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Yachting doesn’t need to hold crew with ‘golden handcuffs’

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By Conor Salmon

One of my favorite quotes is: “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” Henry Ford is credited with saying this back in the 1940s. It is a powerful statement on positive thinking and a realization that the premier way to obtain what we desire in life is to believe that we can achieve whatever that is.

While working full time on yachts, I frequently heard the phrase “the golden handcuffs” from crewmates. The term originated in the 70s and was a reference to the financial perks that  were given to highly compensated employees to encourage them to stick with the company.

In yachting, the concept has been adapted to mean that crew will never earn the same kind of money that they make in yachting anywhere else. Never – anywhere or ever. I’ve heard many active crew say it.  “I’ve got the golden handcuffs; I can’t make this kind of money anywhere else.”

What would Henry Ford say about that? He’d probably just say they are right – but only because they think they can’t, not because they actually can’t.

The whole concept of the golden handcuffs is a cognitive distortion that holds crew down. It’s an unfortunate situation that reinforces the negative thinking that convinces us it is a black and white matter, that we will never make that kind of money again, ever. It’s unfortunate that misery loves company, but that is part of the reality of it as this concept is passed along and perpetuated among new crew.

In my experience, the golden handcuff phrase irritated me so much when I was a crew member that I actually ended up using it as motivation to break out of the industry into another line of work. Many others have also broken the golden handcuffs to go on and have great careers in other lines of work – so much so that it proves there are only golden handcuffs if we think there are.

Getting off boats and going shore-based full time is absolutely a difficult proposition, and I encountered numerous trials and tribulations along the way. At times, sheer stubbornness alone kept me going.

There were multiple attempts in which I said, “this is it, I’m done,” and went ashore, only to find myself a short while later back on deck, polishing stainless and scrubbing teak.

I typically gave in because of the ever-so-familiar “dangling of the carrot.” Some sort of extra feature or benefit, beyond the standard salary – an exotic itinerary, more travel, more drive time, more stability in the schedule, more money beyond the standard rates, or the like – was always enticing me each time I came back to full-time yachting positions.

Captains make great salesmen. I credit many of these experiences to my negative thinking at the time. The more I said to myself, “I don’t want to do this anymore, I don’t want to do this anymore,” the more those great opportunities kept coming up.

I truly believe that it was not until I changed my mindset from “I don’t want to do this anymore” to “I want to do something more” that I actually gained traction in doing what I wanted to do, which was remove myself from full-time employment on boats.

I tried the negative thought process for several years without success, but had successful results relatively quickly with the positive thought process.

I loved my time aboard large yachts. I loved the journeys that I was able to participate in. I loved the day-to-day maritime experience. I worked with great people along the way and experienced so many things, and I still have saltwater running through my veins.

Regardless of all that, I knew my time was up when my time was up. It took me years, though, to figure out what I have laid out in this article. My hope is that anyone else considering a career change will realize that they are only as locked in as they think they are. Wearing the golden handcuffs is a choice, not a consequence.

Conor Salmon worked as first mate and deckhand on yachts up to 257 feet for almost a decade. He moved to a shore-based life and now works as a financial adviser to the yachting industry, based in Florida. Share your thoughts below.

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One thought on “Yachting doesn’t need to hold crew with ‘golden handcuffs’

  1. Ethan Lee

    A nice and well written article by Mr. Salmon.
    I think there’s an underlying message here, apart from “you can do whatever you set your mind to,” which I firmly believe. But if a crew member doesn’t completely enjoy the challenges and benefits that being professionally paid and certified yacht crew is all about then by all means you’re in the wrong business! Get out as soon as your current commitment allows. There are many, many other professions in the world, find the one you do love and try and not let the amount of salary influence your choice of work.
    Life is short, don’t take up a profession you don’t completely enjoy, and not one that is just as much of a lifestyle as it a profession, we don’t go home every night.
    Thank you to Mr. Salmon for his piece!

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