doing medical work, etc. We call this person a 'Purchasing Officer'. You will also need a 'Ministry Coordinator': this person handles the organisation of the specific ministry you are involved in. If it's medical someone has to find the Doctors and Nurses and coordinate their involvement with the ministry you are doing. If it is educational someone has to arrange the seminars and schools you want to run on board. All these roles report to both the Project/Ministry Director who is responsible for the overall operation of the project and Ship's Director who is responsible for all 'onboard' activities. The Ship's Director will also work closely with the Project/ Ministry Director to ensure the budget is being managed properly.

It is of course the responsibility of the 'visionary leader' (usually 'Project/Ministry Director') to raise the funds necessary to run the project, provide a sense of direction for the overall strategy and leadership for the vision. This commitment should not be less than 5 - 7 years.

Those Minefields!

Marine Reach has been operating small ships for 18 years across the Pacific and recently in the European arena. Over the years we have made many mistakes. We would like you to learn from them.

1. It is often said that, 'boats are holes in the water into which one pours large amounts of money'. This saying has a great deal of truth to it. I was recently on a ship the same size as the Pacific Link (300 tons). The owner had developed it as his personal yacht. He had spent about US$200,000 on the vessel and he planned to spend more! You can find dozens more ships/yachts like it around the world.

The secret is strict financial discipline. Budget for the project and stay within the budget until the Lord provides more. There is always something that needs doing so concentrate on the safety issues first. Make sure the bridge and engine room are operating properly. You can then concentrate on the accommodation and catering concerns. Shop around for good equipment and always ask for donations or discounted prices; companies will appreciate what you are doing and will want to participate.

2. Always get a second opinion. No matter how qualified the advice giver is, he or she could be wrong. You will feel vulnerable knowing that you don't know much about the marine world. The marine world 'professional' will notice and be tempted to persuade you into one particular course of action. Stand your ground and get a second opinion. A Captain or Chief Engineer can be wrong sometimes. Never be afraid to ask questions -- no matter how silly they might seem or whom they may offend. It would not be the first time I have sailed on one of our ships without enough lube oil to get to our next destination!!
3. Guard against the 'prima donna' syndrome. In every profession there are individuals who consider themselves a little more 'equal' then everyone else. The gold stripes deck or engineering officer's wear denotes 'function' not 'authority'. Obviously the function has authority just as much as a policeman does but once the uniform is off the only authority the individual has comes out of the respect he has earned from others.

Explain to your Captain that he is responsible for just the safety and navigation of the vessel only. The Director (who represents the owner) is responsible for the overall operation of the vessel and ministry it carries. If the Captain has a problem with this, you have the wrong Captain. If you want to see if you have a 'prima donna' as a Captain ask him to help you clean the toilets or do the dishes. His response will tell you if you have God's man or not. Fortunately we have been blessed with outstanding Captains in Marine Reach who truly have servant hearts but occasionally someone will apply who does not understand these principles.

4. Be careful when leasing or chartering your vessel for commercial gain. There are a number of hidden pitfalls in the legal and operational area when you use your ship to make money. If you're registered as a private yacht, it is illegal. (With most MSA's, cargo ships can carry 12 passengers for reward. Private yachts cannot carry passengers or cargo for reward.) If your vessel has engine failure and you have to return to port, you will most likely have disappointed customers who can take legal action against you. If a charter incurs costs while using your vessel and doesn't pay his bills the vendor can still come after you as the Ship's Owner even though you had nothing to do with the purchase. Sometimes it is just easier to trust in the Lord for the money than trying to get it from a commercial venture! Commercial yachts, however, can carry up to 12 paying passengers and in addition paying trainees (DTS students). Next Wave can carry up to 40 trainees legally (more than the available student beds).
5. Most people are not 'seafarers' and don't sail well, so plan short voyages. We have learnt that a maximum of three days at sea is about what most people will handle even if they aren't sea sick. More than that and people will get bored wishing they were home with Mum and Dad! There's not a lot to do on a small ship and the initial excitement of watching the dolphins can wear off quite quickly.

