In honor of St. Valentine’s Day this month, we asked yacht captains and crew about matters of the heart.
We began simply with Do you have a significant other?
The majority of our 131 respondents — 70.2 percent — said yes, they were in long-term committed relationships.
“I married my chef after five years working as a team and we are still married, which is now 28 years,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years.
The next largest group at less than 20 percent does not currently have a sweetie.
“I am still young and do not want to be crowded by such a close relationship in such close quarters constantly, day in and day out,” said a chief stew on a yacht 100-120 feet.
About 5.3 percent are in a relationship, though not yet long-term.
And the smallest group — 4.6 percent or six of our respondents — date more than one person.
So for those yachties with sweeties, we were curious How did you meet that person?
Interestingly, nearly half our lovers met their mates outside of yachting, including several who have been friends since childhood or who met in college, and two who met through online dating Web sites.
Still, a sizable portion — 30.4 percent — met their partners while working on yachts.
“We have worked as a team for about 25 years,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet. “It works great.”
The remainder met them through a yachting colleague or yachting job, including yacht racing and industry networking. (Triton networking, perhaps?)
Given that so many couples hooked up outside of yachting, we guess the answers to this next question shouldn’t surprise, but somehow they still do. During your yachting career, have you ever dated a crew mate?
The largest group — 38.3 percent — said no.
Combined with the other “no” response (“not officially or publicly”), more than half our respondents have never dated a crew mate.
“You should keep in mind you are part of a team of working professionals in close quarters, the ups and downs, good and bad of your relationship will impact crew dynamics regardless, and that’s not fair to your crewmates,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years who is in a relationship but has never dated a crew mate.
That leaves slightly less than half our amorous respondents who have dated a co-worker, including more than 27 percent who met working on the same yacht.
Fewer than 10 percent have experience dating crewmates in a variety of situations or circumstances.
For those couples who have had relationships onboard, at least for a little while, we were curious <>how did you make time or space for your relationship while working on a yacht?
Most lovers who work together (53.8 percent) acknowledged that the best way to tend to their relationship was after work or, even better, off the yacht.
“Date night once a week,” said the chief stew on a yacht 160-180 feet. “It was not always the same night but we make sure to fit in one night a week (only without guests on, obviously).”
“We have always worked together on the same boat and take our holidays together,” said the chief stew on a yacht 140-160 feet.
More than a few crew admit to being just plain lucky.
“Since I’m with a captain, we have been lucky to have plenty of space in the captain’s cabin,” said a chief stew in the industry more than 10 years. “Plus, we have been lucky to land jobs on boats where they end up at the dock a lot so we have had lots of weekends off.”
For those yachties whose partners are ashore or on other yachts, the logistics are a bit more complicated and the time together a bit less frequent.
“We tried to keep in touch and look forward to being in the same place at the same time,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet.
“We were patient and used Skype, text, phone, and every opportunity to fly to each other,” said a stew in yachting less than three years.
“Trying to be on vessels that cruise the same itineraries so that if one has time off it’s a quick flight/ferry to see the other,” said a stew on a yacht of 120-140 feet.
“Have leave rotation and Skype,” said a captain in yachting more than 10 years. “Have a very understanding other half, and assure her that it’s not forever.”
The realities of yachting’s demands takes its toll on many relationships.
“More than six years on one yacht together but, ultimately, not enough time off scuttled the relationship,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years.
And making time for relationships is not at the top of everyone’s list.
“I didn’t [make time]; we just worked with what we had,” said a stew on a yacht 180-200 feet. “I find it hard to make concessions in my career for something so hard to have in yachting.”
Some found that solidifying their relationship was the best way to make it work.
“We got married,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet. “We have spent 32 years on yachts; might be a record.”
“It’s what I do,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years. “It’s more than a job and my wife understands it and supports me. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”
There was no shortage of comments to this question: Do you think it’s OK to date a fellow crewmate?
And interestingly, the answers were a good mix, with the bulk of our respondents (48.9 percent) opting for the non-committal “sometimes”.
“A yacht is a pretty closed community, and should be a pretty tightly knit one,” said a non-committal captain in yachting more than 15 years. “If the relationship falls apart for any reason, it will disrupt the harmony on board, much like it would in any group household.”
