Crew Management

Should I Join a Union? Here’s What You Need to Know

16 March 2022 By Aileen Mack
Adobe Stock

Associate Editor Aileen Mack joined Dockwalk in July 2018. She is a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. If she’s not at a concert or coffee shop, she is lost in a book, movie or a YouTube rabbit hole. Email Aileen at

Given how much has happened in these past few years, life has proven even more how unpredictable it can be. And in these times of uncertainty, every extra safety net will provide some comfort and security. Among those options is joining a union, which can help iwith various aspects of your career at sea and provide advice or assistance should you find yourself in a less-than-ideal situation. Here is everything you need to know before joining a union…

What is a union?

The history of unions, starting as small associations of workers, dates to the 18th century. Generally, unions are made up of members in a particular industry or trade who come together seeking better pay, benefits, working conditions, etc. The union members work together to advocate for and negotiate for these improvements. Because unions tend to focus on a specific trade or industry, they can be great resources for other job-related assistance and issues.

What are the options for crew?

While there are a few unions that focus on merchant seafarers and maritime workers in certain regions, Nautilus International is recognized by the International Labour Organization (ILO), a United Nations body, as the union for the yacht sector worldwide. The Nautilus team specializes in assisting with common issues facing yacht crew and also have resources to help your career, including verifying sea time with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) using their Service Record Book, which is included in membership.

The impact of Brexit, the pandemic, and the Russian-Ukrainian crisis has an impact on the industry and led to some surges in membership, says Nautilus International’s Strategic Organizer Laura Molineux. Nautilus has had a 250 percent membership growth in the superyacht industry year over year for the past three years, and more than 60 percent of new members from the maritime sector work on yachts. Molineux says, “we are run by our members for our members.”

How can they help?

Nautilus members can receive representation and assistance from the union in the form of legal expertise, certificate protection, workplace support, and other forms of international representation with a 24/7 helpline.

Over the past two years, Nautilus has recovered more than £1.6 million in unpaid wages for its yacht crew union members. “Members are entitled to free financial protection against the loss of income if their certificate of competency is cancelled, suspended, or downgraded following a formal inquiry,” Molineux says. She adds that the union also provides expert advice on work-related problems, such as contracts, redundancy, complaints, grievances, and bullying or discrimination.

It is heavily emphasized that crewmembers join Nautilus before a situation arises because crew will not be eligible for legal representation if the matter pre-dates their membership. “Once in membership, crew should contact the union as soon as they are aware that an issue is going to have an impact on them,” Molineux says.

What qualifications do I need to join?

You are eligible to become a Nautilus International member, no matter your nationality, country of residence, or role working on board yachts, including deck, engine, and interior.

There are four classes of Nautilus members:

  • Full members: crew who are regularly engaged or employed are eligible. However, should a full member become unemployed, they can continue to be a full member for a year after they become unemployed (or retire, whichever comes first).
  • Associate members: available to those who were previously full members but have stopped qualifying for full membership.
  • Affiliate members: Those who previously had full membership but have retired from regular employment. (Admission up to the discretion of the council)
  • Honorary: Up to discretion of council for those they regard as having outstanding service for the furtherance of the interest of the union or its members.

Note: Under the Nautilus rules, it states that the union is not liable to a member for any loss, relating or as a result of any advice or info the union has given or “any act or omission to act by the union unless that advice, information, act or omission follows a written request for such advice, information or assistance made by the member on the appropriate form available from any office of the union.”


More from Dockwalk