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While a college degree isn’t always a requirement or necessarily a deciding factor when it comes to securing a job as crew on a superyacht, captains who have participated in conversations during The Triton’s monthly ‘From the Bridge’ roundtable discussion have often commented that they do take note of degrees listed on CVs because, they say, it shows that a person went through a program and finished what they started.
We started asking random crew about college degrees and found that a majority had at least an associate’s degree. Others ranged from bachelor’s degrees in subjects ranging from economics to anthropology and beyond. When we asked crew about whether they use their degrees while serving on a yacht, a majority agreed that education outside of specific maritime certifications required to work in the yachting industry did add to their knowledge and impacted their work ethic and approach to their jobs onboard.
That’s not to say that crew without college degrees or vocational certifications outside of the marine industry are not just as competent and suited for a life working on a yacht. This month’s Triton Survey wanted to find out from captains their opinion about crew with or without college degrees and if it matters where knowledge comes from or how it is measured.
After all, just one charter season or journey spent working on a yacht adds to the sea hours and experience that only on-the-job training can give captains and crew.
We started by gathering information about our captains’ background in academic education outside of maritime schools and learned that while none of the captains’ surveyed held a doctorate, a majority had obtained a bachelor’s degree. A handful attended high school without finishing and 28 percent of the captains surveyed are high school graduates who entered the yachting industry and rose to the top of the chain of command.
We wanted to compare the captains’ maritime training to the results of the traditional education results and were impressed that of the captains surveyed, more than 73 percent have achieved the highest level of licensing that the marine industry offers.
None of the respondents rated themselves as entry level, but about 28 percent ranked themselves in between the two ends of the spectrum.
With all of those bachelor’s degrees reported, we wanted to find out if most captains went into the marine industry after working in another field and having a career before yachting.
With prior careers ranging from restaurant management, dive store ownership, professional photography to industrial packaging and manufacturing for a family-owned business, those surveyed offered explanations as to why they thought their prior careers helped them in their current positions.
We asked Did you have a career before you entered the yachting industry?
Seventy percent said they did have careers in another field ranging from commercial fishing to U.S. government engineer to serving as a political consultant, photographer, teacher, and military service.
One of our captains played professional football for the National Football League (NFL). Another owned flower shops and greenhouses in Chicago, dozens reported working in the dive industry, some as dive shop owners, others as dive instructors or commercial divers.
Did those previous career experience enhance their skills as captains? We asked If you had a previous career, does that knowledge help you in your yachting career?”
Definitely “Yes,” responded 62 percent while 26 percent felt the question didn’t apply to them and the other 12 percent felt their previous job or career didn’t enhance or better them as a captain.
One captain with more than 20 years of experience in yachting said that his previous job as an engineer made him a better problem solver as a manager of crew and a vessel.
Another 20-year veteran captain of a 101 to 120-foot yacht said that he used his bachelor degree and experience as a beach attendant to cater to guests and maintain equipment.
One captain who holds a master’s degree and runs a yacht larger than 220 feet, said that his job as a merchant marine captain gave him a skill set that helped him operate offshore vessels and water jet ferries.
A former British Merchant Navy member and shore-based oil industry employee who now runs a 101-120-foot yacht said he learned watchkeeping, navigation and stability from his prior position.
“I can prepare better food than most chefs,” comment one captain with more than 20 years of experience. He credits his training and experience working in the hospitality/ food and beverage business for that.
A captain with more than 35 years of yachting experience who has a bachelor’s degree said he had a previous career in industrial packaging and manufacturing. “Organizational skills with paperwork and accounting and making sure that the last thing you do is clean your workspace. Psychologically, the last task was positive (you cleaned up your space) when you return, you walk into a clean environment also positive psychologically,” he said.
A captain of a 81-100-foot yacht with 20 to 24 years experience once owned five ballroom dance studios. His response was “yes” that this job experience brought knowledge to his current position. The “owner’s wife wants learn to dance,” he explained.
But not every captain felt strongly that their previous job helped them be a better captain. Here’s the explanation why from some of the more than 10 percent who responded “no.” One who has been yachting for more than 30 years said he worked as a professional photographer and that he didn’t see how that skill helped him run a ship.
Next we wanted to know how much weight a college degree carries on a potential crew member’s C.V. at hiring time.
A strong majority, 70 percent, responded that a college degree was not necessary for them to hire crew.
We followed that line of thinking and asked of the crew you have worked with over the past five years, estimate how many of them had college degrees?
Forty-six percent of the captains reported that less than half of the crew members had a college degree, less than half of the captains, 43 percent said about half of their crew have college degrees and 11 percent of the captains reported that a majority of their crew have college degrees.
Can some college course taken by crew crossover and be considered transferable to maritime training certification we wondered. For example, the question should a business management degree substitute for or count toward maritime leadership training? sparked a lot of comments.
While 16 percent of those captains participating in the survey were for the idea, a majority 84 percent thought it might be a good idea.
One captain liked the idea because a degree showed that the crewmember completed the process. “It speaks to the discipline and “sticktuitiveness” that is required to obtain the degree,” he commented.
Several captains felt that a business course didn’t teach specific maritime skills.
“Should count, but will never replace experience managing a vessel or crew.” one captain in the business for more than 30 years commented.
“Currently a growing problem,” he added.
Another captain of a 121-140-foot yacht with a master’s degree and experience as a commercial vessel captain commented that more than 50 percent of his crew have college degrees and that he thought college business courses should count toward maritime training credit because they gave crew the “ability to solve, challenge ideas. Innovation, creativity, leadership raise fast, usually better on lead positions,” he added.
Another captain commented, “Nothing prepares you for this business more than a proper work ethic, and basic common courtesies to help get along with crew.”
A captain of a 101-120-foot yacht with more than 15 years of experience, a bachelor’s degree and a previous career in international business development commented said she did not think a substitution of business course credits were appropriate for maritime training. “No, but I think an appropriate equivalency set of business courses should exist,” she commented.
Another captain of the same size vessel with an associate’s degree agreed with the previous points of view and commented, “University is a school of fish while yachting is much more individual. We have a small crew so I look for people who did exceptional things in their life rather than sat through a series of classes. For example I would much rather take a person who used his two years after high school walking across Asia, or taking a bicycle around Europe for a year, or rowing across the Atlantic, or taking a balloon adventure across Africa. That skill set and life experiences are much more reverent to our job than “business law” or some other university course.”
And finally, we wanted to find out how many yacht operations supported and encouraged crew members to advance their education and training. We asked does your yacht support further crew training?
More than half said yes, at 54 percent and more than 40 percent of those reported that the education or training is paid for by the yacht owner.
“It’s a line item in the budget, a benefit that is encouraged and promoted when hiring. As such it promotes longevity of employment,” commented one captain.
“Sometimes we pay if the person will stay with us,” another veteran captain of a 141 to 160-foot yacht with more than 35 years experience commented.
“No, frugal owner,” commented another.
Some policies for training reimbursement require that crew stay onboard for a certain amount of time if the owner is going to fork over the money for covering training and certification.
“Our program will give the time off to go to school and after you receive your certificate for a class,” commented a captain of a 121 to 140-foot yacht. “We will reimburse your course fees after you give us 12 months of further service.”
Yacht captains explain if crew training is paid for by the yacht owner:
Words of wisdom:
Suzette Cook is editor of The Triton. Comments on this survey are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.