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Culture is key to crew retention

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By Lucy Chabot Reed

In an effort to stay away from the L word, leaders in yacht crew training gathered yesterday to discuss the importance of culture on yachts.

“Instead of pointing your finger and saying what’s wrong with the industry, why not turn that finger back and say what’s wrong with me, and how can I improve to better the industry?” said Capt. Michael Schueler of M/Y Rasselas. “I try to teach my crew that your beliefs do not make you a better person, your actions do.”

In the first YachtInfo seminar of the show, the panelists agreed that the culture onboard was key to retaining crew, a task some consider critical as the industry continues to grow.

A survey done by ACREW, a professional development event company, asked 1,000 crew over six months why they left their jobs. Looking at different groups of crew, the results were telling: 40 percent leave because of unfair treatment by superiors, 50 percent leave because of bad morale or clashes with other crew, and 64 percent leave because of leadership issues with their head of department.

“If we’re going to retain crew, leadership is quite a vital issue,” said Joey Meen, training and certification director with the PYA.

But talking about leadership — also called “the L word” during the seminar — doesn’t appeal to many people functioning in leadership roles, such as captains or heads of department. But culture does.

“It’s not the techniques of leadership, it’s the culture onboard that needs to change,” said Paul Ferdais, moderator of the panel and a Triton columnist. “Everyone — the captain, the deckhand, the owner, the broker — will face an uphill battle if they just try to change a technique.”

Capt. Schueler said developing a culture onboard, and taking care of it, is the most important thing he does. It’s what enables him to make the owner happy.

“Our culture is let’s safely make the owners the happiest they’ve ever been,” he said. “We want them to say we are the best crew they’ve ever had. That’s our focus. And that’s fun.”

His first focus is to keep crew onboard for two to five years, saving $10,000 to $30,000 every time, he said. He does that by under-promising and over-delivering, especially in lots of little ways. If he gives a crew member time off on a crossing, he’ll tell the person’s cabin mate to invite a family member along for the ride. Drills are regular and encompass all facets of the yacht, including climbing through every hatch and using all the medical equipment. That shared experience gives them things to talk about, he said.

“And I have them pull a name out of a hat and do something nice for that person every day, secretly, for 30 days,” he said. “I’m trying to get people to realize that they are not the only person onboard that matters.”

One way crew can influence the culture onboard is to take part in it. Ask to be engaged, to be part of projects. Or, as Capt. Schueler suggested, ask a superior for a piece of constructive criticism.

“Ask them, what’s one thing I can work on for the next month to improve?” he said. “That will start you on a path where you get better and everyone around you sees that and gets better, too.”

And that helps create a culture onboard, no matter what the leadership structure is like.

Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher of Triton Today. Comment below.

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About Lucy Chabot Reed

Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher and founding editor of The Triton.

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