Cruise Control

Age: 46
Occupation: Merchant Marine captain
Location: Chicago
Duties: Operates yacht; supervises crew; oversees safety; coordinates marketing and overall passenger experience
Salary Range: From $50 per hour for freelance captains to $200,000-plus for private yacht company owners
With long locks pulled back from his face, David Linnear admits he doesn’t fit the stereotype of a yacht captain. But he lets his stellar boating credentials, which include stints with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, speak for him.

Linnear presently sails for Chicago Lakefront Excursions, an upscale yacht charter company that will operate boats from Lake Michigan harbors through Oct. 15. With a fleet of four vessels that range from a cozy 29-footer with a six guest capacity to an 87-foot yacht with a 150-guest capacity, CLE offers a five-star experience: butter-soft leather sofas and mahogany paneling, stateroom beds dressed with sumptuous velvet-soft throws and silk brocade pillows, signature mango mimosas, and specially designed group spa packages. Prices start at $500 depending on the vessel’s size, cruise duration, and type of amenities chosen.

Sinking stereotypes. Linnear is just one of 13 African American Coast Guard-licensed merchant marine captains in the United States. He enjoys seeing pride reflected in the eyes of African Americans strolling along Chicago’s lakefront when they look to the waters and see him sailing. About one-fifth of his current clientele is black, but Linnear expects that to climb as he markets to fraternities and sororities and other organizations looking for alternative social venues.

Lifelong learning. After falling in love with boating as a teenager, Linnear decided to pursue it professionally and learned to operate different types of vessels. In 1998, he joined the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, a volunteer force specially trained to promote boating safety, and last summer he served on the crew of the touring Freedom Schooner Amistad. He holds a captain-required Federal Communications Commission license, enabling him to communicate via radio with the Coast Guard and other commercial and noncommercial vessel operators.

“Being a captain is a lot like being a pilot—you have the exact same responsibilities. I’m responsible for my crew and all the passengers.”

Sharing the knowledge. Even though he didn’t have many role models, “I had enough ambition to find out about the resources to bring [my career] to life,” Linnear says. He is also hoping to expose young blacks to boating, as he is active in recruiting and training them as crew members. He looks for “folks trained in the service industry. If they know how to give five-star treatment, I focus on (teaching) the safety side of things, how to handle a line and give first aid.” He also tries to provide opportunities to African American vendors as often as he can in the area of publicity, interior designing, and catering.

Linnear’s goal is to expand beyond Chicago waters. He hopes to open a CLE branch somewhere in the Caribbean. “All you have to do is have a vision and a dream.”