The more time you actually spend at sea the more fuel you are going to consume so, most of the time your vessel needs to be along side a wharf or at anchor doing what it's supposed to do - ministering to people. The less time you spend at sea the better.

6. Exploit your strengths and stay away from your weaknesses. If you have a large ship make the most of its strengths such as its size. People are attracted to big ships so hold social events and activities onboard by inviting people from all walks of society. The Mayor, the Governor, the President, etc. They will be able to open doors so you can do what God has called you to do.

If you have a small ship you are not usually a 'social event' but for the cost of only a few thousand litres of diesel, you can carry a government vaccination team to some remote island and you will have the Mayor, the Governor and the President ready to support you in anyway they can. If necessary and when possible, postpone a trip to meet the needs of a local church or Government agency and use the flexibility a small ship can offer. You will win life long friends and develop relationships that will open doors for the Gospel and future ministry in that nation.

7. Take care of your crew. Develop a home port. You need a good base of operation preferably in a port city where you can put your roots down. Small ships can be hard on crew over a long period of time. Marine Reach believes that operating a ship out of a recognised home port has tremendous physical, physiological and spiritual benefits. You are not only able to build up community support that can meet the entire physical and spiritual needs of the ministry, your crew also feel that they have a home to come back to for a break of a week or two between trips. It also gives the port city and even the nation a sense of ownership in the ministry and will rally behind you when you have a need. It makes it easier to keep the administrative staff in your port office in touch with the crew and ministry onboard; a crucial dynamic to stop misunderstanding and tension between the two groups.
8. Don't arrive in a port without advance preparation. Use 'advance teams' to prepare for your ships arrival in a port. You will need to meet with the port authorities and establish the needs for your ship in port. Wharf space, shore power, water, garbage disposal, security, access by the general public, etc. You will also need to establish whether the port requires you to use a pilot or a tug(s) to enter the port and come along side the wharf. Both these services can be very expensive and should be avoided if possible. (A marine pilot is someone who joins your ship before you enter the harbour. They are suitably qualified individuals with a local knowledge of the harbour and skilled in manoeuvring ships. They are mandatory in many ports but not ultimately responsible for the ship's safe manoeuvring. In short if anything goes wrong it's still the Captains responsibility!)

If you want the local church involved in your ministry you will need to meet with the key Pastors in the city and seek their blessing on your visit. Be careful not to lose control of your program to over-enthusiastic Pastors. Church politics can also be a major 'minefield' on its own so tread carefully. If you are working with a Government agency then you will need to meet the appropriate Minister/Senator/Prime Minister/President well in advance of your visit.

Don't limit God in His ability to take you before high officials.


The following vessels are owned and operated by Marine Reach -Youth With A Mission across the Pacific Region since 1990 (formally Mercy Ships - Pacific).
M/Y Pacific Ruby (1963) (297 GRT) 1990 -- 1996
M/V Island Mercy (1961) (998 GRT) 1194 -- 2001
M/V Pacific Link ( 1979) (283 GRT) 2001 --

S/Y Next Wave (1988) (197 GRT) 2007 -

For further information contact:
David Cowie

Ruel Foundation

PO Box 9098

Greerton, Tauranga

New Zealand

Captain Jesse Misa

Marine Reach Regional Office

PO Box 1028, Seventh Ave,

Tauranga 3140

New Zealand

Captain Brian Sloan

Marine Reach European Office

Highfield Oval, Ambrose Lane

Harpenden, Herts AL5 4BX United Kingdom

Visit our website:
Acknowledgements: Captain Jesse Misa International Co-Director

Captain Brian Sloan International Co-Director

John Brignall, Marine Engineer.


  • You can do it!
  • Start small and work up!
  • Remember to make prayer your priority!
  • Listen to God and not to the people who are negative!
  • Stay focused on the vision and calling God has given you!
  • If someone says it can only be done 'this way', there's probably another way!
  • No matter how depressing the challenges are, things always look better in the morning!

Manual in PDF Format

25px-Pdf.png Guidance on starting a YWAM Marine ministry