The Great Age Debate

27 February 2014 By Janine Ketterer

“Yachting is ageist because human society is ageist. Surprisingly, this is good because it gives you a chance to prove others wrong. Few things feel as good as that….” This comment by member Baciccia was mirrored by many of the other 385 participants in Dockwalk’s recent age vs. experience poll on, where many age debates rage. “How young is too young to be a captain?” and “How old is too old to join the yachting industry?” are two questions often posed.  

In a nutshell, 63 percent of those polled say they believe the yachting industry is indeed ageist, but why?

“In my opinion, there are no reasons to deny the job to a person fit-to-work [who is] certified with experience, even if [he or she] is not young. If you consider that working in the industry is a profession, you may obviously expect to see people of a certain age in the market,” chimed in Massimo_M. According to the poll, the highest percentage of crew joined the industry between the ages of 18 and 22 (20%); 23 to 25 was the next highest percentage at 17 percent, but an astonishing 11 percent said they joined after the age of 40.

There seems to be a stigma against youth in yachting, with critics claiming that youngsters are not hard workers. “I come from a commercial fishing background,” said, “and with that said, young people don’t want to work or they aren’t willing to put forth the effort. I know that is a serious generalization, but when it’s time to work, it’s time to work and when it’s time to play, it’s time to play. It’s configuring the balance that gives young people a bad rep.”

But McCarthy,Kira points out that older industry newbies also feel a backlash. “I think far too many people are being denied jobs because of their age. I think everyone should be considered individually based on experience in both yachting and other areas of strengths when employing crewmembers. To not employ crew based on age, ethnicity or nationality is a harsh generalization.”

While there are people entering the yachting industry, most begin fairly young, as evidenced in the poll, but most (76 percent) start off on the bottom rung of the ladder. However, 24 percent of crew who responded said they started their careers in a high-ranking position. Of those, 11 percent said they caught flak for being “too young.”

Regardless of what age you enter into yachting, to obtain a high-ranking title, you have to have both experience and certifications, but which rank higher for both newbies looking to move up the ranks and seasoned crewmembers at the helm? Fifty-four percent of respondents said that experience counts first; two percent claimed certification; 40 percent said both equally and another two percent said neither is more important.

“My personal opinion is that experience gained after years of working on any type of boat and yacht cannot be replaced by certification and qualifications, which, in my opinion, are only for those who have no experience at sea. Also, even with qualification and certifications, everything must be endorsed by good, long experience,” said Capt. Andrea Coppola.

“There is nothing that can compare or replace good experience,” said Chris Disney_2.
“I came into this industry some twenty years ago with a background in sailing and racing inshore and ocean. It was a big step starting on a seventy-five-foot sailing yacht. As a captain of a forty-seven-meter yacht, I look for some sort of boating experience before considering a new crewmember. I feel for this size vessel that it would be irresponsible of me to do otherwise. My age is against me now, but there are some owner and management [who] are wise enough to realize the value of sound knowledge, loyalty to the industry and, above all, experience.”

“If you think tickets are more important than experience, then you need more experience,” said Chrismlewis. “That being said, if you don’t have the ticket you clearly will not get on the short list for a job that needs it. A huge problem in this industry is people who think that once they have a ticket, they are owed a job as senior as the ticket allows, regardless of experience.”

The age debate won’t die in yachting as newbies line the docks at 21, with dreams of one day working at sea and as older wannabe yachties cast their former lives aside to follow their dreams. It seems, however — according to members — that regardless of age, the kicker really is experience. Do you agree?