Career Advice

Is Longevity a Thing of the Past?

28 May 2024 By Erica Lay
Lost and Found Crew

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.

Longevity is hailed as a golden ticket when it comes to hiring crew. But it often comes at the expense of enduring bad jobs and/or management. Erica Lay argues it’s time to rethink our obsession with long-term employment...

As long as I can remember, I’ve been told as a crew agent that I should be looking for longevity on a CV. Only recently I saw a Facebook post on the topic with commenters agreeing that they’ll only consider crew for their vessels if they can “demonstrate longevity of three years plus on one yacht.” Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I no longer agree. Longevity is old news and should become a thing of the past. Got your attention? Are you clutching your pearls? Well, let me explain why and how we can make the industry a better place in the process.

During my research, I discovered many people agree with me. The main catalyst for this shift in opinion was caused by the pandemic. Back in a time before Covid-19, longevity was viewed as this mystical, mythical beast, and if you managed to slay it, then you were very special indeed. If you had two years plus on one boat, you were the prince who was foretold! The stuff of legend!

Covid-19 brought with it pestilence and plague, and another horseman of the apocalypse: redundancy. While land-based companies furloughed employees and shifted into a working-from-home-remote culture, the yachting industry rather unceremoniously dumped half its crew and didn’t give much thought to the future. Unfortunately, many owners assumed they’d be able to hire new crew when all this virus business had blown over; after all, they’d never had an issue hiring and firing in the past, had they?

But the lockdowns rolled on. Displaced crew sat at home waiting out the unknown, then took jobs locally or retrained; those with exit plans brought them forward, declared “now or never,” and left the industry.

By the time yachts started to crew up again as the world reopened, they were faced with a bit of an issue. They had open arms to welcome back crew, but hang on, where were they? Turns out lots of them didn’t fancy yachting as a career anymore. Many had discovered an even more fabulous fairytale called “work/life balance.” They’d spent the last year (or two) working 9 to 5, having evenings and weekends off, seeing friends and family, NOT missing weddings, births, and time with loved ones. Suddenly, that became more important than the yachting lifestyle and salary.

Covid-19 caused an awakening in the workforce. The crew who did return had high expectations: rotation, more leave, more money, and better conditions. And they weren’t going to settle for less.

“A few agents and captains have acted as the primary gatekeepers for jobs and have managed to gaslight the entire industry into believing longevity is a crucial aspect to consider when hiring.”

While waiting to find their unicorn jobs, many of these crew took temp jobs to keep earning. Some found they enjoyed short-term employment and never looked back, especially chefs. One explains, “It’s the perfect scenario for me; I jump on for a trip, smash it, help earn a good tip, and then disappear for a rest, before looking for the next gig. It’s far better for my motivation than cooking for the same people for months or years.”

Mate Matt* just spent three years on one boat with an abusive captain and tells me, “It was the hardest three years of my life.” He stayed “because longevity! I got my tickets done so at least I’ve come out of it with my Chief Mate 3000GT.” Arguably he’s also come out of it with PTSD and learned how not to captain. Every experience is a learning opportunity; however, would he not be a better mate if he’d worked with good seniors who’d trained and mentored him? Well according to “the industry,” he’s more employable than someone who’s worked seasonal positions on different vessels, broadening their experience from working with various people in different environments.

What about seasonal jobs? Who’s going to take those if it means crew who do can’t be considered for any permanent jobs in the future?

We also still have a crew shortage to deal with, as we didn’t have the usual influx of green crew coming into the industry for three years. This has left us with a lack of bosun/second stew-level crew, basically those who by now would have one to three years’ experience. Hence why all those jobs posted on job boards and social media insisting on “must have at least one year’s experience” are still sat there. So experienced crew can be selective over which yacht they join. And then, if there’s anything that isn’t as promised or something’s not right, why stay? Especially when there are other jobs out there.

Which leads me to mental health. I know, we never stop talking about it these days but that’s because IT’S A THING. The new generation don’t stay in a job if they find it mentally damaging. This is prevalent across all industries, not just ours. Social media is full of content about putting ourselves first. This is the new normal, for youngsters especially. The older generations are coming around too. Perhaps we’re due a revolution, or a revelation: that we don’t have to put up with bad conditions anymore.

“Longevity is a harmful buzzword, and I would like people to recognize there are other ways to measure commitment to seafaring than unbroken years on one yacht.”

