The Current Crew Market

27 March 2020 By Lauren Beck

“The current pandemic has affected the global economy at a speed that no one could have predicted,” says Debbie Blazy, director crew placement at Camper & Nicholsons. “It is a complicated time with much uncertainty for businesses and families around the world.”

With that in mind, we checked in with a few agencies to see how they were finding this new world and how crew jobs were being affected. As Marcy Williams, director of crew services at Northrop & Johnson, notes, “Some boats are going down to skeleton crew to save money as they are staying in one place,” she says. “Some crew are leaving to go be with their families and therefore need to be replaced. There is some movement, but it has been much slower.”

Crew4Yachts shares that some captains are standing down from hiring crew but are keeping in contact for when the chaos passes. “Some captains have been asked to de-crew the vessel and keep only crew that is needed for insurance,” says Crew Manager Sandra Murphy. “Some captains requested local crew with a sense of urgency to help them with issues they had on board. They still had guests or owners and this had to be done on the down low.”

As for whether crew are still applying for jobs, Murphy says there has been a slow-down effect, although some crew still remain proactive in sending in CVs and cover letters. “With travel bans in place in a lot of areas in the world, crew realize it is hard for them to apply for jobs at this time as they have no way of getting to that particular vessel unless they are in the same location,” Employer Manager Julie Tetreault says. “A lot of crew are staying on the vessels they are on because they cannot leave.” Every vessel is different, Tetreault says. “This is a confusing time for everyone. Some crew are in complete lock down while others are going about their schedules as normal. It all depends on the owner and where in the world that crewmember is currently located.”

“Yes, things have certainly changed,” says Diane Leander of The Crew Network’s Fort Lauderdale office, noting that they had a busy year placing crew for the first three months, but their busy season typically starts in April through the summer. “We are still getting job requests in; however, some clients are putting their jobs on hold and others are asking for later start dates; such as April and May,” Leander says. She also notes that many crew are still looking and applying for work, but they’re being flexible. “The challenge has been to find crew located in an area where they are able to easily travel to the yacht without encountering flight restrictions and, if possible, not having to take a flight at all,” she says.

Her colleague Louise Cailbourdin weighed in from The Crew Network’s Antibes office. “Health and safety is primordial,” she says. “There is a growing trend for yachts to put new recruits in quarantine before they step on board, keeping the employment market alive and well. We have also had more requests than usual for crew with medical qualifications.”

Rupert Connor, director of Luxury Yacht Group, has noticed three types of reactions to the current situation. The first is denial. “[That] this is going to go away soon and why can I not cruise on my yacht?” He does note that there are dwindling numbers in this category. The second reaction is to shelter in place. “I would place eighty percent of our clients in this category,” he says. “Non-essential services stopped and crew [are] sitting it out on board waiting for more information.” The third situation they’re witnessing is unfortunately that the program has been stopped. “Crew laid off and repatriated where possible. (Growing numbers in this category, sadly),” he says. “Those that are staying on have had no payroll changes this month… I expect them next month once we know a little more as to the depth of this disaster.”

“[There are] still plenty of jobs in our fleet, despite the evolving global situation,” says Nick Hill, director at Hill Robinson on April 3. “Our fleet remains busy with a significant number in full commission and crossing oceans.” Donna Murray, Hill Robinson’s Global Recruitment Manager, Director of the Asia Pacific office, shared that “Some yachts are in ‘holding patterns,’ some are still recruiting; however, due to travel restrictions/quarantine, [they] cannot fly crew in. There are many different scenarios at present,” she says. Hill notes that their entire fleet has MLC-compliant crew contracts, so there has been “good consistency and continuity in employment.” Murray points out that, of course, things are changing daily. “These are ‘unchartered’ waters, so it is a case by case basis.”

“At best, owners are wondering how to weather the next few weeks; at worst they are canceling their summer season completely and moving to skeleton crew,” Blazy says. “Others are biding their time to see if there will be a rapid end in sight and the charter season can be saved. The overall outcome is that many positions have been put on hold in the short term, while waiting to see the length of the confinement and additional travel restrictions.” She shares that this is, in most cases, being viewed as a temporary measure and that captains are assuring them that the positions would be reopened again. She shares that if boats are hiring, most of them are considering applicants based close to the boat due to difficulties flying in candidates. “In line with international health recommendations, we are advising that candidates undertake shore-based isolation for a fourteen-day period and wherever possible are tested prior to joining the yacht,” she says.

“Crew, as all of us, appear to be taking the situation seriously,” Blazy says. “I think the first thought on most people’s mind is to keep well and safe by staying at home and assisting in wiping out the virus as fast as possible. We have many crew keeping in touch with us on a daily basis but more to advise of their current location and welfare. The job market is largely on hold while we fight the bigger issue.”

Over in the UK, Tim Clarke, director of Quay Crew, weighs in on their current experiences. “The vast majority of yachts have gone on to some form of lockdown and recruitment has been put on hold,” he says. “There are a minority who are still recruiting and taking steps to minimize the risk associated with people joining the yacht,” he says, explaining that some are renting Airbnbs and having their crew remain there for 14 days. As there have been a lot of crew let go from their current jobs, he notes that there is a huge number available. “Some crew seem to be sitting tight, but there is still definitely a portion of crew actively applying and making themselves available.” Some yachts have introduced new employment terms — crew have been sent home on reduced salaries or enforced holidays, he says. “[A]nd when the holiday runs out there will be salary reductions.”

