This month’s From the Bridge captains’ discussion topic was suggested by a captain who has been surprised this summer at what he called a sense of entitlement among some crew members.
When the topic was introduced, some of the captains in the room let out a collective groan, all at once saying they had dealt with this issue themselves and that they were frustrated, too. And they each had a story to tell.
One captain mentioned his former bosun who, in the middle of a busy charter, announced that it was break time according to the MLC rules, and went below for a nap.
Another captain told the story of the deckhand who didn’t like what the chef was making for dinner so excused himself for dinner off the boat, then returned to submit the receipt for reimbursement.
One stew demanded coconut water instead of bottled water among the beverages in the crew mess. Another wanted this kind of shampoo versus another kind.
“They’re entitled to everything, in their eyes,” one captain said.
“A lot of crew on other boats get lots of different things,” another said. “They all talk to each other, and then they come back and say ‘I want this, too.’ “
As always, individual comments are not attributed to any one person in particular so as to encourage frank and open discussion.
Not all the captains deal with this issue, despite the fact that they, too, hire from among the younger generation of crew entering the industry today.
“It doesn’t start with boats, it starts with society,” one captain said. “The generation coming in has a heightened sense of entitlement. They’ve been given everything by their parents, and they’ve never had any other job. They don’t know what a workplace is, or discipline. They’ve not had any co-workers or employers.”
“We have bred a generation of kids who have never worked,” another said.
“We’ve created a monster,” said a third.
A few captains pointed out that it’s not just younger crew who want what their yachtie brethren have.
“The problem,” one captain said, “is barroom talk.”
“They all BS each other with all the good things they get, and they neglect to mention the rules they live under,” another captain said. “Then your crew comes back wanting what that guy at the bar has, without the rules.”
But it’s not just barroom talk, which has always been an issue in yachting, these captains said. With technology what it is today, crew can BS each other much more frequently and across the globe instantaneously.
There was some conversation that crew from Third World countries don’t have this sense of entitlement. They don’t demand large salaries and don’t expect wifi in their cabin, and they don’t complain about the long hours.
“The MLC, as expected, has presented a problem because they only read the bits they want to read,” one captain said. “You have rights and obligations, duties and responsibilities; they are two sides of the same coin. You can slice it any way you want, but it still has two sides.”
So what do you do about it? Do you have to provide all these things to get good crew?
Most captains said no. It’s not a matter of giving in; it’s more about managing expectations.
“A lot of this can be avoided in the interview,” one captain said. “I’ve had very few problems. You explain the job and the conditions, what they get, what they don’t get.”
“I have a 29-page crew manual and a 15-page crew contract that outlines benefits, phone use, everything,” said another.
“Then it’s down to us to brief them on the rest of it,” said a third.
“Nine times out of 10, it happens with someone new to the industry,” another captain said. “When new people come in, they’ll say ‘I’m not sure about this or that’, but as soon as we talk about it, it gets worked out.”
But there was another faction of captains who handle it differently.
“I ridicule them,” one captain said.
I initially disregarded that as a joke, but this captain was insistent.
“No really, I do,” this captain said. “I call them out on it.”
“I’m with him,” another captain said. “If you’re not happy, you can leave. And I say it in front of the other crew. We work 365 days a year on stand by. If you can’t handle that, this isn’t the job for you.”
That seemed a little harsh, but the captains who have been dealing with crew who approach the job feeling entitled to any number of conditions have had enough.
“I don’t threaten to fire people,” this captain said. “If I get to that point, it’s too late. Things have gone too far.”
“Fire them,” another captain said. “That’s the easiest thing to do.”
But that’s not the answer, either, other captains said.
“There is a disciplinary structure, warnings, getting written up, etc.,” said a third captain. “It’s quite surprising to get this sudden intake of breath when you give them a verbal warning. And when you log it, they know it’s serious.”
“Logging someone is a really good way to get them to see it,” another said.
“It makes our job harder, having to say ‘No, you don’t get that’ all the time,” a captain said.
“It all comes down to how do you reach the crew you hire,” another said. “What does this kid need so that I get the best out of him?”
“Then it’s a professional decision as to how much of this crap you want to put up with,” said a third.
It all comes down to how the captain runs his/her ship.
“We have created a problem,” one captain said. “This is their home, and we expect them to treat it that way. But it’s not their home where they work occasionally. It needs to feel more like a workplace where they sleep occasionally.”
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.