Career Advice

How the Vaccine Affects Crew Hiring

8 October 2021By Lauren Beck
iStock/Ryan McGill

Written by

Lauren Beck

Editor Lauren Beck has been with Dockwalk since 2006. At 13, she left South Africa aboard a 34-foot sailing boat with her family and ended up in St. Maarten for six years. Before college, she worked as crew for a year, and then cut her journalistic teeth at Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies’ Home Journal online. She loves traveling, reading, tennis, and rooting for the Boston Red Sox. Email her at lauren@dockwalk.com.

Depending on where you live, COVID-19 vaccines have been rolling out for months now. In the U.S., they finally opened up for people older than 12 in April. But there are people who are still reluctant to get the shot and an ongoing pandemic that’s causing an increasingly political divide and fueling a wide range of conspiracy theories.

In the U.S., approximately 56 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated. It’s hoped that federal vaccine mandates in some arenas will push those numbers higher as most healthcare workers in facilities receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds, government employees, and companies with more than 100 employees are required to get the vaccine or face weekly testing. But how does that work in yachting?

“From our perspective, crew see vaccination as a sensible approach to keeping the industry moving,” he says. 

Rupert Connor, founder and president of Luxury Yacht Group in Fort Lauderdale, says they haven’t seen too much pushback from crew on getting the vaccination. “From our perspective, crew see vaccination as a sensible approach to keeping the industry moving,” he says. “We have had some difficulties over the summer with crew unable to locate vaccine doses, but those issues have mostly vanished now.”

iStock/Ceri Breeze

On the other side of the world in Australia and New Zealand, which have been subjected to some of the world’s strictest COVID-19 protocols and lockdowns, it’s obviously been challenging to get back to some sort of normal. Vaccine rollout in New Zealand and Australia now allows for everyone over the age of 12 to get the shot and about 44 percent of the New Zealand population has been fully vaccinated, and about 52 percent in Australia.

“We have had one or two instances where candidates weren’t comfortable to be vaccinated but on the whole, the vast majority of crew we have spoken to have either been vaccinated or were planning on receiving it,” says Don McKee, director and co-founder YOA Ltd., a crew placement agency in New Zealand.

Joy Weston of Crew Pacific in Australia believes that Australian and New Zealand crew are not as quick to get vaccinated as other nationalities. “They really need to rethink what they [are] doing otherwise they will not be able to obtain work anywhere in the world if they are not vaccinated,” she says. “They have to think about the owners that own these yachts and not just themselves.”

iStock/Ridofranz

Crew Job Requirements

“Since reopening in September after summer break, every single new vacancy I’ve been contacted for has stated that the COVID-19 vaccine is required,” says Erica Lay, director of EL CREW CO in Palma. “I have not encountered a yacht since mid-summer [that] has been flexible on this.” Louisa Gallimore at bluewater also says about 90 percent of the jobs they’re seeing are requesting vaccinated crew. “Unfortunately for every one person non-vaccinated, there possibly could be 20 that are vaccinated, so job opportunities could be less [for unvaccinated crew].”

Weston agrees. “All the new job roles coming through the agency are now requesting all crew be fully vaccinated and if not, [they] cannot consider them for the roles,” she says. “Being fully vaccinated should be mandatory just like STCW95 and holding a medical [certificate] is.”

Connor says that they still have employers who have not mandated vaccination, although he notes those are usually private yachts. “Our charter fleet is hiring crew who are already vaccinated in the majority of cases and working to vaccinate all long-term crew if cruising areas where the vaccine is not readily available,” he says.

“The question of personal choice must be taken into account; however, this is the case for crew as well as owners/management,” he says. 

McKee says that not all jobs are requiring proof, but the majority are. “Some private yachts < 500gt are a little less stringent but it also depends on owner preferences.” He believes this is the way the industry is heading, and we will need to adapt. “The question of personal choice must be taken into account; however, this is the case for crew as well as owners/management,” he says. “Certain countries require yellow fever shots in order to be allowed entrance and as time goes on, the vaccines will be refined further, which will hopefully lead to a reduction in resistance.”