“If taken seriously and you can end up with the love of your life, then it’s worth it,” said a captain in yachting less than 10 years.
“Favoritism and special privileges between the couple is hard to avoid,” said a stew in yachting 1-3 years. “Also, when there is a tiff, it’s hard not to impact fellow crew members. On the other hand, if two people are in love and can stay professional, who am I to complain?”
“Sometimes, because you never know how long it will last or how volatile the breakup will be and who it will affect,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet.
The rest of respondents were evenly split between “yes” (27.5 percent) and “never” (23.7 percent).
“You are not going to meet anyone else that you can actually spend any time with on a busy yacht,” said a captain in yachting more than 15 years who voted “yes” to dating crew mates.
“I really want to say ‘yes’ but I feel that most of the time it will fail because you have no time apart and there is just no way to keep it a secret,” said a dayworker on a yacht larger than 200 feet who opted for “never” when it comes to dating crew mates.
Many of the “yes” votes came from those who support couples positions or who acknowledge that each yacht and crew dynamic is different.
“Crew in relationships are often more stable and, from a smaller boat perspective, they tend to help one another complete jobs before bailing for the day,” said a captain who supports dating onboard. “I always have a mate and stew couple working on a 100-foot boat and the mate will always be helping clear the table and doing turndowns if he wants his lady to be happy. When no guests are on, she is outside washing and polishing with him.”
“On smaller boats, it seems to be more the norm,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet who ran yachts with his ex-partner for more than 10 years. “Running with just one or two additional crew does not seem to be as politically volatile as a couple in a larger crew.”
“It depends on circumstances,” said an engineer in yachting more than 10 years. “Some crew dynamics would not work with a couple in the mix. Also, I think both halves of the couple need to be very mature to be able to deal with any difficulties that arise without creating a scene or disrupting the rest of the crew.”
“It depends on the culture of the boat,” said the first officer of a yacht 120-140 feet. “Some more mature boats can absorb a relationship between crewmates, other can’t.”
Other “yes” respondents are just realists.
“Yachting is a tough job and can be lonely,” said a chief stew in yachting 4-6 years. “Having a partner allows you to enjoy yachting for longer and to feel content.”
“This is a lifestyle as well as a job,” said a captain in yachting more than 15 years.
Most of the “never” responses seemed to focus on the break-up and the impact that has on the rest of the crew.
“Intercrew relationships create too many issues and sometimes generate bad feelings that result in the loss of not one but two previously valuable members of the crew,” said a captain of more than 30 years who is opposed to crewmates dating.
“This should be a take-it-very-slowly type of circumstance,” said a captain in yachting more than 20 years. “If you rush into something and it does not work, one of you will be hurt and one of you should be out of a job.”
“Ultimately ends in uncomfortable situations between them or them and the rest of the crew … always,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet.
But others pointed out that couples inherently hurt the crew dynamic.
“Generally, it is disruptive to a cohesive crew,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet. “The couple will start their own click and separate themselves from the rest of the crew. It is rare that a couple can maintain a professional composure and an intimate relationship.”
And then there were those who embraced the extremes.
“Love will not be denied,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years.
“As a captain, I do not want couples onboard,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet. “If crewmates become a couple, I’ll fire both of them.”
Does the yacht you work on now have rules about dating a crewmate?
Most (68.8 percent) do not.
“I implement them but I am not opposed to hiring established couples,” said a captain in yachting more than 20 years. “New relationships on a boat are almost always a nightmare for the entire crew.”
“On my last yacht, I implemented a no-couples policy at the owner’s request,” said the captain of a yacht larger than 220 feet. “Of course, it didn’t work. Started the season with 22 singles, ended the season with 11 couples. But as long as I didn’t know about it it was OK.
“Problems arise when the dating couple don’t understand the limitations of onboard life and don’t respect other crew by, say, making out in the crew mess,” this captainsaid. “The other problem is that couples are rarely matched in job performance, so as you fire one for non-performance, you usually lose the other as well.”
