Why Do Ragbaggers Make Less than Stinkpotters?

20 August 2009 By Louisa Beckett

Today, the salaries of crew on sailing superyachts are more in line with their counterparts on motoring megayachts than ever before, but some industry experts say there is still a discrepancy in compensation. Sailing crew salaries are “a lot lower,” reports Alison Overington of Northrop and Johnson’s Crew Placement division. In her experience, she says, “They are still paid a thousand dollars less per any position on the yacht.”

The reasons why “ragbaggers” make less than “stinkpotters” may have their roots in two widespread maritime myths. The first is that sailors take to the water “for the love of the wind and sea” rather than for the money. While this may have been the case back in the “golden age” of amateur sailing amongst wealthy sportsmen, in recent years, professional sailing yacht crew – both on racing and cruising vessels – have gained worldwide acceptance and respect.

Still, Rupert Connor of Luxury Yacht Group points out, crew compensation can depend a lot on the type of experience the yacht is offering. “If you take a ninety-foot sailing vessel around the world, the salaries are going to be less than on a ninety-foot motor yacht that’s going to sit in St. Tropez,” he says.

Ironically, crew positions on large sailing vessels actually can be more physically demanding and require better multi-taking abilities than on similar-sized motor yachts. “Sailing involves your entire body and brain,” Overington says. “I’ve always thought that they should get more.”

The other myth is that sailboat owners are, for lack of a better word, cheap – believing that the wind is free and everything else should follow suit.

“The consensus of opinion was that sailors had less money and sailboat people wanted to spend less,” says Overington. “I think that’s nonsense, and so do the sailboat owners I know.”

The real reason for the discrepancy between sailing crew and motor yacht crew salaries might have more to do with the sailing sector’s smaller numbers and relative isolation within the yachting industry. Overington weighs in, “It’s a very closed community.”

In the past, the majority of crew positions on sailing yachts were filled by word of mouth, rather than via crew placement agencies. The current world economy has started a sea change in sailing circles, however, because the personal referral system is becoming overwhelmed by the huge pool of applicants entering the system. “We are going to see a very large number of crew coming into the industry in the next months,” Connor says.

When an owner gets a word-of-mouth referral these days, Overington says, “There are so many people out of work, there’s no guarantee that they are going to be the right person for the job.” She adds that there’s also a greater possibility that a job applicant isn’t whom he or she says he is. “The owners are starting to let the agencies do background checks.”

Crew agency involvement may help to close the gap between sail and power crew salaries over time. In addition, as sailing superyachts grow more and more complex, with cutting-edge hydraulic rigging, azimuthing thrusters and even hybrid diesel/electric power, the demand for experienced captains and crew to operate them should drive up their compensation.

“The newer the boat, the more mechanics involved, the higher the salary,” Overington says.

“In reference to large yachts, the days of expecting sailing crew to be paid less than motor boat crew are over,” says the captain of a recently launched sailing superyacht.“The reasons are obvious. The crew required to operate sailing yachts are of the same level as those who operate power-only yachts, with at least the same (and usually more) experience, knowledge and training. To employ these crew, a yacht needs to be able to offer a candidate a package comparable to a motor-only yacht.”