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Yacht Crew Market Trend: U.S. Crew in Demand

7 February 2022By Lauren Beck
An American flag flies off the stern of a vessel underway.
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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.

If you’ve heard the rumors about U.S. crew being in demand, you heard right. “It is finally a market that is conducive to hiring American crew and that this is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future,” says Diane Leander, crewing manager at the Fort Lauderdale office of The Crew Network.

Jo Damgaard, an account manager at Meridian in Fort Lauderdale, agrees. “We have seen an increase in demand for American crew for little over two years now,” she says.

There are a few reasons, Leander says. Travel restrictions and visa issues are still part of the problem. “With flight restrictions to and from countries changing regularly, embassies on hold and mostly issuing emergency visas, this has caused the U.S. market to look for crew already located in the U.S.,” Leander says. “Even if crew already have a B1/B2 visa, they are hesitant to hire them due to flight restrictions that could cause issues when they take time off and have to return.”

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As Damgaard explains, the demand began when COVID started and the borders closed, with many yachts remaining on the dock and cutting down on travel. “[This] caused a trend to hire American crew that don’t need to leave the U.S. every six months,” she says. “For months, the U.S. was only issuing B1 visas, so crew without work lined up/boat papers for entry were pretty much stuck at home,” she says. “All our ESTA visa holders were unable to come over last season, too.”

Due to the pandemic, foreign crew are not currently in the U.S. as they have been in previous years, says Sandra Murphy of Meridian, citing that changing travel restrictions and regulations have made it tough.

Due to the pandemic, foreign crew are not currently in the U.S. as they have been in previous years, says Sandra Murphy of Meridian, citing that changing travel restrictions and regulations have made it tough. Visas, too — the backlog in processing visas has become a problem. But the other issue, Murphy says, “is that even though employers are seeking U.S. crew, there really [aren’t] a lot of them within the industry in comparison to the foreign crew!”

Another factor is the American yachting market, where many smaller yachts are being bought since COVID-19 started — Leander notes that The Crew Network’s parent companies MarineMax and Fraser Yachts are breaking sales records quarterly.

The smaller vessels under 120 feet are mostly U.S. clients who are flagging their vessels in the U.S. and therefore, they need American crew. Leander says these vessels’ cruising itineraries might be coastal U.S., The Bahamas, and the Caribbean. “The larger yachts that are foreign flagged but cruising over on this side of the pond are also finding it easier if they hire American, vaccinated crew without travel restrictions or B1/B2 visa issues,” she says.

Aileen Mack

Jill Maderia of Denison Yachting has seen similar trends, noting that yachting offered a “private and safe luxury experience for people” during the pandemic, so superyachts sales were at an all-time high in 2020 and 2021. “Many of the boats sold, both private and charter, remained in the States or Bahamas due to easier access and protocols,” Maderia says. “Therefore, an abundance of U.S. crew who were local were hired on both U.S. and non-U.S.-flagged boats.”

There are opportunities for those U.S. crew now and a busy season ahead, Damgaard says. “This season is going to be very busy. We have seen a huge increase in crew and job activity,” she says.

But with COVID still lurking around, however, “It’s important to stay healthy,” Damgaard says. “Pretty much every vessel we are working with has had COVID issues on board.” And, she cautions, be realistic. “Few programs are offering as much rotation as they used to due to the increase in travel fare, quarantining, [and] COVID testing procedures.”

So if you’re an American crewmember looking for work, you’re in luck, all the U.S. agents agree. There are opportunities for those U.S. crew now and a busy season ahead, Damgaard says. “This season is going to be very busy. We have seen a huge increase in crew and job activity,” she says. Murphy agrees. “Now is a better time than ever to get ahead and your foot in the door if you are seeking new opportunities because the demand is so high,” she says. “Crew really have more options and are not limited to taking something that they might not be so keen on.”

Maderia says there’s opportunity for experienced crew due to the crew shortage, so you might find “boats will offer elevated salaries and benefits for quality crew and those willing to commit. For green crew, many boats are more open to hiring and training out of necessity due to the crew shortage.”

“There are a wide variety of jobs available to you, and you should seize the moment,” says Leander. “Sharpen your resumes, keep upgrading certifications, [and] get friends interested in yachting. If you want to work full time, freelance, seasonal — there is a job for you.”

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