This month’s survey started off with simple intentions. We wanted to take a break from the recent heady topics of leadership, discrimination and compensation to ask yacht captains and crew a little about playing in the water.
Yachties have rare access to exciting equipment in some of the most special places on the planet, so we were curious to know if they are able to take advantage of their lot, or even if they want to.
Do yachties know how to participate in any number of water-related sports? Do they make time to partake in them? And do they think it’s an important component of their job and career?
As light-hearted as our survey began, it got pretty complex, and we’re not sure we can explain why.
We started innocently enough by asking Do you know how to scuba dive?
More than 80 percent of our 117 respondents do, with a full quarter being dive masters.
We suspected this so, naturally, we followed up with Do you get to do much diving?
The majority — 56.5 percent — do not.
“Every member of the crew is trained to dive, but only for work activities,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet who is a dive master and whose yacht carries all the dive equipment but who doesn’t do much diving. “Crew are never allowed to dive with guests as it invokes liability issues.”
About 30 percent of respondents do get to dive, both on the job and on their own time.
“I get to enjoy while I work,” said the stew on a yacht less than 80 feet. “I love diving and so do the guests, therefore we all get to enjoy the boat. Of course, it’s a big challenge to work and dive because I am a solo stew so a 50-minute dive means I have to rush to get everything ready before I can jump in the water. It is always worth it and I feel very proud to be a diver.”
Just 13 percent said they only get to dive in their time off.
Now, those two answers make sense in the realm of yachting. That yachties know how to dive makes sense and likely contributes to their enjoyment of a career on the water (more about that in a minute).
And the fact that most yachties don’t get to actually do much diving on the job makes sense, too. Most of the crew on a yacht are too busy to play when the owners or guests are on board.
We also asked Does the yacht carry diving equipment? in the hopes that this might tell us how available this particular sport is to yacht crew.
Three-quarters of our respondents said their yachts do carry diving equipment, with the largest group carrying everything, including compressors.
Among the remaining 25 percent of yachts that don’t carry diving gear, just 6 percent said the owners and guests might still go diving, opting instead to hire guides who provide all the equipment and gear.
So, thus far, we’ve learned that most yacht crew know how to dive and most yachts carry diving equipment but not all that many actually get to do much diving as part of their job. While those realities might be unfortunate for more active yacht crew, it’s not all that surprising.
It’s this next group of questions and answers that begin to add complexity to this seemingly simple survey. We asked themin an effort to expand beyond scuba diving but also to try to gauge how important playing in the water is to yacht captains and crew.
We began with What sorts of water-related activities do you get to do as part of your job? By this, we wanted to know what on-the-job sorts of sports captains and crew get to do, whether it be with the owner and guests or even just testing equipment occasionally, but also during down time that the captain/owner allows.
The most common activities were snorkeling, swimming and fishing. The only other activity undertaken by more than half our respondents was the use of personal watercraft (such as Jet Skis).
“Being a broad-spectrum type of water enthusiast shows the passion for being on the water for work,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “It proves the connection, versus someone who pines to be rock climbing or horseback riding, yet spends their days and nights in the sea.”
A few respondents offered other sports, including towable tubes and pull toys, water slides, wakeboarding, rowing, fly board and jet surf, and simply driving the tenders.
“While they are a benefit, these items are a double-edged sword,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet. “They must still be serviced and cleaned and maintained after each use so they are ready for guests.”
“It is important that crew know how to utilize all forms of water sports, first for safety reasons but second to expose guests to new and fun experiences,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “The yacht will pay for training where necessary and give appropriate time off to get trained. It’s all part of the qualifications.”
“On our boat, the crew should be able to perform each water sport to an intermediate level so they can teach to a basic level,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “This brings confidence to the guests and allows them to enjoy their learning.”
As for the lower participation rates for the other sports, one engineer explained it by saying that playing in the water is not what yachting is about.
“It’s a job, not a playground for crew,” said this engineer, who works on a yacht 200-220 feet and has been in yachting more than 25 years. “The only crew that interact with activities such as skiing, diving, jet skis, etc., would be the deck crew on a boat our size. Everyone else has plenty to keep busy, and we just hope the deck crew wear the guests out so it’ll give the chef and interior staff a break and not have dinner at midnight.”
We were curious to know Have you ever gotten (or lost) a job because you could (or couldn’t) perform one of these activities?
We were somewhat surprised that ability to perform these water sports did not play a part in getting jobs for the overwhelming majority of respondents — 86.8 percent.
“Not really,” said the stew on a yacht less than 80 feet. “I don’t think they were looking for those skills but for somebody who could be a stew-cook-deckhand.”
Still, for about 13 percent, knowing how to perform water-related activities was a factor.
“Because I was knowledgeable and experienced in fishing and diving, I beat out the competition,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 35 years.
“When I got into yachting I was told I should learn how to scuba dive because I am older crew and needed to have as much for my CV as I could,” said a dayworker on a yacht 80-100 feet.
“Being a dive master and competent at most other water activities has help me land jobs, including my current one,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet.
“Dive certifications influenced the captain to hire me on as bosun for one job and as captain to run charters for another job,” said another captain of a yacht 120-140 feet. “It has served me well at different times.”
It was interesting to learn that, for most crew, their ability to perform at watersports didn’t really impact their job options. Nor does it impact their job preferences. Does the yacht’s level of water-related activity factor into your decision to work on one yacht versus another?
Most of our respondents — more than half — said no, that the activity level didn’t matter.
