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Triton Survey: Captains prefer to hire career-minded crew

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In many countries around the world, it’s not unusual for young people to take a year off between university and real life. Some of those kids find their way into yachting, enticed by the idea they can make good money while traveling.



Yet they have no intention — at least not all of them — of staying very long, so we asked yacht captains in this month’s Triton survey what they think of these transient crew. Is a gap year kid a good candidate for an entry-level job on a yacht?



Click here to read comments from captains.



We asked a version of this question in our From the Bridge captain’s luncheon this month and they expressed that on larger yachts, yes, but on smaller yachts with just one stew or deckhand, transient crew really didn’t work.



In our survey, however, completed by more than 80 captains, transient crew weren’t really encouraged, even less so on the largest yachts.



We began by asking What do you think of transient crew (not necessarily just green crew, but short-term crew)?

The largest group of captains — 47 percent — thought that crew coming through yachting for just a year was a terrible idea and that they brought down the level of professionalism in yachting.

“Once upon a time, we joined the industry as a career path and worked our way up from the deck, engine room, trade association or similar, but always with a view of progression on the yacht and industry,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in the industry more than 30 years. “Transient crew are there for the parties, meeting their mates in this or that location, being paid to travel and don’t have the industry, as a whole, in their sights as a career. Maybe some do actually stay and maybe some even work their way up the ladder. But the majority are not serious at all and drag the standards down.



“Unfortunately, the industry is full of these individuals who have no interest in bettering our profession or respecting the people that we center our careers around,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in the industry more than 25 years. “By the professionalism that is brought into our industry by these individuals, it only makes the rest of the world (owners especially) look at us as a bunch of partying yahoos.”



“The industry has become known as a way for backpackers to make fast money and travel for free,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “These people put in a year or two then move on to something else. Nowadays there aren’t many people in this industry who do this type of work as a career. There aren’t enough new young ‘boaters’ (who grew up on the water and want a career in this industry) to man all the yachts that exist around the globe, therefore the positions must be filled by inexperienced crew.”



Almost as many — 39 percent — said they were OK, that the industry needs them to do the entry-level jobs that career-minded crew don’t want to do for long.



“As long as they have STCW and true yachting/boating experience, are mature and hard-working, are not expecting a vacation, and understand the captain’s role, they’re OK,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 30 years.



“More than a few transients who happened upon yachting for fun have stayed for their career,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “The industry needs fresh blood. It is tougher than people realize and the attrition rate demands a constant stream of newbies.

“I’m still on my gap year, although it’s been going 17 years now (‘one more season’),” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “I think transients are happy to work hard and see some sights for less, and are more easily pleased than the experienced crew who have been everywhere and now just want more money and more time off. I think a healthy mix of mature, experienced crew and a few transients makes a good crew.”



Just 14 percent thought they were a great idea, that they bring enthusiasm and youth to the industry.

“Most are eager to find work and, if they are good, they end up as permanent  crew,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “They are generally very eager to  get into the industry and have good intentions and goals.”



“In general, they are better educated with a better attitude,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet.

“If we don’t give the youth a chance to see what we do, we won’t have anyone coming up through the ranks,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 30 years.



When we focused in on the responses of captains on the largest vessels, those over 140 feet, we got even stronger opposition to transient crew, not at all the sentiment shared in our Bridge lunch. (We can’t ignore the fact that perhaps our survey question just wasn’t worded correctly.)



And among those on yachts over 220 feet, a full two-thirds thought it was a terrible idea, with the remaining third saying they are OK. None of the captains on these large yachts — the place one would think to be the best place for entry-level crew — thought that transient crew were a great idea for the industry.



“In a lot of cases these days, the owners dictate crewing levels (particularly on smaller yachts up to, say, 40m) and therefore there will always be an area of the industry that attracts transient crew,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “For good or bad, there is a demand for them. Cayman Islands Reduced Manning Certificates are an impact on the industry. Owners ‘winterizing’ their yachts is an impact on the industry. These factors allow the demand for transient crew employment each and every year.”



Next, regardless of their personal opinion about transient crew, we asked captains Will you hire these crew?

About 14 percent said they would hire them with pleasure, and about twice as many said they won’t if they can help it.



