Pay attention to hard work, push excellence to keep your best crew

Feb 14, 2017 by Paul Ferdais

Taking the Helm: Paul Ferdais

The yachting industry is full of work opportunities. If an opening presents itself on another boat, what keeps a captain’s best crew from leaving? There are many reasons why crew leave their positions. Here are some of the most common.

Opportunities for advancement. The reality is that there is only one captain’s job on a boat. There is only one first officer position. Without the opportunity for advancement, top performers are more inclined to seek opportunities elsewhere.

Increase in workload. Vessels seem to get ever larger and have fractions of the crew they used to have. Large new builds can have a crew of 22 today, when in the past there may have been 32.

The work itself. When crew join a vessel, they are full of energy and ready to give their full effort. Over time, motivation drops and the level of work performed is impacted simply because of the repetitive nature of the work.

For example, the deck team completes a wash down just before the guests arrive. The boat leaves the dock and heads out into some wavy conditions, sending sea spray all over the deck. At the first opportunity, the deck crew will go out and rewash what they just cleaned. Over time, the repetitive destruction of the good work done on the vessel can demotivate.

Crew uniform

Some leaders may see this as part of the job, which it is, or make a joke and call it job security. In reality, when the hard work done by the crew is destroyed before their eyes, team members’ motivation can slowly diminish over time, regardless of motivation strategies employed by the captain.

Striving for perfection. We work on amazingly beautiful boats. Some might call them works of art. The expectation crew often encounter is that they have to keep the boat in perfect working order and deliver perfect service at all times.

Unfortunately, the idea of perfection is a fallacy. No one and nothing is absolutely perfect. If a chief stew calls for perfection in the interior team’s work, the chief sets himself/herself up for disappointment.

So how do we retain our best crew? Here are five strategies to put into practice today.

  1. Identify who to keep and why. Once the person has been selected, let them know why they are valued. Unfortunately, all too late, crew learn how important they are to a team when they are giving their notice to leave.
  2. Recognize and acknowledge good work. Everyone likes to be singled out for their contribution. Be a leader who takes the time to point out the good work done on the vessel. Do so in front of other crew and pass on the praise to the boss. When crew know their leaders are watching, they can understand the level of quality expected for recognition to occur.
  3. Provide opportunities for development. If crew members are learning and growing in a formal way, they may be more willing to stay when another opportunity comes up. Does the boat offer tuition reimbursement for crew to maintain or improve their certifications? Does the policy on the boat also provide training for the interior staff or the chef? Encouraging self-improvement benefits not only the crew member but the entire boat.
  4. Change perfection to excellence. When we try to be perfect, we will fail. Perfection is impossible and will demotivate. On the other hand, when we strive for excellence, motivation will improve. Leaders who keep this simple distinction in mind will go a long way toward retaining their best people.
  5. Finally, as a leader who is sensitive to the demotivating components of the work being done on a yacht, do everything possible to limit these detrimental effects. Be the leader who makes sure his/her crew is acknowledged for the work done. Make the effort to occasionally get temporary workers to do some of the repetitive tasks, like a wash-down, so crew members can tackle something more interesting when it’s most appropriate.

At the end of the day, the competitive advantage one vessel has over another comes down to the people. If a boat has highly skilled, highly motivated crew members, they will have the greatest chance of fulfilling guest desires and dreams.

A former first officer, Paul Ferdais is founder and CEO of The Marine Leadership Group ( Comments are welcome at