The Triton


Build loyalty slowly to keep crew, program together


As yacht crew build a career, it’s common for them to jump from job to job. I did it myself on route to becoming a first officer. I admit I didn’t give much thought to it.

What I recognize now is that I rarely felt loyalty toward the owners, captains or crews I worked for and with. When there’s little loyalty, everyone looks out for themselves, resulting in high turnover.

Loyalty is a feeling of strong support for someone or something. It is also a strong feeling of allegiance. From a leadership perspective, it is the emotional contentment a crew member has in the workplace, pride that the organization brings out the best in them, and a willingness to stay in the organization for longer periods of time compared to the average.

On a personal level, loyalty includes commitment to a leader and leaders’ commitment to their followers.

Part of the reason for high crew turnover is clearly a lack of loyalty on all parts: the captain, crew and owners. People don’t leave jobs; people leave people. When an owner focuses exclusively on the lowest costs possible for the vessel, when a captain sees crew as disposable, and when crew see captains, owners and co-workers as taking advantage, loyalty becomes scarce.

Owners and captains may talk about the importance of loyalty, and crew may want to be loyal. It’s just that loyalty isn’t created through talk. Neither is it created with a larger salary.

Loyalty is created through action. It is created bit by bit, day by day, through consistent behavior by everyone on the team.

Loyalty is important because it means that people at all levels of the hierarchy are respected and there is consistency between what people say and what they do. A lack of loyalty is detrimental to an organization and results in the loss of trust, poor workmanship, gossip, cliques and potentially a mass exodus of crew.

Loyalty is created when team members experience genuine care from the leader. And it grows when crew members know they are important. It’s impossible to be a good leader without being loyal to the organization and team.

Creating loyalty requires courage, and being courageous isn’t always easy. Saying no to the boss when the situation calls for it takes courage, but sometimes it’s necessary. When the crew see their captain standing with them and fighting for them in an uncomfortable situation, they begin to feel loyal. As John Wooden, the winningest coach in U.S. college basketball history once said, “First, do not betray yourself. Second, do not betray those you lead. This is loyalty.”

Good leaders develop loyalty through their actions and communication. Focus on the following five components to create lasting loyalty with crew.

  1. Appreciation. Demonstrate appreciation toward crew for the hard work they do. Say “thank you” often and mean it. Surprise them with a token of appreciation such as a dinner out. Point out a specific instance in front of the whole team when a particular member did a great job. Show appreciation for the little things as well as the big things.
  2. Value. Make sure crew feel valued by treating each person as an individual who brings something unique to the team. Be truthful with them and have rules that make sense.
  3. Fairness. Make sure rules apply to everyone, not just some people. And if you must make exceptions, be sure everyone knows why.
  4. Care. As John Maxwell so eloquently said, “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Make sure crew know you care about them.
  5. Communication. Don’t keep crew guessing about important issues, and definitely don’t let them hear vital information through the grapevine. Even if you don’t know everything, tell what you know when you can. Being on the same page enhances the nuance of team and builds loyalty.

Fundamentally, followers want leaders who care about them, treat them with respect and consideration, and deal fairly with everyone. As a leader, demonstrate these characteristics and you’ll find loyalty in abundance. And your crew will be willing to stick together when things get tough.

A former first officer, Paul Ferdais is founder and CEO of The Marine Leadership Group. Contact him through

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