Stick it Out or Throw in the Towel?

19 July 2011 By Claire Griffiths

Deckhand/Bosun Dillon is a seasoned sailor with more than a few years of sea time firmly wrapped around the mizzenmast — as well as a choice smattering of saucy stories involving extra-curricular duties on board, including one as chief masseur and “pleasure-r” of the owner’s wife. He stayed the course and took whatever life chose to throw at him.

Stewardess Sue admits it seemed easier, at the time, to kiss and cuddle with the captain rather than cut and run. They had made their beds, as it were, and decided to lie in them. It was their choice, but they didn’t have to.

Tales (some tall, some mythological perhaps) of sexual, physical or verbal abuse exist among the crew and for some it’s hard to know where to draw a line between developing the de rigueur professional “hard shell” and standing up and walking away from demands that are unreasonable, scary or downright dangerous. So, should you stay or should you go now?

Sally Finbow of SAF Recruitment in Antibes has been in the industry for over 30 years and she’s one of Europe’s most experienced crew recruiters. She sees the minimum acceptable time to leave a yacht as around a year, assuming all things on board are more or less sufferable.

But insufferable situations are out there. “Serious stories of harassment are rare, but they do happen,” says Finbow, who quotes a recent example of a crewmember reasonably deciding to sever his contract and walk away from a “druggie” boat. On the other hand she says, “Thick skin goes with the territory and rude, unreasonable, unpleasant people do exist. If you can’t deal with that, then you shouldn’t be in the industry.”

Toughen up and rough it out –— yes. But really awful or unlawful and you’re quite right to run.

“The problem is that people’s individual tolerance levels are different,” comments Finbow. “Some people are happy to turn a blind eye to drug taking crew mates, for example, and others aren’t. And one girl might like the odd, but “friendly” pat on the bum from a crew mate and the next might take offense.”

Harassment of crew by guests and owners should be dealt with by a good captain — in Finbow’s own yachting days as stew/chef, her skipper made it clear to all oncoming guests that the crew girls were strictly off-limits. “I’d be very wary of sending girls on jobs if I didn’t know the captain or the boat,” admits Finbow.

Esther Delamare, a consultant with The Crew Network for more than five years, agrees with Finbow and maintains that reports of unlawful harassment exist, but are rare. “Unpleasant experiences, to a degree, are part of the deal, but if you’re scared for your life don’t stay,” cautions Delamare. For example she suggests, “If the owner wants to go out in stormy weather and the captain doesn’t put his foot down, that’s a bad situation that you don’t want to be in. We always say to everybody ‘Be careful where you go.’  Get a contract and remember there are boats out there that are dishonest and unsafe.”