Jumping Ship

25 November 2015 By Hillary Hoffower

“Longevity breeds responsibility,” writes one chief mate whohas worked on a 45-meter motor yacht for more than four years in Dockwalk’s jumping ship poll.

Yet, longevity is an ambiguous term amongst crew. In anindustry where turnover isn’t uncommon, just what exactly constituteslongevity?

The consensus from Dockwalk.comrespondents (43.6 percent) is that it means anything longer than one year onthe same boat. Almost 25 percent think it’s at least one year on a boat, 12.8percent consider it nothing less than five years on the same boat, 5.4 percentconsider it anything more than six months on the same boat and two percent saidit’s five years or more (11.4 percent cited other).

This variety of opinions mirrors the differing feelingstowards the importance of longevity, further reflecting crew’s ambiguity.

While roughly 30 percent of respondents consider longevityvery important and a must for serious crew, the majority of respondents(approximately 52 percent) view it as important, in that it looks good on theresume and is advantageous to establish a long-term relationship with the teamand vessel. Almost 7.5 percent think longevity should be taken intoconsideration, but that it’s not the end all, be all for the career. Fourpercent don’t think it’s important at all because it’s common and frequent forcrew to move around and build their skill set.

In fact, only 7.5 percent of respondents have worked on oneyacht. The majority of respondents (28.9 percent) have worked on four to fiveyachts, followed by 23.5 percent who have worked on only two to three yachtsand 19.5 percent who have worked on six to seven yachts. The remaining 20.8percent have worked on at least eight yachts, with 4.7 percent of that portionworking on 16 or more.

As you can see in the pie chart below, 36.2 percent ofrespondents typically try to stay on a yacht for one to two years before movingto another one, 19.5 percent try to stay for two to three years, 14.8 percenttry to stay six months to one year and 11. 4 percent try to stay four to sixyears.

The longest amount of time a respondent has worked on ayacht was 23 years.

“[It was a] great charter season, but the yacht’s schedulecan’t possibly allow me the time to complete some upcoming trips. Fair enough,”explains the captain of why they eventually left the job.

Ironically, their shortest amount of time working on a yachtwas just six weeks due to “severe financial issues with the owner.”

Clearly, in an industry with such an unconventional andinteresting work environment, there are a variety of factors that can push crewto leave.

The chart below demonstrates why respondents left their lastjob (respondents were able to select more than one option), with the desire to takeon new challenges (29.2 percent), desire to move up (25.7 percent), change ofpace or scenery (18.1 percent) and not getting along with the captain (17.4percent) cited as the top four reasons.

“[The] captain was arrogant, unknowledgeable [and] condescending.Actually, every job, save one, I’ve left because of that,” comments oneengineer.

In fact, problems with the dynamic on board, whether it bewith the captain, owner or fellow crew, were common reasons named when respondentswere specifically asked why they left their shortest or longest job. One chiefstewardess admitted she was leaving after five years on board “due tomismanagement and miscommunication, and very poor behavior on board towardsfellow crew (bullying).”

Yet, looking back at the chart, you can see that a littlemore than 27 percent cited “other,” indicating that the reason isn’t always soblack and white. When provided with the chance to elaborate on previous reasonsfor leaving, the answers proved plentiful and diverse.

Says one captain of the job he left after two and a halfyears, his longest time on one yacht, “I achieved everything I could with theyacht in very challenging conditions. I returned to more mainstream yachting ina less isolated environment. It was working in the Middle East.”

The same captain’s shortest time holding one job was eightmonths for an unusual reason — he wanted to take a step backward on the ladder.“[I was] promoted too early to a senior role. I knew I was not up to it, so Ileft and then focused on a smaller vessel to rebuild my confidence andexperience, then moved back up two years later.”

Another captain adds, “The owner’s expectations were greaterthan the budget. In many cases, it’s about budgeting. In my experience, on thesmaller yachts, owners want their cake and [to] eat it, too, to say the least.”

“I’m leaving because I don't likeworking sixteen plus hour days every day without a day off,” writes onedeckhand. “I don't want to do another owner trip that is three months long withno days off and long, unreasonable hours. I don't want to participate with ayacht that cannot keep a full crew at any time. I'm ready for something morerealistic, more personable, more calm and not something so inept.”

So, what then incentivizes crew tostay?

“Being treated with respect by [the]captain, crew and owner who pays well and wants you to have enough time offevery day so you won’t burnout and who [all] communicate well, make an effortto work together as a team and are appreciative and make safety of the vesseland everyone on it their priority,” says a chef who has worked on more thansixteen yachts in five to seven years.

This reflects an overwhelming consensusamong respondents, most of whom look for a good working environment and goodowners, captain or crew that treat one another well as well as a steadypaycheck or the potential for a raise.

But salary isn’t the only benefit crewlook for — bonuses, an insurance package, paid study time, course tuition afterlongevity and paid leave were also high on the list. Even having the ability totake leave in general was important.

“Enough chances to take some time off the yacht. Afterfifteen years in the industry, time at home with family and friends is veryvaluable for me,” comments one mate, who wasn’t alone in wanting to spend timewith their family.

Also significant pull factors amongmany crew were a good itinerary and an exciting program, plus future prospectsand personal growth with the ability to move up. One chief officer specificallystated they like a captain who takes an interest in their career.

One captain certainly cared about their crew’s career, whichseemed to be the key in keeping their crew. “Wellbeing on board, socialinteraction with the crew and competences [were] put to the test as well aslearning. Crew jump ship to move up because they cannot move up in their currentposition. I kept my crew because I insisted on my interior crew [driving]tenders amongst other fun things (deck work for them) and my senior deck crewto drive the boat or be more involved in the management of it.”

It’s really a combination of these elements that seem to bethe trick. Whether you’re a captain, stewardess or deckhand, it’s important tolisten to the other’s expectations and lay out your own. When everyone’s on thesame page, it makes for a happy boat.