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Any laws protecting crew rights?
Posted: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 7:19 PM
Joined: 27/11/2008
Posts: 3


I am wondering if there are any laws governing the way crew are treated, at least while in port. I am an American crew member working on a foreign-flagged vessel, docked the majority of time in the U.S.

When the boat is empty of guests, we work 9 hours a day. But when the guests arrive, I'm expected to work 15-hour days, seven days a week, for four consecutive weeks. When the boat is docked while guests are aboard, and I am off the clock, I am not allowed to leave even for a 15 minute walk. There will be no Dock Walk for me! 

Is this kind of treatment legal? Because it certainly isn't humane, nor does it seem safe. I know that captains are allowed to work only so many hours at a time. What about the rest of us?

Posted: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 4:18 PM


The schedule you describe is fairly "normal" in the yachting industry. I am guessing either you have not been in this industry for very long, or if you have, that you have previously been treated exceptionally well. Unfortunately, back to back trips for many weeks on end with 15+ hour workdays would not be considered an unusual circumstance in yachting. It is a primary reason why very few crew last in this industry. This being said, to answer your question regarding the law, I have attached text from an article published in Dockwalk several months ago. As you read, keep in mind that these rules only apply on very large (500 tonnes +) commercial yachts and only for crew who keep watch. Regretably, I can think of no legal recourse for your current conundrum...

There are certainly many of you who may have read Rupert Connors assertion that “STCW code mandates safe working hours and provides a structure for crew to receive appropriate time off and rest” and thought to yourself, “Really?” Though the code absolutely exists, its application is a little complicated. So before anyone gets their knickers knotted about it, Connor graciously explains the rest of the story.

“The STCW code is in force and very relevant to any commercially operating vessel over 500grt. (Compliance with it is one of the large components for maintaining a safe working environment for any ISM compliant vessel…it covers things from drug and alcohol policies to safe working hours.)

Do captains comply with it? Well they certainly must report that they are. Do they all know what the rules state? Your call.

As usual, the hearsay believers might believe that STCW is some labor union pushing for a 35 hour work week and free gold bars for crew on Thursdays. In reality, the working hours mandated by the STCW code are very much in favor of the employer, and any crew working to the limits of the code will be working a very full work week. The point of the code is to avoid unsafe working conditions by having crew members on watch who have not received a suitable amount of rest opportunities. (You can mandate that people are not working but you cannot mandate that they sleep/recharge in their break times.)

Section A-VIII/1 of the STCW Code states that watch keeping personnel (i.e, all persons assigned duty as officers in charge of a watch or as rating forming part of the watch) shall be provided a minimum of 10 hours of rest in any 24-hour period. The period of rest may be divided into two periods, one of which must be at least 6 hours.

So a 14-hour work day, 7 days a week allows for a 98 hour work week…not quite the 35 hours that the union believers have in mind.”

Posted: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 9:57 PM

Anytime you'd like to join Deckhands Local Union 151, we'd be glad to have your support.

The benefits of working on a big yacht are good pay, free food and sometimes booze and interesting adventures with generally interesting people. However, because we work in an industry where greedy rich people seek to hide their money from the taxman and spend it extravagantly on themselves while caring crap about the environment (what is the carbon footprint of a megayacht?), they have thus figured out many ways to skirt laws. Labor laws are one of the many norms in civilized society yacht owners disregard.

While you may be docked in the United States, you are technically on foreign soil when you step aboard the foreign-flagged vessel you work on.

If you don't like it, call your Congressman. Ha. Hahahaha. Not. The Coast Guard won't enforce labor laws either, because the Coasties lack jurisdiction to enforce the legal codes of the Cayman Islands or the Marshall Islands.

These are the rules of the game. I worked on a boat once where we motored 10,000 miles in under 100 days, and got 10 days off in that time period, with four of those days off in a row at one point. I got to the point where I was less than congenial with the owner, who insisted on doing parts of the bumpy delivery with us. Ever shaved in squalls in the Med? Not fun. And that was the least of it.