“I have this policy in place,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet. “If a couple find themselves physically attracted to each other, I ask them to have a discussion with me about it. In 30 years of yachting and hundreds of crew, I have only seen one or two such relationships succeed.”
“I can understand why captains can be against crew dating, but I think it is an unrealistic rule,” said the engineer of a yacht 140-160 feet. “Most deckhands and stews are young, fit, good-looking people. As crew, we are stuck in very close quarters with each other, and if there is any spark of attraction at the beginning, it’s hard to stop it in these conditions.”
Have you ever worked on a yacht or for a captain who forbids crewmates from dating?
These responses were closer, with only slightly more (51.2 percent) noting that they have never worked under dating rules.
Respondents’ opinions about these rules ran the gamut from “very smart” and “needed” to “unrealistic” and “out-dated.”
“It’s the right of the owner or captain to have such rules of they want to,” said a chief stew in yachting more than 10 years.
“The owner’s needs come first,” said a captain in yachting more than 15 years. “If it is his preference to maintain such an environment [no dating], it is thus a condition of employment.”
“It is the captain’s job to set the rules of conduct,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “Sometimes he or she would like to not worry about potential conflicts on board.”
“It’s impossible to prevent but [rules] make people think about ‘is it worth it’ when they have a sit down with the captain and tell him what’s going on,” said the chief stew on a yacht 160-180 feet.
“It can be good because it is clear cut and everyone knows where they stand, but on the other hand, if you meet someone you think is ‘the one’ you both probably have to leave the boat,” said a deckhand on a yacht 180-200 feet.
“It’s not possible to tell grown adults they can’t date a certain person,” said a stew in yachting 1-3 years.
“Relationships will inevitably develop between crew members,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “Any captain who thinks he can stop them is delusional.”
“It’s the only sensible way to run a yacht,” said a captain in yachting more than 10 years.
“Dating should be allowed,” said a chief stew in yachting 4-6 years. “Our lives are very controlled by yacht rules, but interfering with our love lives is a step too far. However, if you are dating, I believe you must stay in the same cabin together.”
“No-dating rules cannot be enforced; crew will date no matter what, so the best is to allow it and keep an eye on it.” said the captain of a yacht more than 220 feet.
“If crew decide to be involved in an onboard relationship, they should leave the vessel and seek a position in which they can be hired as a team/couple,” said the captain of a yacht of 100-120 feet.
Some respondents made a distinction between new relationships (the dating part of our scenario) and established relationships.
“I agree wholeheartedly with them [rules] in regards to new relationship scenarios,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet.
“I understand where they come from, but they have to maintain to be flexible and understanding,” said the stew on a yacht 180-200 feet. “Sometimes things happen and if the new couple is respectful and doesn’t try to hide/lie then I think the captain should be compassionate.”
“They’re clearly there for a reason as couples generally can cause a lot of problems if they are not stable in their relationship,” said a captain in yachting more than 20 years. “Drunken crew hookups are a nightmare situation.”
“We weren’t allowed to be open about our relationship in front of other crew members (no kissing, hugging, fighting), which I agree with,” said the chief stew on a yacht 140-160 feet. “However, the captain was open about it with his girlfriend, one of the other stews.”
“While it’s OK to have a policy of not hiring couples, if two people start dating once they’ve been hired, it seems wrong to fire them simply for that reason if they’re still performing their duties to the standard they were before,” said the chief stew on a yacht 100-120 feet.
Have you ever worked on a yacht as part of a team or a couple?
Most yachties — 63.4 percent — have.
And when we asked How did you find that experience?, most (63.6 percent) said it was at least good. The largest group (37.5 percent) said it was the best time they had in yachting.
“If it wasn’t for meeting my fiancé and working together, I would have gotten out of the yachting industry four years ago,” said the chief stew of a yacht 120-140 feet.
“We had each others backs and had someone around that was there for you,” said the chief stew of a yacht 160-180 feet. “It can be very amazing.”
“I had no problem working and living with partner as a couple on a yacht,” said a stew on a yacht 120-140 feet. “Our relationship stayed in the bedroom and we got on with the rest of the crew like normal.”