“Like all of us, crew are feeling vulnerable and confused and in general they are not sure what to do,” says Monique Dykstra, director of Saltwater Recruitment. She shares that a lot of their vessels have put positions on hold, while others are continuing to recruit and interview. She notes that some department heads are making use of this time to line up candidates “with a delayed and flexible start date, depending on travel restrictions. We won’t see many new crew contacts (SEAs) getting signed in the coming weeks, but we hope that this will change when travel restrictions [are] lifted.” They are still seeing a large number of applicants, while obviously lower in volume than last year, although if more crew become unemployed, they might see an increase.

“Crew that are employed right now seem to be very grateful that they have job security, so we expect less crew will be seeking greener pastures over the coming months,” Dykstra says. “A number of yachts have let crew go due to financial precautions being implemented from the owners or due to owners cancelling their own cruising plans over the next few months.” A majority of their vessels, she says, are maintaining crew numbers and are planning for a late Med summer or other destinations. “Rotations are the big thing that are being affected right now,” she says. “Most crew who are on board will remain on board for much longer than scheduled. Expectations regarding rotational packages may need to lower as it will be difficult for captains and owners to offer this level of movement on board until things have stabilized.”

Crew are still looking for work, says Jill Maderia of Denison Yachting in Fort Lauderdale. “Yes, some boats have gone to skeleton crew in some cases and [are] utilizing management companies,” she says. “And there are some crew are being retained still to ensure their return after this has passed.” Maderia also notes that crew have been reaching out after losing their positions or if they feel anxious due to the change in conducting business and social distancing changes. “They feel if they are not able to meet the agents, they may not be considered for work,” she notes. “As you can understand when placing crew, it’s important to have a face to face interview.” Maderia has conducted a few virtual interviews/crew meetings, even placing one stewardess after.

“The market is at a standstill at the moment,” says Laurence Lewis from YPI CREW. “Many yachts and crew are on lockdown, many crew have left their jobs to go home either on paid or unpaid leave, some crew have been asked to take pay cuts, some crew have simply lost their jobs.” Although Lewis says YPI CREW started off the year extremely well, she notes that the job market has plummeted more than 80 percent in just a week starting from the second week of March. “It is a complicated time for all,” she says. “We are hopeful that by June the season will still be able to kick in.” Crew are continuing to check in and update CVs for the future, she says. “They know that when the market picks up again, recruiters and captains won’t have time to chase for certificates and medical,” Lewis says. “At equal skill level, those with complete and updated profiles will be considered as a priority.”

“Crew recruitment has almost come to a standstill.  Some yachts are still operating and so are planning ahead to May and June thinking about where they will be and to see if crew can be in the right place at the right time, having met all quarantine requirements,” says Lucy Medd and her team at Burgess. Some yachts have reduced crew numbers, but captains are keeping in contact in case those crew are needed again.

Medd notes that they are receiving as many, if not more, applications as they usually do. “Many yachts are waiting to see what will happen over the next four to eight weeks,” she says. “Some have reduced crew number. Some have considered reduction to terms and conditions. This must be handled with extreme care and attention to the needs and safe operation of the yacht and her crew.”

“It’s quiet on our website,” says Jenny Howarth and Samantha Rigoli of IYC Crew. “Yachts are on lockdown, so the[y] are not looking for crew now.” Crew can’t fly home, so they’re staying on board, but Rigoli does note that crew from the commercial world and those from Eastern Europe are still applying.

“We have had a few boats who have decided to wait on hiring at the moment,” says Sue Price, director of operations (U.S.) Viking Crew. She also notes that this is more related to the difficulties in getting crew to the vessels. Not surprisingly, she notes that this extends to crew on rotation — “Crew on rotation are having to be more flexible.” On the management side, Prices says that things are operating as normal. “We are lucky our yachts are not laying off crew — yet,” she says. She shares that she has heard of a few boats asking crew to take salary cuts. “A few yacht owners have had to lay off a lot of their staff shore-based,  so it is affecting all aspects of their lives,” Price says. But crew are still applying and they even have a few yachts looking, but “most likely will only start them once things settle down a bit more — if they do.”

“While most of our client’s yachts are still fully crewed, these programs are all currently on hold until travel restrictions are lifted,” says Tom Aveling, director of YOA Yacht Crew in New Zealand. “We are still fielding a lot of calls about crew being made redundant, yachts going to skeleton crews, itineraries for the season being scratched and yachties not being able to return to their yacht.” As for employment terms changing, he shares that many crew have experienced pay reductions and rotational positions have obviously been affected. “The common scenario has been to put the rotating crew who are away from the yacht on a retainer until they can return,” he says. "I believe those yachties who still have jobs know how lucky they are and have been happy with any changes to their SEAs in the meantime.”

More crew are applying for jobs, which he notes is due to those who have lost their jobs or who may be feeling uncertain about their current employment. “We deal with a lot of jobs in New Zealand, SE Asia, and the South Pacific, so [we] are seeing a lot more candidates who are originally from these areas applying so they can get closer to home,” he says. Aveling recommends that captains start the recruiting process now. “There are some very experienced and qualified crew currently out of work at the moment and itching to find their new vessel,” he says. “They could be talking to them now and preparing to get them to the yacht as soon as they can before someone else does.”

“When things go back to ‘normal,’ it will be crazy so I would suggest to yachts to start the recruitment process now,” Clarke says. “Because recruiting in two- or four-months’ time when we ‘unlock’ will be a lot tougher, especially if you aren’t paying the best money or offering rotation.”

For more related content:

Crew Consequences of COVID-19

COVID-19 Precautions

COVID-19 Effects: Events, Travel, and Operations

Staying Calm on Facebook

Silver Linings