As the summer season comes to an end, we were curious if boats were busy. Ft. Lauderdale’s shipyards stayed busy in this typically quieter time, and more and more sales announcements have come through our inbox.
But what about captains and crew? More movement of boats must mean more work for crew, right?
Our survey this month has two parts. First, to find out if captains and crew were busy in the summer of 2015, and to find out if that busy-ness impacts their career. While being busy is good, being too busy can lead to burnout.
We touched on this subject of burnout a little this spring, with our owner columnist writing about it in his column in the April issue and our captains luncheon tackling the subject in May while discussing mini-ISM.
We started simply by asking What did you do this summer? We asked them to highlight their most common activity between May 15 and Sept. 15.
Nearly two-thirds of our respondents said they cruised with the owners and/or guests.
“Two months straight boss trip this summer,” said the chef of a yacht 140-160 feet who cruised the Bahamas this summer.
“Over 450 dinners served so far this summer,” reported the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet who cruised New England this summer.
“June 28 to Aug. 28, 35 ports of call, 12 docks and 23 anchorages, 2,500 miles, with the owners and four children plus alternating guests,” said the captain of a yacht 180-200 feet.
“Very busy charter year for us,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet who cruised New England.
“Had owners or guests on for nine weeks straight,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet who cruised the Bahamas and Caribbean.
Thirteen percent more were busy in a shipyard or marina.
“Spent one month in the shipyard at the end of a very unsatisfactory nine-month refit, followed by back-to-back charters,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet.
“March through August in the shipyard getting a complete paint job and new teak deck,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet.
“New boat purchased late last year,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet. “Yard time in both Florida and South Carolina, with one short cruise up to Virginia.”
About a quarter of our respondents weren’t busy, either sitting idle at the dock (15 percent), taking a break or looking for work (9 percent).
“The stock market is killing the boss’ appetite for boating,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 35 years.
“Owner getting older and doesn’t get to the boat as much,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “And there are health issues with the wife.”
“I have taken several months off to really think about even staying in yachting,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “Burned out with the BS. Having said that, I upgraded my license and got some of the new STCW 2017 stuff out of the way. Plus, my license is up for renewal in December, so I’m getting TWIC, a new passport, sea service forms, etc., in order.”
Our respondents were busy (or not) in all parts of the world, including most frequently the U.S. Northeast (about 40 percent of our respondents), Florida (15 percent), the Caribbean (15 percent) and the Med (15 percent). But they also visited Greece, Turkey, Croatia, the Baltic, Norway, UK, Canada, Bermuda, Southern California, the Pacific Northwest, and even the South Pacific.
We were curious if this summer was different from last year, so we asked, for whatever they did Is that the same activity as last summer?
The largest group (44 percent) said this summer was different in both activity and location.
“Haven’t been in the Med since 2012,” said the captain of a private yacht 120-140 feet who cruised the region this summer with the owner and guests.
“Last year was Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Seychelles, a little Cyprus, France, Italy, and Northeast U.S.,” said the captain of a yacht larger than 220 feet. This year, the yacht visited the Northeast U.S., UK, Norway, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia and Greece.
“Western Med last year,” said the captain of a yacht 180-200 feet who spent this summer around Greece and the Adriatic. “Alaska or South Pacific next summer.”
But the next largest group (35 percent) said it was the same as last summer in both ways.
“We did branch out to a new cruising ground for one month,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet who cruised the Pacific Northwest this summer and last.
About 16 percent were doing the same thing as last year, but in a different place.
“Last summer we were in Alaska,” said the chief stew of a yacht 160-180 feet who cruised with the owners and guests in New England this summer.
About 5 percent are doing something different, but in the same place.
“Last summer was more charters,” said the chef of a yacht 140-160 feet who cruised the Bahamas with the owners and guests.
Now that the summer is over, we were curious Do you feel burned out?
Almost half our our respondents — 48 percent — said they do, and they need a vacation.
“We have had the owners aboard since May 3,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht 160-180 feet that cruised the Pacific Northwest this summer.
“Non-stop since late last year,” said the captain of a private yacht less than 80 feet that has been in the shipyard. “October is mine, so I am told.”
The next largest group, about a third, said they were not really burned out.
“Going to start a crew house as well as look for work,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht yacht 100-120 feet who cruised the Caribbean with the owners this summer.
One veteran captain who didn’t work this summer said he/she feels much more refreshed now. “I needed the break.”
About 19 percent said they sort of feel burned out, that summers are always busy, but that they get a break in the fall to recharge.
“Once the weather turns, things slow down,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht 80-100 feet who cruised in California with the owners and guests this summer.
“We are on vacation and will have been for two months by the time we get back,” said the chef of a yacht 140-160 feet. “Balance.”
“Now we go to work with owners until late January,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht 100-120 feet who was in a Florida shipyard this summer.
Sometimes, burnout doesn’t come from being busy.
“I’m just tired of babysitting,” said the captain of a private yacht 100-120 feet that sat idle this summer. “I like the change of places.”
We realized that not all our respondents were busy this summer, so we culled out those who were not. Looking only at those who were busy (nearly two-thirds of the total), we learned that as a group the busier crew were, the more burned out they felt. (Pretty obvious, right?)
The percentage of those who felt burned out jumped from 48 percent of all respondents to 55 percent of those who cruised this summer. Add in the “sort of” group (27 percent of cruisers versus 19 percent of all respondents) and 82 percent of cruisers felt at least a little burned out after this summer.
“Not enough hours in the day or days in the week to get caught up back at home,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht 120-140 feet.
“Did the same for winter season and spring break,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht 180-200 feet that cruised extensively this summer with the owner and guests. “I want a summer-only boat.”