“It really depends on where you operate,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet. “Obviously, it’s more important in the Caribbean than, say, New York. It depends if the boat is private or charter, what the owners’ likes are, etc. It doesn’t make or break a job for me now. For me, it’s just about working for a great owner who treats you with respect and pays well.”
Most of the rest (42.7 percent) said it matter somewhat, that they prefered an active yacht but that other factors are more important when choosing a job.
“When I was younger, it was very important to be on a yacht that did lots of water sports and all the crew really valued the captain allowing them to use all the toys in their down time,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “It makes the job so much better for the crew because they get to feel like a valued participant rather than just someone that has to clean up after guests. I would also teach crew how to scuba dive so everyone would be licensed. We would always plan a stop in a delivery to do a crew dive. It made for really good crew morale. I also taught the owners family how to dive and their guests, even though I was chief engineer at the time.”
Just 5.1 percent said activity level was always a factor and that they won’t work on a less-active yacht.
“I’m in yachting for the lifestyle,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “For me, watersports are as much a part of the lifestyle as visiting exotic ports of call.”
“Why would anyone want to make a job of being at work next to the water and not be interested in watersports?” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet. “That’s a question I don’t have an answer for.
Given the answers to previous questions, we expected the activity of the yacht to play a bigger role.
We were also curious about access to equipment during time off so we asked Are you able to use any of the yacht’s water-related equipment or toys in your time off?
Interestingly, despite how unimportant so many yacht crew consider water activity, most respondents (86.2 percent) said they are able to partake of the yacht’s equipment.
“Well, it is nice to have the option to use the tender, snorkel, dive or fishing equipment whether the owner is around or not,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet. “Many crew would not normally have access to a $250,000 tender if it wasn’t for our jobs.”
“Never forget that these ‘toys’ are for the owners’ and guests’ use primarily,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet. “Despite them being for fun, safety has to be crew’s No. 1 concern, whether used for personal pleasure or when used by owners and guests.”
“I was in the Caribbean for 11 months, towing a fishing tender, and never got to fish even once,” said a deckhand on a yacht 100-120 feet, who signed off the comment with a sad face. 🙁
“Use of the tender enabled a range of possibilities that you don’t normally have in regular life,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet. “However, without the captain allowing the crew to use the tender during downtime, none of this is possible. I was always fortunate to work for captains who understood the value of allowing the crew to use the tender and all the toys.”
“I wouldn’t own a small sailboat or other equipment but it’s great to have them available,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet.
Those who are unable to use the yacht’s equipment, however, must feel like they are the only ones.
“I wish more owners would allow respectful, responsible crew more access to the fun of using the toys,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet.
“We have a strict captain and are not allowed to use the toys,” said the chief stew of a yacht 100-120 feet.
With the strong focus on professionalism and career-mindedness among crew so relevant to captains today, we were curious if downtime and water play are part of the job. Does yachting attract watersports enthusiasts or does it create them? So we asked Did yachting introduce you to any of these activities, or perhaps enable you to do them more?
Most captains and crew (almost 60 percent) said yes, they partake more in watersports when they work in yachting than they did before.
“I work on a private yacht and the owners love to ski,” said the first mate of a yacht 120-140 feet. “I was new to water skiing when I started three years ago on this yacht, but now ski regularly.”
“I have been lucky to have found myself with captains with similar passions, diving and surfing. So we did a lot if both,” said the chef on a yacht 140-160 feet.
“We learned how to kite surf because we work on a yacht,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “Then the horrible accident with the kite turned us away from kite surfing, but we still carry the gear.”
Still, a full 40 percent said working on yachts hasn’t really impacted their involvement in water-related sports.
“I lived in the Caribbean for several years and used to go sailing, snorkeling and diving 2-3 times each week, and on my lunch hour,” said the chief stew on a yacht 140-160 feet. “I have actually done much less since I joined yachting, but I don’t mind.”
And for at least one captain, it was the other way around.
“Scuba introduced me to yachting,” said this captain of a yacht less than 80 feet.
We tried to get a little philosophical with captains and crew with this last question: Do you think any these activities are an important part of a yachting career?
Nearly three-quarters of our respondents said yes, that they enable yacht captains and crew to interact with the marine environment in which they earn their livings.
“One of the greatest things about yachting is the immense opportunity one has to get into epic adventures,” said the first mate on a yacht 80-100 feet. “Go to places you can’t surf? Then paddle board. Instead of using the dinghy to explore, use the kayak or paddleboard. Can’t dive? Snorkel until the day you’re certified.”
“Being out in the marine environment, one gets to gain knowledge not just of the unlimited things one can do out there but appreciate it and help to maintain the ocean and its animals,” this mate said. “And slap on the head the idiots who think the ocean is a huge landfill for their trash.”
“Opportunity to use toys I would not normally have purchased for myself and in some pretty special places,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet.
“I have had very gratifying and rewarding experiences with guests in yachting, such as teaching a lady who was afraid of water how to swim, then ride a wave runner on her own,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 35 years.
“As a captain, all water activities that bring pleasure to others on board is the icing on the cake,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet also in yachting more than 35 years.
“It is as natural for us to swim, kayak, paddle board, sail, etc., for exercise as it would be for a land-based person to go for a walk or run,” said the chef of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “The ability to perform these skills does so much more. It brings us closer to the environment in which we work and gives us a better understanding and compassion for it. These skills enhance our employability, our fitness level and often a deeper respect for the ocean. If you are fortunate enough to work on a boat that supplies the equipment and allows time to get out there and do it, then it makes us some of the luckiest people in the world.”
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this survey are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com to be added.