This month’s survey started out as a census of all yacht crew, but something happened to our database and it went mostly to captains.
So, instead, we’ll look at the demographics of yacht captains.
It’ll come as no surprise that of the 166 captains who took our demographics survey this month, nearly all were white American men. We know that’s a reflection of our database, not the industry as a whole.
So with that in mind, here’s a look at the mostly white male American captains in our database. (Our apologies to the nearly 40 other crew who took the time to complete the survey; the data just wasn’t enough to offer meaningful statistics. We’re going to try again.)
The majority of our captains are American (73.5 percent), but there were Australian, English/UK and Canadian, each about 6 percent.
They are 97.6 percent male (Four female captains answered our survey).
And with one exception, they are white. (That standout is an Asian/Pacific Islander.)
Among the captains who took our survey, we were curious to know “Do you have a secondary role on yachts?”
Nearly half do not, and the bulk of the rest (38.6 percent) double as engineer.
That makes perfect sense when we look at the size of the vessels they run (more than three-quarters are less than 140 feet; the largest group at 26.9 percent are on 80-100 feet) and the number of crew onboard (58.4 percent have four crew or less, including themselves).
Our captains have been in the industry a while, with the largest group (28.9 percent) in yachting longer than 30 years. That makes sense, too, since it takes time to work into a captain’s position. Most of our captains are in their 40s and 50s.
An interesting twist is that the second largest group (17.5 percent) has been in just 10-14 years. Captains in yachting longer than that rounded out the remainder. Just 11.4 percent have been in yachting less than 10 years.
When we asked How long have you been in your current job, we see our first indication of the lagging economy. Eighty-five percent of our respondents have been in their current commands less than eight years; 56.6 percent have been in less than four.
The largest group (18.7 percent) has been in their current job just 2-4 years.
Yet there are still some long-timers. Thirteen percent of the 15 percent who have been on their commands longer than eight years have actually been onboard longer than 12 years.
(Perhaps tellingly, however, that’s the same percentage of captains (13.25 percent) who have been on their yachts less than three months.)
Nearly all our captains (83.1 percent) have had at least some college; a quarter of them have completed their bachelor’s degree. Interestingly, 7.8 percent have their master’s degree and two of our respondents (1.2 percent) have their doctorates.
We did not ask about maritime licensing, which certainly equates to education. Instead, we just wanted to know about “traditional” education.
In addition to that traditional education and their maritime education, more than 70 percent have experience in another, related field such as commercial shipping, military, hospitality or restaurants.
When we asked about many crew onboard, we weren’t surprised to learn most vessels ran with four crew of less, but then we extrapolated how many crew per vessel and how many vessels of that size and these 166 captains in our survey represent nearly 1,000 crew.
We were curious to learn Is that fewer crew than the yacht ran with three years ago? Interestingly, most (77.6 percent) said it was not.
But our most insightful replies came among the open-ended questions.
First, we asked, How has the industry changed — crew-wise — over the past six years?
Many respondents noted a dichotomy in the crew sector of the industry — more crew looking for work but fewer career-minded, more crew with credentials but fewer with practical experience, more younger crew who expect higher salaries but fewer jobs so there’s less yacht hopping.
“More professional and yet less professional,” said a captain in yachting more than 10 years. “It is now more difficult to just ‘get in it for a season’.”
“There are still some good ones out there, but they are harder to find for our operation,” said a captain in his late 60s who has been in yachting more than 20 years. “Or so it seems from recent experiences.”
Several respondents noted that crew continue to have high expectations without bringing experience onboard.
“Crew have higher expectations regarding salaries and conditions and less ability and motivation,” said an English captain in yachting more than 20 years. “Screening the wasters from the career-oriented is a full-time and frustrating job. Far too many whingers.”
“Less professional,” said a captain/engineer in yachting more than 10 years. “And more wet-behind-the-ears kids who think they know everything.”
“Certifications and training courses seem to rule crew now, instead of experience,” said a captain/engineer in command of a yacht 140-160 feet.
“The majority still expect more and more than what they are worth in experience, diligence, punctuality and work ethic,” said an Australian captain in yachting more than 15 years and now on a yacht 200-220 feet.
“Higher qualifications but not a higher level of ethics,” said a Kiwi captain in yachting more than 15 years and now on a yacht 140-160 feet. “The younger crew demand more without doing the hard yards to get it. They somehow want to miss several rungs on the ladder of experience.”
“There are more crew that are not mariners joining this industry,” said WHO. “Less knowledge and practice of the basics, e.g., navigation, marlinspike seamanship, weather observations.”
“More qualifications but not really more experience,” said WHO. “It’s the only industry I have worked in where people think that three months work makes them an experienced professional.”
“I have noticed that people now get promoted on their tickets rather than on their abilities and/or personalities,” said an Australian captain in his early 40s who’s been in yachting more than 15 years. “I see people getting promoted to captain, first officer, second engineer who don’t really know what they are doing, but they have the ticket.”