Rich people generally suck because they think with their money they can rule the world and buy and sell people. And the crew tolerates it, because they are expendable. Sometimes I wonder why yachties haven't mutinied in some situations that I have heard about. Owners demand that we work these hours, and then they give us cookies for Christmas bonuses.

Peace and love and socialism.
Deckhands Local 151 union steward

Posted: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 10:45 PM
Welcome to the industry Jen

Posted: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 10:49 PM
And you wonder why everyone has a coke habit!!

Posted: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 11:46 PM
Its quite unfortunate to see even slightly disgruntled crew with misinformed opinions of the industry of yachting. Yachting provides simply a means to an end and 14 years into my career in yachting I haven't yet found the end. Your 151 local union steward spent some time working in the thankless position of an interior staff and I'm sure she was was paid extremely well for the services she did. I can only assume that for her efforts she was able to walk away with 100% of her salary in those 100 days and greatly improved in her financial position. No there no laws regarding working hours in the business, thankfully!! Crew have a choice to join the industry or depart as many do. For the majority of us are thankful that we have been able to achieve as much as we have, save as much as we have and travel as much as we have in our life as a crew member. I put it down to hard work.. Something that many have forgotten. For crew that struggle with the thankless hours on a particular boat, there are many more to chose from. If you are unsuccessful in finding one then perhaps you should continue looking in other industries. There are very few opportunities you will be presented with in your life that pay an uneducated person as well and offer as many short term benefits as Yachting. Seise the opportunity, save your cash and depart in a position only your parents could have dreamed of at your age.
Posted: Thursday, December 18, 2008 7:37 AM
Coke habit?
No way, I have been in the industry 10 years, I am totally against drugs and I manage perfectly fine my chief stew position on different size boat from 30 to 50m, it's non stop for about 5 months in the summer, and don't do the Caribbean season so winter working hours are 8am to 5pm.
If the hours were not so crazy we would be paid like if we were working in a restaurant.
Posted: Thursday, December 18, 2008 1:44 PM
Joined: 19/05/2008
Posts: 52

Hi Jenn. Thanks for your post. You ask whether there are any laws governing the way crew are treated. The answer is… plenty! While in port, and in fact anywhere within 12 miles of the coast of most countries, the actions of your employer are governed by so-called Port State law. This is essentially the local law which covers all land-based workers. It could be that your employer is in breach of some of these laws. There are often criminal sanctions for employers who demand that their employees work illegal hours. Your employer will also be covered by the law of the yacht’s flag, known as the Flag State law. Most countries where yachts are flagged have implemented regulations known as STCW Convention, which limits working hours. A breach of these regulations can also be a criminal offence, as can not having a Crew Agreement – which sets out certain basic rights such as repatriation, etc. I’m not sure I concur with ‘Deckhands Local 151 union steward’s comment that owners are “…greedy rich people seek to hide their money from the taxman and spend it extravagantly on themselves while caring crap about the environment”. This is a somewhat hypocritical statement given that most crewmembers don’t even pay personal income tax, never mind corporate income or wealth tax. Most of the owners are rich because they are far clever than you or I could ever hope to be. They also donate a far greater percentage of their annual income directly to good causes. You’ll find many are inspirational business leaders and large-scale employers, and would rather have happy crew (and therefore yacht) working sensible hours than a miserable crew and a high staff turnover. If you find a way to discuss your concerns with him or her – always respecting the chain of command first - you may be surprised how sympathetic he/she will be. And if you still think you’re working too many hours, then the answer’s simple. Find another job. But you may find it difficult to find another paying quite so much (tax-free) cash… Benjamin Maltby. MatrixLloyd.
Posted: Thursday, December 18, 2008 6:42 PM
Thank you very much for this information, and thanks to the others who took the time to write fairly lengthy replies as well.

For the record, I spoke to the captain since originally posting my question, and he was quite surprised to find out that the chief stew was forbidding us to leave the boat during our breaks. He has since had a little Come to Jesus with her, and I'll be taking my Dock Walk after all. You're right, communication is key.

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