Every autumn, yachting industry publications take a look at captain and crew salaries, as if the size of the vessel or perhaps years of experience is all one needs to determine what a job or a person is worth.
We’re not interested in the dollars and cents of what captains and crew earn. That is private and personal, and likely has more to do with an individual’s negotiation skills than anything else.
Instead, we were interested in whether yacht captains and crew are happy with the compensation they receive for the job they are asked to do. Do they consider it fair for what they bring to the job and for what they are asked to give up?
One hundred and fifty yacht captains and crew took our survey this month, three-quarters of them captains. For the most part they are happy with what they earn and with the amount of work they are asked to do in exchange for it.
And that didn’t change much no matter how we sliced the results, filtering them by vessel length, tenure, and a dozen other criteria.
“I am well-paid in a great program,” said the captain of a private yacht 200-220 feet in yachting more than 25 years.”Sometimes, I still can’t believe that I get paid to go to the places we travel and see the sights that we encounter.”
We asked only two questions in our survey this month. First, How happy are you with the amount you are paid (both money and benefits)?
A third of our respondents said they are extremely happy, that their salary and benefits are exactly what they want with their current program.
“Great program and great owners,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 30 years.
About 48 percent more said they are mostly happy, that most parts of their compensation package are great, even if one or two parts could be better.
So taken together, more than 81 percent of captains and crew are happy with what they are paid to work on yachts.
“I am content with the compensation I receive,” said the captain/engineer of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “Loyalty and dedication has paid off with this particular owner. It’s the life I chose.”
Fourteen percent said they are somewhat happy, that one or two parts of their compensation package are great, but more parts are lacking.
And just 4.7 percent said they are not at all happy, that they are not paid what they feel either they or the job are worth.
We also asked How happy are you with the amount you work?
The numbers were a little stronger into the “extreme” category with almost 45 percent of our respondents saying they are extremely happy, that their current job is what they signed up for and perfect for them at the moment.
“I chose the boats I wanted to work on that I needed to balance my life with my family,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “Some sacrifices were made, but it works best for me, and I love it.”
Forty-two percent more said they are mostly happy, their only complaint being that they would prefer to work a little less (or a little more, considering their particular circumstance).
“My only discontent is strictly a function of the circumstances of my age,” said the chef on a charter/private yacht 120-140 feet in his early 40s. “I’d rather not be traveling and away from home so extensively. That said, I am very satisfied in that my compensation is very fair and appropriate and is structured for long-term employment. After more than 10 years with the same family and captain, they are quick to work with me in any reasonable requests for time off and accommodate nearly all that is possible to support the other areas of my life being fully lived.”
So taken together, more than 86 percent of captains and crew are happy with the amount they work on yachts.
“I don’t get enough time with the family at home, but it is the choice we have made, and a choice we are satisfied with,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “ ‘Life is about choices,’ as a wise chief mate once told me.”
The remaining 13 percent are pretty evenly split between being somewhat happy (fine for the moment, but not in a position they plan to work in long term, 6 percent) and not at all happy (their current level of work not at all what they want out of yachting, 7.3 percent).
Mid-size yacht captains happiest
Those results look pretty good, considering how often we hear captains and crew vent about their schedules. So we sliced and diced these results in a bunch of ways to see just who are the happiest yacht crew out there.
We started with captains of yachts larger than 160 feet, which were about 15 percent of our total respondents.
Their level of happiness with their salary is higher than our group as a whole, with nearly 91 percent extremely or mostly happy with what they are paid to work on yachts. Interestingly, though, the number extremely happy is almost double the number of the group as a whole (59 percent versus 33 percent).
“Great owners are the most important thing; I see owners as part of the compensation package,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “With loyalty will come reward. That has been a contributing factor to my compensation over the years of conscientious service. The salary was not the greatest, the benefits were the minimum, but as time has passed, I am now very happy with my contract, and the relationship with my employer has become one that I could never build again at this stage of my career. Look after your owners and they will look after you.”
Captains on large yachts also are slightly happier than our overall group in terms of the amount they work, with 91 percent (compared to 86 percent) being extremely or mostly happy.
Captains on yachts smaller than 120 feet are the least likely to be happy with what they are paid, with just 74.3 percent extremely and mostly happy compared with 90.9 percent of large yacht captains and 81.3 percent of all respondents.