“Loved it,” said a stew on a yacht 120-140 feet. “It was a very stressful itinerary and it was nice to have a confidant by your side when things got tough.”
“We still work together, after meeting 23 years ago while working as crew in the Med,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years.
“I got to travel and experience amazing places with my other half,” said the first officer on a yacht 80-100 feet. “Who else would I have wanted to do that with?”
“My wife and I have been together for 39 years and have worked together for the lion’s share of those years,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet. “She always kept me grounded and stable. I loved it.”
The next largest group, however, acknowledged that it was a challenging time.
“It is psychologically very hard when one person in the relationship is the other person’s employer,” said the captain of a yacht of 140-160 feet.
“My wife was new to yachting,” said the engineer on a yacht of 140-160 feet. “No matter how much I tried to prepare her for it, she was not quite ready for our first boat. It was extremely difficult keeping up with her needs as well as the needs of my job. There was definitely no time for my personal needs.”
“When one is 24/7 with one’s partner working, living and in tight quarters, there is not much privacy or room for common quarrels, disagreements or alone time,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet. “Making it work takes real commitment, patience and balance.”
“It was great working with my best friend,” said the captain of a yacht of 160-180 feet. “Things came together without even speaking because we knew each other so well. However, I had to treat my partner worse than the rest of the crew just so it did not look like my partner was getting special treatment. Still, our relationship became an inevitable target.”
“It put a lot of strain on the relationship because we were working so closely together,” said a deckhand in yachting 4-6 years. “In our personal time we found ourselves arguing about work issues. We didn’t have a life outside work.”
“Sometimes it was hard,” said a chief stew in yachting less than 10 years . “If other crew members had issues with the captain, I knew about them before he did. Then I had to decide if I should tell him.”
Just 5.7 percent said it was terrible.
“Never again,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years. “It was the worst experience of my life.”
“It was a lot easier 20 years ago,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet.
And one captain reminded us that relationships in yachting are just as they are in every other career.
“I’ve been married for 30 years and it has been all of the above,” said this captain, in yachting more than 15 years, referring to our answers of “best time of my career”, “good”, “challenging” and “terrible”.
Even if they weren’t a couple, we were curious Have you ever worked on a yacht that employed other people as couples or teams?
The majority — 84.6 percent — have.
When we asked how that experience was, fewer were as enthusiastic as they had been when they were part of the couple.
Still, the largest group (38.9 percent) said it was good.
“Having couples seems to round the crew and the atmosphere is more relaxed because you haven’t got a boat full of single, horny people trying to hook up,” said a deckhand on a yacht 180-200 feet.
That was followed closely by 33.3 percent who said it was challenging.
“I have yet to meet or hear about a captain and wife (chief stew or purser) team that are professional and can separate their roles as crew members from their personal issues,” said the first officer of a yacht of 120-140 feet. “The captain/admiral problem is the main reason my friends leave yachts.”
“Living with a captain and his significant other can be challenging but I had one good experience and one bad experience,” said a stew in yachting 1-3 years. “The significant other usually uses their position to get what they want and if rules pertain to the crew, they don’t pertain to the significant other.”
“One of the pair was a difficult person to deal with and her partner was extremely protective of her,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “It led to a lot of bad feelings with the rest of the crew and ultimately resulted in a lot of friction and a lot of crew leaving.”
The extremes of “it was great; like family” and “it was terrible” were tied at 13.9 percent each.
“I’ll never hire a couple,” said a captain of a yacht of 120-140 feet who opted for “terrible”. “They have too much power and influence. Trying to discipline a couple is too hard.”
“There was no envy, no ‘infighting’, no having to look over your shoulder, much better overall cooperation and thus a much better crew atmosphere on board,” said a stew who opted for “great”.
“Couples I have worked with have been in long-term, stable relationships, and mature enough to maintain a professional attitude when around the other crew,” said an engineer who opted for “great”. “Solid couples seem happier.
“The only down side was, as a single guy at the time, it was one less guy to go out and get into trouble with.”
Click to read crew comments to survery.
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this survey are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. We conduct our monthly surveys online. All captains and crew members are welcome to participate. If you haven’t been invited to take our surveys and would like to be, e-mail email@example.com to be added.