Triton Survey: The more uniforms change, the more they stay the same

Jul 25, 2016 by Dorie Cox

“Very formal,” responded a veteran captain of a yacht 161-180 feet. When we asked captains to recall the first uniforms they remembered wearing as part of this month’s Triton Survey, vivid details seemed to be fresh in captains’ minds many decades later.

“Epaulette shirt during the day,” a captain with more than 30 years of experience responded. “Tie and long black pants and black shoes at night. Formal dress jacket with sleeve bars, tie and military-style peaked-board hat, polished black shoes.”

This captain’s first job was as an engineer and mate in 1985 for a private/charter yacht that cruised the Caribbean and New England.

Another captain remembered the style of shoes and the logo that was imprinted on the T-shirt uniform as a deckhand on M/Y Seaworthy back in 1977.

“Topsider brown deck shoes, socks were optional,” this captain reported.

In 1986, one captain of a yacht 101-120 feet served as a first mate wearing “dress whites for Sunday, holidays and parties,” and a “T-shirt, or collared shirt and shorts” for normal day wear.

The range of uniforms that captains say they have donned throughout their careers before and since being the leader on the bridge reveals that the way captains and crew dress while onboard performing various activities is still a tradition in the yachting industry.

Click to read comments on Triton Survey on yacht crew uniforms.

The Triton wanted to explore further why that is, so we asked Do you think uniforms impact crew morale?

A whopping 90.7 percent of captains surveyed said uniforms did have an impact on crew morale and unified their team.

“Makes them look more professional,” commented one captain. It brings “a feeling of belonging to a group,” said another.

Looking at the practical side, one captain noted, “Free clothes are always good; free clothes you like are better.”

Simply put, “Uniforms make us all look smart and part of a team,” commented a captain who has been in the yachting industry for more than 20 years and currently operates a yacht 141-160 feet.

With that said, The Triton wanted to find out how uniforms are chosen and assigned to crew members, and exactly what uniform items yachts issue to crew. So we started probing.

A majority (60 percent) of captains surveyed indicated that they manage private yachts that  serve only the owner and the owner’s guests. And a majority of those yachts are operated for seasonal cruising that changes between regions. Half of the total yachts in this survey stick close to the U.S. coastline.

Crew uniform

Crew uniform

So who chooses the uniforms that captains and crew wear on their yacht?

Forty percent replied that it is the sole responsibility of the captain. Nearly 12 percent reported that the decision on the look and vibe of yacht uniforms comes straight from the owner of the yacht and 19 percent said the chief stew wields that power. Less than 10 percent of the yacht captains reported that they have a collaborative decision process about uniforms made by the entire crew and owner. Nearly 21 percent said the captain and the owner make the decision together.

Let’s get to money matters and uniforms. We asked captains Do you have the freedom to order as many uniforms as you want? More than 53 percent said they had an open-ended budget, revealing that uniforms are a top priority on their yachts.

We probed deeper to ask What is the annual budget for uniforms?

The majority of captains (39 percent) answered that the budget for uniforms onboard was between $2,000 and $4,000. While 24 percent reported a budget of less than $2,000.

Thirteen percent of the captains revealed that they have no cap on the money spent to fully dress crew.

“We ask for what we need,” said a captain of a yacht more than 220 feet. “No specific budget.”

The captain of a yacht 141-160 feet with a uniform budget in the $4,000 to $10,000 range commented, “Budget sounds good, but when you have three colors for shorts, three pants, three polo shirts, sweaters, fleeces, rain jackets, shoes, belts, shirts, wet weather gear … it doesn’t go far.”

Another captain revealed that the owner of the yacht he operates spares no expense.

“No budget,” this captain said. “And owners insist on very expensive brands that are a waste, but they want it.”

The variety of clothing and accessory items that make up the uniforms worn onboard range from sunglasses to raingear. But what are the most popular pieces of a yacht crew uniform? We wanted to see if a pattern existed, so we asked captains to itemize what constitutes a uniform.

Nearly all (98 percent) said T-shirts top the list. Next, at 88 percent, were polos, then shorts, skirts or skorts at 83 percent.

On the other end of the spectrum, yacht-issued sunglasses were rare at 5 percent.

“All of the above plus any necessary items,” commented one captain.

