They Won’t Pay Me: What Should I Do?

8 July 2009 By Benjamin Maltby

More than a few members, particularly in the forum aptly titled “Salary Denied,” have been discussing the issue of what to do when they haven’t been paid – even when they had a written employment contract. It seems there’s quite a bit of mystery and misinformation out there.

With regard to whether or not you were employed on board, there usually will be little to discuss. Arguments invariably revolve around the amount of time allowed for vacation, and whether time spent training was to count as work or vacation, etc.

Remember that on most yachts flying the Red Ensign, you must be signed on to an employment contract known as a Crew Agreement. Normally, this needs to have been approved by the Flag State, unless the standard form is used (which is not recommended). The reason why approval is required is to guarantee the provision of certain basic rights in the employment contract.

Let me take this opportunity to repeat the "Golden Rule" for working on yachts, apart from casual daywork: If the employer is reluctant to give you some form of written employment contract before you start work, then think about walking away. These are the employers who tend not to pay, and you’ll be in a far weaker position without something to prove what your rights were.

Employment agreements are a form of contract. Normally (although strictly speaking, this does depend on the country’s law which is specifically applicable) as a contract, liability for not paying is what lawyers call “strict.” In other words, there are no excuses for not paying, absolutely none. For example, if the employer says he’s awaiting funds, that simply isn’t good enough. He must pay in full, on time. Period.

If you must leave the yacht with money still owed to you (and this is not recommended) then you should obtain a discharge letter before you leave, detailing what is owed and signed by or on behalf of the employer. From the captain’s, manager’s or owner’s point of view, this is a wise precaution as well – if the crewmember has been paid 100 percent of what’s owed to him or her – as a means of preventing any mischievous claims and threats of arrest later.

If, later, you still haven’t been paid, then never be afraid to speak directly with the owner. Owners have been known to give money in good faith to managers or captains for onward distribution among the crewmembers. And for some, the temptation to fob crewmembers off while pocketing the cash is too hard to resist. Keep a record of the employer’s or the employer’s representative’s comments. Make an accurate note of telephone conversations immediately afterward.

In the next Hot Topic, we’ll be looking at having a yacht arrested. In the meantime, never let anyone discourage you from seeking to uphold your rights. Threats of being somehow excluded from the industry should you seek to enforce these rights are meaningless. The non-payment of crewmembers is a cancer in this industry. Everyone knows someone with such a story to tell. Non-payment brings a sense of insecurity and if you let anyone get away with it, they will do the same to others again and again.

Benjamin Maltby is a lawyer with Palma-based consultants MatrixLloyd, providing impartial guidance on all aspects of yacht employment. He began his career as a lawyer with an International Group P&I Club, before practicing with the leading Mediterranean marine and offshore law firm. Contact him at

Have you had to fight for your final paycheck? Tell us what happened in a comment below.