As Ft. Lauderdale’s marinas and shipyards teem with yachts, its streets, schools and crew houses teem with crew, many here for the first time in search of a new adventure, a new career or simply that first full-time job on a yacht.
But it’s not easy. Ask any new crew member and they will tell you the competition for daywork is fierce, meeting captains is no walk in the park, and even the advantage of being in a crew house can backfire.
In this age of Internet and credentials, looking for work on a yacht has taken a different tack than it did when yachting was developing in the 1970s and 80s, or even when it was booming in the early 2000s.
In the 2010s, kids focus on resumes and placement agencies, and it occurred to us that maybe that’s not the best way. So when we hosted this month’s captains lunch, we also sprang for lunch for a group of new crew. We kept both groups separate and asked them the same questions (roughly) to see where they meet, and where they don’t.
We were right when we figured new crew concentrate on crew agencies.
“Type in ‘yacht crew’ [in Google] and you get all the crew agencies,” a deckhand said. The majority of crew at the lunch said they had dutifully uploaded or sent their resumes to more than one crew employment service.
But that’s not where captains find entry-level crew.
“For experienced crew, agencies are the way to go, but for green crew, they have to get out on the docks,” one captain said. “I’ve had great success hiring kids off the dock.”
As always, individual comments are not attributed to any one person in particular so as to encourage frank and open discussion. The attending captains and crew are identified in photographs on pages A16-17.
“New crew do themselves a disservice going to the crew agencies,” said one captain who told the story of a tall blonde woman who wanted to work on deck. Because of her looks, agents repeatedly told her she needed to work on the interior, and she struggled to find a job that made her happy.
“We always have three green crew onboard, two junior deckies and a junior stew,” one captain said. “The boss hates agencies. He lets me use them for officers, but it’s a waste of time for entry-level crew.”
Instead, this captain and several others find their entry-level crew off the dock, from word-of-mouth referrals, and from Web sites such as Daywork 123 and the various Facebook pages dedicated to yacht crew.
The best way to land a job, these captains said, is to walk the docks, a task that none of the assembled crew in our lunch said they do, except one stew who tried it once and didn’t have much luck.
“I hoped someone would talk to me, but I didn’t talk to anyone,” the stew said.
Yes, captains know it’s hard. It’s especially hard to simply to get past the security gate at shipyards and marinas. Consider it part of the interview, to see how industrious new crew can be.
“Make friends with someone working in a yard, and tag along tomorrow,” one captain said. “Then walk the property. It shows initiative that they got themselves there.”
“And for God’s sake, dockwalk by yourself,” another said. “I hate it when they come up with a friend.”
“Young people always want to work with their boyfriend or girlfriend; it doesn’t work like that,” a captain said. “We never have two places and we aren’t going to hire a green couple, anyway.”
“When I’m hiring, I ask my network,” one captain said. “We all get resumes from people who dock walked and I’ll give them to my captain friends who are looking. We’re all circulating the green crew among ourselves, but we only found them because they took the energy to wake up at 8 a.m., put on clean clothes, and get out there. We don’t meet the ones that are waiting for a job to jump off their computer screen.”
When walking the docks, captains advised that new crew don’t only focus on the captain.
“My crew knows if we need a dayworker; don’t get me,” one captain said.
Instead, ask for the mate or the chief stew.
“Or ask anybody on deck washing the boat,” another said. “They know if we’re hiring dayworkers.”
And make the effort to network and meet every stew and mate around, because that’s who will likely do the hiring or refer them for a job.
“I tell the stew, go find the next stew, find the person you want to work with,” one captain said.
“It’s also great training for the chief stew and chief mate,” another captain said. “They’re going to come up someday and manage people.”
“I let my chief mate or stew know, and they find them on the dock or from Web sites,” said a third captain. “Once it’s down to a shortlist, I’ll interview them by phone, let them on for a trial.”
Those trial periods usually last three months, which several captains agreed is the minimum time they need to be sure about someone.
“You’re not going to know how good they are in a week or even a month,” a captain said. “They’re still finding their feet.”
While our assembled crew don’t walk the docks much, they do network when they can, starting with their mates in a crew house.
“A crew house is good tool,” a stew said. “Yachts call the office for dayworkers and if you are there, you can get the call. They knock on the door and we all claw for the job.”
“It’s good to find a friend, then if you can’t take a job, you give it to her, you pass it on,” another stew said.
“I think networking is most important because you can put anything on a resume, but they <ital>meet</ital> you when you network,” a deckhand said.
Another deckhand said crew should talk with any crew they run into, especially in places like Publix when crew are provisioning.
“Look for the people with four shopping carts,” a stew said.
But these crew also experienced crew friends who stop helping each other.
“I had a friend, a stew, that said, ‘do this and this’. At the beginning she was helpful, then she wasn’t,” a stew said.
“When you get qualified and can get work, they don’t help anymore,” another stew said.
“I had that same story about a friend that stopped helping.”
