Dayworkers are an essential part of the yachting industry. Whether called at the last minute to handle unexpected jobs or planned months in advance to help with scheduled projects, men and women who work on a temporary basis can be a real godsend to yacht captains.
Or they can be, in the words of one captain, a necessary evil.
Despite their objections, yacht captains at our monthly captains lunch will hire temporary crew to help them out of all kinds of situations, but they also use the practice to test out potential crew before making a commitment.
“I would rather have fewer people onboard and have dayworkers because everywhere you go, we can find great people,” one captain said. “And if they’re not great, you let them go. If they are great, you can keep them for two months.”
As always, individual comments are not attributed to any one person in particular so as to encourage frank and open discussion. The attending captains are identified in a photograph on page A17.
Many people new to yachting begin by dayworking to get a foot in the door. Dayworking is also common among existing yacht crew between jobs who are looking for their next boat.
But from a captain’s perspective, just what value do dayworkers have? Can’t you or your crew do this work yourselves and just choose not to?
“Absolutely not,” one captain said. “We hire because we need to. We’re down to skeleton crew. We used to be the captain and five crew; now we’re down to three. Even properly crewed, I still need dayworkers seasonally to get all the maintenance done.”
Other captains agreed.
When we asked about the dayworker pool, the captains noted that there are good workers to be found, even if it’s harder to find them in some places.
“The quality of dayworkers in Ft. Lauderdale is a little less than it was,” one captain said. “Guys in Antigua will break themselves the whole day.”
“It’s a good thing for other crew to see that, and to comment on it in front of them,” another captain said. “It keeps them a little scared for their jobs.”
The subject of pay did not create much conversation. Something between $12 and $20 an hour appeared pretty standard, depending on the work that’s required and the level of skill of the dayworker. These captains also didn’t blink at providing lunch and even transportation to their temporary crew.
“Pay is driven by what they owner is willing to pay and what you can hire for,” one captain said. “I’ll pay $15 [an hour] for a stew doing laundry, $20 for someone experienced helping in the engine room. They get lunch and a train ticket, and I’ll pick them up from the train, drop them off.”
“I pay $20 an hour and provide lunch,” another said.
A third captain pays a little more so that he doesn’t have to fuss with finding someone.
“I use yacht management companies that hire dayworkers,” this captain said. “You pay $25 an hour for someone that a reputable company has already vetted. If I need someone to do some waxing, or I need help in the engine room, it’s worth it to me to spend a little extra for that service.”
“And for piece of mind,” another captain said.
“And not to waste my time,” the first captain replied.
“I like to give a guy walking the docks an opportunity, but it usually doesn’t work out,” one captain said. “Say I need the stainless waxed and the bilges cleaned. He says, ‘I’ll be here at 7 tomorrow morning.’ At 9:30, I get a phone call to tell me he couldn’t get a ride. It’s a waste of my time.”
“It’s difficult to find dayworkers here now,” said a captain who has run U.S.-flagged yachts. “I can’t find U.S. crew who really want the job.”
Really? I found that hard to believe.
“Well, it’s tough to find the ones who want to stay around,” he clarified. “Collectively, they want to travel or they have to leave for their visa. We don’t travel very much, so it’s hard to find someone here.”
Are dayworkers only hired for entry level tasks or are they seen as additional crew to help move projects forward?
“Certainly, dayworking is how most people get started in yachting,” one captain said. “If we like them, we keep them.”
“But this is where you have to make a difference between dayworkers and freelance,” another said. “Freelance workers have skills and are not entry level. Something else is going on in their life and they aren’t looking for permanent work.”
“It’s hard to find good dayworkers that you take in off the street and say ‘here’s what has to be done’ without holding their hand and spending the whole day with them,” said a third. “If I have to do that, I can just do it myself.”
“They’re always working next to someone else,” another captain said. “Your experienced people spread out with an assistant get more done. It’s part of the planning, and it’s part of the learning how to teach. They have to take responsibility for someone else’s actions so they learn responsibility.”
“Being on smaller boats, I have to have someone who can work unsupervised,” said another.
When not calling a management company for dayworkers, a few of these captains said they often just call their favorite crew house. Usually, those crew are between boats and already have some basic understanding of their jobs.
“I use Neptune Group’s Daywork123,” one captain said of the free Web site that lists available crew with their phone numbers and resumes. “I’ve even found full-time crew off of that.”
“I go to Josh [Cunningham] of Freedom Yacht Services,” another captain said of the Ft. Lauderdale company that offers all sorts of cleaning services. “You’re getting good work from a reputable company.”
“I usually ask my crew if they know anyone,” said a third. “It’s also a function of where you are docked. At Lauderdale Marine Center, they don’t let you in to walk the docks so if I find someone there, they are already vetted by the fact that they got through the front gate.”
The captains shared a few stories of bad dayworker experiences, which sparked these tips for anyone looking to work on a yacht: knock on hulls, walk the docks, show up, do what you are told, don’t complain.
“Don’t just leave a card or a resume,” one captain said. “Talk to the captain or the mate.”
“Do not go papering every boat on the dock, especially just laying it on the teak,” another captain said. “When you come back to ask for work, you can have it, cleaning up the mess you left.”
“I’ll tell them to come back and see me tomorrow,” said a third. “That’s a test. If they show up, I’ll give them some work.”
“But there’s a difference in being persistent and not paying attention to what you are doing,” one captain noted. “I’ve seen kids come back the next day and give me the same spiel all over again, completely forgetting that they talked to me yesterday. Pay attention to the boats you call on. It’s your job. Approach it professionally.”
Sprinkled in among their dayworker horror stories were a few reports of remarkable dayworker experiences these captains had, including one young man who offered to do anything that needed to be done.
“He didn’t even ask a price,” this captain said. “He showed up at 7:30, I bought him lunch, and he knocked off at 6. I wanted to give him money, but he said no. He just wanted to do it for the experience.”
Did you let him do that?
“Yes, but then I got him a deckhand job on a 150-foot and a year later, he’s a mate.”
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you make your living working as a yacht captain, e-mail us for an invitation to our monthly Bridge luncheon.