Stew Cues: by Alene Keenan
Yachting is a microcosm of society with an interesting twist. Catering to some of the richest and most powerful people in the world, crew are there to serve. It’s more complicated than one might think, and hard for an outsider to imagine how tough it is to work on any yacht, large or small. Service is not servitude, but for those new to yachting, the sheer volume and long hours of work is the first reality check. The challenges of life at sea are the next. Small quarters, finding a work-life balance, and the unexpected clash of personal and cultural values can be a big wake-up call.
Common sense would say that adults know how to behave, but we all know there is no such thing as common sense. Luxury service requires discretion, a healthy dose of humility, hard work – and loads of respect. A structured and disciplined work place is needed for a program to succeed. Throwing a group of people with different life skills together below deck can be a recipe for disaster. Self-discipline, professionalism, punctuality and curfews are the basis for good conduct, but may be new and novel concepts to some. Toss in some vague standards and expectations together with a high level of precision and attention to detail. Observe for a 90-day trial period and hope for a good work ethic and team performance to evolve.
Yachting is demanding, and good behavior and work ethic are important. According to Google, a work ethic is the principle that hard work is intrinsically virtuous or worthy of reward. To succeed, crew must see the benefit in work and its ability to build character. There are great rewards along the way, but it takes long hours and fortitude to get there. At a certain level of stress and exhaustion, it’s easier to give up, give in and act out.
This is where crew dynamics come into play. Different cultures have different norms. Behavior considered acceptable in one may differ from others, but all are expected to obey the rules and act according to the standards set forth by the captain and owner. Recognizing and regarding the values of others is courteous, while failure to do so is disrespectful and impolite. Proper conduct in public and private builds respect and trust. Illegal, unbecoming or offensive behavior has the opposite effect.
Respect and etiquette are the foundation for success. People deserve respect, not just because of their place in the chain of command, but for their abilities and qualities as fellow humans. Think of etiquette as a box that holds manners inside. It is learned at home, where children are taught table manners and how to be polite. With any luck, crew bring good manners and courteous behavior with them. Good social skills provide opportunities to create a gracious atmosphere onboard and in society. Unfortunately, yachties in general have a tarnished reputation and, as usual, a few have spoiled it for everyone.
Disrespectful crew won’t make it in this industry. Every yacht has its own unique social structure and personality, and the team must fit together. Crew live where they work, so when issues come up, there is no going home and getting over it. Manners matter, and let’s face it, not everyone had good training at home. Senior crew set the example, and must guide and mentor others to fit into the yacht’s structure and the industry in general.
If 2017 has taught us anything, it’s the need to be more tolerant and respectful of others. One of the best things about yachting is that crew who stick with it change, and hopefully for the better. Travel makes you modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world. The value and character this adds to your life is priceless.
After yachting, the rest of the world can seem unexciting in many ways, but the skills and behavior learned can take you far. You may not like everyone you meet, but it is not okay to disrespect anyone. One of the best takeaways could be a broader perspective leading to a more compassionate demeanor, less judgment.
Accept responsibility for your presence in the world. Be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Make this your best year yet.
Alene Keenan is lead instructor of yacht interior courses at Maritime Professional Training in Ft. Lauderdale. She shares her experience from more than 20 years as a stew in her book, “The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht”, available at www.yachtstewsolutions.com. Comments are welcome below.