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Captains trend toward conservative appearance at work and when hiring

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Pouring over photos from our recent Triton Expo, we couldn’t help but notice how many male crew had facial hair. That got us wondering. With yachting generally more conservative when it comes to the contemporary fads of tattoos and piercings, we wondered if it also puts restrictions on facial hair and other expressions of individuality.

Granted, a lot of those furry faces we photographed are older, so perhaps they have earned the right to let their hair down. Or was it something else? How many personal rules must captains and crew abide by when working on yachts?

Not a lot of younger (and presumably more contemporary) crew took our survey this month. The average age is 45-60, and our respondent is more likely to be a male captain in yachting more than 20 years. They also run private boats instead of charter, which we thought might have made the rules a bit more relaxed. It didn’t.

Triton survey: Forms of self-expression. Photo by Dorie Cox

Triton survey: Forms of self-expression. Photo by Dorie Cox

We began by trying to get a sense for who has what, including facial hair, tattoos and piercings, features we later lumped together into one category called modes of self-expression.

Do you have facial hair? (We should note that only three women were among our more than 90 respondents, and we encouraged them to say no to this question as well as the next one.)

Slightly more than a quarter of our respondents have facial hair.

Have you ever had facial hair while employed on a yacht?

The answer to this question was our most balanced, with 56 percent indicating that they had once had facial hair while in yachting. Many of those who offered their details about this form of self-expression said they have always had their facial hair.

“Always had a moustache, since Vietnam,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years.

“My beard is not a trend thing like most,” said another captain in yachting more than 30 years. “I have had it since I was 28; I’m now 47 and my wife will not let me cut it off.”

“I wear a beard to keep the sun and wind off my face,” said a third veteran captain.

One captain made a change in this form of self-expression to keep up with yachting.

“I used to have a beard, for about 20 years, mainly to protect my face from the sun,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years. “As I got older, and the yacht industry is a young man’s game, I shaved to look more youthful.”

And one captain faced a cultural challenge with the hair on his face.

“I had a beard when joining a yacht in Saudi, but I had to keep it as to shave would have shown disrespect to the local religion,” said a captain in his late 70s.

The next spate of questions were pretty boring, actually.

Do you have any piercings? (other than traditional, small earring holes in the lower lobe)?

Ninety-nine percent do not.

“Used to have an earring,” said a captain in yachting more than 20 years. “Got rid of it after my first boat so as to appear more professional.”

Naturally, when we asked the next question, the results were the same.

Do any of your piercings show in the course of your duties while wearing in a regular crew uniform of shorts and a polo?

Again, 99 percent said no.

“I have asked a stew if she would object to popping out a nose ring,” said a captain in yachting more than 20 years. “She did not mind. In fact, she recognized that crew on surrounding yachts did not wear them and left hers out for as long as I knew her.”

We got a little more traction with this next question, but not much.

Do you have any tattoos?

Less than a fifth of respondents said they do. And if they do, they came long before yachting and are not visible.

“I got mine in the 70’s when tattoos meant something, not like today where people cover their bodies for no real reason,” said a captain in his early 60s.

“Lots of tattoos, before, during and will be getting them still after yachting,” said a chef in his early 30s in yachting more than 10 years and currently works on a predominantly charter yacht.

Do any of your tattoos show in the course of your duties while wearing in a regular crew uniform of shorts and a polo?

A third of the captains and crew with tattoos said they are visible in a normal crew uniform, about 6 percent of our respondents.

“I have a tattoo of a fish on my left calf after a fish bit me,” said a captain in his early 50s in yachting more than 30 years. “Not obscene, very tasteful. This was about 15 years ago.”

So for the most part, we are dealing with an already-conservative crowd.

“My self-expression is a clean-cut, successful individual compatible with the same type of people” who own yachts, said a captain in yachting more than 25 years.

“Other than some very expensive dentistry, I’m ‘as built’,” said a captain in his late 60s. “OK, a little thinner in the hair department and a tad fuller around the gut.”

Still, our next series of questions shed a little more light on the industry when it comes to modes of self-expression. We were curious, mostly, if they made a difference when it came to getting and doing a job.

Have any of these forms of self-expression ever interfered with your ability to get a job?

Most, of course, said this didn’t apply since they do not have any of these that are visible in normal work conditions.

Even if we remove those answers from our pool, we still find that the majority (75 percent) said no. And the next largest group (15 percent more) said they weren’t mentioned as a problem but it was clear they needed to be minimized.

Five percent more said they made adjustments in their modes of self-expression to get the job.

Just 5 percent of our respondents who express themselves visually indicated that their choice caused them not to get a job they feel they likely would have gotten.