While more small yacht captains are mostly happy with what they are paid compared with large yacht captains (45.5 percent vs. 31.8 percent), only half as many are extremely happy (about 29 percent vs. 59 percent). They are also slightly less happy when it comes to the amount of work they do; 86.4 percent happy vs. 90 percent happy among large yacht captains.
“I am compensated a fair wage and benefits for the service that I provide,” said the captain/engineer of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “I am loyal to the owner; he is loyal to me. I am completely content with my compensation and workload. The owner is kind, thoughtful, and respectful to me, and I consider this to be part of my compensation as well.”
The captains in the middle, however, are the happiest of all. Almost 97 percent of captains on yachts 120-160 feet are extremely (24.1 percent) or mostly (72.4 percent) happy with what they are paid. More than 93 percent are extremely (37.9 percent) or mostly (55.2 percent) happy with the amount of work they are asked to do, too.
“Yes, I am quite content,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 35 years. “Excellent yacht, facilities and wonderful owners. We’re always ‘stand-by-to-stand-by’, which is not a problem at all. The owners have a high standard, but are extremely courteous at all times.”
None said they are not at all happy in either question.
We were curious if longevity or tenure in yachting had anything to do with compensation happiness, so we looked at all our respondents by length of time in their current post as well as time in yachting and discovered that the longer they are in yachting, the happier captains and crew become with their compensation.
Among captains and crew in yachting more than 20 years, the numbers are similar to the group as a whole, with 86 percent either extremely (38.2 percent) or mostly (48.7 percent) happy with what they are paid.
“Paid-off house and over six figures in IRAs, all thanks to yachting,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 35 years.
Less than 12 percent are somewhat happy and only 1.3 percent are not at all happy.
Among those in yachting less than 10 years, the happiness factor dropped to 75 percent (30 percent extremely and 45 percent mostly), while the somewhat group grew to 15 percent and the not at all group leaped to 10 percent.
“I know I could earn more working in the Gulf for less time,” said the deckhand on a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting less than five years.
The same trend showed up when we looked at their happiness in terms of workload. The longer captains and crew have been in yachting, the happier they are with the level of work required of them.
Those in yachting more than 20 years are extremely (51.3 percent) or mostly (40.8 percent) happy with the work they are asked to do, but those in yachting less than 10 years are less happy, with 45 percent extremely and 30 percent mostly. The difference showed up in the somewhat category, where 20 percent of less-tenured crew fell versus just 2.6 percent of veteran crew.
In terms of tenure, we compared captains and crew in their current positions for a short time against those in their posts longer and discovered that the longer crew stayed in their jobs, the happier they got.
Captains and crew in their current positions six years or more gave us one of the largest groups of extremely happy yachties in our survey at 59 percent. Add to that the 30.8 percent who are mostly happy and 89.8 percent of this tenured group is happy with their compensation.
“It took a while and I had to pay my dues, but I am now in a perfect situation,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 25 years.
That left 7.7 percent who are somewhat happy and 2.6 percent who are not at all happy.
The compensation happiness of yachties in their positions less than two years dropped to 76.6 percent who are extremely (18.8 percent) or mostly (57.8 percent) happy.
“A healthy and happy boat can compensate for less pay,” said the chef/stew on a yacht 100-120 feet in her position 1-2 years.
That left 17.2 percent somewhat happy — more than double their longer-tenured counterparts — and 6.3 percent not at all happy with their compensation — almost triple those in their jobs longer.
When we looked at workload, almost all those in their jobs longer (97.4 percent) are extremely (64.1 percent) or mostly (33.3 percent) happy with the work they are asked to do, far surpassing their shorter-tenured brethren. None indicated they are somewhat happy, and just 2.6 percent are not at all happy.
By comparison, just 81.2 percent of those in their jobs less than two years are extremely (35.9 percent) or mostly (45.3 percent) happy, 9.4 percent somewhat happy, and 9.4 percent not happy at all.
Beyond tenure, we were curious how age played into the mix of happiness, so we compared those over 50 with those under 50. It didn’t surprise us to learn that those over 50 are happier — or at least less unhappy — than younger crew.
Those captains and crew over 50 are extremely (36.6 percent) or mostly (47.6 percent) happy with their compensation, even if their comments didn’t reveal that level of contentment.
“I wish I had more time off (away from the boat) for family,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 20 years. In his early 50s, he said he was extremely happy with his compensation and workload.
