Finding the Right Fit

25 February 2009 By Kelly Sanford

Over the past few years, crew have had it really easy: If any part of their job made them unhappy, they could jump ship with hopes of finding another job – often a “better” job that paid more than the last one. Today, however, as competition for yachting jobs has climbed to epic proportions, crew are learning that they need to carefully reassess their definitions of a “good job,” a “fair salary” and “loyalty.”

Sue Price of Crew Unlimited says, “It all comes down to defining what a good job is for you. When a crewmember comes to me looking for a job, I ask them to describe their dream job. I tell them not hold back; to tell me everything they’re looking for and then we can see what their flexibilities are.”

In today’s industry, Price urges crew to have well thought out priorities in order to find a job at which they will be happy and stay put. When crew salaries were rocketing skyward, she says a lot of crew would leave jobs that met four out of five of their top priorities in order to chase a job that offered better money but didn’t meet any of their other needs. It comes as no surprise that they ended up unhappy and jumped ship yet again.

There is no doubt that a number of yachts are trying to cut operating costs, but that does not seem to be driving crew salaries down significantly or across the board  – at least, not yet. “Most owners are still willing to pay good wages, but they want only well qualified candidates with experience and a history of longevity,” Price says. “They want longevity in terms of years, not seasons, and they expect proven managerial skills and excellent references for the top positions.”

Crew who have only a few years of experience and who spent much of that time compulsively jumping from boat to boat are discovering they now aren’t able to find a job for the salary they previously earned or were expecting. “I do feel salaries are coming down to a realistic level again for some positions,” Price says. “Overall, crew need to look at the whole package and not just the amount of their paycheck.”

She adds, “If you’re not getting job offers or interviews, don’t take it personally. I know this is hard during these trying times, but everyone feels this way, not just you. There are a lot of well qualified people looking for work right now, so you have to be realistic and flexible to be competitive. I don’t want crew to come in telling me what they won’t do; tell me what you can do and what you will do. No one can sell you but you. Owners and captains are looking for crew who have the right attitude and positive outlook, not the ‘why not me’ and ‘not fair’ attitude.”

Price advises novice crew (those who have been in the industry less than three years or who haven't held a job longer than 18 months) and first-time captains to carefully evaluate their situation in the current economy. “Consider where you want to be five years from now and decide what the best course is for achieving that,” she says. Perhaps instead of trying to get a captain’s job on an 80-foot yacht or a chief stew’s position on a 130-foot yacht, you would be better off working your way up the chain of command aboard a larger yacht, learning from more experienced crew and developing a history of loyalty in an environment that will allow you to advance your skills, your title and subsequently your money without having to change jobs to do so.

Yacht manager Andrew Cosgreave says, “I cannot stress enough just how important loyalty and longevity are to yacht owners – especially now. Owners also are looking for captains and crew who have a good history of fiscal responsibility [and] can set and stick to a budget.”

The job market has changed drastically and has done so quite quickly. Crew who adapt will do fine and those who do not will likely move on. That’s not to suggest that any crew give up on their dreams or goals; you simply need to be more creative and patient in achieving them.

“In the long run,” says Price, “I think this will make us a stronger community.”