On the Job

How to Survive Your First Yacht Season

9 August 2021 By Erica Lay

Owner of international crew agency EL CREW CO in Mallorca, Spain, Erica has been a freelance writer since 2008. She loves engaging with the projects she works on, diving headfirst into the research, investigation, and production of the stories she feels are newsworthy. A curious and proactive journalist, she draws on her own life experiences, her studies, and her work with crew all over the globe.

Green and experienced crew weigh in on the first crew season...

This is not a millennial bashing article. We all know the new generation of crew are different to the last — everyone comments on how much things have changed with regards to attitudes and approaches over the past 10 years or so. We don’t want to investigate why (that’s an entire subject in its own right), but more to see how first seasons measured up to expectations for brand-new crew, and for the senior crew who employed them.

To start this investigation, I posted two requests from various Facebook pages. One was for captains and senior crew who had hired green crew for the season. The second post was a shout-out to all green crew who had just completed their first yachting season. The initial response was immediate — I received several messages from people on both sides of the table who said they would love to help. Questionnaires were sent out and then most of the senior crew who requested a questionnaire returned it within 24 hours, along with a lovely email stating how they hoped it would be helpful in my project and that they were available for further questions if required.

Credit: Mark O'Connell

On the other side, only one of the new crew replied with a completed questionnaire in the same timeframe. Possibly relevant is that he is in his 30s and came across from the commercial sector. So I persisted with follow-up emails, adding that if there were any questions the crewmember felt uncomfortable answering, they could skip them. My initial concern was that perhaps I had asked too much. In addition to the Facebook repliers, I also emailed a number of crew from my own recruitment database. And interestingly, this is where I got ghosted — it does seem to have become an acceptable practice these days to ignore messages if it’s something you don’t feel like replying to. Is it rude? Yes. Is it unprofessional? Definitely. Is it hard to write an unbiased and fair assessment of the situation when only one side of the table are willing to give you information? Absolutely. And when the results come out, if they are one-sided, will the underrepresented side be annoyed and frustrated and say they haven’t been listened to? Probably! But do they understand that they need to speak up if they want to have their voices heard? Therein lies the problem — we want change, we want people to adapt to our needs, but we don’t want to get involved with anything that involves work in order to progress this change.

Prepare For Long Hours

When asked if their first season had met their expectations, nearly all new crew told me it was harder than they’d expected. They were not prepared for the long hours, and that was reflected in the feedback from senior crew. Capt. John* felt his new deckhand was “absolutely NOT [prepared]. The level of detail required was something he just couldn’t get his head around. The need to constantly go over everything he had already done was also a surprise. ‘The boat doesn’t stay clean by itself,’ I had to say. Making his bed and keeping his cabin immaculate seemed to come as a surprise too,” the captain says. “His entire attitude and approach to the job seems to be ‘this is ridiculous.’ He certainly has an attitude and struggles with respect and being told how to do anything as he believes he knows how to do it already.”

Capt. Annie* found the working hours posed a problem. “My two new deckhands expected to finish at five p.m. every night whether guests were on or off and wanted weekends off,” she says.

Chief Stewardess Liz* found that initially her green stews (she hired four to form part of her large interior team) were not ready for reality. “At first, the girls were very taken aback by the hours, which in my experience were extremely generous (9 hours at night; 2 to 2.5-hour break in the day; I was used to 6 hours at night and maybe an hour in the day being [on] charter),” she says. “We had a meeting where the girls had to get a bit of insight and a reality check for what the industry is. I luckily had an awesome captain who sat in the meeting and had my back one hundred percent. After that, and once the girls got used to the system, it ran like a well-oiled machine and then when there were lulls in the day, they got longer breaks where possible.”

In addition to long hours, time off (or lack of!) was also highlighted by senior crew. One chef who runs a yacht with her captain partner said she was quite taken aback when, during an interview, the crewmember asked her, “So what happens at weekends? Will the yacht pay for a hotel for me?”

Credit: Instagram/@misslarapara

Watch Your Senior Crew Carefully

For the new crew experiencing their first season, those who were aware of the hours still said it was more difficult than they’d anticipated as nothing they’d done prior had prepared them, regardless of how much background research they’d completed. “My first season was pretty spot-on to what I was expecting given my extensive research as far as the workload and hours were concerned,” Deckhand Dave* says. “However, I was surprised how much I didn’t know and am still learning to this day.”

“I thought I was [prepared] as I worked and was always active (morning and night) at home, but the reality of working 17- to 21-hour days with no days off proved far more difficult than I thought,” Stewardess Sally* added. Stew/Cook Charlotte* felt more prepared than others, “as long as I am keeping busy and taking good care of myself, the long hours are just that.” This was echoed by a sea school graduate, Stew/Deck Stella*. “I really enjoyed working long hours, especially on charter,” she says. “I liked being in a good routine and knowing exactly what I was doing every day.”

On the positive side, when asked about how supportive their senior crew were, most greenies gave good reports. New Stewardess Lena* had three jobs over the summer, and the first was not such a good experience. “There was a poor relationship between the captain and management,” she says. “The boat was falling apart, the standards were disgustingly low, and the captain was horrible and didn’t pay my tips. The crew chef’s food was awful — when you’re working long hours, it’s all you have to look forward to so that was a pretty depressing job.” She went on to say the senior crew on board should “lead by example — work as hard as they expect you to!”