“Crew no longer are in the industry for a love of it, but are there for the money and don’t respect what it takes to operate a proper yacht,” said an American captain in yachting more than 30 years. “Crew constantly ask for raises, special personal perks, high end personal toiletries, and waste the items aboard without any concern about the boss or his bottom line.”
A few noted that conditions are improving, or at least they see the positive side to the current still-tight labor market.
“In 2008, the management asked us to ‘tighten our belts’ due to the recession,” said an American captain on a yacht larger than 220 feet an in the industry more than 25 years. “For two years, wages were frozen and other budgetary items were scrutinized more than usual. For us, 2010 saw a return to normal, with crew raises and other routine expenditures back to normal.”
“There seems to be a trend of using less crew for a given vessel size, making the ability to work in more than one department a strength,” said the English captain/engineer on a yacht of 80-100 feet in the industry more than 10 years.
“I feel that there are better people in the industry as a whole,” said an American captain in yachting 7-9 years and on a yacht 80-100 feet. “The downturn only weeded out the people who were unqualified — crew and owners alike.”
“I think the less dedicated have fallen away,” said an American mate/chef in the industry 7-9 years on a yacht 100-120 feet. “Recently I see new faces (people wanting to get into yachting as crew), which is always a great sign to me. Crew-wise, I think boats are streamlining. I have always offered dual services as a crew member because not every trip required four full-time on our boat. Now that boat is running with a captain only and filling in positions as trips arise. Flexibility in what you provide is key to getting hired.”
“With the downturn of the economy, there are less positions available,” said an America captain/engineer in the industry more than 25 years and now running a yacht 100-120 feet. “This has caused a resetting of attitudes in the industry. Crew have had to get humble and realistic in what they expect the job to do for them and may not jump jobs so easily. We are getting back to ‘what can I do for the job’ and not ask for a ridiculous salary for a very low skill set and experience level.
“I have had candidates ask for $40,000-$45,000 a year salary with only one year under their belt,” this captain said. “The thing that was killing captains is you had to hire them at that salary just to get crew and then find out they were awful.
“Now crew are willing to work for what the job is worth,” he said. “It seems a large portion of the backpacker-mentality workers gave up and what was left was the more serious and experienced crew. As the economy gets better and boats crew back up, the crew attitudes of mid-2000 may unfortunately return.”
And most had a comment on the quality of crew today.
“Instead of hiring a crew member and expecting him or her to be willing to be flexible enough to fill in at whatever job needs doing, today’s crew are more specific about what they are willing and trained to do,” said an American captain in yachting more than 30 years. “There are better trained crew in today’s market but they are not as flexible as before.”
“The whole social media boom has made crew less productive and easily distracted,” said an American captain/engineer in the industry more than 25 years.
“More professional, more organized and assertive junior crew due to competition for places at that level, and much improved entry training requirements, i.e., STCW,” said an Irish captain in yachting more than 15 years.
We were curious to see if our respondents noticed any trends in yachting and many replied with trends they see among crew. The most common trends mentioned: more women on deck, and fewer American crew.
“More women, which is great,” said a male English captain in yachting more than 20 years and now in command of a vessel 160-180 feet. “We have full equal opportunity and enjoy the contrast in attitudes and abilities.”
“A lot more college-degree people, especially women, who were educated in other fields now trying to get into yachting,” said a male American captain in yachting more than 20 years.
“I enjoy the fact that there are more women becoming captains, mates and engineers,” said a male American captain in yachting more than 30 years.
As in the previous questions, some views were seemingly contradictory.
“More owners will to accept less qualified people for the sake of money but not willing to sacrifice service level,” said an American captain/engineer in yachting more than 10 years.
“More qualified crew available across the board, allowing a better grade of person to be selected, making it more difficult for those at the entry level,” said that American captain on a yacht more than 220 feet. “And more Asians in the market with a fair degree of success on yachts.”
There seems to be an influx of crew from various nationalities. Respondents mentioned seeing a rise in Kiwis and Australians, South Africans and Eastern Bloc nationals who have joined yachting.
We did ask our respondents Do you feel there is a need to grow the crew sector of the industry? A majority, but not by much at 57.9 percent) said there was.
When we asked Are there any groups of people the yachting industry should proactively recruit? we were expecting categories of people. Instead, many of our respondents gave categories of qualities.
“People who are seriously looking to make this a profession, not just a good time for a while,” said an American captain in yachting more than 25 years.
“People serious about wanting a profession, and prepared to take time to gain experience, not just collect paperwork,” said a Dutch captain in yachting more than 20 years.
“Truly, those desiring yachting as a career are the most desirable,” said that American captain on a yacht larger than 220 feet. “Those desiring to leave a yacht, “backpack” for six months and return to another yachting job are the least desirable. Accordingly, recruiting those that intend to be professional mariners is the best way forward.”
Some respondents did, however, offer specific groups of people the yachting industry should recruit.