Don’t get me wrong, if you have longevity, that’s fantastic — longevity is wonderful if you’re in a safe and happy environment, where you can grow and develop your skills and experience. But it’s not worth going for if it’s going to cost your mental health or safety. I’d rather explain a couple of gaps in my CV to a potential employer, emphasizing my high standards, than explain why I’m on anti-anxiety medication.

Capt. Angus* points out, “It’s not fair for people to judge the greenies for lack of longevity either. When I was a nipper, I didn’t know what I was doing; I just took every opportunity that was offered. New crew should be encouraged to try different jobs and find out what they enjoy.” I’ve mentioned this before, but how about a crew training scheme? Two-month placements in different departments/yachts over a year, then decide? Or, how about making all new crew work in each department for a day or two? New deckie? Get them on the interior. Put them in the galley. If everyone learns about all roles on board, they’ll have respect for other departments and the captain will have a more cohesive team.

Anyway, I digress. Back to CVs. If you’re told your CV looks flighty, consider putting “reasons for leaving.” This could just state: “yacht sold” but could be more serious. Capt. Joe tells me, “I haven’t been with a yacht longer than four years and it’s not been through lack of trying!” He listed why: “bankruptcy, owner died, yacht repossessed, owner’s wife didn’t like my wife, cut budgets, management company brought in their own guy or cheaper commercial crew, owner jailed for fraud, salaries stopped, safety concerns ignored, abusive owner.” All valid reasons to explain why longevity isn’t always possible to achieve.

“I don’t believe in longevity. After two years you have nothing left to learn and get lazy, so better move up in size or rank or both. I used to work a couple years, then take a year out to study and enjoy life before looking again.”

Capt. Billy* runs a 60-meter motor yacht. He says, “I don’t believe in longevity. After two years you have nothing left to learn and get lazy, so better move up in size or rank or both. I used to work a couple years, then take a year out to study and enjoy life before looking again.”

So, what if you were aboard for ten years but were lazy for ten years?

Capt. Steve* says, "The previous captain waltzed onto a bigger command largely due to his excellent longevity of seven years. The owner loved him as he kept costs low. However, we found serious structural corrosion throughout, which had been disguised instead of repaired. The boss was thoroughly displeased by the quote of a million euros to remedy. The program was  axed, and all crew lost their jobs.”

Could longevity actually breed complacency? Please don’t shoot the messenger. I’m not saying all captains who have longevity are lazy, far from it! These chaps are clearly in the minority. I know and work with dozens of fantastic captains and senior crew who have stayed with the same program/owner for many years and are committed to always delivering excellence. My point is that we must be open to listening. Let’s understand and empathize. There are always several sides to every story, so let’s approach interviews with an open mind. Or you might miss out on hiring a fantastic crewmember, who might even stay with you for the next five years.

Engineer Harry* feels very strongly about longevity, saying, “It should never have been a ‘thing’ in the first place. It’s a prime example of how a few agents and captains have acted as the primary gatekeepers for jobs and have managed to gaslight the entire industry into believing it’s a crucial aspect to consider when hiring.”

Many say longevity demonstrates tenacity and resilience. Harry started his maritime career on commercial vessels in environments which, he says, “anyone born post-2000 wouldn’t tolerate. I’m talking racism, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny … utterly toxic. I stuck it out. I recognized it was more valuable to learn from it, stay true to my own ethics and morals, and gain that CoC at the end, as a ticket to a bigger world of opportunities.” For Harry, sticking it out when you have a goal, much like Matt, was worth it? He adds, “Now I’ve got that ticket, I don’t put up with that any longer. And I should never have had to. If that’s what new crew experience in their early years, no wonder we’re losing them.” Many captains think experiences like this are character building though.

Another engineer, Graham* explained his lack of longevity to me. “I changed jobs because I grew bored, whether because there was no longer a challenge, or because I’d reached a dead-end and couldn’t move up, or because the attitude on board made it incredibly difficult for me to meet expectations and maintain my professional integrity,” he shares. “If an agent or captain doesn’t appreciate that made me a better engineer, well that sounds like a them problem, not a me problem.”

So we can deduce from our findings that engineers think longevity is a load of old tosh and as one more points out, “We have to move around regularly or we’ll get left behind with lack of exposure to new technology. Plus, we need to log the right sea time on vessels of a certain size and power to keep our tickets valid.”

Let’s close with some final words from Capt. Bob*, “For an industry that promotes itself as being forward thinking, it overlooks a lot of negative behaviors and environments. Longevity is a harmful buzzword, and I would like people to recognize there are other ways to measure commitment to seafaring than unbroken years on one yacht.”

There you have it. Longevity. Great if you can achieve it, but if you can’t, it’s not the end of the world.


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