One busy captain noted that burnout is a matter of perspective.
“What is burnout?” asked the captain of a strictly private yacht larger than 220 feet who traveled extensively this summer. “I had planned on scouting Cuba for our next cruise and organizing our shipyard projects after seeing the old and ailing ones in my family. If you’re not at least a little tired every day then you didn’t work hard enough.”
In addressing this issue of burnout this spring (the Owner’s View in April and From the Bridge in May), the topic of time off was the sticking point, so we asked Did you get any downtime this summer?
Nearly half said not really. While they might get daily breaks fairly regularly, there were not many days away from the boat this summer.
“Three days off in nine weeks,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht 140-160 feet.
“Our boss left the boat one time for two weeks,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht 160-180 feet.
“Max one day a week, which in my book is good going,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht 140-160 feet.
“Despite living a couple miles from the boat, it’s hard to get real time off while yard work is ongoing,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet.
Add to that nearly 20 percent more who said outright they got no downtime, and more than two-thirds had a hard time with downtime this summer.
“When I’m away from home port, the only ‘downtime’ is the five hours of sleep each night, provided there are no mechanical failures or alarms going off,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht 120-140 feet.
“One day every three weeks, more or less,” said the captain of a yacht larger than 220 feet that has a good mix of charter and private use.
The remaining third of respondents said yes, they got regular weekly downtime. And some got more time off than they wanted.
“I was hired full time, but after a month I was told boat looks better than new and asked to slow down to 20 hours a week,” said the captain of a private yacht less than 80 feet.
When we crunched those numbers to look only at those captains and crew who were cruising this summer, we found the same jump in numbers for those who didn’t get much time off: 56 percent who said not really, and 24 percent who said outright no, meaning 80 percent of our cruising respondents didn’t get much downtime, compared with 68 percent of respondents as a whole.
“Eighteen-hour days for four months, no chance of a day off,” said the captain of a predominantly charter yacht 160-180 feet. “Crew also had no days off whilst attempting to comply with hours of rest regulations.”
In an effort to see if the summer of 2015 was any busier than normal, we asked Is that level of work and rest normal for you?
“During the summer yes, though it seems to get more difficult/demanding each year,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht 100-120 feet.
Almost three-quarters of our respondents said the same thing.
“Only during the summer,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht 100-120 feet who cruised the Northeast with the owners.
“But this program is a little extreme,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht 200-220 feet.
“It’s yachting,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht 180-200 feet.
“Yes, time to slow down and smell the roses and motorcycle fumes again,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht smaller than 80 feet.
Slightly more than a quarter of respondents said this summer’s load wasn’t normal. One captain who was busy said it wasn’t in a good way.
“A very badly managed yacht, which required a huge effort to keep it together in order to fulfill charters, which were booked without consideration for the crew,” said the captain of a predominantly charter yacht 160-180 feet.
“New boat, new program,” said the stew of a strictly private yacht 80-100 feet.
Have you ever quit a job on a yacht because of burnout?
Most — 74 percent — have not.
“I would have, but I managed to get through it,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “I believe there is a long learning curve. The work aspect will take care of itself; work either gets done or not. Interpersonal relationship issues are a much bigger problem. In many cases, everyone is thrown together (owners included) without any time to get through the human issues. We are all different, and working as a service provider to people who sometimes do not really care what the issue is, makes it that much harder. Many times I wished I had just gone in marine-related commercial work. Show up, do your job. No one changes their mind every 20 minutes and then wonders why you are not ready.
“In general, I do not believe in quitting,” this captain said. “I believe in toughing it out at least 8-12 months, if you can. Until we spend time together and get through a couple of disasters we will never be comfortable with each other.”
But some have quit to get a break.
“Left a boat after four years with little to no time off and extreme burnout,” said a captain in yachting more than 15 years. “Traveled all summer, feeling refreshed, and excited about getting back on a boat in the fall.”
To put it all in perspective, we asked Has burnout impacted your career?
Again, most — this time 61 percent — said no. But that’s not as clear-cut as it sounds.
“No, but it should have,” said a captain in yachting more than 35 years. “I have always successfully completed charter seasons, but at great personal cost. Effort is never recognized by owners, and current regulations on hours of rest put the captain at risk. Often, the ISM management and the charter management are the same, subsequently the captain gets little support in managing crew fatigue.”
“No, but it has come close to affecting my drive, which would directly affect my career,” said a chef of more than 10 years.
“I just don’t like the job as much,” said a stew in yachting less than 5 years.
“Answering no but I came very, very close to walking off a few weeks ago,” said a captain in yachting more than 20 years. “Total burnout. It’s better for now, but I’m not sure of winter/spring/summer plans yet.”
The remaining 39 percent said burnout has impacted their career.
“Who can be creative when burned out?” said a yacht chef of more than 25 years.
“You can start to lose focus, but a rest changes that,” said a captain of more than 25 years.
“I got fired once because I had enough of the BS and made it clear I would not tolerate it further,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “You hired me to do a job. Let me do it or get someone else. I can be packed in 30 minutes.”
“I will leave this job soon,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht 80-100 feet.
“I’m just tired of not being able to make plans for my own life,” said a captain in yachting more than 15 years. “I plan all my vacations months in advance with the owner’s consent. My last three vacations (over a two-year period) were interrupted or changed due to the boss deciding he needed the yacht during that time. My schedule is not my schedule; it belongs to the yacht. I’m tired.”
Click to read comments from survey respondents.
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this survey are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. We conduct monthly surveys online. All captains and crew members are welcome to participate. If you haven’t received an e-mail to take our surveys, e-mail email@example.com to be included.