Crew’s top concerns in yachting

Oct 22, 2013 by Lucy Chabot Reed

Bump into any captain or crew member at a networking event and ask them how things are going and you’ll likely get an earful about something. They aren’t complaining, really, but rather venting.

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As we all know too well, each yacht operates differently. There are few conditions that apply to all yachts or to all crew, so it makes it tricky for anyone who attempts to generalize on a topic, such as in this survey, for example. Even asking a simple question about a favorite destination, we are given answers such as “anywhere that’s away from the dock” and “anywhere closer to home.”


So this month, we tried something different. We asked our captains and crew readers to tell us what their issues are, in an attempt to hone in on the topics they would have us tackle.


We divided up this yachting industry into three categories: personal, operational and industrywide.


By “issues”, we didn’t mean to imply “problems”. The areas noted were simply areas that perhaps need attention in our industry, elements that might impact how captains and crew do their jobs and how they succeed in their careers. We considered this survey a starting point and plan to address these topics in more depth in the coming months.


We weren’t really surprised to discover that the responses of the nearly 100 captains and crew who took this month’s survey were pretty evenly split.


In the first, more personal question, we asked What is the single biggest issue you are dealing with in yachting as it applies to your personal involvement?


The top two concerns captains and crew have are leadership abilities (we didn’t distinguish between their own or that of their superior) and compensation, each at nearly 20 percent of responses.


“Captains know how to drive a boat and have no management experience whatsoever,” said a first officer in yachting more than 10 years. “Sitting in a classroom for a week does not teach management.”


“Salaries are not keeping up,” said the engineer on a yacht 180-200 feet. “There are better-paid jobs outside yachting for engineers, and I’m leaving yachting.”


“Finding that, without any type of human resources, the management skills are less than appropriate,” said a stew aged 26-30 in yachting less than three years. “Superiors do not properly deal with crew or boat issues with professionalism. Language and temper are two of the biggest issues. And lower level employees do not have a ‘higher power’ to reach out to for help in an inappropriately handled situation.”


“Poor management from superior positions, poor communication with crew, lack of proper training and assistance, not given the opportunity to progress,” said a stew aged 31-35 in yachting less than three years.


“Salaries not keeping pace with increased cost of living,” said a captain in yachting more than 15 years. “And lack of time off for personal life.”


The next largest group at about 16 percent was concerned about retirement.


When we looked at the responses from just captains, retirement issues shot to the top of the list by 25 percent of respondents, followed by compensation by nearly 20 percent.


Among our full complement of respondents, other pressing issues were relationships and licensing.


“Having a need to see family and friends and not having the time to do so,” said a chief stew in yachting 4-6 years. “Wanting to feel as though you have a somewhat normal life and still work on yachts. Rotational positions offered to more than just captain and engineers would be really great and help keep crew around on their vessels longer.”


“It is so difficult to have a normal life,” said a captain in yachting more than 10 years. “Staying in touch via e-mail or/and phone is far from normal.”


“Managing time between the yacht and dedication to the family,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet. “Letting go from being ‘the captain’ to just being the daddy. Shutting down even on Sunday when the owner keeps sending messages from his iPad at 6:30 a.m. and 10:30 p.m.”


Interestingly, very few respondents noted training as an issue.


Many of our respondents chose “other” and opted to add a different concern. Chief among those were discrimination in hiring and alcohol.


“The most pressing issue for me? Alcoholic captains and crew,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “I can’t even count the number of times I have rescued a yacht owner because his captain [messed] something up because he was drunk or hungover.


And, of course, we caught a few crew in their bliss.
“No problems right now,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years. “Life’s good.”


In the next question, we asked captains and crew what is the single biggest issue you are dealing with as it applies to the operation of your vessel?


Crew issues were the dominant concern, as chosen by more than a third of respondents.


“Time for crew training, hours of rest requirements to meet, day-to-day crew issues such as time off and medical needs all require time and scheduling,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet.


“Novice crew expecting too much too soon, and a lack of integrity toward the commitments they make,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet.


“Captains are going from zero to hero,” said an engineer in yachting more than 15 years. “To get their first job, they will lower their salaries and bring the engineers down with them.”


“Captains often do what’s only best for them and their career,” said the chief stew on a yacht 140-160 feet. “They don’t realize there are people working beneath them who look to them to be the voice and advocate to the boss. If captains just continue to look after their best interests, they will see themselves blowing through crew because no one wants to work for someone who doesn’t have the [nerve] to stand up for their crew. That means not being cheap because coming in under budget means a bonus for them, giving time off, saying no to the owner every now and then when the crew is burnt out and suffering. Unrealistic expectations can only be met for so long before people move on. But this is something that will never change as long as people are in the business of simply making as much money as they possibly can.”


Finances and funding for the yacht was the second most common concern, chosen by about 18 percent.


“Owner not paying the bills or giving me the money or authority to pay contractors and other expenses,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years. “I had to leave the job due to poor management on the owner side of things. All crew left as well.”


“Crew not getting paid for several months at a time, not getting an adequate budget from the owner to run the boat, boat credit card being denied when used for shopping, and our vendors and marinas not being paid on time,” said a stew on a yacht 180-200 feet.


Interestingly, when we looked at how just captains answered this question, we got the same top two answers in basically the same percentages.