“Once 20 percent of salary is removed for pension/retirement and health insurance costs are deducted, due to the lack of family life and the loss of personal space, the salary doesn’t compensate as well as it used to,” said the engineer of a yacht 180-200 feet in yachting more than 15 years. Also in his early 50s, this engineer said he is mostly happy with his compensation and workload.
Captains and crew younger than 50 are less likely to be extremely happy (29.4 percent vs. 36.6 percent of older crew) and much more likely to say they are not at all happy with their compensation (8.8 percent vs. 1.2 percent of older crew).
“Too much work, not enough reward,” said the first officer of a yacht larger than 220 feet in his late 30s. He said he is not at all happy for both compensation and workload.
“As an older crew member, it is easier to appreciate a job for the perks and lifestyle,” said the purser on a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “It is more difficult to convince younger crew that running yourself ragged is not always worth a few extra bucks.” Although she considers herself older, this purser is in her late 30s and is mostly happy with her compensation and workload.
In terms of their workload, captains and crew over 50 are significantly happier with their workload, 95.1 percent are extremely (43.0 percent) or mostly (51.2 percent) happy, while only about 76.5 percent of captains and crew younger than 50 are so happy.
Younger crew were more unhappy with their workload than their elders, too, with 13.2 percent somewhat happy (while no older opted for this choice) and 10.3 percent not at all happy (compared with half that for older crew).
We wondered, too, if the cruising grounds contributed to crew’s happiness level as it pertains to compensation, so we looked at those respondents who have a local or regional cruising schedule (where the yachts stay in one part of the planet) and compared them to those who do more seasonal and global cruising.
In general, crew on local boats are happier. While more global cruising crews are extremely happy with their compensation (34.5 percent vs. 32.3 percent), more local cruising crew are mostly happy (50.8 percent vs. 45.2 percent), giving them a slight leg up in the compensation happiness department.
“I have taken a position closer to home on a smaller vessel that has a great owner and program,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “I can’t be happier. The pay scale was reduced by 25 percent, but I see family most evenings now.”
There were also far fewer local cruising crews in the “not at all” happy category, just 1.5 percent compared to global cruising crews’ 7.1 percent.
In terms of workload, local cruising crews win out again, being slightly happier at 89.2 percent than their global cruising cousins at 84.5 percent. And again, less than half as many locally cruising crew noted they are not at all happy with their workload than global cruising crew.
“Overtime pay for those rare 23-hour workdays would be nice, but I’m paid fair for my current position on the boat,” said the engineer/mate of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 10 years.
It was clear to see the correlation between pay and workload among those who work on local boats. Those captains and crew tended to be mostly happy with their compensation (50.8 percent) but extremely happy with their workload (52.3 percent).
Interestingly, when we asked an open-ended question about how our respondents felt about their compensation, the single most common answer had less to do with traditional compensation such as salary and benefits and more to do with how they are treated. And they didn’t put a dollar figure to that.
“As a couple, my wife and I make $175,000 combined, but have four months off a year and they don’t kill us,” said the captain/engineer of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “We love them for that.”
“It’s all about the owner and the relationship you have with them,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “Good owners mean happy crew. Happy crew make for happy owners.”
“I have a good job working for a courteous owner who treats most people in his life fairly,” said the captain/engineer of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 20 years.
“My boss appreciates my hard work and my commitment to save money and take on projects myself,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 10 years.
Those captains and crew who are less than happy know why, and usually it’s the workload, not the salary, that puts them there.
“The older I get, the less I want to be living in a hole on some boat eight to nine months a year, regardless of how nice it is,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet now in his late 50s. “Every day, the boat gets a little smaller. Those of us on smaller boats end up doing several jobs. We have to or it will not get done. Yes, for the most part, I have been content. It is the nature of the job. Working for the right people goes a long way.”
“The work hours versus compensation deal is very much swings and roundabouts: horribly overworked at times and blissfully under-employed at others,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “That said, I’m well paid, get a large villa and a good car, as much leave as I am able to take plus business-class travel with my wife (and even the dog) whenever I can get away. I just wish they’d bought a bigger boat so I could delegate more.”
On the flip side, the ability to squeeze real life into work definitely helps some crew feel happier.
“I have the freedom to enjoy life so long as the vessel is ready for use when required,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 20 years.
The unhappy ones
We were curious who was unhappy so we looked at those 4.7 percent of captains and crew who said they are not at all happy with what they are paid. All of them work on deck or in the engine room, and half have secondary positions that compliment their lead role, such as captain-engineer or mate-deck. None are interior crew.
