Camper and Nicholsons

The Realities of the Crew World

5th Mar 2014

From a crew agent’s desk, we hear a lot of reasons for why people have come to the yachting industry. It is a generic question with very few interesting answers, so I suppose it is our fault for asking. But one of the most common – and most yawn-provoking – responses is a “love of travel.” Or better yet, a “love of travel” mixed with a “love of the sea.”

Ok so maybe that’s a bit harsh, as both elements are obviously a big part of yachting. A love of the sea is imperative for that new deckhand who is going to spend his days towing the owner’s kids around on a wakeboard. And without a true love of travel, things might get lonely on that year-long, world cruise. However, this sort of stock answer leaves a rather blank impression, and in this highly competitive industry, gives us the feeling that you haven’t really done your homework.

Obviously no one is going to sit in front of me and say that they are dying to do some detailing with a cotton bud. The industry has its obvious perks, and every job has its trade-offs. But it seems at times that the current, new waves of green crew aren’t totally prepared for the demands of this world they are trying so hard to enter.

The reality is that yachting is a service industry of the highest level, with expectations often beyond imagination. Jobs on board, both interior and exterior, require not only a certain level of qualification but perhaps more importantly the utmost level of sophistication and customer relations. Thus there is a bit of an incongruity when new crew looking for their first job tell us that they have heard about the industry from a friend and thought they would give it a try. Some have seen their friend’s photos, and others simply didn’t feel they were cut out for a desk job.

Thanks to heightened regulations by the MCA and other governing bodies, everyone with a dream of being a captain is required to shell out a considerable amount of money just to be awarded the mandatory STCW95 and medical certificate, assuring that they are proficient in the latest safety and survival protocol. This ensures that behind every keen smile walking the docks, there is at least a certain level of commitment and hopefully a bit of research into the industry as well. In general, the crew profile has happily evolved beyond that of a seasoned backpacker looking for some extra cash.

But it doesn’t stop there. Every year, the industry is becoming impressively more competitive and demanding. Yachts start their crew searches with often overwhelming criteria. There is an incredibly high emphasis on service experience. Silver service, Michelin Star – key words such as these are golden, and therefore those who have not had this sort of professional experience are resorting to crash courses in floristry, wine service, and VIP hospitality. More and more culinary schools are offering intensives specifically geared towards yachting. And on the deck side, manning documents lay out the necessary pieces of paper, but the most successful candidates are those who can bring something extra to the yachting experience as a whole.  

Discretion, a certain way of speaking to owners, professional mannerisms, and a positive attitude despite living and working in a closed environment 24 hours a day – these are qualities that must span every position on board and are ultimately what build a strong crew. This is that extra something that reeks when it is absent, but makes everything run smoothly when it is there. It is a service industry after all. What is perhaps not widely known, taught, or realized is the exceedingly high level of guest expectations that exist on board and what extremely hard work it really is.

Perhaps it is this aspect that is missing when it comes to how the industry is marketed outside our little bubble. Sitting here in the very center of the yachting world, it is very easy to forget what a niche industry we work for. In Antibes for example, we are immersed in the culture – crew running around everywhere, mega-yachts in the backdrop of our lunch date. Yachting magazines are published and circulated worldwide – those targeting the consumer, the charter guest, the landlocked boating enthusiast. But the monthlies that are written for crew, talking about what the industry is really like from the inside, are not widely found. This glossy picture is further reinforced by countless photos of celebrities partying on the back of shiny white boats. We end up with a general public who view the yachting industry only on the surface – for its glamour, money, and travel to exotic locations.  

I think that for a long time, this slight mis-marketing of yachting as a profession had an effect on the general stability and longevity of crew on board. Unrealistic expectations often led to dramatic learning curves or an eventually unhappy, unraveling crew. These days, however, the fierce competitive edge of the industry has put a very positive spin on things. Crew are forced to really step up, in terms of professionalism, proactivity, and self-marketing. In many ways, a natural weeding out and gradual amelioration has occurred, and the new blood coming through are more tuned in and prepared for what the yachting industry entails.

Every yacht in every glamorous port is crawling behind the scenes with a crew who keep it alive, spotless, and safe – and of course keep its owners happy. The beauty of it is when it all seems effortless. For when it all comes together, this industry can offer one of the most amazing and rewarding careers out there. Perhaps that is yachting’s best-kept secret of all.

Our Crew Placement Division works hard to ensure industry newcomers are well informed about the realities of yachting, by providing a series of free talks to newcomers at the beginning of each season. We also take the time to talk with newcomers when they register, giving each individual a personal interview and discussing their career aspirations with them.

For more information please contact the C&NI Crew Placement Division here.

by Camper Nicholsons

More Crew

This industry can offer one of the most amazing and rewarding careers out there. Perhaps that is yachting’s best-kept secret of all.