Manners are a MUST!

5 June 2009 By Kristen Cavallini-Soothill, American Yacht Institute

“At a time when ... intolerance, ignorance and impatience give rise to behaviors which in another time would have been totally unacceptable, there is much cause to resist the trend.” — Capt. Martin Soothill

Manners, civility, courtesy, etiquette and protocol are all words coming back into our collective vocabulary, and the ideals they represent are making a comeback in all walks of life, but particularly in the yachting industry.

Yacht owners expect and deserve the best of treatment; they are the reason we all have careers in the industry, our raison d’être. Genuine good manners and a working knowledge of professional behavior are essential and productive skills for yacht crew, and will ensure success in the industry. Also, good manners harmonize crew relationships and promote a powerful spirit of cooperation, ensuring crew longevity and a happy work environment.

Manners are not a meaningless ritual; they cost us nothing and the benefits are priceless. On board, use them well and they can only enhance interactions in these three main areas:

1) The yacht crew “team” living and working together

2) Service to the yacht owners and guests

3) International ports of call and the people encountered

Most yacht crew have perfectly lovely manners but for those who don’t, the most frequent complaints of rudeness or lack of manners are:

1. Lack of “team” attitude within the working crew: When guests are aboard, all crew should be ready to step into all roles, if necessary: There is no such thing as “not my job.” Pay attention to other crewmember’s work – i.e. avoid hitting new varnish on handrails while passing groceries over or splashing the hull when throwing liquids over the side. Well mannered crew won’t sit on the crew mess settee with dirty shorts, track dirt on the carpet or get sun cream/oil on the teak decks. They’ll double bag garbage and always ask to borrow tools before using.

2. Lack of respect for or knowledge of crew rank and file: Lately, some of the newer crew have either not been trained or don’t understand the protocol of rank and file. The captain makes the rules aboard, keeping in mind the wellbeing of the yacht owner, guests and crew. There is a “pecking order” as in all career ladders.

3. Laziness: That or the assumption, within the working crew, that someone else will clean up after you. “Mom” is not the job title of any crewmember on board. Pick up after yourself or figure out a good bribe to get someone else to do it for you.

4. Communication errors: This encompasses a lot – speaking out of turn, speaking loudly, gossiping. Don’t gossip; it doesn’t promote “team” efforts. You’ve heard “discretion is the better part of valor.” Think before you speak. Don’t identify owners and guests you’ve had on board. Keep idle chat with owners and guests to a minimum – they may be friendly to you, but you need to remember your position as professional hired help.

5. Poor crew dining skills: Crew (or anyone) speaking with a mouth full of food is a huge “don’t”! Chewing with your mouth open, another “don’t”! Don’t play with your hair at the table. And be sure to use utensils from the outside in. Pick up an etiquette book for dining or you also can go online or take a class; this will help you in all walks of life.

6. Cultural unawareness: This is important to rectify and easy to do. As yacht crew, your career will afford you opportunity to travel to all corners of the globe. Your personal image, dress, manners of speech and conduct affect the way in which others perceive you. Whether on or off duty, you not only represent the vessel, you also represent the vessel owner, the captain and your respective country.

Act accordingly! Research the culture of any countries in your yacht’s itinerary. Learn the customs of the countries to which you will be traveling at the earliest possible opportunity and then abide by them when you arrive. This will help you to avoid the possibility of offending through ignorance.

Some rules on good manners are universal, such as respecting local customs and avoiding controversial topics of conversation.

A personal pet peeve:

When someone says “thank you,” the answer is not “no problem.” The answer is “you’re welcome,” “my pleasure” or something of that nature. A yacht owner or guest should never have to think, “I'd like to think I'm not a problem!”

Kristen Cavallini-Soothill is the director of American Yacht Institute in Fort Lauderdale, which provides training for crew, including courses in Silver Service and etiquette. For more information, go to