“Waitresses,” said an American captain in yachting more than 20 years. “I run a sportfish boat but we do a lot of entertaining. For those trips, I leave my smelly fish mate on the dock and hire a waitress from a local restaurant. I’ve been using the same one for two years and she is phenomenal.
“It helps she has a college degree and is pursuing her master’s,” this captain said. “This means she remembers what I taught her last time so I don’t have to go over how to cleat a line every time we go out. She is the best stew I’ve ever worked with.”
“I have always believed the industry should appeal to more college graduates and especially single women,” said an American captain in yachting more than 30 years. “The pay is competitive to many college degree jobs.”
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments are welcome at email@example.com. We conduct our monthly surveys online. All captains and crew members are welcome to participate. If you haven’t been invited to take our surveys and would like to be, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to be added.
Some more thoughts about the status of yacht crew in 2012:
I am still hugely grateful for my job yet I do not see this with most newcomers. They are spoiled with high expectations well beyond their abilities and usefulness. I am concerned for the direction the industry is taking.
Unfortunately, women are still leaving the industry too soon in their career and taking that experience with them.
A balance of military/family environment should be promoted by the captain, who should also lead by example. All else will fall into place. Those who fight this will leave and the remaining crew will be better off for their departure. If you don’t agree, be content to stay with the small boats or have big crew turnovers.
Generally speaking I have found it very difficult lately to hire professional people with a good work ethic.
I believe there are less serious crew about this profession and more people joining just for the fun or something to do for a period of time. Not the true professional’s that want to make this a career. This has hurt the business, because owners get discouraged with people who do not respect them or a vessel chain of command.
I feel the business as a whole has been in a decline for the past 10 years. Owners are not true yacht people and crew are not true seamen.
Only that it can sometimes be difficult to be hired as an American on foreign-flagged yachts for a number of reasons. Americans seem to be at odds with foreigners who come to the US and compete with us for these positions.
I am American and I often hear things like “I understand owners prefer foreign crew.” I am not insulted but I wouldn’t be surprised if foreigners were. I think it is ridiculously shallow to believe in that myth. Every person should be judged on their work ethic and professionalism, not their nationality.
Still hardly ever see U.S. crew on other-flagged boats.
The economic cycle has helped weed out some of the bozos — captains and crew — who really had no business in the industry in the first place.
We have tried, young, medium age and mature and no matter what combination it is always an amazing ride to deal with the personalities all season. We don’t take couples but somehow they always seem to end up as couples at some point. We try to keep to a strict routine on nationalities to keep the status quo with food, drinks, habits, jokes, etc., and even that can be a challenge. All a product of living and working in close confines maybe?
I would like to see more mentoring of younger crew as they are being advanced much too quickly into positions of leadership and management without the proper skills.
The process and certification for first mate or watchkeeping mate is important. Good incentives are required to get and keep good people who will eventually move on to become masters. There is presently a very good course for watchkeeping engineer (Small Vessel Machinery Operator), which any crew person can obtain to act as qualified relief for the vessel engineer.
Identify, recruit, and pay well those who are actually committed to the industry as a career, as evidenced by training, skills, attitude, work history, etc.
Let’s recruit from culinary schools from around the country, as these talented chefs are coming out of school and not realizing they can make better money in this industry. Also, high-end restaurants to recruit chefs as well as top-notch servers who make excellent stews.
Hospitality professionals, maritime college graduates and professional crew will take yachting to the next level.
I think we don’t do enough at times to weed out those whose competencies are suspect, whose attitude is paid vacation and whose preoccupation is time off.
The yachting job is not for everyone.
Crew agents should get involved with recruiting quality people from other sectors. In other fields, that is what a recruiter and headhunter does. Crew agents in yachting don’t recruit beyond what walks through the door. To generate interest, a recruiter can give lectures at high schools and colleges. This would spark the minds of young people to be interested in this as a career from a younger age.
For the past 10 years or so, I have only hired green South Africans. Their work ethic is good, their salaries tend to be a little less, and they seem to appreciate their jobs.
Too many who have taken as fast a route as possible to gain qualifications, have little experience and think they know far more than they can possibly have learnt in the time.
This causes serious safety risks on board. They do not take instruction well, and believe they know best because they have some pieces of paper. Too fast promotion also results in bad people management skills.
The yacht crews I have worked with were very good and they made me feel good about getting into this industry at my age (late 40s). I work full time and dayworking has been a life-changing experience for me.
My biggest issue (and that of other sportfish captains I know) is getting a hard-working mate who doesn’t screw things up. Our experience is if they know how to fish, they don’t know how to clean. Work ethic is usually terrible.
Hopefully, with the demand for crew to have more credentials, we will see an increase in people who are more dedicated and interested in the job, instead of just seeing a new bar in a new place and another party. We will always have that in the lower-level positions. Hopefully, once crew get that first year under them, they’ll decide to take the job seriously and professionally, making it a career. That is the kind of crew the business needs.