New Stewardess Rica* told me her senior crew were “brilliant. They taught me so much and were keen to be involved in everything and learn as much as I could.” This was a sentiment echoed by most of the new crew, including Deckhand Billy*. “My crew were helpful and accepting, very willing to teach me what I didn’t know,” he says. In fact, across the board, the element of the whole season the new crew liked the most came down to their fellow crew.

Credit: Mark O'Connell

The Biggest Misconceptions in Yachting

Where are these ideas coming from? The crew themselves said they found out about yachting from friends mostly. Capt. John feels that crew need to dial their stories back a little. “Stories are exaggerated, and the fame and overall glamour of the whole industry is bigged up, when of course the opposite is true!” he says.

Social media plays a big role in this, and we’re all guilty of not posting the reality of our day-to-day lives. Why would you post a picture of a dirty bathroom when you can post a picture of a jeroboam on a beautiful Riviera day with your bikini-clad friends #livingyourbestlives? We as an industry are portraying unrealistic expectations. It’s not all glamour.

“Yes, it’s great, you get to travel, you get paid well, and meet lots of people, but with all of that comes a lot of graft, and I don’t think we talk about those bits,” says Capt. Annie. “We are all guilty of posting on social media about being on the beach, at parties, and cool bars, but we don’t talk enough about the other, less enjoyable parts of the industry, and therefore set a fake image of what to expect.” But that being said, who posts the reality of any job on Instagram? Should we have to explain that there’s more to a job than what’s seen on social media?

Reality TV was also cited as a source and sadly, anyone who believes what they see on these shows as “reality” definitely needs a talking to. Most serious yachties find these shows cringeworthy and borderline offensive, and many would immediately turn down any crewmember who has “starred” in one as their employers simply don’t want that sort of attention.

Obviously, sea schools and training establishments are going to take advantage of all this publicity and want to make as much money as possible from new crew, some being more responsible than others when it comes to preparing their students for the reality of yachting. One organization in the UK does produce consistently good newbies with well-rounded skills and a seemingly realistic set of expectations, encouraging them to keep in touch and mentoring them, whereas others seem to prefer to churn out students thick and fast with as many courses as possible, and no clue about the industry — taking their cash and apparently having no long-term interest in their careers. This was raised with the new crew and many appear to have been oversold courses and offered no post-course support.

Credit: Mark O'Connell

Find a Mentor

So it seems if there’s good training and mentoring in place on board, then the new crew will develop into positive and ambitious crewmembers. The trouble might be in finding the time — unfortunately, there isn’t always the luxury of having enough hours in the day to get the job done, let alone having time to support and develop the junior crew, but hopefully, that is changing.

Chief Stewardess Liz held meetings whenever possible to review performance. “I don’t mind mistakes being made in work; that’s how we all learn and no one comes into this industry knowing every aspect of every role,” she says. “It’s the attitude and behavior expectations that were the main topic of all conversations.” Personal development is essential for all roles, junior or senior.

Unfortunately, all the senior crew seemed to agree on one major problem with the new generation that makes them more challenging to mold and train than previous, and that’s the feeling of entitlement. This came up repeatedly. “I was raised to earn your opinion and respect others, which is something the new generation cannot grasp,” Chief Stewardess Liz says.

Capt. Annie’s issues were that her two deck crew were “both young and have been brought up in families where they very much had everything done for them,” she says. “Simple things, such as putting more rubbish in an already full bin instead of emptying it. One of them had such a big night out that they couldn’t turn up for work the following day and had their mom text me to say they were too ill to work.”

“They are not all in it for the right reasons,” Capt. John thinks. “They often come in with preconceived ideas and attitude and without a doubt ninety-nine percent come in just expecting this and that from lightning-fast Internet, time off before they’ve even begun, free this and free that, etc.”

Mentoring and training has always been key and I think often due to time constraints we can at times all be guilty of looking for the easier route when hiring new crew…

Fixing the Issues

How can we address these issues? It’s certainly a challenge. As senior crew, we must recognize the good training providers and hire crew through them and recommend them. This industry thrives on word of mouth and that must continue. Perhaps all of us need to add a few more hashtags to our social media accounts — I wonder if #7daysstraightnobreak or #20hourdays or #cleaningtheheadforthe7thtimetoday will catch on, though.

Mentoring and training have always been key and I think often due to time constraints we can at times all be guilty of looking for the easier route when hiring new crew, and only considering “experienced crew” when we need to remember we all started at the bottom of the ladder. We did not come out of the womb deftly tying our umbilical cords into a bowline, so we should not expect others to.

One thing is clear, the new generation of crew are definitely not the peel-back-the-lid-and-serve kind. They need mentoring, educating, and encouragement in a patient and non-threatening environment, perhaps more so than previous generations due to lack of life experience, but this is how it is. So instead of complaining about it, as the old bunch, we must adapt in order to get the best out of them before we all turn into our parents’ generation, whom I’m sure we all called fossils and out of touch with reality.


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