“Most can be very good crew if even only for a year or so as long as they do their complete research on yachting to know that it is not a game but a very high end service industry,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 30 years and who would hire transient crew with pleasure.

But most captains fell somewhere in the middle, nothing that they might if they were on a vessel large enough to take on a new crew member each year (28 percent) and that even though they’ll hire transient crew, they aren’t real excited about it (30 percent).



“Of course, they need to start somewhere,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “There are vessels for them, just not mine.”

“I have hired transient crew before on smaller charter yachts and I was happy to have them,” said the captain of a yacht larger than 220 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “On a charter yacht, most crew are transient as they get burnt out, especially on busy ones that I have run. But now on a private yacht with structured holidays, etc., we are looking for longer-term commitments. This is why all crew have rotation.”

“Transient crew need to be fully aware of the commitment they are making when taking on positions regardless of the time frame,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “If their gap year experiment is to be overindulgent and irresponsible, the yachting industry does not need them. If they are willing to work hard and be responsible for the duration of their contract, the doors are open. As long as you know your limits, there is plenty of balance between work and play, which will prove to be a great experience later in life. Above all, they must respect that this is a profession for a lot of people, not a jet-set holiday experience.



Among captains on yachts 140 feet and larger, the answers were even more in the middle. Thirty-five percent said they would hire transient crew but aren’t excited about it; and 31 percent said they might hire them if they had room for new crew each year.



About the same amount said they won’t hire them if they can help it, but half as many — just 7 percent — said they would hire these crew with pleasure.



On the very largest vessels over 220 feet, even more captains said they would not hire these crew if they can help it (33 percent) or they might (33 percent). Just 22 percent said they would hire them but aren’t excited about it, and about 11 percent said they would hire these crew with pleasure.



Those results surprised us. After talking with captains at the Triton luncheon, we got the impression that the larger the vessel, the more room for entry-level and even transient crew, so we expected the largest yachts to embrace these young people. They didn’t.



So we wanted to know why. We asked the 56 percent of the captains who said they would not hire transient crew Why not?

We gave the captains several options and they could select all that applied (meaning the totals will exceed 100 percent) and the vast majority — 75 percent — said they don’t have time to train someone who won’t stick around.



“Why waste my time on someone who isn’t going to be here in a year and potentially take a job away from someone who is trying to make a career in yachting?” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “I always try to weed these people out in the interview process.”

(That reason — saving a job for someone more career-minded — came up again and again in comments, though we neglected to ask about it specifically.)



“If they can’t commit to yachting as a profession, it is a waste of time to try to train them,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “I want to spend my resources on long-term professional crew that will benefit the industry as a whole and my program in particular.”



“Of course, with all the regulations and required certificates that crew are now expected to hold, this is a time-consuming and expensive process to comply with,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “By the time you fulfill the requirements, get them professionally up to speed with the program, they then resign to return to life ashore. No thanks, waste of time.”



A quarter of captains said they don’t have room on their vessels for inexperienced crew. And almost as many — 21 percent — said transient crew tend to be the ones who indulge in drugs and alcohol.

“Yep, this is the party gang for sure,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “They are led by media and Internet to think that yachting is a place to have fun and that there is a lot of partying. As a captain, I am trying to get a job done and these crew do not ‘get it’. I will take on the serious-minded, career-minded crew only, and they do exist so why settle for less? Interview crew intelligently, check references, create a team environment, create a good role model and you will find good crew; I have.”



“They are here just to have fun and drink,” said the captain of a yacht larger than 220 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “They have the wrong picture of this industry and don’t take it seriously. Would a 7-star hotel or resort take them? I doubt it. Waste of time and money.”

Among the “other” responses, about 14 percent said they were saving that position for a career-minded crew member.



“I am looking for career-oriented people,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “All of my crew are professional (or they don’t last) and they want to be around like-minded professionals.”

“I like to give people who want to make yachting career the opportunity for a position,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 10 years.



“I am looking for crew who will stick around for a couple of years at least, are career-minded and will come back and work with me in the future in a senior position,” said the captain of a yacht more than 220 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “The owner likes stability and the same faces, and I want to work with crew who are passionate about yachting as a serious job.”

“There are too many qualified crew with STCW-plus credentials available these days to fool around with a person who has a temporary mindset,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 30 years.



