Having spent his formative years and much of his career sailing yachts and running the Global Challenge yacht races, Alistair Hackett, feels his experiences have well-equipped him for his role as MD of Ocean Safety.
“To work in our sector properly I believe you should have spent time on the water and really know and feel what it’s like to be out at sea. If you don’t have the experience, you can’t explain how things really work and will not understand how a piece of equipment works in reality, on a vessel, when you’re cold, tired, hungry and wet.”
Alistair has sailed all his life. He learnt on the River Trent in Nottingham with his father and such was their passion for sailing, his parents bought a 22ft yacht before a house when relocating to Plymouth. The move, when Alistair was 11, placed him firmly in the yacht racing scene.
“At 16 I worked the summer with Mitsibushi Marine. The firm was building a maxi yacht for the Whitbread Race which ended up as ‘Drum’ for Duran Duran singer, Simon Le Bon. After leaving school at 18, I spent two years working on yacht charters in the Mediterranean and completed a couple of Swan World Championships.”
Alistair also spent two seasons, primarily in France, on the Euro multi-hull circuit with Formula 40s. A chance meeting with multi-hull expert, Andrew Roberts, prompted his next career move.
“Andrew suggested I join the team involved with the 1992 British Steel Challenge Yacht Race in Cornwall; at the time they were building 10 67ft steel yachts to sail around the world, the wrong way, to celebrate the 21st anniversary of Chay Blyth completing this amazing feat.”
It was the first customer fee-paying global race and the only one heading westwards. “I worked with training skipper, Pete Goss and together with four colleagues, got ten yachts around the world, crewed by an amazing group of people who were not yachtsmen. We empowered ordinary people to do the most extraordinary things.”
The Challenge ran again, as the BT Global Challenge, with 14 boats in 1996 and 2000 and in 2004 with 12 72ft yachts. “By 2004 we’d lost our title sponsor so the business struggled when the boats returned in 2005.” Their attention instead focused on supporting Dee Caffari, who became the first women in 2005/06 to sail single-handed around the world against the currents.
Redundancy loomed in May 2006, but having worked with so many Challenge suppliers, Alistair was quickly offered a general manager role by the then-owners of Ocean Safety. “My ten years in this role dovetailed well with my Challenge focus – that safety comes first. I knew the OS products and had the sailing experience.”
Alistair developed safety packages for the Volvo Ocean Race teams which expanded into bespoke sea survival training courses. “This enabled me to work with some of the world’s top-end yachtsmen and women.”
Over 60% of Ocean Safety’s business is with commercial shipping firms and the Ministry of Defence, yet Alistair says the key influencers are in the leisure sector, who drive demand for lightweight safety solutions.
In 2014 OS became part of the 3Si Group and in 2018, was acquired by Allianz Marine, when Alistair was appointed managing director. AM is one of Europe’s largest marine manufacture, design, product sales and servicing businesses with operations in France, Germany and Italy and a subsidiary, similar to OS, in Florida.
With more than 80 staff and offices in Plymouth, Glasgow and Aberdeen, Alistair says the plan is to work closely with AM’s companies to develop products and share expertise in the leisure/commercial markets.
“Moving forward, where regulations permit, we’ll integrate more technology into solutions, so for example, a life jacket will also have personal ‘man overboard’ equipment fitted. We’re also keen to increase peoples’ understanding of how the products work and when they will need to use them.”
OS lectures to the World Cruising Club, encouraging attendees to consider their response to certain situations and how to organise the crew. “We cover areas people don’t like to think about.”
The firm plans to extend the servicing side of its business and increase life raft rental. “Demand for hire continues to rise – in 2018 we had 34 life rafts in our hire fleet, now we have 900.”
When it comes to mentors, Alistair cites Andrew Roberts: “He taught me more about the water, what yachts require and how to manage them” and OS partner, Richard Besse. “I learnt so much from him about what’s required to run a business.”
Career highs are the safe return of every Global Challenge crew and being offered the md position. An inevitable regret is not sailing around the world. “Having spent so many years getting people ready to do this, I wish I’d done it myself.”
These days Alistair spends more time in the water than on it, swimming in a pool every morning. And with a role requiring international travel, he’s content to spend time with wife Sally and children, Amelia and Clara, when at home in Dibden, near Hythe.
Content extracted from https://www.boatingbusiness.com/news101/people/profile-alistair-hackett