“Not one time has an owner ever commented on crew with tattoos,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “It is also possible that the content and context of the tattoo is more important than the mere fact that a tattoo is seen. A butterfly or interesting blue marlin tattoo compared to a skull with a bullet hole, dripping blood, for example. As captain, I don’t care. Let’s get the job done and try our best to have some fun doing it.”

We were curious if these personal choices likely made before yachting somehow impacted their work on yachts. For example, a scuba mask might not fit as snuggly with facial hair, or a charter guest was offended by a neck tattoo and asked that someone else drive the tender. So we asked Have any of these forms of self-expression ever interfered with your ability to perform your job?

We again received a strong conservative result. Ninety-eight percent said no.

“I always kept my facial hair short and neat,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “On occasion, my dive mask used to leak.”

“When I had a beard and had to do a bunch of diving, I shaved my upper lip in that Captain Ahab style,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years. “For a while, I worked as a commercial salvage diver and just kept my mask sealing line shaved. My boss at the time never mentioned it and it was just a matter of my choice to be able to better do my job and, of course, breath.”

While it didn’t impact this next captain directly, he did note that “I have had to work with those who had necklaces, rings, facial hair, long hair, and it usually did not go well. In emergency situations, where a mask needs a seal, it won’t work. Jewelry results in damaged fingers, ears and more.”

We wondered if there are rules about this stuff, so we asked Have you ever worked on a yacht that had a policy about any of these self-expressions?

Our responses here were pretty evenly split between yes, no and sort of, but taken together, two-thirds of our respondents have worked under some sort of policy, whether official and written down or informal. When we asked for more on this, several captains offered their own position on hiring crew with visible forms of self-expression.

“I won’t hire with visible tattoos,” said the captain of a predominantly private yacht 200-220 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “Piercings are fine but most go away and cannot be visible while guests are on board. My present vessel has a no-facial-hair (with guests on) policy. I get away with it due to a facial scar that the goatee covers.”

“On the Standard Operating Procedure, I have a section that calls for beards to be trimmed and of neat appearance,” said the captain of a yacht 200-220 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “If no beard, crew must shave daily on working days.”

“Tattoos are discouraged, as are piercings,” said the captain of a private yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “Having one or more of these elements of ‘self-expression’ would most likely affect the hiring of the individual. Facial hair is allowed only if the person has facial hair on the date of hire. Otherwise, all male crew members need to be clean shaven.”

Several captains also followed that practice of accepting facial hair from the outset but not permitting it once hired.

“I was on a yacht that said if you start with facial hair you can keep it, but you can’t start growing a beard once on board,” said another captain on a yacht 100-120 feet with a mix of charter and owner use. “This was to prevent a week’s worth of guests seeing crew needing a shave while claiming to be growing a beard. We also required men to have short hair and woman’s hair be well kept.

“At the time, I thought it was pretty tough, but now as captain I want my crew looking sharp,” said this captain, who has been in yachting more than 25 years. “We average more than 25 percent tips on all our charters. This rate is about as high as the industry goes, and this high tip rate is part of the payoff for keeping strict rules for all crew. If we go lax on our crew, it will affect my tips and that really makes it personal.”

“Tattoos were OK as long as they were hidden while in uniform; the same with piercings,” said the captain of a private yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “Beards were never a problem so long as they were kept neat and tidy. I agree with this policy.”

Considering how the majority of our respondents are veteran captains, the results to this next question didn’t really surprise us. Has yachting caused you to change your mode of self-expression (perhaps a boss asked you to shave your beard or take out your piercings, for example)?

The vast majority — 87 percent — said no.

We also wanted to know if these things were worth mentioning, so we asked <<BOLD>>Is this on your resume?

Eliminating the majority (81 percent) who said no because it doesn’t apply to them, most (again 81 percent) said they do note on their CV that either they have no visible tattoos or piercings (75 percent) or that they have them (6 percent). The rest do not mention it.

Considering that yachting guidelines and social conventions conflict here, we asked Do you find yachting to be conservative?

Three-quarters of our respondents said they thought yachting was conservative, but that was OK with them.

“As service professionals performing at what is supposed to be the highest levels of the service industry, it has traditionally been incumbent on personnel aboard luxury yachts to avoid any offensive behavior,” said the captain of a private yacht 140-160 feet. “This includes how we speak, using good manners, our attitudes, body language, and how we present ourselves visually to the owners and guests. Crew agents understand this and sales organizations understand this. It’s about being approachable and putting guests (or customers) at ease. It’s the whole package.