Among the 44 percent who said they would hire transient crew, we asked Why? (Again, captains could choose all the answers that applied to their case, resulting in more than 100 percent.)

Two answers were equally popular and chosen by 60 percent of respondents to this question: transient crew are eager to learn, and they don’t carry “my last boat” baggage.



“While they most often are eager to learn and usually lack bad habits from previous boats, a certain percentage of them decide to stay in the industry for longer than they originally intended,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “In my experience, it is these latter crew who turn into shipmates and sailors better than most of those who choose to get into yachting from the get-go.”

“There are actually some young people who do know how to act in this environment; they were reared properly,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “As far as their lack of marlinspike seamanship, much of that can be taught if the captain or first mate has the time and patience to teach them. I don’t believe anyone of us was born (already) knowing. Someone had to teach us. Also, some captain once took a chance on us. If we don’t teach those who are willing to learn (the basics), then we are in part responsible for lowering the industry standards.”



Just 13 percent of respondents said they hire transitive crew because they are cheaper than experienced crew.

“My owners love it when we hire less-expensive crew,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “They are fun, and I like introducing new crew to the yachting world. We have lots of long-term friends that we started in the yachting world, and that feels good.”

And 16 percent offered additional reasons why they might hire transient crew.



“They may be older and more mature than the newbie kids,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 30 feet.

“They do what is asked (sometimes) and have a use-by date,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 20 years.

“If we only need an extra stew or deck guy for the busy season, then it’s great to know I don’t have to fire them,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting 15 years. “It’s mutually agreed already.

“Depends on the position and the outlook for the season,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “Certain positions require more traditional, permanent crew for the program as well as the owners. In other positions, the owners don’t mind seeing fresh faces. I use both depending on the season.”



“As long as they are up-front with this in their CVs and interviews,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 30 years.

That’s a good point. We asked Do you know when you hire them that they will be short-term employees?

About two-thirds said they do, which surprised us. We thought transient crew would hide this information from captains or department heads in an interview, so we also asked Would you hire them if you knew up front that they would be short-term employees?

The majority here said no, which is why we thought transient crew would hide that information.

“These jobs are very serious jobs,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “If these short-timers piss off the owners, nobody has a job anymore. Owners don’t need a yacht, so you have to do everything to keep them happy and stay in the business. Short timers have no skin in the game.”



“My owners want permanent crew and like seeing the same faces,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 20 years.

But about 40 percent still said yes, they will hire transient crew even if they know they will leave in a year.

“Even my boss accepts the crew on this boat are all only short term,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “And he’s an experienced and practiced yacht owner.”



“On our yacht, it was a double-edged sword,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “The owner only wanted full crew in the charter season and reduced crew for the rest of the year. So transient/short-term crew was all we could hire in the busy seasons of each year.”

We asked captains to elaborate by asking the open-ended question Does knowing a potential crew member will be short-term influence your hiring decision?

“Yes,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “I feel that the longer a crew stays together, the better they know the boat, the owner and each other. They become like a family. Would you like a short-term family member?”



“Yes, I am only interested in long-term people, as are almost all owners,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “It takes too long to train people to be safe, then useful.”

“It is better to know that they are going to be short term as then you have a future plan for both yourself and the yacht and where it will be when needing to hire more crew,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 30 years.



“Short term, both parties would be more honest about expectations,” said another captain on a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “You could find a really good fit and end up with a great crew. Plans of one season can change.”



“For an entry-level position, a year is not that short term,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 25 years.

“Length of availability and overall life plans are essential questions in a first interview,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “The hiring decision, of course, also needs to fit in with the ship’s needs and plans.”



“Yes, depending on the position,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “If I have temporary work or daywork, I will give someone green an opportunity to learn.”

We were curious to learn What’s the biggest advantage with transient crew?

In this case, the fact that they were cheaper than experienced crew was the biggest advantage (34 percent). The next largest group (28 percent) said that transient crew are adventure seekers and eager for new challenges.



Just 15 percent noted that transient crew tend to be self motivated.

About a quarter of respondents chose “other” for this question and most of them said there was no advantage to transient crew.

