Stew Cues: by Alene Keenan
One of the most common grievances that yacht owners have is dealing with crew issues, and high turnover is near the top of the list. A definite balance is required here, and as always, there are two sides to every complaint.
Stews want to know certain things before joining a boat, and I have often wondered if owners are aware of the concerns of new crew. It seems logical that if owners were aware of these matters, it might make the relationship between owner and crew easier to navigate.
Professional crew want to know about longevity on board. When applying for a position, it’s always good to know why that position is available. A high turnover rate is not a good sign. On the other hand, a strong record of longevity usually means that crew are happy and there is a healthy working environment on board. It suggests that crew are not being overworked, living conditions are acceptable, they are paid professional wages, and there is good team spirit. Crew typically leave when they are unhappy or not being treated right.
Crew living spaces can make or break a deal. The ambiance of the luxurious yacht interior is rarely present in the crew areas. Stews seldom have private cabins, and cabins on some boats are so small there is barely space to turn around inside the room. Three or more crew from two cabins may share a bathroom, and if someone forgets to unlock the door when they are finished, it creates an awkward situation.
It is not a big deal to share a cabin, even with someone of the opposite sex, unless one roommate is a sexual predator, a big drinker who keeps late hours, or an ill-mannered and inconsiderate jerk who wakes others up by being noisy, turning the lights on, snoring loudly or repeatedly locking other occupants out of the aforementioned shared “Jack and Jill” bathroom. Crew need to be able to get a decent amount of rest, have a modicum of privacy, and feel safe in their environment.
A program that promotes fitness or even allows crew room to work out is a big plus. A fit, healthy lifestyle and a work/life balance is appealing to the majority of professional crew. Staying on top of fitness and health can be challenging. For most stews, moving constantly means that following a workout routine is not going to be an option. The combination of a hectic charter schedule, an abundance of elaborate food, and a high level of stress almost guarantee that healthy eating and fitness will go out the window. If existing crew already have a fitness routine in place and can provide support, stews have a better chance of a balanced lifestyle.
Crew want to know what the plans are for the boat, and what level of service they are expected to deliver. The nationalities of the owners and the crew have an impact as well. Some nationalities have a reputation for certain standards and expectations. The captain will fill you in somewhat on what the owner is like and how often they will use the boat, but very often you won’t learn who the owner is until after you are offered the position. It’s tricky to get information about the owners without asking directly, but this is part of the privacy and confidentiality of the boat.
One of the biggest draws of this lifestyle is being paid a wage while taking advantage of the opportunity to see and explore new places. You may not have a chance like this to see the places you are in again, so it is wise to take advantage of the options. Unfortunately, yacht crew have a reputation for being party animals, and for many it’s easy to blow an entire paycheck in a bar. Most professional stews would rather have crewmates who appreciate the travel perks that the job provides and spend some money wisely to explore the places the boat is in to enrich their lives.
Good communication is key to the success of any yachting program and to discovering what the underlying issues are in terms of the owner/crew balance. Reducing crew turnover solves one of the most common issues. Unfortunately, the process very often is one of trial and error. With any luck, the relationship between owner and crew will balance out once common concerns are addressed and a mutually beneficial solution is reached. Too much tension in tight quarters creates some pretty rough seas.
Alene Keenan is former lead instructor of interior courses at Maritime Professional Training in Fort Lauderdale. She shares more than 20 years experience as a stew in her book, “The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht,” available at yachtstewsolutions.com. Comments are welcome below.