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Whether you’re resuming your role on board after a “pandemic pause,” climbing the career ladder, or getting your feet wet for the first time, Dockwalk’s Salary Survey provides an invaluable guide to the compensation range that crew around the world were being paid at every level through mid-2020. According to crew placement agents, however, job seekers in the current market will need to be realistic. The job market is much tighter now than it was at the same time last year, due to the impact of COVID-19’s health and safety measures, travel restrictions, and port closures that idled yachts, canceled charters, and delayed the start of the Med season. In addition, most yacht crew who have kept their jobs through the pandemic are holding onto them, resulting in less movement in the market.
“We calculate that there was a three percent decrease in the total number of permanent jobs in the industry as some yachts went to minimal crew,” says Rupert Connor, president of Luxury Yacht Group in Fort Lauderdale, in June.
“Statistics show around half of the yachts made some kind of change due to COVID-19 — either reduced to skeleton crew, changed salaries, [or] leave length, for example,” says Liam Dobbin, managing director of wilsonhalligan in the UK (in collaboration with Lauren Stiles). “Being flexible to what is around is the key. Things will improve but will be in line with the economies and at a slow pace initially.”
While it may be some time before hiring returns to 2019 levels, crew agents reported signs of improvement as travel and port restrictions began to ease following the initial pandemic-induced lockdowns. “Jobs are tight at the moment, but we are seeing a slow and steady increase in activity and more and more jobs, especially temp roles,” says Dobbin, adding, “All crew I have spoken to on board have been very happy with the extra measures put in place by the yacht to protect the crew.”
“We are getting jobs in for all positions,” says Diane Leander, crewing manager Fort Lauderdale for The Crew Network; however, she cautions, “Captain jobs are always the most challenging as there are many qualified captains available and competing with one another.”
“Jobs are tight at the moment, but we are seeing a slow and steady increase in activity and more and more jobs, especially temp roles,” says Liam Dobbin.
“Jobs are opening up for crew at all levels,” agrees her colleague, Louise Cailbourdin, crewing manager Antibes for The Crew Network. “We’ve notably had recent captain opportunities on yachts that have changed their cruising destinations to, e.g., the North Atlantic or the Persian Gulf.”
“[It’s] very slow at the moment and I am keeping positive this will improve … I feel once restrictions are released around Australia and the borders of Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific, we will start to see more jobs coming through,” says Joy Weston, owner/director Crew Pacific, Australia, in June.
“We seem to have more senior and experienced positions than junior ones at the moment; this is probably due to the fact the time period may be very short to when owners will use their yacht so no time to train,” says Sharon Rose, crew recruitment manager bluewater, Antibes.
Global Goes Local
In many ways, the international travel restrictions and the slow return to commercial air travel have had the effect of turning yachting from a global industry into a local one. Some crew who were planning to return from leave via air when the coronavirus restrictions first went into place were stuck. “The travel limitations imposed by the virus have resulted in some crew losing their jobs as they were unable to travel,” confirms Monique Dykstra, company director of Saltwater Recruitment in the UK.
“Yachts can only hire crew who are in the location of where the yacht is, due to flights and isolation restrictions in place. These restrictions are making it rather difficult for crewing agents to place crew worldwide,” says Weston, who adds, “… it seems yachts are only using the crewing agents that are in the same location as where they are.”
“Many of the vessels that were planning to cross to the Med from the States/Caribbean canceled their Med plans and have decided to stay Stateside,” Monique Dykstra reports.
In addition to their physical location, crew nationalities and foreign visa status have come into play. “…Travel restrictions have made it a lot more difficult for crew who need a visa to get a job,” says Anna Kuylenstierna, crewing consultant Palma for The Crew Network. “In Europe, most boats were looking for candidates with a European passport, due to the stronger restrictions for non-Schengen visitors. Also, with embassies closed all over the world, B1/B2 and Schengen visas have been impossible to renew/get.”
“Many of the vessels that were planning to cross to the Med from the States/Caribbean canceled their Med plans and have decided to stay Stateside,” Dykstra reports. “This means we are recruiting for a lot of crew who must have visas [or] American passports and are located in and around the USA…. For those vessels we work with in Europe, a majority of our clients have been briefing us to source local candidates in UK/Europe.”
“Many clients are trying to hire crew located nearby due to travel restrictions on flying crew in and U.S. embassies not issuing B1/B2 visas right now so the crew that are in the U.S. are getting jobs,” Leander says. “We do not have as many crew over here this season, so fewer crew equals more job offers.”
