Reality Check: The Crew Shortage is Over

19 November 2008 By Kelly Sanford

Weren’t we having a crew shortage just a few months ago? When captains and owners were frustrated with paying inexperienced, unmotivated crew obscene amounts of money just to have a “warm body” around to help out. My, how quickly things have changed! According to Ian Pelham with The Crew Network, the turnaround began back in the spring. Pelham noted a sudden rise in the number of crew left wandering the docks after a full season in Antibes.

When the bottom fell out of the international economy recently, it had an immediate affect on crew. Suddenly, crew placement agencies have been swamped with crew, some desperate to find work. And the surplus isn’t just in the entry-level positions. It’s right across the board – even engineers!

“We have over fifteen hundred crew actively looking for work right now,” says Alison Overington with Northrop and Johnson Crew Placement. “We still have job openings coming in, but not enough to keep pace with the number of crew looking for work. We are starting to see crew who have just given up and decided to leave the industry, maybe because they're out of money or maybe because they just can’t compete with the more qualified crew, who are also looking for jobs.”

“It might be good for the industry in the long run,” says Capt. Herb Magney. “It will weed out crew who just want a paycheck and don’t want to work, but there are definitely good, hard-working crew out there trying to find a job. As a captain, it has been a welcome change to be getting résumés from crew who actually have strong credentials.” But, he adds, “I do worry about what it really means in the long run.”

For the first time in over a year, crew salaries are clearly reflecting this changing dynamic in the industry. “It's no longer the crew who get to determine what a job is worth,” says Ann Aylesworth of The Crew Network. “Captains and owners are able to pay a fair market value for their incoming crew and we are better able to meet their needs with well qualified crew.”

“Right now, we are seeing a balancing of the scales,” she continues. “You won’t see green crew earning $3,000 and up per month; it’s more like $2,500 per month.” Even experienced crew may see a change in their earning potential. “If you were a chef earning $100,000 per year on your last boat, you may be disappointed to learn that $85,000 is now the going rate for the same job,” Aylesworth says. “Owners and captains are definitely looking for value in crew.”

For crew currently looking for work, it's important to be realistic about what the current market will bear. Holding out for a higher salary may mean you stay unemployed longer and you may ultimately end up at a reduced salary after months of unemployment.

Aylesworth cautions crew that it's no longer a crew-driven economy. If you are among the thousands (yes, thousands) of crew looking for work, understand that there is a lot of competition for jobs right now and yacht owners are very adept at understanding the inverse economic relationship between supply and demand. The sudden surplus of crew is likely to drive salaries down just as hastily as the recent shortage drove them up.

How does the crew job market look from where you sit?