Reality Check: The Crew Shortage is Over

Nov 19th 08
By Kelly Sanford

Weren’t we having a crew shortage just a few months ago? When captains and owners were frustrated with paying inexperienced, unmotivated crew obscene amounts of money just to have a “warm body” around to help out. My, how quickly things have changed! According to Ian Pelham with The Crew Network, the turnaround began back in the spring. Pelham noted a sudden rise in the number of crew left wandering the docks after a full season in Antibes.

When the bottom fell out of the international economy recently, it had an immediate affect on crew. Suddenly, crew placement agencies have been swamped with crew, some desperate to find work. And the surplus isn’t just in the entry-level positions. It’s right across the board – even engineers!

“We have over fifteen hundred crew actively looking for work right now,” says Alison Overington with Northrop and Johnson Crew Placement. “We still have job openings coming in, but not enough to keep pace with the number of crew looking for work. We are starting to see crew who have just given up and decided to leave the industry, maybe because they're out of money or maybe because they just can’t compete with the more qualified crew, who are also looking for jobs.”

“It might be good for the industry in the long run,” says Capt. Herb Magney. “It will weed out crew who just want a paycheck and don’t want to work, but there are definitely good, hard-working crew out there trying to find a job. As a captain, it has been a welcome change to be getting résumés from crew who actually have strong credentials.” But, he adds, “I do worry about what it really means in the long run.”

For the first time in over a year, crew salaries are clearly reflecting this changing dynamic in the industry. “It's no longer the crew who get to determine what a job is worth,” says Ann Aylesworth of The Crew Network. “Captains and owners are able to pay a fair market value for their incoming crew and we are better able to meet their needs with well qualified crew.”

“Right now, we are seeing a balancing of the scales,” she continues. “You won’t see green crew earning $3,000 and up per month; it’s more like $2,500 per month.” Even experienced crew may see a change in their earning potential. “If you were a chef earning $100,000 per year on your last boat, you may be disappointed to learn that $85,000 is now the going rate for the same job,” Aylesworth says. “Owners and captains are definitely looking for value in crew.”

For crew currently looking for work, it's important to be realistic about what the current market will bear. Holding out for a higher salary may mean you stay unemployed longer and you may ultimately end up at a reduced salary after months of unemployment.

Aylesworth cautions crew that it's no longer a crew-driven economy. If you are among the thousands (yes, thousands) of crew looking for work, understand that there is a lot of competition for jobs right now and yacht owners are very adept at understanding the inverse economic relationship between supply and demand. The sudden surplus of crew is likely to drive salaries down just as hastily as the recent shortage drove them up.

How does the crew job market look from where you sit?





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7 Comments
  • The comment by Chef Peter makes me wonder "sometimes it is who you know or just lucky". Are there gate keepers in this industry?. I maybe the best qualified for the job but not put forward because a crew agent, captain or broker does not really know me?. I do have to say all of my jobs came from people who know me. One was luck and really it was the worst job I've had. Hummmm?
    Posted by Chief Stewardess_1 23/11/2008 00:55:00

  • If you went to college and spent alot of money and didnt get into your desired field and did something else...it is the same thing here in Yachting you have to spend money to make money...unless you luck into something...its who you know...sometimes...if you know what I mean.
    Posted by Chef Peter_1 21/11/2008 15:27:26

  • In our view, the crew shortage thing e.g. there are not enough people for the number of jobs available, was a bit of a myth. Captains we talked to this year constantly focused on the shortage of the *right* crew - people who were committed to the job, people who saw the potential for a career in the industry rather than a season, people who had the right personality to go a good job. In times like this there are still jobs available but in most cases the best and most committed people will be getting them and those who find the going a little tougher will go in a different direction. This is still a career for people with great practical and vocational skills. It is a unqiue environment for unique people and in the long term corrections in industries like we're experiencing everywhere are good.
    Posted by John_b_osullivan 21/11/2008 11:10:39

  • First of all, it needs to be said that the article is in no way meant to discourage anyone from seeking a job in the current yacht market. The article is simply meant to inform crew that there is a lot of competition for jobs right now and a backwards flex in salaries - crew should be prepared adjust their expectations accordingly.
    Regarding the value of training, I'm not sure where you got the $35K figure. That's off the charts. For an entry level deck position, the only investment you really need to make is an STCW (about $900). For interior crew, an STCW and maybe a few silver service classes (you could spend another $1500 if you took several courses). Once you have an STCW (and maybe a few classes) all you need a solid work ethic, an ability to get along with difficult people under difficult circumstances and realistic salary expectations. However, with the amount of competition for jobs, you should have enough savings to be able to get by for several months while you interview. That being said, the cream will rise, and there will always be jobs for hard-working, loyal crew...have patience, be diligent and don't let people tell you you have to spend $35,000 to get an entry level job!
    Posted by Kelly_1 21/11/2008 01:58:52

  • Thank you ddpsi. That message of encouragement really means alot. I wont let this article discourage me. I'm definitely going to be a yachtmaster! thanks.
    Posted by lastnameathan 21/11/2008 01:53:03

  • well, in my opinion, I think if u want something bad enough, go out there and get it! It doesn't matter how many people are looking for work, what matters is you, and how you go about your business!! If you want in to this industry, then go ahead and get into it! Don't let anyone or anything (an article) discourage you from achieving your hopes, drams, and goals!! JUST DO IT!!!! I AM , AND YOU CAN TOO!!!!!!
    Posted by ddspi 20/11/2008 22:21:13

  • Kelly, given the recent increase in available crew would it be pointless for someone who has no experience but wants a long-term career in this industry to invest 35,000 dolars in training? Do you think as the industry grows the majority of these people who may ot be serious about a long-term career will leave?
    Posted by lastnameathan 20/11/2008 03:47:01

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