Benefits can outweigh headaches with right couple

Feb 26, 2016 by Peter Herm

Captains and crew are the most important piece of the big boating puzzle. They make or break the experience for owners every time. No matter how big or fancy a boat, nor how beautiful the cruising area, the crew is the dominant factor in the owner/guest experience. (No news here, but a reminder of your importance to this industry.)

Hiring a single great captain or crew member is challenging in itself, but hiring couples introduces additional complexity, risk and opportunity. Over the years, we have had a number of couples as crew members. Some started as couples and others became couples during their time aboard the boat.

In short, some have been great, others have been a dual disaster, but the most common outcome was that we loved one half of the team and wished the other half were still ashore.

Fortunately, today we have an absolutely awesome couple. But as we are hiring a new crew member or two for the upcoming Med season, I would guess there is trepidation on both the part of my boat’s couple and the prospective hires. A crew is a clique to begin with, and more so when the dominant crew members are couples. This is not good or bad, just reality.

Crew dynamics, even without the couple factor, are challenging. A group of people working and living together in confined spaces is, in itself, a recipe for extensive therapy. When you throw in the personal chemistry issues of members of the crew being couples, it can present an even more interesting management case study.

When couples work together in an office environment, there is the opportunity to create distance and the inevitable “battles” can be waged at home and out of the office. On a boat, there are no neutral corners and all disagreements are aired within earshot of others.

As an owner, the negatives of couples are that you hired the team as a team. If one half of the team is great and the other is not, you don’t have the option to fire one and keep one, in most cases. This means when hiring a couple, you will inevitably be filling two positions, but if they leave or are dismissed, you doubled a crew turnover issue. Conversely, if they are great, this is two positions you don’t have to worry about filling.

I would be remiss not to note that the captain is the only team member an owner should be hiring and firing. For more about that, see last month’s column.

The benefits of having couples who have learned how to not only live together but also work together can outweigh the negatives. The key is — once again — setting expectations and communication between all parties. A healthy couple who has learned how to live and work together will often result in a more stable crew situation and a stronger crew team. It is all about how it is handled by the couple.

Couples who get along personally is a great start, but there is more. Assuming, for example, that the couple consists of the captain and another crew member, it is imperative that the captain not show work favoritism to his/her better half. The other crew will resent this daily and it will eventually result in high crew turnover.  

On the bright side, a well-oiled couple can be a great benefit. They know each other’s weaknesses and strengths intimately. One can often cover for the other seamlessly, and communication is intuitive.

There are also crew habitation benefits to a couple. A couple can share a double berthed (preferably queen or more) cabin. At the recent Miami boat show, I spent a lot more time understanding crew quarters. This was not only due to new regulations, but given my new penchant for towing, additional crew resources are required to maintain a large and complex tender.

Most boats I looked at in my size range (under 150 feet for now) are not set up for enough crew to maintain a high level of service when all guest beds are full and a big tender is under tow. One boat I toured even had to sleep an engineer in the lazarette last summer due to regulatory-mandated crew requirements. Another one had a makeshift stew stateroom sharing the on-deck guest head.

Couples can help alleviate this problem in many cases.

A confident, hard-working, talented couple should be a great asset for any boat, providing their personal relationship is solid, forgiving and non-volatile. While it can be tricky, I think many owners value a couple as a part of their crew team. 

High tide and bow west only.

Peter Herm is the pen name for a veteran yacht owner who is an entrepreneur based on the East Coast of the U.S. Contact him through