While some agents reported that the yachts were still paying “pre-COVID” wages (especially for experienced crew), others predicted salary levels could decline due to the challenging job market. “We have already started to see more experienced crew apply for and accept salaries that are lower than their original expectations (pre-COVID-19),” Dykstra says. “I hope that this is a short-term response to the lack of jobs, which would mean this issue should not have a long-term effect on salary levels; however, if we continue to see fewer job opportunities for crew as a result of COVID-19 well into next year, more experienced crew may come at a lower cost and this, in turn, may affect salary levels.”
“This comes down to offer and demand; when there are more crew than jobs, crew start getting desperate to find a job, accepting lower salaries, or taking junior level jobs with senior experience, so if this keeps on this way and the job market doesn’t open up as expected, there is a possibility salaries may drop,” says Kuylenstierna. “I don’t think the starting salary of 2.500EUR will go down, but there will be more candidates accepting it, even with a couple of seasons under their belt. On the other hand, with guests probably wanting to spend more time on board rather than on land, there might be a higher demand than usual for the best crew….”
“In regard to salaries, I personally believe they will take a dip over the next twelve months as the industry adjusts and settles down to the new ‘normal,’ similar to what happened after the financial crisis of 2008,” Dobbin says. “Will they stay below the old average or creep back up again is unknown — the only thing I know is that quality salaries attract quality crew; it’s that simple.”
“I really hope that salaries are not going to be affected even more due to COVID-19,” Weston says. “Crew need to be paid properly as maritime qualifications are not cheap to obtain. Also, paying good crew well means the crew generally will stay longer on the yacht. Having qualified, well-trained, and experienced crew on yachts benefits the owner and his yacht; the yacht gets maintained and looked after correctly.”
Rotation, a much sought-after benefit, also may be affected. “Pre-COVID, we had had a rise of rotational chief steward/ess positions, [but] we’ve sadly heard of several of these now cut,” Dobbin says.
“Rotational packages seem to be one of the first things that have been cut back during this time,” Dykstra says. “It is difficult to forecast anything in this current situation, but we remain positive…. Potentially some of the vessels that laid off crew will need to re-employ and plan for their next season. However, the global economic downturn will no doubt have negative financial implications for many superyacht owners. Owners may not be in a position to be as generous as they have been in the past with regards to crew numbers and rotational crew. Some may continue to batten down the hatches until the economy recovers. I have personally heard the phrase ‘preserve and protect’ used by one of the owners we work with.”
“In light of the COVID-19 experience, we’ve noticed that captains and crew are making fewer demands,” says Cailbourdin. “People are generally becoming more philosophical, adapting to change.”
Most of the crew agents reported that COVID-19 restrictions essentially had idled dockwalking. “Speaking with crew that we interview in person each morning here in Antibes, local dockwalking has stopped being an effective way of finding an entry-level job for the moment with continued yacht sanitation requirements and social distancing in place,” Cailbourdin says.
“Yachts don’t want to interact with strangers on the dock,” Connor states. “At present, we are not encouraging crew to dockwalk. It would be much more advantageous for green crew to connect with captains and HODs on pre-arranged terms with an initial phone or video call,” says Dykstra. “This does mean it’s a lot more difficult for very motivated green crew to get seen, so being active online is very important.”
Superyacht crew agents generally are optimistic that hiring will improve by year’s end. “The season had a late start, and if there is no second wave of the pandemic, we’re cautiously confident that owners and guests will wish to make up for lost time and we’ll be busy crewing late into the…season over here,” says Cailbourdin in Antibes.
“If I would have to predict this fall with the current trend of hiring going on, I would say it will continue to stay stable as long as there is not a second wave [of the pandemic] that will close things down again,” says Leander. “I do feel if more areas continue to re-open with social distancing protocols put into place, etc., that jobs will remain coming in throughout the year.”
With several boats not doing the Med season this summer, there might be more Med-based boats doing the Caribbean season instead, which would lead to more job openings up for the winter, Kuylenstierna points out.
“More than likely there will be more jobs available later in the year and even sooner, as restrictions open and people have more confidence to travel,” says Dobbin. “As soon as people feel comfortable to travel and change jobs, then that will open up the industry again. We already have seen an increase in jobs across all departments and as word spreads around in the industry that people are moving, that will inspire others to look for a different job. It’s a slow cycle but I believe we have started, so the future looks bright.”
“Just being job-ready is very important because when the work starts flowing in again, us ‘crewing agents’ are going to need crew to be ready to get that job right now!” says Weston. “Competitive times are ahead and the ‘best crew’ are going to win.”
This feature is taken from the September 2020 issue of Dockwalk.