Sweaters, fleecers, rain jackets, shoes, belts, shirts,and wet weather gear were added to the list by another.

Captains added overalls to the list, along with belts, shorts, pants and flip flops.

When we and match all of the articles, we were curious How many different uniforms do crew have ranging from sport or work uniforms to formal dress?

The largest group of captains (36 percent) reported that their crew have four unique uniforms to switch between while onboard. While a small percentage (5 percent) indicated that crew on their yachts wear more than five uniforms, just over 7 percent reported that one uniform covers all occasions.

Most crew don’t receive just one set of each uniform, our survey revealed. At least a third of captains surveyed said their crew received a minimum of two sets of each uniform. Fourteen percent gave out just one set and 24 percent hand out more than three sets.

And who distributes the uniforms?

This task is clearly the chief stew’s responsibility, according to 62 percent of the captains.

Some captains (29 percent) distribute the yacht wear themselves.

“When I become comfortable with my second stew, she takes over uniform inventory and distribution,” commented one captain of a yacht 161-180 feet.

The captain of a yacht measuring more than 220 feet and staffed with more than 20 crew noted that “One of the stews is in charge of uniforms.”

And with all of those uniforms and hardworking crew, The Triton wanted to know who is responsible for washing uniforms?

About 68 percent of captains reported that stews are in charge of keeping the crew’s uniforms cleaned and pressed. The rest said each crew member takes care of their own laundry, including keeping uniforms presentable.

“Typically, stews prefer to do it so nobody screws up their laundry schedule,” said the captain of a yacht 121-140 feet.

Another captain said that officers get their uniforms dry cleaned, and another captain revealed that crew have a set day for laundering their own uniforms.

Let’s talk inspection time. The Triton asked captains do you inspect uniforms, and how often?

More than half (54 percent) of captains surveyed said they did random or spot check inspections of crew uniforms as they interacted with crew throughout the day. On the other end of that spectrum, about 5 percent said they had a more formal process of inspecting all crew, every day.

At least 28 percent said uniform inspection was the duty of each department head while 13 percent said the first mate was held responsible for uniform quality control.

“I have asked the chief stew to monitor uniforms as they come through the laundry and to discard and replace any soiled or damaged uniforms,” commented one captain of a yacht 161-180 feet with a crew of 11-15 members.

Another captain explained how crew know what uniform to wear and when.

“There is a uniform schedule by date distributed to each cabin to assist with wearing the correct color combination each day,” this captain said.

But spelling it out doesn’t always mean crew get it right. “Yet, without fail, someone will put on the wrong color belt or hat,” this captain added.

What happens to those old uniforms that don’t measure up?

Close to 70 percent said unusable uniforms are used for rags around the yacht. Twelve percent reported that old uniforms are discarded and 20 percent said the garb is donated to a charity.

When most crew leave their position, captains reported that most crew (70 percent) are required to turn the items back into the yacht inventory.

One captain who disagreed with having crew return uniforms commented, “Once you earn the right to wear a uniform on any vessel I run, that uniform is yours. Actually, giving a new crew member a used uniform is unsanitary.”

Several captains said crew can keep T-shirts as souvenirs.

Another captain said all uniforms must be returned from crew who don’t resign.

“Only if fired,” he commented but added, “shoes and shorts go.”

Another captain said crew leaving can take all of the uniform pieces except full dress, which stays with the yacht.

What is your favorite uniform to wear and why?

“Polo shirt and slacks,” said a captain of a yacht 161-180 feet. “It looks neat almost all of the time. I prefer all cotton, pressed, collared/button-down shirts. But we operate in the extreme heat, and they end up looking shabby after several hours of use.”

“Polo shirt/shorts,” said another. “It’s comfortable yet professional looking.”

“On charter, polo and shorts are quite comfortable,” said a captain of a yacht 121-140 feet. “But always happy in a rashie and boardies.”

“T-shirt or polo and shorts while barefoot is my most common uniform aboard,” commented another. “Coveralls in engineering.”

“[Crew] don’t like wearing deck shoes because they are hot,” one captain noted. “They would rather wear flops or Tevas. Neither are part of an attire that represents a multimillion-dollar program.

Suzette Cook is editor of The Triton. Comments are welcome at



About Dorie Cox

Dorie Cox is a writer with Triton News.

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