“I think it will level itself out [and] we have got to keep that vaccine on roll out,” says Capt. Nathan McFadyen on M/Y Volpini 2. “I’m not an anti-vaxxer; I’m not a compulsory vaccination [person], but I think the way the industry is, it’s not going to be any choice. You’re going to have to be vaccinated.” He explains that it would make moving around easier for captains — no waiting around for tests.

As for whether he thinks crew don’t want the vaccine, he thinks it’s more the case they just don’t want to be told what to do. “I think it’s a big problem in America,” he says. “But you know, most of us are like, oh well, we’ve got to get on with our jobs. We’ve got family to support; you believe your governments, and you get on with it. Obviously, there’s always going to be a handful, but in general, we’re seeing most people coming across now vaccinated or willing to be.” If you want work, that’s the way we’re trending, he says.

It’s trending that way everywhere. According to a recent survey from ResumeBuilder in the U.S., one-third of employers are dismissing résumés that don’t specify vaccination status. They also note specifically that 75 percent of IT, finance, and tech companies want vaccinated people and, as of August 2021, 63 percent of employers are mandating vaccination.

Is There Room for Medical Exemptions?

While there’s been a lot of talk of medical exemptions here in the U.S., it’s proven to be a very tricky line to walk in a country that has seen the pandemic grow increasingly divisive. As Lay explains, unless there is a legitimate reason why someone cannot be vaccinated, those who are not will struggle. “I can’t see owner’s changing their cruising plans for an anti-vax crewmember,” she says. She also shares that some yacht owners might be medically fragile or have compromised immune systems that leave them at high-risk for COVID. “They have a right to expect the people around them to be vaccinated,” she says. “You can’t tell an owner they can’t use their yacht because some of the crew don’t want the vaccine. That’s not going to happen.”

“However, we’ve not seen any doctor’s notes that provide that legitimate reason yet.”

“I suppose it would depend on what constitutes a legitimate health reason, but I imagine it would mean that they would not be considered for positions where it was a requirement,” McKee says. “I think it's pretty clear that this is the way things are going.”

Weston thinks that it may mean they would need to show a medical certificate with a legitimate reason why they are unable to be vaccinated. “I feel this is very fair, but when someone is healthy and can get vaccinated, they should, especially if they want to travel again.”

If you have a legitimate health reason that you’re unable to get vaccinated, “These cases will be handled on a case-by-case basis with appropriate sensitivity to the issue for that crewmember,” says Connor. “However, we’ve not seen any doctor’s notes that provide that legitimate reason yet.”

iStock/Bill Oxford

The Inconvenience Factor

While crew are currently being tested regularly, that obviously takes time and money. “It’s inconvenient, and [it] also that means they can’t step foot off the yacht,” Lay says. “The whole point of the vaccine is to reduce transmission risk and lower the effects of COVID, so having unvaccinated crew could pose a risk to the entire program. It would be far easier for the captain or owner to mitigate that risk by only hiring vaccinated crew.”

Gallimore agrees. “Absolutely — captains aren’t willing to take the risk of being held up with delays waiting for crewmembers to get tested, and the additional paperwork it involves having unvaccinated crew on board,” she says. At this stage, the vessels are still paying for testing, but “I can see the onus of this being put on the crewmember in the future,” Gallimore says.

Connor points out the testing so far isn’t going anywhere as even vaccinated crew are tested before each trip because even vaccinated crew can get and transmit COVID-19. “Most of our clients are elderly and have the most risk by being exposed to someone who is not vaccinated. Whilst breakthrough infections are possible, the data supports that vaccination is the best protection,” says Connor. “The first responsibility to yacht crew is keeping their guests safe…. Being vaccinated is a good step to provide that. I have young charter guests who almost didn’t board their very expensive charter as two crewmembers (out of 16) were not vaccinated.”

As everyone noted, getting back to normal is the goal. As Connor says, remember how it was last year in the height of the pandemic — we don’t want to return to those days. “Vaccination is the only way to keep our industry moving,” he says.

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