I came into a hectic situation recently when I was called in for service triage on a yacht newly purchased. The chief stew had refused to get vaccinated and quit with three months’ severance. I got there the day before the guests did. The second stew had been on the boat for three months in the shipyard, but only had guests on for two days. The chef was fired about an hour before my plane landed, and the new chef got there about an hour before the six guests arrived. It was CRAZY!
Of course, every industry has been affected by the coronavirus epidemic, and the superyacht industry is no exception. More Americans have turned to the lifestyle than ever before, and boat sales have skyrocketed. First-time owners, met with a shortage of experienced American crew, have been introduced to the high-turnover roller coaster ride that is the bane of the industry.
The owners on our yacht were so nice about the whole situation. Still, they had planned to be on board for five weeks but canceled the last week out of sheer frustration. They were not “new” owners per se, but we talked a lot about people they knew who had just bought their first yacht and were so upset about crew turnover.
We were in New England, where tourists were out in droves. Traffic was a mess, and it seemed like every place of business was short-staffed. Considerable wait times and service delays made dining out a disappointment. The human connection is what keeps diners happy, and for many restaurants, it just wasn’t there. It didn’t take long for the owners and guests to decide that food and service were better on the boat. After all, yachting is all about making that human connection. All day, every day.
When there is crew turnover, however, it takes a while for replacement staff and green crew to get to know their way around a new boat and develop working relationships. In the beginning, the knowledge required is overwhelming. Itineraries change, minds change, weather changes, dinner off the boat is canceled — and everyone must adjust. There’s a lot to be said for hiring experienced crew to mentor junior crew in pivoting more easily to get the program back on track.
The shortage of experienced, qualified crew may come as a surprise for first-time owners, and with so many nuances to master, they might need help implementing a system and learning the best way to relay their preferences. Their crew must be dedicated, capable of combining flexibility with a good work ethic, and thick-skinned when it comes to criticism.
How this scenario will play out for the rest of the year and 2022 is anybody’s guess, but now is the time for owners to work with their captains to build stronger connections with their team and create the dream lifestyle they were hoping for when they bought their yacht.
Hold on to your hats because crew turnover is a bumpy ride!
Alene Keenan is a former lead instructor of interior courses at Maritime Professional Training in Fort Lauderdale. She has more than 20 years of experience as a stew.