“How we choose to present ourselves visually is just as important as how we speak and behave generally,” said this captain, in yachting more than 15 years. “It demonstrates the level of respect we have for our yacht, our owner, the captain and our associates in the crew, and is reflective of the appreciation we have for ourselves and our positions on board (or not). This takes the form of maintaining a neat and clean appearance and includes combing your hair, brushing your teeth, taking daily showers, wearing your uniform as intended, and not sporting potentially shocking tattoos and piercings.

“Remember, the experience on board is supposed to be about them, not us,” he said. “This really isn’t rocket science, and the mere need to have a discussion over what should be common sense in a high-level service environment such as luxury yachting demonstrates just how far the bar has been lowered.”

“Going in a certain direction based on lifestyle eliminates the ability to hold many jobs, and should,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “Ours is a business that wears uniforms. There is a reason for this, and one that would make certain self-expression lifestyle choices unacceptable. Uniform is the name of the day.”

The next largest group — 12 percent — said “not really”, that the jobs they have had have been more relaxed.

“Appearance is the key,” said the captain of a private yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “A nicely groomed beard on an excellent employee will do far more than a mediocre employee with no beard. However, there is a level of professionalism that should be encouraged and grooming is critical.”

Seven percent more didn’t find yachting conservative at all.

And just 5 percent thought yacht owners and charter guests were too conservative in this regard.

“Considering the fact that I arrived in yachting in 1976, it has become progressively more restricted and rule bound, with less and less personal expression allowed,” said a captain in his late 60s who runs a predominantly charter yacht 160-180 feet. “It’s almost as though individuality scares people.”

Do you think yachting has changed over the years in what is acceptable in terms of self-expression?

Two-thirds of our respondents who answered this question said yes, and not always in a good way.

“Yes, yachting has changed,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “Over 30 some years ago, the British set impeccable standards in the yachting and service industries that the rest of the world tried to uphold. I am an American and have always tried to meet the high standards the British set many years ago. The strange thing is it seems to be the red-flag boats that have allowed tattoos, piercings and facial hair into the yachting industry as the new acceptable standard.

“Sorry if it offends people but I feel we have an obligation to uphold the original standards set by the British years ago: no facial hair, no visible tattoos, and no piercings,” said this captain, who runs a private yacht 140-160 feet. “We are here to uphold standards, not make up new ones to suit today’s flash-in-the-pan new trends.

“Look at any other high-end wealthy industry,” he said. “These things are not and will not be accepted. As a side note: Go visit a nursing home and look at some 70-year-old tattoos and piercings. It’s not a pretty sight. Think beyond today.”

“Yacht owners are getting more progressive, especially under 50m, in letting go of tradition a little bit,” said the captain of a charter yacht 120-140 feet. “Now we see so many stars and athletes with facial hair, even shaving less often. This is now the norm. As well, piercings and tattoos are so mainstream in the world. We hope owners can have some flexibility, and face the world as it is.”

“Yachting may have relaxed a bit with regard to modes of self-expression but my thoughts on the matter have not,” said the captain of a private yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “That said, all captains have an image they would like to project for the yacht. Crew members with tattoos, piercings and facial hair do not fit that image on my vessel.”

“I don’t think [this issue] is a matter of conservative, per say, but more about trust,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet that has a mix of charter and owner use and in the industry more than 25 years. “We have minutes to produce trust in our agents and guests. Would you want to put your children on a plane with a pilot who can’t manage to wear a clean uniform, pressed shirt and clean shoes? Many people worry about their safety on the water, and since we work the top tier of the marine industry in yachts we should look the part.”

Click here to read comments on forms of self-expression.

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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One thought on “Captains trend toward conservative appearance at work and when hiring

  1. Capt. Ned Stone

    Regarding your recent survey about forms of crew self expression [“Captains trend toward conservative looks,” page C1, June issue], I have to say we are in the service business at the highest level. Ideally, we deliver beyond expectations without drawing attention to ourselves. In essence, the goal is to be ever present but invisible.
    Established professionals will always have an advantage and will find opportunities. I wore a short-trimmed beard for many years but shaved to appear more professional.
    As I look at resumes and narrow my choices, qualifications come first. Then smokers are disqualified because they need a break while others keep working.
    To crew, I say, make it easy for me to hire you. If the choice is between equal candidates, the one without visible decoration wins. Who I hire reflects on me. Maturity and decorum are a big part of how we get the job done.
    As one captain commented “context is relevant”. A butterfly on an ankle is less likely to cause a stir than forearm ink during dinner service.
    I often tell younger crew: Imagine a captain who needs to replace a mate, a deckhand and a stew for the coming season. He has 10 resumes in front of him for each of those positions. Half will get discarded for simple mistakes or obvious biases such as smoking. Make it easy for your resume to make it into the second round.
    Capt. Ned Stone, relief
    M/V Svengali

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