As COVID-19 swept the world, the knock-on effects from the pandemic have forced changes in the industry, not the least of which is a crew shortage.
“There is nothing normal about the market now. There are tons of jobs around and no one to fill the positions,” says Marcy Williams, director of crew services, Northrop & Johnson in Fort Lauderdale. She adds, “We have noticed that all the U.S.-flagged yachts are having an exceptionally hard time finding American crew to work aboard them.”
The increase in demand and crew shortage is directly due to the pandemic, as a backlog in paperwork and travel restrictions in some areas mean movement has been restricted. “We still have travel restrictions in some countries even though with the correct travel paper crew can come in the U.S., since crew are considered essential workers,” says Julie Walker, customer manager at Meridian.
As Jo Damgaard from Meridian points out, “Non-U.S. crew couldn’t not enter the U.S. on a B2 or ESTA under any circumstance and the U.S. embassies worldwide were not issuing B1 visas for over a year,” she says. “This crippled the crew market this summer.”
And, as Jill Maderia of Denison notes, “With travel restrictions, many boats have hired crew that are local. Some crew have departed the industry during COVID as well. I do believe it should level off and with travel restrictions easing up, that should help.”
As Walker explains, with borders closed, some itineraries have been restricted, too. “A significant amount of experienced crew has left the industry to be with family during the pandemic and have not returned. More and more yachts are being build, the average size of vessel is also growing — this also adds to the shortage,” she says.
COVID doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon, and that will also affect job opportunities, especially when it comes to vaccination rates. “Some full-time crew are not double vaccinated and that creates a hiccup for the owners wanting to travel to some of the Caribbean islands,” says Walker. “They want to keep their crew who they are familiar with, but it creates issues.”
The hope is that now the U.S. has opened its borders once more as of November 8, the shortage might ease.
How this shortage has affected salaries has been an interesting tale. According to our 2021 Dockwalk Salary Survey, crew salaries were still much on par with those of previous years, according to many of the placement agents we interviewed for the magazine article and after, although there have been some spikes due to increased demand.
Worldwide, however, agents are predicting that crew wages are sure to rise in the near future due to the crew shortage and the law of supply and demand. In fact, several agents already have reported seeing a rise. “Because of the increase in demand, we have seen big increases in salaries in just the past few months,” Williams says.
Yacht Crew Growing More Selective
As a result of this shortage, crew can afford to be more selective in their job choices. But, as most crew agents would probably caution, that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone. If you’re very new to the yachting industry, it still makes sense for you to build up your resumé before demanding the big bucks and benefits.
However, if there is a lack of applicants and shortage, some of these new crew are perhaps being promoted a little earlier than they would otherwise have been. “With the shortage of crew, you may have to do this, have to up rank quicker — hopefully they got trained properly during those blessed six months,” says Walker.
Maderia agrees that crew can perhaps afford to be pickier than usual, but she has a caveat. “However, if crew secure a position, they should retain it, as it will only help them look better by showing they can commit to a program and not change positions every few months, unless they are freelance crew,” she says. While she acknowledges there is a shortage, she believes it’s mainly experienced crew. “It’s a great time for green crew now,” she says. “Many boats are willing to train new crew entering the industry, where in the past they may not have done so.”
Is there an end in sight? Maybe not any time soon — Walker believes we might be dealing with this shortage for longer than we’d like.