New crew spend a lot of time on resumes, but in a place like Ft. Lauderdale where crew get hired off the dock, they aren’t critical. Where they come in handy is when the yacht is away from a yachting hub and there are no crew walking the docks.
“Be quick,” one captain said. “In five lines, explain yourself. Don’t make it a 7MB file. Less than 1MB is better. And put a polo on; no selfies.”
These captains advised that crew seeking work cover up tattoos and piercings, and not to lie about smoking.
“So many say they are non-smokers,” one captain said. “Sure, they’re not smoking on the boat, but what happens when the owner is onboard for a month, or we’re at anchor?”
The crew in our lunch seemed to know these tips.
“I was told you need to sell yourself in the first paragraph on your CV with your objective,” a stew said. “Even if you don’t have experience, explain that your skills are transferable.”
“They want to see you have experience,” a deckhand said. “I show aptitude and the ability to learn. I would hire green crew because they are malleable.”
“Don’t be afraid to put on your resume that you dayworked here and there,” a captain said. “One kid was a carpenter back home, but didn’t put that on. That’s important, it’s a skill we can use.”
These captains encouraged new crew to list their special skills and hobbies, things like building engines, or mechanical know-how
“And marine experience, even if it’s not yachts,” another captain said. “Say on there, I worked with my dad on his boat.”
When it is time to bring someone new onboard, these captains said they look for crew with good eye contact, confidence, and a firm handshake. But they should be humble, too, realizing they have a lot to learn, if not about boats, then about this boat.
The protocol and structure of authority onboard is important, but new crew sometimes don’t appreciate the world they’ve stepped into.
“When someone breaks the chain of command that’s a lack of discipline,” a captain said.
“I like to get them with the boss ASAP to see how they behave in his presence,” said another captain.
“Without exception, I bring them on as dayworkers first,” said a third.
“And equally as good as how they do their job is how they get along with my crew,” another captain said.
“Crew need to know that they need to impress me, not be average,” one captain said. “They need to be the first up, the last down. We have lots of average.”
“Show up like you are ready to go to work,” another captain said. “It helps you get into shipyard when you look like you know what you’re doing.”
“And bring some grubbies in your backpack so if I put you to work, you can get dirty,” said a third. “And have somewhere to put your phone. Turn it off.”
When the day does come when a captain interviews new crew for a job, there are only a few questions they should ask:
“What time do you start?” one captain said. “They shouldn’t have too many questions beyond that. Don’t ask: when’s break, lunch, or when do we knock off. That part, they will be told.”
Most of the crew assembled seemed to understand that unwritten rule as well. When it came to questions in an interview, they were mostly interested in learning about their fellow crew.
“What are the crew like?” a stew asked. “Are they fun, do they laugh? And how is the teamwork?”
“How long have crew been onboard?” a deckhand asked. “What is the tenure of crew, what is the turnover.”
“Ask about the boat, the itinerary, if it’s in the yard, where does it go, what does it do, is it charter,” another deckhand said.
“Don’t ask about pay in the first interview; ask in the second, just to find out the basics,” a deckhand said. “I say pay is earned anyway.”
“And don’t lie about smoking,” another stew said.
As many obstacles as new crew may think they encounter, they do have one advantage: they are new.
“I love hiring green crew,” one captain said. “If they are conscientious and intuitive, I can teach them anything. I can show them how to deploy an anchor and recover it safely. And they can be loyal and appreciative. Green crew win over vets in loyalty 75 percent of the time.”
When they don’t last, it’s not because of loyalty or work-related issues.
“I’m usually letting them go for something stupid,” this captain said, such as getting carried away on their first visit to Sint Maarten, what this captain called the “Vegas of the Caribbean.”
We wondered of crew if this experience of looking for a job on a yacht was what they expected it would be, or if they were surprised somehow.
“Surprised, yes,” a stew said. “I thought I would have a job within a month, but it is taking a long time.”
“We put so much effort into it, into agencies and networking, and I’m surprised that we don’t get back,” another stew said.
“We check these sites each day, sometimes multiple times a day, and we don’t hear anything,” said a third stew.
But then, eventually, things start to click.
“Sometimes I go to bed and cry,” a stew said. “Then one day, it’s like, ‘whoa, which job do I take?’ ”
Another stew agreed. “The seasons change from nothing, then three calls all in one week.”
Several of the captains in the lunch enjoy hiring green crew and take seriously the part of their job that lets them help the next generation of yachties.
“It behooves us all to help green crew because we want to have better people coming up,” one captain said.
“I’ve gotten a lot of crew over the years from kids who say ‘my buddy wants to try yachting, he’ll will work for free’,” said another captain. “I will give a lot of those people an opportunity.”
There are lots of things new crew can do to prepare to be hired for a job on a yacht. They prepare resumes, interview with crew agencies, take courses and network with fellow students, make business cards, frequent online job postings.
But the most important thing that captains said they should do?
Walk the dock.
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor and Dorie Cox is associate 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.