Their vessels range in size, with half on yachts below 120 feet and the other half on yachts larger than 180 feet and larger than 220 feet. Most are in the mid range of their careers, between five and 25 years. Almost all have been in their current jobs just a year or two.
It’s worth noting that most are on vessels that cruise a lot and far from home. None are locally based.
It was interesting to note, too, that a quarter of those who are unhappy with their pay are extremely happy with the amount they work.
“I have been with this owner a number of years,” said the captain/engineer of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “I weathered the economic downturn and was thankful I had a job and an owner who was committed to the care of his yacht. I’m disappointed because things have turned around and we now have a larger vessel, and it’s apparent I’m going to have to approach him about a salary increase.”
When we looked at the 7.3 percent who are unhappy with the amount they work, we discovered similar results. Most are on deck and half have a secondary deck role, although one is a chef.
About two-thirds are on smaller vessels, and most are in their current jobs just a few years. Their cruising habits are a little less global, slightly more seasonal.
When we looked at how these captains and crew who are unhappy with their workload considered their salary, we discovered that just over a quarter are extremely or mostly happy with their pay. About half are only somewhat happy in that department, too. And the remaining quarter are not at all happy.
“I think the reason I am not happy is because 18-hour days, week after week, have just taken its toll on me,” said the chef on a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 10 years. While this chef rates his happiness with his salary as extreme, the workload affects his overall yachting happiness, making him chose “not at all” when it comes to workload happiness. “My passion to create has been replaced with the need to please.”
“Sometimes, it’s 24/7 for weeks at a time,” said the captain/engineer of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “It wasn’t a problem at 25, but at 57 it’s killing me.”
“I recently had a discussion with the boss about this,” said the captain/engineer of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 25 years. While he is mostly satisfied with his salary, he is not at all happy with the amount he works. “We run light crew and are in high demand, making time off difficult. I am naturally committed, but dissatisfied with demands imposed and necessary. Basically, I need more free time to be happy and enjoy life. I’ve indicated for years it’s less about money than doing what I love, and the scales have tipped. The boss can’t put a dollar value on free time. Compensation is a value for yacht owners, but quality of life and morale suffer.”
And we can’t ignore the fact that happiness isn’t only rated by compensation and workload.
“Money is only one issue,” said the captain/engineer on a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “In my job role, the owner gives us lots of freedom. We choose what charters to take, where to station the boat between charters, where and when to haul, our own schedule, and all our own crew. This gives us a feeling of security in the job and thus we are happily willing to accept a lesser wage.”
“The concept of basing salary off of the owner’s schedule is an idea worth considering,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “Yachting publications love to ask what everyone is making but no one asks how busy or unbusy their boat is and that makes the whole question pretty irrelevant to me. I am on a very busy private boat and it’s hard on the crew when the owners are on the boat for four months straight. The owner thinks he’s finally getting his money’s worth out of the crew, but the crew fail to see the incentive for working so much on a salary-based income. Why not move to a boat where the owner uses the boat for 6-8 weeks each season instead? Even that would be a busy schedule for some boats. If we developed a payment method with incentives based on the owner’s usage, then the crew would know this going into the season and could actually be encouraged by heavy guest usage. Yes, this would cost the owner more money initially but it would be less costly than the price of replacing crew every six months with agency fees, uniforms, flights, training, working mistakes caused by unfamiliarity, etc.”
“I’ve graduated to temp jobs, mostly Atlantic crossings and fill-in positions in the Med and Caribbean,” said the captain of yachts 180-200 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “I’ve been rotating through the same boats for the same lead captains.”
“At my age, personal time has become more important and money somewhat less,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “At this point, I would trade more time off for less money. I wish owners understood or could accept that.”
“After more than 30 years, I look back and wonder where my life went,” said the captain/engineer on a yacht 100-120 feet who still is mostly happy with compensation and workload. “All I remember is working. The biggest problem with this job is the more you give and work, the more is requested and expected.”
“My gig now pays well but has been based in Florida for 18 months and I live in the Carolinas,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “I am able to come home frequently, but we used to spend six months there, which was ideal. I am a family man now and am worried that my next job will travel more. Pay is not really the concern; it’s making sure when I come home my kids still call me Dad.”
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Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this survey are welcome at email@example.com. We conduct monthly surveys electronically. All captains and crew members are welcome to participate. If you haven’t received an e-mail to take our surveys, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to be included.