“There is no positive advantage of hiring transient crew,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “Having said that, there seems to be very few crew who are truly career minded and approach their jobs professionally.”



After eliminating those “none” answers (since we were looking for advantages), we were left with about half saying the advantage to transient crew is that they will do the jobs no one else wants to do, they have refreshing attitudes, and because they are only onboard for a short time, you can let them go at any time. One said that his wife, the chief stew, was ready for a new face after a year anyway.



“There is often clarity of purpose and an honest relationship with them as employees,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “You each know where you stand. Frankly, the job expectancy of a young crew member is a gamble in any case, so an up-front agreement that the job is for a fixed term can be refreshing. Some permanent crew are over ambitious and will always seek to climb the career ladder but claim to want to stay forever. This can be the cause of a working relationship based on the crew member trying to get a strategic advantage over the employer. It is not healthy.”

A few noted that because they are short-term, they are easier to let go.



A couple respondents said all our answers were advantages.

“Deckhand and stew are not really rocket science; it’s more of just getting a daily job done,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “New crew can be fun and bring some new life and energy to the boat.”

“They typically have a fresher/better attitude about the industry because they haven’t had the negative experiences that experienced crew often do,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 15 years.



“They definitely don’t have the last-boat mentality and are ready to take the challenge head on, take direction and eager to please,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 10 years.

Naturally, we also asked What’s the biggest challenge with transient crew?

The largest group of captains (36 percent) said it was managing their expectations.

“Managing the work ethic and work expectations of the millennials is proving to be a challenge, period,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 20 years.



“They are mostly unrealistic in their expectations and are over demanding, for example, have minimum experience but want maximum wage,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “It’s amazing how many transients don’t equate minimum skills/experience to minimum wage. They tend to be full of empty promises as to what they can bring to the operation, are draining on other crew in effort required to train them up just to see them disappear in short time. The ‘me’ generation, that want it all and they want it now. Bring back that fading quality of dedication and longevity, please.”

The next two largest groups — at 28 percent each — said the biggest challenge with transient crew is that they don’t understand the level of service yachts provide, and “other”. Among those “other” responses, half said all our answers are what made transient crew a challenge.



“It’s a combination of being self indulgent, self centered, and drugs,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “They are not concerned about service levels. It is all about the ‘me’ generation attitude and I will not put up with that. They have no place in the luxury service industry.”

“Yes, all of the above,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “The worst thing I ever did with bad crew is not firing them soon enough. Really, this is part of the captain’s tough job. Got a disruptive crew? Fire them soon and get everyone else on track. Makes a statement, and keeps the rest of crew knowing they are working and there are limits that often translate into their personal safety.”



“All of the above are issues that have to be expected as potential pitfalls of hiring greenies,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “It’s important to say that not all come with these issues, but you have to be prepared to manage it if you’re going to go this route.”

But there were other things that made transient crew a challenge, chief among them the amount of time they take to train.



“Teaching all the time, but at least they will learn my way and not the last captain they worked for,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 30 years.



“They don’t know their way around town and they don’t know the products to use for a specific application without being told,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 10 years.

“Their heart might not be in it and safety could be an issue,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 25 years.



Just 5 percent blamed transient crew’s social immaturity in living with others. And only 3 percent said they were too tempted to indulge in drugs and alcohol.

(We were impressed to see that the drugs and alcohol issue wasn’t the primary challenge with transient crew. The captains in our bridge lunch, though they discussed it, also acknowledged that it’s not just young crew who indulge, but seasoned crew as well.)



Considering the strong opposition to transient crew, we were curious to learn from these captains <<BOLD>>Did you ever take a gap year to experiment with something before setting off on your career?

Two-thirds had not, which might explain why they have less tolerance for transient crew.

Among the third who had taken a gap year, the results were similar to the group as a whole. They still mostly felt that transient crew were a terrible idea (44 percent), but more felt it was a great idea (22 percent compared with 14 percent of respondents as a whole). They were also pretty evenly split on whether they would hire transient crew, but more said they would hire them with pleasure (22 percent compared with 14 percent of respondents as a whole).



“In my year off, I worked on a beach and in bars, etc.,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “This industry is above that, or it should be.”

 

Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this survey are welcome at lucy@the-triton.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 lucy@the-triton.com to be added.

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