Among respondents as whole, about 11 percent of respondents offered “other” concerns as it related to operations. Chief among them were safety and management, which sounded similar to concerns over leadership skills (or the lack thereof).


“Captain runs over something or aground because he’s not paying attention,” said the stew on a yacht 80-100 feet.


“Poor management; it all filters down,” said the first officer of a yacht 140-160 feet.


Slightly more than 10 percent noted that maintenance schedules were a problem.


“The yacht is used so much there is no time for maintenance,” said a deckhand on a yacht 100-120 feet.


“Maintenance should be a lot more proactive, not reactive,” said the engineer on a yacht 200-220 feet.


“Owners want to operate cheaper with less crew and maintenance, getting by on less money than needed to operate the vessel correctly and safely,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet.


“I was on a fractional ownership boat, four owners with each getting a week per month,” said the mate on a yacht 80-100 feet. “There was no down time to stop, get parts or have a technical support person come to the boat. The vessel was moving every day. It was a new boat that did not have all the bugs worked out and it needed some love. Management would not let us catch up, which is going to hurt them in the long run.”


Slightly less than 10 percent noted the schedule of use was a concern.


“Only once in 30-odd years have I worked for someone who scheduled three months in advance,” said the chef on a yacht 80-100 feet. “It was a joy, even allowing for pre-ordering (planting) of produce from the boss’s farm. It is never easy trying to find out when owners want to use their boat, but the good owners respect their crew and give adequate advance notice.”


“There’s no schedule,” said the chief stew on a yacht larger than 220 feet. “The owner is changing plans constantly. There’s no ‘end of season’ so we’re just constantly on standby. It makes it hard to get bigger jobs done.”


“Last-minute usage can be difficult to deal with no matter how used to it you are,” said a chief stew in yachting more than 10 years.


Even captains with ideal scenarios find the schedule can be challenging.


“Great owners, open checkbook, however their use of the yacht privately and the addition of another smaller boat not originally mentioned upon hiring has been taxing the crew resources, time management and attention to details on both yachts,” said a captain in yachting more than 10 years.


And finally, we wanted to know what is the single biggest issue you are dealing with in yachting as an industry?


Topping the list at more than a quarter of respondents was rules and regulations, including flag state requirements, international conventions, customs rules and visas.


“Being fully up-to-date with these as they are always changing,” said a first officer in yachting less than 10 years.


“The yacht business never should of been tied in with the shipping and cruise ships in the rules,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “Yachts operate differently and with different manning requirements. Also, this new 200-ton yachtmasters ticket from the MCA, it is a joke license. Make one trip to New England and back to Florida as a deckhand and you now are eligible to sit for a captain licence, 200 tons. People are getting this license and think they can be a captain or a mate without experience. It is a joke and should not be allowed.”


“Some MCA regulations keep me way too much tied to a desk, taking much time out of my work day that could be better spent doing actual work rather than writing about it,” said the engineer on a yacht 120-140 feet.


“I think that safety is the premise behind the continuing increase of rules and regulations and that is a good thing, but running a private and charter yacht with limited personnel while providing 24/7 VIP service is becoming more and more of a challenge and will require creative solutions,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years.


Coming in a close second at 23 percent among issues of concern industry-wide was ethics.


“Knowing how many people get false sea time to be eligible to take exam,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years.


“Honesty,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “The crew, the owners, and the brokers; everyone is out for themselves. Loyalty is out.”


“People are not always thoughtful of others in the same situation,” said a stew in yachting less than three years. “Sometimes it can seem like it’s every man/woman for themselves.”


“Professional work ethics, not being able to approach the captain, etc., to discuss employment issues such as pay, performance, reviews, etc.,” said a stew on a yacht 180-200 feet. “Lack of confidentiality.”


“When checking ‘ethics,’ I mean me as a person within yachting as an industry and my behaviors on and off the boat, work routines, personal discipline, ship’s finances, personal finances, avoiding overindulgence with alcohol, etc.,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet.


“Ethics is a much spoken about subject in yachting,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet. “It encompasses the role of the sales broker or shoreside management to owners and their management and use of the yacht to the professionalism of captains and crew. If all factors lived with integrity and good ethics we would have a great industry. But reality shows us that it is not this way, in general.


“What is the answer?” this captain continued. “For sure it would start with owner education. If an owner is at least given the best “impartial” information on all levels when they purchase their yacht, then there would be less of the drama and problems that we all hear so much about.”


Owners (15.4 percent) and the role of management (12 percent) made up the bulk of the remaining responses.


“Too many owners feeling that full management is necessary, thereby giving rise to a middleman who profits most from turmoil within the yacht’s operation,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet. “An owner who hires an experienced captain should expect a high caliber of service and stewardship, however, you get what you pay for. I have learned the hard way that most crew members are unwilling to work their way up through the ranks, matching their experience with their tickets. Everyone wants to fast track, and it’s too easy to obtain the higher licenses, so you end up with chief mate 3000gts who don’t have any wheel time, etc.


“Management was invented by brokerage houses to create a stable income stream where there was only commission before,” this captain, who has been in yachting more than 15 years, continued. “Although they can serve a useful purpose if their services are contained, much like the crew agent who profits off turnover, the manager uses turmoil in the operation to justify increasing his influence and his fee.”


Surprisingly (considering how often captains complain about them), only 2 percent of respondents thought the role of brokers was a problem in yachting.

About Lucy Chabot Reed

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

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