How captains hire in the yachting industry

Jun 4, 2012 by Dorie Cox

From the Bridge: by Dorie Cox

Today’s crew share personal information up front on their CVs. Prominent are their color photographs, nationalities, marital status and whether they have tattoos or smoke. Usually excluded are their religious beliefs, political affiliations and sexual orientation.

At this month’s Triton Bridge luncheon, we asked captains if knowing these characteristics affect how crew are hired for yacht jobs.

“This whole business is appearance,” a captain said. “Everything is about the profile; the cosmetics, the dress, all of it.”

As always, individual comments are not attributed to any one person in particular so as to encourage frank and open discussion. The attending captains are identified in an accompanying photograph.

“Even yachts are discriminated against, it’s part of the definition of the industry,” another captain said. “That’s what yachting is.

“Even as far as seamanship, the better looking the yacht, it is seen as a better yacht,” he said. “Yachts are constantly in competition.”

Are yacht crew hired for looking attractive?

“In charter, good looks make people comfortable, happy,” a captain said. “Say a waitress is ugly and the food is the same as a place where the waitress is attractive, you might choose the attractive one.”

Sometimes crew are hired to fit a “look,” another captain said. Many yachts have a theme or defining characteristics, such as a classic yacht that outfits the crew with epaulets, ties and traditional cut uniforms. The characteristics can extend to the appearance, age or nationality of the people, as well, he said.

How does it happen that crew can be hired on the basis of characteristics other than skill?

Sometimes the directions are not spoken, but sort of implied, a captain said. He was told by a fellow crew not to hire anyone of a specific nationality, not mentioned here to retain anonymity.

“My last job the owner didn’t directly tell me but it filtered through to me, don’t hire any [of a certain nationality] or any fat people,” he said. “Does that mean don’t hire them or people that look like them?”

The captains told of other boats where crew were hired to match a category.
“Like, if you need a girl to fit the previous stew’s size 1 shorts,” a captain said.

“And there’s a famous boat where the entire crew is gay because the owner is gay,” another captain said.

But appearance isn’t always a factor, a captain said.

“Who cares what an engineer looks like, he could be Elephant Man, as long as he can do his job,” he said. “I really want someone that knows the business. It doesn’t matter what they look like. I don’t care.”

“It goes both ways,” another captain said. “I worked on 120-footer and we had a cute stew. The owner’s wife was jealous and one day the stew was gone.

“We all wondered, what happened?” this captain said. “There’s irony; it’s a reverse discrimination.”

If a yacht has such a “look”, how does the captain find crew to match? One way is by using the information on the crew profile sheet and CV, a captain said. Employers can see personal characteristics such as appearance, age or uniform size.

“They fill out a crew profile sheet during the hiring application,” he said. “It has religion, weight, size, contact information, medical issues, like if they need an epi-pen, that type of thing.”

“I don’t think we would know someone was a certain religion unless they talked about it,” another captain said. “No one ever fills that out.”

“How did that boat with gay crew find their crew?” a captain said.

This information isn’t just for finding a type of crew, but allows an employer to safeguard the health and welfare of the crew, one captain explained.

“For example, I tell them they don’t have to check the religion box,” he said. “But it’s important, if they died, to help with what we would need to do.”

And the information is used to foster good working relationships between crew, a captain said.

“We don’t usually talk about some things, like religion or politics,” another captain said. “But it can affect the crew relations.”

When yacht crew are told by placement agencies and industry experts to include personal information and a photo on their resumes and they are hired (or not) on the basis of such characteristic, is it discrimination?

“These are privately owned boats and the owners can do what they want,” a captain said.

“The owner pays the bills and that’s who makes the rules,” another captain said.

“It trickles down from the owner, because you have to do what he wants,” a third captain said.

Some groups are not well-represented in yachting, the captains said.

“The idea of hiring a female captain causes hesitancy for some owners,” a captain said.

“I saw an all-woman crew and captain and it was interesting, not in a sexual way, but noticeable,” another said.

“I had a gay couple, two women, a chef and a stew. I told the owner I wanted to hire them,” a captain said. “The owner was old school so I had to talk about it with everyone and say if there were any problems I would ask them to leave. We had to have it all out in the open.”

“It’s hard to hide being old or black,” another captain said. “People do hide their religion.”

One captain told of another type of prejudice while working in the Caribbean.

“Our captain, a black guy, was like the one you see in advertisements, happy, smiling, positive,” a captain said.

He said the boat had knowledgeable and competent local black crew. The charter clientele were primarily white Americans.

“I would always tell the guests before they came, and sometimes they would refuse,” he said. “I mean they’re coming to the Caribbean to charter. I said go. I’ll pay if you are unhappy.”

The captains came up with a few other industries that are known for hiring a certain look. One example was the restaurant Hooters, famous for attractive female servers wearing shorts and tight tops.

“That same profile effect is in place in many industries,” a captain said.
“It’s the same with real estate,” another captain said. “They usually have their photos on their signs.”

“It’s like the flight attendants used to have a look,” a captain said. “They only hired young attractive women.”

The captains talked of hiring decades ago when yachts were smaller. One captain recalled his surprise to see changes in the industry.

“I always hired by word of mouth,” he said. “When I finally had to go to my first placement agency, it seemed weird that the photo was on the resume.”
The conversation centered how it is imperative that crew get along as a reason to hire crew with similar characteristics.

“We all stereotype for a comfort zone, for familiarity,” a captain said.
But, another captain said, just because similar types of people are hired doesn’t mean crew will get along.

“In reality, it doesn’t take that long to learn each other on a boat, and crew form their own personality conflicts.”

Is this wrong for the industry to hire how they choose? When it means excluding someone for such characteristics as age, marital status, or tattoos?

A captain said he avoids that situation by making a pile of resumes with the skills first, then work with that group to fulfill other characteristics.

“You don’t allow differences to be an issue because you weed through before you hire,” he said. “You go through the CVs and pull the ones you may want, then you are just choosing from the best.”

“Also, the conversation between you and the crew placement agent is confidential,” a captain said. “They profile for you.”

“Those applications are presented to the owner,” another captain said. “If he has a conflict, we don’t hire them.”

“There is prejudice everywhere, but on an educated level it is just more diplomatic, more quiet,” a third captain said. “But there’s no shortage of prejudice in the world.”

The captains seemed to want to end the discussion with a positive conversation.

“Times are changing,” one of the captains said. “We’re more tolerant now.”

“We have never had to terminate someone because of a check off in a box,” another captain said.

Dorie Cox is associate editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome below. If you make your living working as a yacht captain, e-mail us for an invitation to our monthly Bridge luncheon.


About Dorie Cox

Dorie Cox is a writer with Triton News.

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